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Every Sunday thousands of men around the world stand in front of their congregations and preach a sermon. How that sermon is received depends on a number of factors. For example, the sermon may have been poorly organized and left the listeners confused. The sermon may have been humorous and left the listeners feeling good. The sermon may have spoken against the character of the one delivering it and left the listeners cold-hearted toward him and God. The relationship between preaching and the preacher matters.
The fact that God uses men to proclaim His Word is well established in the Bible. God said to Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people...” (Is. 6:9). God informed the young Jeremiah that he was to speak “all that I [God] command you” (Jer. 1:7). The Apostle Paul writes that he was “appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (1 Tim. 1:11) of the gospel of Christ. The establishing of men to preach God’s Word carries to this day as some have been appointed as “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). Because God uses men to proclaim his Word, the men who proclaim it have certain responsibilities.
First, preachers have the responsibility to preach only God’s Word. The test for authentic Old Testament prophets was the actualizing of their prophesies. If what they prophesied came to pass then they were deemed a true prophet, however, if what was prophesied did not happen then they were deemed a false prophet. The key in this instance was whether or not the prophet proclaimed the words God gave him. Again, God commanded Jeremiah, “And all that I command you, you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7). Contemporary preachers have the same command to preach only the words of God. “If a man is truly called of God to be a preacher, then he is committed to declare ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27).1 Anything less than the Word of God constitutes man’s wisdom and deprives listeners of the Truth.
Second, preachers have the responsibility to rightly divide the Word of God. With Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) comes the expectation to accurately handle the Word (2 Tim. 2:15). The word “accurate” in this verse has the meaning of “cutting along a straight line.” Careful consideration of the text is required of the preacher in the preparation stage of sermon writing. To “cut in a straight line”2 necessitates the interaction of the preacher with the Word of God. Jim Shaddix likens the preacher to a reporter in this instance. In order for a news reporter to report the complete story they must investigate the circumstances, discern the facts, and report accurately. Preachers have the obligation to report on one subject: the gospel of Christ. The content of the report is so significant that preachers are obligated to report only God’s words and not their own. Because preachers are reporting for God, they have the obligation to report accurately.3
Through thorough interaction with the Word of God, the preacher will be able to determine the background, context, grammatical structure, and doctrinal importance of a passage.4 Such preparation not only impacts the life of the preacher but also lends to his authority in the pulpit as one who is well prepared for the preaching event. Preaching God’s Word rightly is necessary and impacts listeners but there is one more requirement for preachers.
Third, preachers have the responsibility to rightly live God’s Word. A leader who lives his or her message, whether right or wrong, gains the respect of both followers and detractors. The key to gaining respect, though, is living the message that is preached. This is the area in which the majority of preachers fail. Their preaching is not the problem; it is the living out of their preaching that is the problem. To this inconsistency, Stephen Olford writes, “One thing is certain: No preacher can fulfill his ministry, in terms of his life and work, without the lordship and leading of the Holy Spirit.”5
These words strike at the heart of pastoral leadership. With the ever-increasing distrust in the church in postmodern America, it is fundamental that preachers live out their preaching. There are three adjectives that must describe every preacher of the gospel. First, every preacher must live in humility. In order for Jesus to come to appear as a man He had to “humble Himself” (Phil. 2:8) by briefly giving up His glory. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesian church that while among them he served the “Lord with all humility” (Acts 20:19). Humility once again must mark the life of the preacher.
Second, every preacher must live in dependence. The Word of God commands every believer to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). In the immediate context of this command is the admonition to live as the wise not unwise. Every believer would do well to heed this advice but the preacher more so. Preachers have the impossible task of being the undershepherd of the church of Jesus Christ. Total dependence upon Christ is mandatory in order to lead well. Third, every preacher must live sacrificially. “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospe’’l (1 Tim. 1:8). Suffering and sacrifice does not always manifest itself in the physical. Jesus suffered greatly on the cross but He also suffered mentally and emotionally as well for the redemption of mankind. He suffered over sin of mankind (Matt. 23:37), for instance. Contemporary preachers must also learn to suffer and sacrifice for the gospel. Great sermons are not preached through minimal effort in the study. Souls are not won for Christ through minimal effort in prayer. Lives are not changed through minimal effort in ministry. When asked what is the key to Christian leadership Stephen Olford responded, “Bent knees, wet eyes, and a broken heart.”6 Humility, dependence, and sacrifice are three adjectives that must describe every preacher of the gospel.
1. Stephen F. Olford and David L. Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 19.
2. Cleon Rogers, Jr. and Cleon Rogers, III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 503.
3. Shaddix, James i>Passion-Driven Sermon (Broadman & Holman), 10-13.
4. Notes from Stephen Olford sermon “The Dynamics of Expository Preaching: The Method.” Expository Preaching and Spiritual Growth. The Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching. October 8 - 11, 2003.
5. Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching, 30.
6. Alan Redpath in A Passion for Preaching, ed. David L. Olford, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 156.