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Why Preaching?

February 2016

The Minister’s Letter (February 2016) Dear friends, Over the next few months we are going to have a series of articles about the priorities of church life. The reading and preaching of the Word of God is the most important thing we do, so first of all, Why Preaching? We can’t consider preaching without first of all being clear on what it is we are preaching. We are preaching the Word of God. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed…’ (2 Timothy 3:16) so, before we go any further, we must be clear that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired and authoritative Word of God. We can have confidence in preaching the Bible because the authority does not come from man, but from God himself. In one sense, God is the preacher and the Bible in its entirety is his message which means the task of the preacher is to let the Word of God speak. All preaching should therefore bring out what is already there in the Bible so that God’s voice may be heard. If God has spoken, then we must listen to him. This is referred to as Bible exposition or expository preaching where the message of the sermon comes from the text and fits within the big picture of the whole Bible as one book with one central message about Jesus Christ. This approach to preaching conveys that the Bible is true, knowable, necessary and enough for us. So after Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed he says it ‘is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The role of the preacher, then, is simply to say what the Bible says. The role of the listener is simply to hear what God says, aware that the authority comes from the Bible text itself and not the preacher. This way, the preacher will not be willing to say anything with authority that can’t be shown in the Bible and the listeners will not be willing to accept anything that can’t be shown in the Bible. It is through the systematic exposition of the Scripture as a regular diet on a weekly basis in the church that we submit ourselves as individuals and as a congregation to God. The experience will mean that, as we go through the whole Bible, we are letting God set the agenda for us by listening to what he has to say to us. The nineteenth-century Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon expressed something similar: “There seems to be to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend [him]….Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself.” Spurgeon is saying that the Bible is like a lion and the task of preaching is essentially to let the lion out of its cage thereby letting God’s clear voice, and not our own, be heard. However, we must be clear that the aim of preaching is not just to pass on information (even the correct information) but for life transformation. We need to guard against only getting the message right in our head to the extent that we neglect to apply it to our lives. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” The Bible is the primary way we come to learn and understand the truth about God but it is also the way we obey God as we follow through the implications of what he says to us. As we read and teach the Word of God the Holy Spirit is given free reign to not only illuminate our mind and heart, but to conform our will to the will of God. There is no point having a church full of people who know and believe the truth of the Bible but who don’t know its power for the continual transformation of our lives. When Jesus spoke about the wise and foolish builders, he said it is those who hear his words and put them into practice who are like the wise man who builds his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24). This life transformation comes through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible is one book with one message about Jesus Christ and salvation in him. Therefore, the point of preaching is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul makes this clear in what is thought to be one of the most important sections on preaching in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 (especially 2:1-5). Paul writes about the content of preaching which is ‘the testimony about God’ (1) concerning ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (2). Paul understands Jesus to be the message of the Scriptures and his work on the cross is the substance of his preaching. So, if Jesus is the main subject of the Bible and Paul’s preaching, he should be the focus of our preaching too. The power from preaching comes when Christ is preached as the message. Paul makes this clear by describing the style of his preaching and how he came to Corinth ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling’ (3). It was not with ‘wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (4). Paul was more concerned with the content of his message than the style of his preaching because it was the power of the Holy Spirit that made his preaching effective rather than his eloquence, or wisdom, or oratory skill. The focus for Paul was Jesus Christ, knowing that God operates through his Holy Spirit, without whom there is no explanation for the power or impact of preaching to genuinely convert and transform lives. Preaching that doesn’t take us to Christ may well be preaching from the Bible but it can’t be Biblical preaching if it fails to focus on Christ and his work, since the message of the Bible is centred on Jesus Christ. Whether believer or unbeliever, we need to have our sin exposed and the remedy of the gospel preached to us again and again because we need the gospel not just to become a Christian but how to continue and grow. It is only as the gospel is preached that the affections of our hearts are touched so that we have the desire to live faithful and obedient lives to the glory of God. Your minister and friend Jonathan

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