That God has ordained and blessed the world through preaching should be obvious. Scripture records the spiritual advances that have been made through the preaching of God’s Word1. In addition we are specifically exhorted to “Preach the Word”2. It follows therefore that we should encourage preaching to be done in the finest way possible.
There are many helpful books giving instruction on the preparation and delivery of messages. These are useful and teach something to preachers of any age. However, preaching should not be thought of as merely an exercise in public speaking. While it may share some characteristics of the orator or public speaker, true preaching of the Word of God has a high spiritual content and is dependent not on natural ability but on spiritual gift bestowed through the Holy Spirit.
In light of that we can identify characteristics of the working of the Holy Spirit in public preaching. Here are some that should mark every message.
Exaltation of Christ
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to communicate Christ. When a man preaches he should always give Christ His rightful place – the highest. This has many immediate benefits in the message.
Firstly, He should always be spoken of with honor and respect and held high in our language. “God has highly exalted Him”3 and so should we.
Secondly, truth about Christ should resonate with every believer. Being “in Christ” means we respond to things about Him. This will truly feed believers. Consider for example the account in Luke 24:13-35. Luke records, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.”4 They said “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?”5 We want a “heart burning” ministry in preaching.
Thirdly, exalting Christ means we do not exalt ourselves. Many a message is ruined when a preacher includes too much of himself and makes himself the hero of every story. A true preacher is not interested in what people are thinking about him; a true preacher is interested in what people are thinking about Him.
The object of the exercise of gift is to build up believers. Not everything is edifying. It is possible for preachers to stir up controversy over issues that have little if any, practical spiritual benefit. Paul warned against “endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying.”6 We are not guaranteed an answer to every question we put forth, and when there is no clear answer from scripture, we should remain silent on the subject. Even when the apostles wrote to correct believers on their spiritual deficiencies, there was always a heavy dose of building up in the process. There is a way to correct without tearing down.
Evangelize the Lost
In almost every gathering of the assembly, it is likely that unbelievers will be present. Children or others who are showing interest may not know the Lord. In the process of expounding scripture, elements of the gospel should be present. It is always wise, if even for a few minutes, to pause and bring up some issue of the gospel for people to think about. You never know who is listening. Preaching the gospel is also a help to believers. It too, is part of the “apostles’ doctrine” that the early church steadfastly continued in7. Make every effort to evangelize the lost.
The scripture has its own supernatural power to change both believer and unbeliever alike. It should be a great relief to a young preacher to realize he does not have to be clever or knowledgeable in himself, but simply preach the Word. Let the Bible speak for itself in its own way of explaining things. We cannot improve on God’s Word. It has its own ability to interact with the mind and heart quite apart from what we say. Paul exhorted Timothy to “…give attendance to reading”8 that is, the public reading of scripture. Poor preaching is usually the result of insufficient time spent thinking and meditating on scripture. Again, Paul tells us, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”9 If you think about the preachers you like and have found them to be helpful, you will notice that they preach messages that are heavily immersed in scripture.
Energized by the Holy Spirit
The preacher relies on the work of the Holy Spirit to bring power to the message. While there is a human side in study, prayer and preparation, there is also the divine side of the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter writes, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles [mouthpiece] of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be gloried through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”10
The Spirit’s chief ministry is the communication of God’s Word and He will take that Word and use it in people’s lives. Praying preachers and prayed-for preachers will know much of the Spirit’s power.
Spiritual gift shows itself in different ways with different preachers. There is not a uniform way to preach. Each has his own gift. However, there are some common elements. We would know more power and effect in preaching if these priorities for preaching were found in every message. May the Lord help us to “Preach the Word.”
1. Nehemiah 8:7-12
2. 2 Timothy 4:2
3. Philippians 2:9
4. Luke 24:27
5. Luke 24:32
6. 1 Timothy 1:4
7. Acts 2:42
8. 1 Timothy 4:13
9. 1 Timothy 4:15, 16
10. 1 Peter 4:10, 11