by Jay Lockhart
It has often been observed that God had but one son, and he was a preacher. It is little wonder that Jesus was a preacher when we understand the important place that preaching has always occupied in God’s plan for the world. Whether it is the preaching of the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament apostles, or Jesus himself, preaching has always been prominent in God’s purpose. The church began with preaching, and throughout the Book of Acts the church grew through preaching. Throughout history, the great religious events, such as the Protestant Reformation and the American Restoration Movement, took place by preaching. The Bible says that “the message of the cross is…to us who are being saved…the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18—all Scripture quotations are from the NKJV unless otherwise noted). Additionally, Scripture says, “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Further, Paul asked, “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14).
Clearly, preaching is inseparably joined to the salvation of men from sin. With these facts in mind, the careful student of Scripture comes to see that because of what preaching is, there is glory in preaching. The dictionary says that “glory” is “great honor and admiration won by doing something important or valuable” (Webster, 595). The New Testament word for “glory” (doxa) means, among other things, “honor” (Zodhiates, 906, 907). We should be quick to note that the “glory” (honor, admiration) of preaching is not in the speaker, but in what is preached, the “something important or valuable.” Paul said to the Thessalonians, “(W)e were bold…to speak to you the gospel of God…to be entrusted with the gospel …neither at any time did we use flattering words…nor did we seek glory (doxa) from men” (1 Thess. 2:2-6). It is honorable to preach the gospel, but the glory of preaching is not to be found in the “earthen vessels (pots of clay – JPL)” who do the preaching (see 2 Cor. 4:7; 1 Cor. 3:5-7). Where, then, is the glory of preaching to be found?
Paul wrote his two letters to the Corinthians, in part at least, to defend his apostleship and his preaching. In 1 Corinthians 2-4 and 2 Corinthians 2-4, he gives us information that identifies the glory of preaching.
1. The glory of preaching is seen in the message preached.
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God” (1 Cor. 2:1). Notice that Paul said he declared “the testimony of God.” “Testimony” is a translation of marturion and means that God was “bearing witness” through Paul as he preached the gospel. The apostle neither preached as a great orator (so as to draw attention to himself) nor did he preach the philosophies of men (so as to forfeit his calling to present the gospel—see 1 Cor. 9:16). He preached the “gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) which centered in “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:3) and which was given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13). Paul’s message was “the gospel” (1 Cor. 15:1-4), “the word” (2 Tim. 4:2), and “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). For this reason Paul said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). This means that he had made a definite and final decision to preach only “Christ…crucified,” a synecdoche that summarized all of his preaching as being limited only to the complete revelation of God. The glory of preaching is in that message.
2. The glory of preaching is seen in responsibility met.
Paul felt that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), no doubt because he had persecuted the church (Acts 22:19,20; 1 Tim. 1:13). However, he had been wonderfully saved by Christ and had been put into the ministry (1 Tim. 1:12). Because of this, Paul felt that he was under a universal obligation to preach the gospel to all men (Rom. 1:14). So, he gave his life to the fulfillment of his debt and could say, “I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19). This was a sobering responsibility to Paul, as it should be to us today, so that his major goal was to “finish my race (dromos: a metaphor for his work—Bullinger, 191) with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). No wonder Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:3, “I was with you in weakness (astheneia: feeble, want of strength – Bullinger, 861; not feeling up to the task – JPL), in fear (phobos: terror, fright – Bullinger, 279), and in much trembling (tromos: shivering, quaking – Bullinger, 279).” Everyone who presumes to speak for God should feel this same sense of obligation, i.e., to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11), and to do so with fear and trembling as he recognize his weakness. As Karl Barth put it: “Who dares to preach knowing what preaching is.” When we preach the Word of God alone, we are fulfilling our responsibility as we speak “not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4), and therein we see the glory of preaching.
3. The glory of preaching is seen in the purpose of preaching.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to be people of faith, but he desired that their “faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5), the Source of the gospel. Preaching has a three-fold purpose: to glorify God (1 Pet. 4:11); to save the lost and thus to meet man’s greatest need (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 1:16); and to promote the spiritual growth of the saved and thus fulfill the Christian’s greatest need (Acts 20:32). Only the gospel message can accomplish these things and therein we see the glory of preaching.
4. The glory of preaching is seen in the origin of the message.
In 1 Cor. 2:6-13 Paul spoke of preaching “the wisdom of God in a mystery.” The “wisdom” of God in this passage is simply the plan and purpose of God found in the gospel. He called it a “mystery” because it was “hidden” in the mind of God so that neither man nor angel knew anything about it until God revealed it. After God’s purpose was revealed it ceased to be a “mystery” and became a “revelation.” Paul affirmed that “God has revealed them (the things of the gospel which He prepared for our glory before time began- JPL) through his Spirit” (vv. 7-10). Then Paul declared, “These things we also speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (v. 13). Paul is saying that what he preached and wrote for God was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit guided him in the selection of the words he wrote and/or spoke for God. When we preach the gospel, we are not presenting our own words or the words of men, but we are speaking the very words of God, the inspired Scriptures. Because the origin of the message preached is God Himself, we see the glory of preaching.
5. The glory of preaching is seen in the fact that it is God’s work.
The message preached is not from men and the preachers are simply “ministers through whom” people come to faith (1 Cor. 3:5), “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), “servants of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:1), and “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). The preacher cooperates with God in the work of preaching by planting (placing the seed of the Kingdom, the Word of God, in the hearts of those who hear) and watering (nurturing the planted seed so that it will produce fruit), but the increase comes from God (1 Cor.3:7) because “the power” is “of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). When we realize that preaching is God’s work and that we have the privilege of being “earthen vessels” through whom this work of God is done, then we see the glory of preaching.
6. The glory of preaching is seen in that preaching has its reward.
Preaching has its difficulties. Preachers of the “whole counsel of God” may be considered ”fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor. 4:10) by unbelievers, and they have to contend with those who are ”peddling” (2 Cor. 2:17) “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9) by failing to “fully preach the gospel” (Rom. 15:19). However, in spite of these and other difficulties, preaching has its reward. Preachers of the Truth are given victories by God as He, through them, “diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge…the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14,15) everywhere. It is a fragrance of death to those who refuse the Word, but an aroma of life to those who will believe and obey the gospel (2 Cor. 2:16). And what preacher of the gospel has not experienced the joy, the reward, of teaching a person the Truth and to have the person say, “I am ready to obey the gospel”? Or who among those of us who preach has not felt the joy of extending the invitation of Christ at the conclusion of a sermon and seeing people come down the aisle to confess their faith in Christ and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? Who has not seen those who have wandered away from Christ return to their first love through repentance and prayer? Who has not seen Christians listen to the preached Word and thereby grow more and more into “the image of Christ” (2 Cor. 3:18)? And we all know people who love the Truth and who love us because we proclaim the Truth. These are some of the rewards of preaching. In addition to these things, the faithful preacher of the gospel looks forward to the reward that will come from God at that last day, even if some of those folks with whom we have worked do not abide in the Truth (see 1 Cor. 3:9-15). I am so thankful that I have been given the privilege of preaching the gospel! If I had another life to live, I would want to preach the Word of God. In the rewards received we see the glory of preaching.
Let us then preach the gospel. Let us encourage others to preach the gospel. Let us determine to preach the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Let us “speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.” Let us prepare our sermons with diligent study and fervent prayer so that when the hour strikes, we will be ready to enthusiastically share the message of Christ with people who need Him so desperately. Let us experience the glory of preaching!
Jay Lockhart preaches for the Whitehouse Church of Christ in Whitehouse, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.