What is Preaching?

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:1-4). 

Pastors, your charge today is the same charge that God gave to Timothy in his day. God’s truth does not change. There are no new heresies, and non-theological preaching still seeps into our churches. We must never forget what true preaching (κηρύσσω) is and what it does. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been such a great help to many pastors throughout the years. His insight on the nature of preaching brings great clarity to the matters of our own day.

According to Lloyd-Jones, the “work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called” (Preaching and Preachers, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 17). If this is true, why isn’t preaching the element of primary importance in many of our churches’ Sabbath services? I suggest that it is because many do not understand the nature or the goal of preaching. When preaching is less than what God intended it to be, churches degenerate from the body of Christ into an organization or a social club. This was a problem in Lloyd-Jones’ day, and it most definitely is a problem today. 

Preaching is the primary task of the church of God. We are to be men who preach the Word and long for the opportunity to listen to the Word preached. Preaching should not be secondary in our Sabbath Worship to God. We are set apart, “devoting ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word,” (Acts 6:4). The church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15). Therefore, there is no substitute for the true, biblical, theological, authoritative, and Spirit-filled preaching of the whole counsel of God.

Preaching Defined

According to Lloyd-Jones, the man of God must faithfully preach in the pulpit during Sabbath Worship. He is “there to deliver the message of God, a message from God to those people. In the language of Paul, he is ‘an ambassador for Christ.’ That is what he is. He has been sent, he is a commissioned person, and he is standing there as the mouthpiece of God and of Christ to address these people” (64). Preaching is making the connection between God and His people through His Word. Preaching is a transaction between the pastor and the congregation. It is the proclamation of the whole counsel of God to the whole person listening. The preacher deals with the whole person, as Lloyd-Jones teaches, and his preaching is designed to influence and affect the whole person at the very center of life. “It does something for the soul of man, for the whole of the person, the entire man; it deals with him in a vital and radical manner” (64).

Preaching directly deals with the souls of men and influences the whole person, and that fact testifies to the importance and primacy of preaching in the church. Through preaching, God addresses the church through the Holy Spirit. He brings the church under conviction of lawlessness, and tells her of the promises of God in the Gospel. Preaching “addresses us in such a manner as to bring us under judgment; and it deals with us in such a way that we feel our whole life is involved, and we go out saying, ‘I can never go back and live just as I did before’” (66). It is mainly through preaching that the church is conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) and is taught to submit to God’s law under grace (Rom 8:7). Through preaching we are commanded to mortify our sin and die to ourselves daily (Rom 8:13) because of Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf. Through faithful preaching, the church of God learns and grows in its understanding of Law and Gospel as found throughout all the Scriptures (Gal 2:15-16; Rom 4:13-15; James 2:8-11). Preaching is “Logic on fire! Eloquent reason!” (110).

As presented by Lloyd-Jones, preaching consists of two elements that together fulfill the purpose of preaching. They are, in summary, the content of what is being preached and the act of preaching, or the delivery. There is a distinction between the two, but you can never truly have one without the other; otherwise it is simply not preaching.

The Content of Preaching

Our content should arise from the Word of God, centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The preacher that “depends upon what he reads in the newspapers for his message on Sunday” (69), making comments on political matters or anything he likes is a topical preacher. Similarly, a therapeutic preacher’s primary goal or focus is to make the people feel happy and positive about their lives. Both are prime examples of what our content and motives should not be. 

Then what is our message? What should be the content of your sermon on Sunday morning? Remember in Acts 3 the short but profound statement that Peter spoke to the lame man when he asked them (Peter and John) for alms. Peter said to him, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (v. 6). What was his message? Christ. It is simple yet so deep and true. 

This is not to say that a preacher merely gives a gospel presentation. Rather, to preach Christ is to preach all of Christ, all of His Word, that is, the whole counsel of God in relation to Christ. If we are sent by our churches and if we are truly called by God to preach as His ambassadors, then we speak for Him; namely, we speak the text by way of expository preaching. We exposit the Scriptures for what they plainly say and explain what they mean to the church of God. “I deliver to them what has been given to me. I have been given it, and I give it to them. I am a vehicle, I am a channel, I am an instrument, I am a representative” (71).

Moreover, our content is to be evangelistic, calling all to repent and believe Jesus Christ.  “Evangelistic preaching worthy of the name starts with God and with a declaration concerning His being and power and glory” (72). Preaching of the One true God will contrast Him with false idols, exposing their emptiness and uselessness. This in turn “leads on to preaching the Law. The character of God leads to the Law of God—God’s whole relationship to the world and to man” (73). 

Our preaching should be theological as well; “evangelism which is not theological is not evangelism at all in any true sense” (76). How can we preach the law of God, sin, and our need for salvation without dealing with the doctrine of man and the doctrine of sin? We get these doctrines straight from the Scriptures, the whole of Scripture. Lloyd-Jones says:

“The doctrine in a particular text, we must always remember, is a part of this greater whole—the Truth or the Faith. That is the meaning of the phrase ‘comparing Scripture with Scripture’. We must not deal with any text in isolation; all our preparation of a sermon should be controlled by this background of systematic theology” (77).

The Act of Preaching

As Lloyd-Jones teaches, there are several qualities that the preacher must have while he is preaching. The first is that his whole personality must be completely involved. Preaching is not a speech that masks the preacher’s personality. It is an act in which the whole man is involved. Our gestures, inflections, affections, etc., should all naturally rise from the preacher’s personality. These things come from the preacher naturally, not because of how he was trained in seminary (96).

We are to preach with a “sense of authority and control over the congregation and the proceedings” (97). This authority is not located in the preacher but in the Word of God, which is inherently infallible and authoritative (See 2LCF Chapter 1), and by the Holy Spirit who helps the preacher to proclaim God’s Word accurately. We preach with authority because of what we preach. As ambassadors of God, we are under commission, under authority, and we are aware that we are stewards of God’s authority. We do not preach hesitatingly, giving the impression that we merely have suggestions and ideas. “You have no self-confidence, but you are a man under authority, and you have authority; and this should be evident and obvious” (97) in your preaching.

Our preaching should be serious. “He must never give the impression that preaching is something light or superficial or trivial” (99). If we truly believe in the content of our sermon, we will rightly have a good attitude about our preaching, for we know that we are speaking to the souls of men and their condition. We preach the Law of God, which reveals and exposes our sin, and the glorious Gospel of Jesus, which promises to save sinners from the bondage of sin and misery. What does that say of our character when we preach in such a way to make light the things of God? We ought to be like Robert Murray McCheyne, about whom it was said, “the very sight of the man gave the impression that he had come from the presence of God and that he was to deliver a message from God to them” (100).

Conclusion

Pastors, never forget your duty and the task that God has given you. Do not neglect its weight and importance. God has specially called you and commissioned you according to His Holy Scripture. Preach the Gospel, the whole counsel of God, His Law, His promises, His commandments, and His love. Bring God’s people into His presence, into communion with Him by the proclamation of God’s Word. Take full advantage of the time allotted to you every Sunday morning to worship God in your preaching. Your work is laid out before you. Take hold of it and fight for your King. Preach the Word, dear brothers! Amen.

“The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in His churches, in the ministry of the Word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him;” (2LBF 26.10).

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1:17-18).