JumpIntoTheWord

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Preach the Word

In many local churches today the preaching mainly emphasizes what’s positive, encouraging and inspiring. Heart-warming messages are the order of the day. Helping people deal with their felt needs is part of the regular Sunday diet. And enticing seekers to come and hear next week’s message is a big objective.

When uplifting messages are the mainstay of preaching; conviction, rebuke or correction are eliminated or downplayed. When rebuke or correction are absent from sermons, preachers have strayed from God’s command to challenge, warn or tell people they’re not living in obedience to God’s Word

Consider this instruction: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus … I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NIV).

Note the phrase “I give you this charge.” The Greek word for “charge” is diamarturomai. It was used when an official called on someone entering public office to work responsibly and seriously. Paul’s use of the word reminds us that God is watching what we do and listening to what we say. It also indicates that when we’re told to “preach the word,” it’s command language. It’s not optional. Every preacher, in favourable and unfavourable conditions, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, whether it’s received or rejected, must show people in what ways their lives are wrong (cf. the Amplified Bible).

There are numerous preachers who are ignorant concerning God’s “charge.” Their ignorance is evident through how they limit their preaching to selected texts and specific themes. It’s a wretched state of affairs. Many preachers “have forsaken the right way and gone astray … they speak great swelling words of emptiness” 2 Peter 2:15,18 (NKJV).

Hollow words are commonplace. Critically review the content of the average sermon today and it’s evident that serious teaching is sadly lacking. Most preaching is light and fluffy – designed for consumers wired for the quick and easy. Where are the preachers with a backbone? Where are the modern-day Isaiah’s intensely proclaiming woe and judgement? Where are today’s Jonah’s preaching against wickedness? (cf. Jonah 1:2). Who, like Paul, are commanding people to repent (cf. Acts 17:30). While evil increasingly abounds, the courage to confront and expose depravity is unusual.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” Isaiah 5:20 (NIV). Are the prophet’s words true for today? I think they are. Some congregations never hear a message about Hell. Yet Jesus spoke about Hell more than He spoke about Heaven!

Preachers, are you proclaiming sin and judgement? Are you teaching people to fear God and live holy lives? If not, by omission you’re a false teacher enticing people to follow a fictitious Jesus.

Not speaking about negative things is an unspoken rule in some local churches and denominations. Yet all of God’s Word must be preached – even the parts of the Bible that are offensive to society at large.

Tragically, as the voices of the LGBTQ+ community grow louder, the voices of some preachers grow quieter. Why is the pulpit silent on matters of purity? The Bible isn’t ambiguous concerning homosexuality. Romans 1:18-32 clearly condemns perversion and warns of God’s wrath as a penalty for everyone who exchanges natural relations for unnatural ones.

The sexual confusion, abuse and defilement we see around us today may be due in part to preachers not preaching the Word. Are preachers scared? Do they feel intimidated by popular culture? Why are most preachers virtually inaudible on sexual purity despite the fact that pornography and lust are epidemics?

Preachers, preach the Word. It should be anathema to feed people spiritual junk food and catchy ideas that tickle their ears (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4). But that’s what’s happening.

Renewal and restoration is desperately needed. Up until the mid 20th Century most Evangelical preachers confidently confronted and exposed sin. Holiness went hand in hand with being a Christian. And luke-warm Christians were uncomfortable because messages were firm and convicting.

Nowadays people are rarely pierced by the preacher’s message. At the conclusion of a service, they smile and say, “Thank you for the message Pastor” or “I enjoyed the sermon” or “I’m looking forward to what you’re going to say next week.”

I know when I’ve preached the Word. It’s when someone says, “I felt convicted” or “You made me feel uncomfortable,” or “Your message was negative!”

A woman recently approached me after a service and said, “May I make a comment?” Of course,” I replied. “I notice your message didn’t use inclusive language,” she said. “What do you mean?” I asked. With some intensity, she continued, “Well you spoke about men and women in a way that made no provision for other sexual identities and relationships. Everyone is part of God’s family and their sexuality should be embraced and accepted.” After a brief pause, I said, “Thank you for sharing your opinion. I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me. But the Bible clearly teaches us that there are only two genders – male and female.” The discussion continued for another five minutes, and then her parting shot, “You’re wrong. You should be more sensitive and understanding …”

That’s what happens when we preach the Word. People can and will take offence. In fact to those who are perishing “we are the smell of death” 2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV). I didn’t know that being “the smell of death” was part of the job description when I started preaching. But it will be if we’re faithfully preaching the whole canon of Scripture!

Another thing I didn’t know when I started preaching is that two of the three commands in 2 Timothy 4:2 concerning preaching, are negative. Timothy was exhorted to elegcho (convict, prove wrong and thus shame a person) and to epitimao (charge, rebuke). In other words, preachers must major on corrective preaching, and as they do they should temper it with parakaleo (encourage and comfort).

Sugar-coated preaching is dangerous. As someone once said, “It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills.”

So live up to God’s charge to boldly correct, rebuke and encourage people to abstain from sinful desires and live righteously. Because when we don’t preach the Word (all of the Word) the outcome is want and spiritual poverty (cf. Proverbs 11:24).

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Create a Banquet

Writing experts say that half the struggle is getting people to read what you write. They also say that a good title is everything. This may be true. When I saw The Hottest Thing at Church is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader, the title of a Christianity Today (April 2017) article, I was enticed to read it.

It’s a good read. It highlights the fact that the number 1 explanation for why Americans go to church is for “Sermons that teach about Scripture.”

That’s music to my ears! I firmly believe that reading, preaching and appreciating the Word (which is to appreciate the One of whom the Word speaks) should rank above every other reason for why we go to church.

Which reminds me of something a veteran Bible teacher and preacher recently said to me, “We should lay out a banquet for people to feast from when they come to church.” He’s absolutely right. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word should be spiritually tasty and filling.

Unfortunately pastors don’t always provide their congregations with a weekly banquet on God’s Word. Sometimes it’s only a snack and sometimes it’s just a morsel – certainly not enough to sustain or nourish a congregation.

Pastors, “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). That’s literal language. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not figurative. With every ounce of strength and passion, prayerfully and humbly, carefully and patiently, in the power of the Spirit – preach the Word! Exegete the text. Do everything possible to invite every person to enter into the Scriptures, engage the Scriptures, encounter the One of whom the Scriptures speak, and emulate the Scriptures in everything they say and do.

I still remember, about 30 years later, how one pastor told me that it only took him 3-4 hours to prepare his Sunday message. He was proud of this because it gave him more time to spend with his family … the implication being that it was good and right for him to make his family his highest priority. I’m still flabbergasted! A good message takes days of preparation, hours and hours of wrestling with the text, and even sleepless nights as the preacher seeks to reconcile himself with the text because he knows he can’t preach if the Scriptures don’t have ascendency in his own life.

In fact sermon preparation is somewhat similar to cooking. When my wife and I want to prepare a really nice meal for friends or family it takes us about two full days to do the planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, vacuuming and dusting (our house must first be clean before we can serve up a banquet), dish washing and drying. Similarly, when I prepare a sermon I know it requires planning, getting all the ingredients together, arranging and organizing, making sure my own house is in order before I tell others how to get their house in order, serving something sumptuous, and doing what needs to be done so that others will say, “Thanks, that was great!”

One more thing: I’m a nobody when it comes to cooking and I’m a nobody when it comes to preaching. But that’s okay. The Christianity Today article mentions how the Gallup poll also discovered that “people in the pews care far more about what’s being preached than who’s preaching it.” That’s good news for every ordinary pastor who is diligently feeding the congregation a Sunday banquet week in and week out.

It’s also a reminder that the preacher plays the supportive, not the main role. When I go to a restaurant and eat a good meal, the food itself, not the chef, is the focus of my gastronomic experience. Similarly, the texture, flavour and aroma of the Scriptures should be the focus of the preaching, not the preacher. And for this to happens the preacher’s main aim should be to preach the Word so that everyone can “taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Preaching and Teaching

I love to read, study, teach and preach the Word. But looking back on more than three decades of ministry I realize I could have done more to help others develop confidence in the Word, build community focused on the Word, and encourage conversations about the Word.

So what can teachers and preachers do to promote confidence in, community around, and conversations about the Word? Consider the following:

Read the Scriptures every time you teach or preach the Word. Don’t cut out or truncate the reading of the Word to make more time for what you want to say. The Word of God should always be the main point, not the footnote of the lesson or sermon.

Public reading of the Scriptures should be done with conviction, enthusiasm, passion, fluency and expression. Worship teams/choirs practice their singing – Scripture readers should likewise practice their reading.

God’s Word is holy. Read it with reverence. At the conclusion of a public reading say something like, “Hear the Word of the Lord” or “These are the most important words you will hear today.”

Be prayerful. Before you preach/teach ask God to address and apply the Word to your heart and life. When you preach/teach begin with the prayer, “Lord speak to us, we’re listening . . .” or “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” Psalm 19:14 (NIV).

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), not your ideas, philosophy, or personal agenda. Make every effort to weave the Scriptures through every facet of what you say. Emphasize the Scriptures by saying, “The Word says . . .” or “In . . . God says . . .”

Teach the whole canon of Scripture. Don’t reduce the Bible to a canon within the canon by only preaching/teaching your favourite books, texts or stories. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

Preach and teach all the major themes of the Bible. Over the course of time your group/congregation/class should learn/understand the meta-narrative of (creation, fall, redemption and consummation) and how events are still unfolding.

Let the Word speak for itself. Don’t overshadow it with your stories, presentation style, exegetical prowess, “wisdom and eloquence” (1 Corinthians 1:17), creativity or personality. And don’t distract from it by lack of preparation, personal reservations, luke-warmness, academic arrogance or intellectual presumption.

Never forget that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives life and power to the Word – enabling the listener to hear the Word and live it out. Only God can speak and sustain His Word. The role of the preacher or teacher is to serve as a conduit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5) – nothing more and nothing less.

Remember that God’s Word is far more important than anything we can ever say about it. The primary aim of all preaching and teaching should be to equip others to actively indwell, engage and get caught up in receiving and reenacting the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:20 NLT).

What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything?

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Preach the Word

I’ll never forget Warren Wiersbe’s intensity as he gripped my hand, stared at me through large horn rimmed glasses, and said, “Lawson, preach the Word!” When a veteran pastor, teacher, writer and theologian clearly and compellingly counsels a course of action, one does what one’s told to do! Even more so when one knows the directive is the same charge Paul solemnly gave to Timothy (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Preaching is a vital cog in the wheel of Bible engagement. To know the Word, people have to hear the Word. To hear the Word, someone has to proclaim the Word. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 (NIV).

In North America there are about 700,000 vocational pastors, chaplains, preachers, teachers, ministers and evangelists who kerrusso (Greek meaning to herald and proclaim divine truth) the Word. Through times of convenience and inconvenience, regardless of cost or response, God commissioned men and women have an awesome trust: to give their all to declare the message of the King!

Preaching is unique. It’s not a talk about spiritual matters. It’s taking a stand with God’s Word. It’s allowing God, by the Holy Spirit, to speak the Word through you. It requires conviction, love, patience and endurance. And it requires a kingdom perspective – preachers must never lose sight of the fact that it’s not our words, but His Word we proclaim.

When the divine agent works through the human conduit, variety and creativity abounds. Despite the fact that different preachers deliver the Word differently, everyone should aim to preach the Word so that it:

  • is Christ-centered
  • proclaims the Gospel
  • profiles the Trinity
  • exudes grace
  • demonstrates the Spirits power
  • connects with the big Story
  • exegetes the text
  • explains and interprets culture
  • contains sound doctrine
  • hooks in with the audience
  • highlights truth
  • honours the biblical context
  • challenges, warns and urges
  • is organized, clear and focused
  • is authentic, relevant and authoritative
  • encourages questions
  • engages imagination
  • helps listeners hear from God
  • trains in righteousness
  • equips for good works
  • declares the counsel of God
  • emphasizes faith and obedience
  • invites repentance
  • moves hearers to action
  • informs the mind, inclines the heart, guides the will
  • prompts discussion and application
  • forms and transforms people in Christ
  • sends people back to the Word

Pastors, preach the Word! Every time you step into the pulpit make the Word the main point, not the footnote, of your sermon. Your preaching methodology, delivery style and even your sense of humour – everything must serve one end – to explain and proclaim God’s Word. Why? Because when the Bible speaks, God speaks!

Much more could be said. What would you add or subtract from the comments above?

[Note: October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Thank your pastor for preaching the Word. 1 Timothy 5:17]

© Scripture Union Canada 2013