by Howard Norton
Preaching for the glory of God is not easy. Those who preach know how difficult it is to resist the feeling that they are the centerpiece of the pulpit event. Professors have taught them how to construct the sermon, how to dress for the occasion, how to stand, how to gesture, how to speak, how to pause, how to illustrate, how to move around to keep listeners’ attention, and how to maintain eye contact. To be sure, spiritually-minded professors have constantly reminded their students that they are spokesmen for God, and that they must be obedient to his message if they hope to proclaim it effectively to others. They have told their students again and again that preaching is for the glory of God and not for the glory of the messenger.
Like other human beings, however, we preachers enjoy being loved and appreciated. How tempting it is to fill our sermons with thoughts that please the audience, but fail to deliver the whole counsel of God. To deal with the truth on certain critical issues is to run the risk of becoming unpopular or even despised. The preacher seeks his own glory when he waters down his sermon to gain the approval of his listeners and the applause of his peers.
When a man has a wife and children to support, or when he can’t stand the thought of making another gut-wrenching move and starting over, glorifying God can drop quite a few notches on his list of ministerial priorties as he seeks to keep his salary intact.
It’s not just the need for popularity and financial security that can undermine a preacher’s values. Like other people, he can be tempted by power, fame, and prestige. Being a preacher has traditionally been a good place to find these three rewards. A proud religious leader improperly motivated is as dangerous to the church as an atomic bomb. When the focus of preaching is on the speaker’s person, even on the beauty of his sermon, there probably will be an improper emphasis on God.
Is there anything we preachers can do to turn the spotlight away from us and shine it more directly on our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ his Son? Raising the following questions and prayerfully answering them might help us keep the focus on glorifying God rather than ourselves.
Does my preaching emphasize Jehovah God? I am amazed at the number of times the apostle Paul mentions the Lord God and Jesus Christ by name in his epistles. Some so-called sermons hardly mention the Lord at all. It is important that our hearers (and we) understand that underlying every moral, ethical, and theological statement we make in a a sermon should be the authority of Almighty God.
Do I realize I was created by God? God created mankind, and we exist only because of him. As the poet said, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” I am able to prepare the sermon, walk into the pulpit, think coherently, stand and deliver the lesson only because he has brought me into existence and keeps me alive. I have no right to seek or accept glory for myself.
Do I realize I belong to God and he deserves the glory for my preaching? I can’t claim personal ownership of myself, my talent, or the fruit of my labors. Paul says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.” Again, “We are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture,” says the psalmist. Peter sums it up by declaring, “You are a people belonging to God.” God deserves all the glory for my preaching because I am his slave.
Do I realize God made me for a noble purpose? Three remarkable statements in Eph. 2:10 should humble every preacher when he’s tempted to glorify himself rather than God. First, “We are God’s workmanship.” He has made us twice, once at Creation, and once when he saved us from our sins. Second, we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” When we perform a noble task like preaching or any other good deed, we are doing what God created us to do through Christ. We have nothing to brag about. We are just being who we are. Third, God prepared the good works “in advance for us to do.” A preacher doesn’t create good works. God creates them in advance and allows the preacher to do the good deeds. All glory belongs to God.
Do I realize God motivates and empowers me to preach? Scriptures say “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” My parents, other relatives, teachers, and friends encouraged me to preach; but it was God who ultimately motivated my desire to preach and then empowered me to carry out the desire. I cooperated, but he was behind it all. Furthermore, he gives me the energy and strength for this ministry. Paul says, “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Were it not for his inspiration and enabling power, preaching would be totally beyond my reach.
Preaching for God’s glory is not easy. We are tempted to preach in order to be seen, rewarded, and praised by men. Since God created us, since we belong to him, since our very reason to exist is to glorify him through good works that he himself made for us to do, and since we are able to preach only because he has given us the will and energy to do it, we have no right to boast or seek the accolades of men. On the contrary, “To him be glory … throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Dr. Howard Norton has been involved in preaching, mission work, and school administration for more than fifty years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.