In some ways a “message” or “sermon” is like a speech, it conveys the speaker’s ideas using the basic conventions of communication. A lack of clarity and reasonable flow to the message can hinder the listener from actually understanding the content of the message. However, the mind of God cannot be confined to patterns or structures that may be sufficient in other venues. In other words, finely crafted oratory is not sufficient for communicating the mind of God.
Consider the following necessary ingredients, and how they relate to the preacher himself and to true spiritual communication of God’s truth:
Humility and awe
Peter, the first great preacher of the Christian era (apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, of course), penned the following: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God…” (1 Peter 4:10-11a, NIV). Notice that preaching is a “grace” from God. On the one hand, this is a gift tothe speaker, reflecting God’s grace. On the other hand, it is God’s gift to His people throughthe speaker. The Lord shows Himself to be abundantly gracious in providing a human mouth piece for His message to us.
From this we can draw two conclusions. First, the opportunity and ability to preach God’s word should humble us—it has nothing to do with being better or more worthy than another person. We did nothing to earn the rightto the platform. Second, preaching is a trustto be faithfully administered. It is the Lord’s gift, not ours. We are His spokesman and we dare not forget it. We should not shrink back from it with false humility, nor should we lordit over the platform with prideful self-confidence, making it our perch for controlling the Holy Spirit’s work among God’s people.
God’s reputation is at stake, and we need to obediently andhumbly fulfill this speaking ministry in the same way that the person with the gift of service humbly fulfills his serving ministry. Neither should be set above the other. In fact, Peter uses “service” as his next illustration of faithfulness in ministry: “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides…” (4:11b).
Did you notice the standard for speaking that Peter gives. We should speak as though we are conveying the “very words” of God. Now, this doesn’t mean we pontificate with our own authority—we do not speak infallibly, as some may fancy their ministry. Nor should we speak assertively with our own insecure or insincere interpretations. It is disingenuous to assert a strange view point in the attempts to be unique or authoritative. Remember the story of the old preacher’s notes where he had written in the margin by of his sermons transcript: “Weak point: pound the pulpit harder!”
Clearly, we should hold this role of preaching with a sense of humility and awe when speaking to God’s people about His truth. We should be overwhelmed with both of these: incredulous humility, because the Lord really does want to use me, poor vessel that I am; and motivating, inspiring awe. The Master of the universe does not lightly entrust us with his precious truth. Carefully, we must tread!
At the same time, we must speak confidently
with the real sense that God is communicating through us. We are simply the instrument, the message is His!
Peter continues his discussion with a clear goal for the exercise of our gifts: “… that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (4:11c). Preaching is not about you, the speaker. Nor is about me, when I speak. It’s all about God!
The ego with which we men struggle so vainly is both strong and fragile. It is strong to assert itself for praise and attention, but fragile to become hurt by people’s comments or lack thereof. If you are struggling with either of those, the message for you is simple: Get over it! The sooner this is dealt with, the sooner you become a tool in the hands of a holy, communicating God. The church needs men who can get this right, who have learned to be humble before God and speak confidently before others. It needs men who speak the very words of God, men whose goal is truly to focus the listener’s attention on Christ.
The Lord, speaking through Paul, put it another way: “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Cor 2:17). As Paul preached and taught, it was like the Lord Jesus Christ was sitting in the front pew. Talk about an incentive for integrity of speech! It is so easy to embellish a story or misquote a statistic to prove a point or to tell anecdotes that make the preacher himself look like a super saint. Paul was ever mindful of the Divine ear as he spoke to people.
Notice, also, that he wasn’t in the preaching “business” for his own benefit. Of course, the motivation for preaching should never be financial gain. But, Paul speaks to a broader perspective, namely that the man of God does not preach the word for his own benefit! It is not a showcase for someone to “make a name for himself.” The goal is, as John the Baptist puts it, “He must increase and I must decrease.” (John 3:3)
Messing up on this point is easy to do. An insincere attitude can not be easily hidden. Peter writes similar thoughts to elders in 1 Peter 5:2. Our motive should first, last and foremost be entirely: all for His glory!
True power in preaching comes with the reality of changed lives, where people become increasingly dependent upon God: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4-5).
Clearly, Paul could communicate quite eloquently as demonstrated in his writings. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 13 for a most eloquent statement on love, or the book of Romans for a masterful, tightly reasoned case for “justification”. However articulate and polished he may have been, Paul makes it clear that his message did not dependon rhetoric or finely crafted oratory. There was a spiritual power that gave force and effectiveness to the message, far beyond the conventions of humanly crafted speech.
He explains why this was so—namely, that his listeners would not become dependent upon human ability in communication, but upon the Spirit working through that communication. The sum and substance of his message was centered on the “wisdom” that came from God, that which can only be revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-10).
How can a preacher bring the power of power of the Holy Spirit to his message? It is already there, provided the message is from God. In a very real sense, the preacher must simply move his fleshly attitude out of the way, so the Spirit can “have at the people.” God’s word is powerful, not because of great oratory, but because of the work of His Spirit using a clean He has chosen. He brings conviction and encouragement to people lives. That is power!
In conclusion, excellence in preaching must include : humility, awe, focus, sincerity and power of the Holy Spirit.