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« Plain Talk about Church | Main | How to Speak in Tongues »

Preaching Ourselves

If “Christ and Him crucified” defines the parameters of preaching, much of the rhetoric that passed for preaching in Paul’s day didn’t pass muster.  We glean from his epistles that many preachers were preaching the Old Testament law.  Some were preaching foolish questions and genealogies.  Others were preaching philosophy and other deceptive topics.  Some were even caught up in doctrines of devils, aberrant forms of the gospel and divisive politics.  Someone needed to sound the alarm and call a halt to drivel that was out of place in the preaching ministry.  Paul’s pure calling and clear vision of the mission of the church made him the man to do it. 

The Apostle demonstrated extraordinary insight into his own weaknesses when he declared his purpose in the content and style of his preaching.  “We preach not ourselves, but Christ and Him crucified.”  With his incisive intellect, his liberal arts education and his mastery of Judaism, Paul could easily have become his own favorite subject.  He did not.  He enunciated this conviction so adamantly that one gets the sense he did not have just his own ministry in mind, but that he intended it to be a stern warning to other preachers of the gospel as well.  His reasoning is evident.  Given the latitude of content typically granted to a preacher, and noting the credibility the preacher assumes as he mounts the pulpit, Paul knew that the opportunity to speak to the church could be extremely dangerous.  A preacher could usurp his privilege for purposes outside the strictures of the gospel message.  

Two thousand years have passed since that warning, but preachers are still at it.  Every day, a new, intriguing thought seems so interesting, so compelling to a preacher that he or she has to give it air time.  Green energy, environmental exploitation, workers’ rights, political scandal, consumers’ issues, corporate greed and social justice are all topics that make it into an untold number of stained glass tirades every Sunday.  Add to that the feminists’ concerns, the same-sex marriage controversy, the homosexual agenda, the anti-patriotic themes and the countless invectives against literal interpretations of the Bible and you have an unending source of homiletic material, thin on scripture but thick with current events and celebrated causes.  

Many sermons don’t even make it to the level of the aforementioned subjects.  They wallow around in self-pity, humorous monologues, charades of Bible stories, pet peeves, irritations de jour, regurgitations of past offenses, dubious renditions of Bible events, personal vendettas and self-glorifying speechifying.  Others delve into detailed explanations of their private version of prophetic themes, tedious analyses of Hebrew and Greek words or wearisome history lessons.  Some homilies would be better delivered in a psychology classroom or a political science forum.  Some diatribes even border on spiritual abuse.  Any mention of Christ and Him crucified may be inserted at the beginning of a message to give it token legitimacy, or at the end as a formality.  The body of the sermon features an extra-biblical theme and covers up a conspicuous lack of the blood and the cross.  

A number of years ago, someone characterized my preaching in a way that was intended to be an insult disguised as a backwards compliment.  “He finds a way to preach about Acts 2:38 in every message.”  I have always considered it as a badge of honor. Every message I preach needs to show Christ and Him crucified in some form, regardless of how it fits in.  Any solution I present, any summary I give, any question I answer, any advice I deliver needs to be soaked in the blood of Christ.  The old song says it best, “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”  This doesn’t mean that no other topic can be mentioned; it does mean that Christ and His cross must stand as the ultimate solution to every problem.  A Christless gospel or a crossless Christ is utterly devoid of saving grace.  

  • If my message conveys my own thoughts which are not rooted in scripture;
  • If my message consists primarily of my own opinions, no matter how informed they may be; 
  • If my message panders to special interest groups, even if it finds little or no basis in scripture; 
  • If my message focuses on my own self image irrelevant to the gospel;
  • If my message puts my own knowledge or wisdom on display to impress others; 
  • If my message is delivered mainly to titillate, entertain, provoke or shock an audience;
  • If my message is calculated to build the hearer’s self esteem without an attempt to exalt Christ;
  • If my message is a deliberate attempt to emulate the style or thoughts of popular speakers;
  • If my message is to motivate people to look to someone other than Christ and His cross: 

Then, I am preaching myself. 

No one who acts as an agent or ambassador for another entity has the right to make up his or her own rules. An agent operates only as an emissary for a third party.   All business transacted, all messages delivered and all decisions made must be in the stead of the sender.  Even so, every time a preacher undertakes to deliver a message to the church as a spokesperson for the gospel, he or she is under mandate to preach Christ and Him crucified.  I consider this an extremely important matter.  Precious souls hang in the balance.  

As a disclaimer, I am not suggesting that we cannot use illustrations or personal references, or that we cannot express certain viewpoints relative to the message we preach.  It is certainly useful to incorporate relevant material from current events to augment our message.  What I am saying, however, is that when we consider the gist or core of the message, there must be a solid picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Any omission or even diminution of that central theme subverts the purpose of preaching.  

If you preach, you need to ask yourself why.  What is your purpose?  Do you know?  Really?  What are you actually trying to do?  Your purpose must not be to set yourself up as an icon to be worshipped, save the physical planet, champion social causes, goad people into prosperity or manipulate people into self-serving schemes.  Neither should it be to patronize the wealthy and powerful, prostitute yourself to unscrupulous forces or merely to collect a paycheck.  

Public speakers are many and have myriad purposes.  Preachers are few and have only one purpose.  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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Reader Comments (4)

The lord bless you Pastor Jordan. Powerful message as I read it I felt the witness of the Spirit of our God. revealing to me that the Spirit and the Word are indeed one. In reference to your post, the message of Acts 2:38 is the salvation the Holy Ghost bears witness too. His witness is his own Word.
Good preaching.
Brother Paul

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaulB Thomas

Poignant ..... AND URGENT, in this hour. There is a preaching crisis in the Pentecostal pulpit ... and this is a clarion call that needs to be heard.

Thank you for NAILING IT!

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Alicea

Maybe your best yet!

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGWHall

Thank You Bishop! I needed that.

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR Donohoo

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