by John Meador
Pastors and preachers need to be asking questions about their preaching these days. Questions like, "Why do I preach what I preach, and why do I use a particular approach to my preaching? Do I do justice to something as supernatural and serious as God's Word when I stand before people and speak? And just what would Jesus Christ-the true Head of the church-have me do week in and week out? What will ultimately bring glory to Him and fruit in the lives of believers?"
How we answer those questions will impact what we do in the pulpit, and where we get the answers to those questions is equally important!
Analyzing the preaching of Jesus, Paul and Peter is a wonderful exercise that brings much insight. We learn a great deal by evaluating these masters of truth. Alongside that, let me suggest that we listen carefully to their advice, specifically to the leaders of the churches they wrote to-advice about preaching, content, even about the approach we take to the message.
Jesus gave us a powerful and convicting example in the Gospel of John that leads us to be careful in our motivation: " I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (John 8:28-29 NAS). What an example to follow! Is my teaching and preaching something that is from my own initiative (however I am motivated), or is it from His? Asking that question may bring me to a different attitude in preparing messages. It speaks of a prayer life, of listening to God, of finding affirmation in the search and study process. In my experience, such searching and wrestling over what text we preach from brings great authority and freedom in the pulpit.
Peter's counsel points us to be careful in our study: " no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:20-21 NAS). The primary point is that the source of Scripture was the Holy Spirit, not man.
The secondary point, and one naturally following the first, is that we cannot understand the meaning of Scripture simply through our own perspective, but through the totality of God's truth. In other words, be careful what you say God's Word says! Many are the times I've grappled with wanting to make the text say something, but having to conclude that it did not say that. No matter how sincere my motivation, wrong interpretation is wrong preaching. Peter says, "It is not yours to twist. Your job is to discover what the Holy Spirit is really saying. Preach that!"
Paul's advice to Timothy is a commentary on how to be careful in our approach to preaching. He guides us in our style of preaching. Writing to young Timothy, he emphasizes that this letter deals with conduct in the household of God. (1 Tim. 3:15) And what does he prescribe to Timothy as he preaches? "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and teaching" (1 Tim. 4:13 NAS).
Reading, exhortation, and teaching. Does your preaching reflect these three things? Instead of simply referring to Scripture, you should read it! Read entire texts at the appropriate times, let the people hear the words of God that have been given to us. That is how faith takes place.
Exhortation refers to the act of encouraging people to apply truth to their lives by lovingly confronting them with the truth you've read and explained. Teaching is the act of explanation of a passage of Scripture. Actually taking the time to talk about the words, what they mean, and how they fit into the overall passage.
I believe it is important to read the text first, as a basis for what you are going to say; teach the people what those words mean in context; then exhort them to apply the truth to their lives on a daily basis, illustrating along the way. I make it a priority to do this for each point of the passage. By the time we're through, people should understand the Scripture, remember much of what it means, and know how to apply it to everyday living.
As preachers, we have a great calling! May we be found faithful and pleasing to Him as we go about our work as "stewards of the mysteries of God."
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.