The Preacher or His Preaching?
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
2 Timothy 4:1-4
Never has there been a time when the last part of this passage has been realized more than it is now. Churches are filled with men who will not endure sound doctrine. National Conferences on Revival and Soul Winning regularly feature a heap of Ear Scratchers with “Dr.” in front of their names. Great entertainers all, and not enough sound doctrine between them to light a match. But hey! The crowds are itching to hear them. After all, who can resist a good story, well told? And, of course, there will be enough bombastic display to heat the Sears Tower. And considering the number of tales that will be told, one might imagine that the Conference’s real purpose is to build a skyscraper — story upon story.
The epistles to Timothy belong to the Pastoral Epistles. The instructions found in these books, though applicable to all readers, are addressed specifically to pastors. And here, Paul charges Timothy with a solemn duty before God and the Lord Jesus Christ — the same Righteous Judge who will discern between the alive and the dead. Paul lays on Timothy the solemn duty of preaching the Word, and preaching it faithfully.
Now, that very special brand of preachers of the itching ear variety will insist that they are alive, and those preaching sound doctrine are dead. After all, preaching sound doctrine can sound a little boring. It is admittedly difficult to walk up and down the backs of the pews while preaching on the great doctrines of redemption and justification. The Pew Walkers tend to be preaching about how “on fire” they are for God. They imagine themselves alive because they are excited. But so are little children. And while excited little children are certainly alive, this is not the life that God will be judging.
When we are alive, we preach the Word. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. The popular tradition of stomping, spitting, screaming, sweating, and (almost) swearing, though certainly lively, is not to be confused with quickened. “Lunatics can do all that! What else can you do?” might be an appropriate response. Theatrical displays, while sensational, miss out on the one thing that must characterize our preaching — they have no life in them. It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.
Where the Spirit of God departs, the flesh must make up the difference. And where the flesh prevails, there will be a prevalence of bombastic antics designed to impress the hearer. Cartwheels add little and detract much from the Word. But when the preacher has little of the Word, little of the spirit and life, he desperately needs to compensate by smashing televisions, flickering lights, falling out of wheelchairs, walking across the backs of pews, and doing handstands on the pulpit.
God charges Pastors to preach the Word. This requires that the Pastor be faithful to the Word. Every Pastor is faithful to something. He might be faithful to his book of One Million, Five Hundred Fifty-Five Thousand, Two Hundred Seventeen Sermon Illustrations. He might be faithful to be done at exactly noon. He probably is faithful to flatter his audience. He might be faithful to avoid anything that might shake his slumbering audience, or to preach anything that might step on his own traditions. But he is faithful to something. Pastors must preach the Word. Therefore, they must be faithful to the Word.
If the preacher would preach the Word, he must be filled with the Word. Too many pastors preach from an empty cup. They are like the sower sowing seed from an empty sack. A starving man cannot feed his family for long. Soon, those he feeds will be forced to look for sustenance from somewhere else. Pastors must get into the Word, and must fill themselves with it. There is no replacement for vast quantities of Bible reading. If the Pastor is to preach the whole counsel of God, then he must get the whole counsel of God. The pastor’s Bible reading should not be limited to whatever he will be preaching Sunday. He must read the Scripture, and read a lot of it. In fact, he must read all of it. The seed sack should be full of seed before he goes a-sowing.
So, the preacher must be filled with the Word. It is his life. It animates him, and it must animate his sermon. The preacher cannot get too much of the Word. He must let the Word of Christ dwell in him richly. Like the dealer in pearls, he sells all he has to get that One Pearl, and that One Pearl is all he needs.
The preacher must fill himself with all of Scripture, but the preacher also must preach a particular message. Thus, if the preacher would preach the Word, he must be filled with his text. That is the heart and soul of his message. The text is the meat. The text determines what the message will be, and not the other way around. The text is like beans. The preacher grinds the beans to make the coffee. If he would have a rich, full brew, he must grind more than one bean. He doesn’t want the flavor of coffee in his water. He wants coffee, through and through. He must grind the entire sack, and boil it in the pot. The preacher must dwell on that text. He must get into it, and it must get into him. He opens the Bible, and asks the Spirit to open the text.
When God lays a message on the Pastor, God lays a text on the Pastor. When God lays that text on the Pastor, urging the Pastor to preach it, the Pastor must first find what the text says. That is what God wants him to preach. Not whatever Mrs. Busybody on the next to the last row needs. God wants him to preach the text. Now, the text might address Mrs. Busybody very nicely. But the pastor must preach the text, not “The Problem with Mrs. Busybody”. The text must shape the message, not the message the text.
In order to be properly filled with the text, the preacher must be filled with the context. Otherwise, the text is disjointed. Too often, preachers uproot the text from the fertile soil in which it was planted. God put John 3:16 in John chapter 3. This was not an oversight on the part of God. He put it there intentionally, and the context gives meaning to the text. One of the great sins of the modern Independent Baptist Pulpit is Text Dislocation. If a scientist finds a lone, sun-bleached bone in a field, he might imagine all sorts of explanations for how it came to be there, or where it came from. And, all things being equal, he might guess correctly. But no text in Scripture is left alone in the woods. God put the text in the context. The preacher must compare Scripture with Scripture.
If the text is the coffee grounds, the context is the water. To get a good pot of coffee, fill the pot with both. Bring it to a slow, rolling boil. Allow the coffee to percolate until the rich smell fills the room. Then and only then, pour it into the cup. The context gives the setting, the background, the real meaning of the text. It is the preacher’s duty to find that meaning, to allow it to fill his heart and soul, before preaching the word.
If the preacher would preach the Word, he must also be filled with the words. The words are spirit, and they are life. If the preacher is to get the plain meaning of the text, he must necessarily understand the plain meaning of the words. God gave His Word, and He used words to give it. Those words are God’s words. They have meaning. Every word is important, and we must live by every word. As the preacher prepares, he must study the words. If he would understand the text, he must examine the words. In this day and age, with the abundance of tools at our disposal, no preacher has any excuse to gloss over the words. This author has little if any training in Hebrew or Greek. Yet, along with everyone else, we have an ability to dig into the words, to find out their meaning, and to dig out those special nuggets of God’s grace. If we are to hold forth the word of life, then we must hold forth the words, for they are our life.
If the preacher would preach the Word, he must be filled with the Spirit. The Spirit, who guides into all truth, must be his guide as well. Is it not the absence of the Spirit that causes men to behave as if they are drunk in the pulpit? Modern preachers have mastered the dynamics of preaching, while miserably lacking the dunamis of God. Powerful preachers are not to be confused with powerful preaching. The powerful preacher persuades men of his own greatness. Powerful preaching persuades of something else.
Many of our Independent Baptist super-churches and super-conferences are like a restaurant with the fanciest plates and cups, served up with a very forgettable dinner. The listener gets a great impression of the preacher, with little or no memory of the Word preached. But preaching is not the power of God to salvation; otherwise enticing words of man’s wisdom would be effective. The preaching of the cross is the power of God. The Gospel of Christ is God’s power to salvation. We must preach the Gospel, and preach it faithfully. The Word and the Spirit must fill our preaching, or we must not preach.