Whenever I step behind the pulpit to preach, I am reminded of the sacredness of the task and the holiness of the moment. It didn’t used to be this way for me, since I did not have a good understanding of what it means to preach God’s Word. So what does it mean to be a biblical preacher? Here are seven fundamentals to preaching Scripture faithfully:
Preach as God’s Mouthpiece
When we preach Scripture, God speaks to His people through us. So the pulpit is not the place for me to share my personal spiritual insights or my practical living advice. God does not call His church together to listen to me and whatever wisdom from the world that I may have learned. God’s people come together to hear from Him! As amazing as it is to recognize, I have been called by God to serve as His mouthpiece. He has entrusted to me the responsibility of bringing His message to His church. I do not preach myself or my thoughts but God’s Word. As much as I am faithfully proclaiming His truth, God speaks through me. This is why the Second Helvetic Confession summarizes preaching this way: “The Preaching of the Word of God Is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is preached, and received of the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be feigned, nor to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; who, although he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God abides true and good” (I:4)
Preach Expositional Sermons
If we preach as God’s mouthpiece, then this means that our sermons must deliver His message. And how do we know His message? Through what He has revealed in His Word. So the meaning of a passage is the message of the sermon. We don’t begin a sermon with what we want to say and then try to find a passage or some verses of Scripture that will prove what we want to say. We place ourselves under God’s Word, seeking to learn what it is saying to us, so that we can turn around and show our people what God is saying to them. Scripture rules over what we preach because we are simply explaining what it says and applying it into our lives and the lives of God’s people. Therefore, we must take time to understand what God has revealed clearly so that we can pass it on to His people.
Preach the Whole Counsel of God
All of Scripture is God’s Word, and His people deserve a balanced diet from all of the Scriptures. As preachers, we generally have our preferences for certain kinds of books and favorite passages in Scripture. And I have found that this often leads to a focus in America on the letters of Paul for sermon series. But the majority of God’s Word is history, most of which is found in the Old Testament. If we do not preach these stories, then our people are missing out on hearing the majority of what God has sovereignly chosen to reveal to us! This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t preach from the letters of Paul, or that we shouldn’t preach from other books in the New Testament. But it does mean that preaching from the Old Testament should be a regular part of our preaching ministry.
Preach to Yourself
We need God’s Word to penetrate our lives as well. In one sense, our preaching ministry to others is simply the overflow of what God has already worked in our hearts. We cannot separate what we preach from who we are. So we must put our lives under the rule of Scripture, first preaching the message to ourselves and applying its truths in our own lives. As preachers, we must not be hypocrites: bold behind the pulpit while compromising and unrepentant in our lives. My sermons should be coming from the overflow of my heart and life, preaching to God’s people as a fellow sinner saved by grace and striving to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Preach After Much Prayer
We must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us insight, wisdom, and power to proclaim God’s truth. Nothing that I do in sermon preparation has any value apart from the blessing of the Holy Spirit. I need His insight to understand God’s Word, I need His wisdom to apply God’s Word to my life and the life of others, and I need His power to open minds and hearts to receive His truth, to convict and save lost sinners, and to edify and equip believers in Christ. As a result, my sermon preparation should be filled with prayer!
Preach with Confidence
When I preach, it becomes easy for me to focus on my failures and on how people respond (or don’t respond!) to my message. I don’t see much fruit from my ministry, and it makes me wonder if I should continue. Of course, I have a long way to grow as a preacher, and I should learn from my failures and pray for God to bless the preaching of His Word with fruitfulness. At the same time, I also take comfort in remembering that God’s Word shall not return to Him empty, but it shall accomplish that which He purposes, and shall succeed in the thing for which He sent it. My confidence does not come from my abilities and skills as an orator, or in my knowledge and wisdom as a theologian, but from the power of God’s Word to carry out His will for His glory.
As pastors called by God to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, every sermon must connect to Christ. We must have the same mindset as the Apostle Paul when he said: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Or as Paul said to the Colossians: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). This is why we preach—so that Christ will be known and believed in for salvation! We want all who hear us to receive eternal life and to become more and more like Christ.
Here are two diagnostic questions that I like to use before I preach a sermon: First, Would a Jew Disagree with Anything that I Preach in this Message? By asking this question, I check to make sure that Christ has been clearly proclaimed in my sermon. This question is especially important when preaching from the Old Testament. Second, Would a Roman Catholic Disagree with Anything that I Preach in this Message? When I ask this question, I want to make sure that the gospel of Christ has been clearly proclaimed in my sermon. I want Christ and the gospel to be so clear that those who do not believe in Christ and trust in His gospel will be confronted with their need as sinners and with His promise as our Savior!
My prayer is that these seven fundamentals of biblical preaching will prove helpful to you as you seek to faithfully open the Word of God so that our Savior will be glorified and His church will be built. What a glorious privilege we have to preach! Let us not take the pulpit for granted.