How Do You Define Preaching? 5
In this series, we’ve offered the following definition of preaching:
God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.
With each post, we’ve attempted to emphasize the various clauses of this definition. We’ve argued:
- Preaching is God speaking. It is a divine activity. Insofar as the text of Scripture is accurately proclaimed, then the Author of Scripture speaks to the contemporary setting.
- Everything God does He does with power. He’s omnipotent. Though He speaks through flawed men, the flaws of men do not veil His power, which comes through His Spirit. The preacher may testify with the prophet Micah, “I am filled with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with justice and might” (Mic. 3:8).
- True preaching centers on the eternal Son of God, the God-Man, who looms above, behind, and in the entire biblical record. God has one sermon, and that sermon focuses on His Son.
- The source material for preaching is the word of God. The preacher without a Bible is a preacher without authority. He’s a man with nothing to say. Closed Bibles should close mouths. But with the Bible, we may declare the whole counsel of God and watch it transforms the clay lives of men.
Through a Man
This brings us to our final clause: “through a man.”All the divine activity and power of preaching comes through a human vessel. John Calvin wrote, ”God has chosen so to anoint the lips and tongues of his servants that, when they speak, the voice of Jesus yet resounds in them.”
Consider that for a moment. Angels serve as messengers of God but desire to look into the preaching of mortals. The heavens declare His glory and pour forth speech day after day, though not the specific revelation of the Son of God through the word of God in the power of God. No, the Father has reserved the noble privilege of preaching for the creatures most like Him and once most rebellious toward Him.
Men find great dignity in the robes of judges. We esteem the suit and tie of businessmen and lawyers. We submit to the white coats of doctors and the badged uniforms of police officers. All these vocations have their place and receive just honor. All may joyfully be performed to the glory of God. But only the preacher directly represents heaven. Whether in a robe, a suit, or blue jeans, the man who holds forth the word of God surpasses all the worthy callings of the world precisely because God deigns to speak through such a man.
God speaks through a man. Those five words are simple enough, but they contain a great mystery and marvelous truth. Read it slowly: God… speaks… through… a man.
What Kind of Man?
But what kind of man does God speak through? I suppose there are a number of answers to this question. But let me offer just a few that come to mind.
Preaching should come through a man on fire. That was Jeremiah’s experience. The message blazed like fire shut up in his bones. Our Lord was consumed with zeal for the house of the Lord, and He preached with authority unlike the scribes and teachers of His day. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes such a man and his preaching well: ”Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! … It is theology on fire. … Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” It’s not a theology on fire, but a man on fire. A man with zeal, passion, flame. Let cold, lifeless men be undertakers; let preachers be fired with the energy of a resurrectionist.
Preaching should come through a man of “woe.” That was the apostle’s sense: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). By “woe” I mean, of course, that driving sense of constraint. There ought to be a compulsion, a force, an irresistible urge. He desires to proclaim. He’s not reluctant, but eager. He’s humble–he “cannot boast”–because he feels the drive comes from somewhere else, from outside himself, from the heavenly realms. So, he feels the “woe” of running from the Lord’s call.
Preaching should come through a man who lives it. We preach a better gospel than we live. We’ll preach a lot of sermons that excel our sanctification. That will be the case because the word of God remains pure even though the preacher remain flawed. But the man through whom God designs to preach is a man who has been possessed by Christ and seeks to lay hold to Christ (Phil. 3). The best preaching comes through a man who lives to take hold of that life that is truly life (1 Tim. 6:19-20). We could drink water through a rusty pipe, but I suspect we’d rather a clean one.
Preaching should come through a man prepared. “Be instant in season and out of season” is the apostolic admonition when facing hostile audiences. “Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have,” says another apostle in response to suffering. “Rightly divide the word of truth” so there will be no cause for shame when you speak. The preacher must be a man whose feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel.
Preaching should come through a man with authority. G. Campbell Morgan puts it well:
“Preaching is not the proclamation of a theory, or the discussion of a doubt. A man has a perfect right to proclaim a theory of any sort, or to discuss his doubts. But that is not preaching. ‘Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any. Keep your doubts to yourself; I have enough of my own,’ said Goethe. We are never preaching when we are hazarding speculations. Of course we do so. We are bound to speculate sometimes. I sometimes say: ‘I am speculating; stop taking notes.’ Speculation is not preaching. Neither is the declaration of negations preaching. Preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the truth as the truth has been revealed.”
 Quoted in Bryan Chappell, “Preach the Word!”, Entrusted with the Gospel: Pastoral Expositions of 2 Timothy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 111.
 John Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 85.
 Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, p. 97.