Preaching, The Power of God

November 9, 2014 / No. 3749

Dear Radio Friends,
The church of Jesus Christ is always developing. There are periods in history when the church is strong and prospers in the truth. But it seems as if those periods are short lived. So often in the history of the church her members become at ease in Zion. Instead of developing in the truth of God’s Word, the church degenerates and departs from God. This takes place because the pastors and elders of the church begin to do what is right in their own eyes and fail to follow in the way of God’s Word. The objective standard of God’s Word is ignored or twisted to fit errors in doctrine and practice. Although God always preserves His faithful people and church, many in the church refuse to follow the clear teaching of the Bible.
This we find to be true today once again. Many contemporary churches believe themselves to be at the height of their spiritual development. They boast of what great things they do for Christ. But what Hosea was called to proclaim to the church of his day needs to be heard today more than ever: “Israel slideth back like a backsliding heifer.” Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” This is not a rash or unfounded accusation leveled against the churches of today either.
When the church begins to lose her moorings in the Word of God, she does so over a period of time. She does not become apostate over night. A series of developments often take place that leave the church void of knowledge. Although certainly we can trace what is happening in the church world today farther back into history, much of what we see today began its rapid descent in the early 1970s. At that time the charismatic movement infiltrated established churches. This movement stressed as the proper work of the Spirit feeling rather than knowledge. Through the decades following, churches once steeped in the knowledge of Scripture became filled with members who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches. Ultimately, this has led to the malady we see in society today: the increase in the numbers of of unchurched people.
This has had a domino effect over the past 50 years. First, the inerrancy of the Bible was questioned. The Bible—its history and its doctrines—were viewed as unnecessary. Second, since faith is feeling, since an emotional high is the fruit of Spirit, the preachers became motivational speakers out to entertain and make people feel good about themselves. The preaching was no longer viewed as an essential part of the worship service. Other, more emotional, “means” to convey the gospel were substituted in the place of the preaching. Today people not only do not understand what proper preaching is, they also do not comprehend the indispensable need of the preaching for faith and life. They do not understand how the preaching is ordained by God as essential for a person’s faith. The third domino that fell with the preaching is proper Sabbath observance. If the preaching is not an absolute necessity for a person’s spiritual life, then attending church services must not be all that necessary either. It becomes optional since the church has now eliminated the necessity to sit under the preaching.
And then the final domino—if proper Sabbath observance is optional, then what is the need for church membership? As long as I attend a worship service now and then; as long as I attend an occasional Bible study, whether affiliated with a church or not, I am a good Christian and need not join a church. This attitude toward the Bible, toward preaching, toward Sabbath observance, toward church membership has been promoted for decades—some 50 years already. Those converted in these past years to modern Christianity and those born in churches in the last 50 years no longer understand or see a need for any of these. Since the modern church and her teachers see no need for them, they have never taught the necessity of them. Blindness has fallen on much of Christianity today. No one can fathom the depths of the wisdom of God in His divine use of the preaching of the gospel. The result: our country is made up more and more of unchurched: a generation that knows not God—no, two generations now that know not God.
I have taken time to explain this because it is my intention in the next weeks to explain what the Bible teaches us about the preaching of the gospel. With that, I intend to set forth God’s command to sit beneath the preaching, since it is of absolute necessity for our spiritual lives. May God convict us of the truth of His Word.
What Is Preaching?
Preaching the Word of God is not a New Testament phenomenon. It was the calling of the prophets of the Old Testament to preach as well. Jonah received this call in Jonah 3:2, “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” Isaiah, in his prophecy concerning Christ, said of himself in Isaiah 61:1 that He was anointed to preach good tidings to the meek. The psalmist sings in Psalm 68:11, “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.” Already in the Old Testament, therefore, there was “the shout of a king” among the people, that is, the cry that heralded the coming of the King. So, that God has ordained preaching as the means to save and feed His people is not something that began with the gathering in of the nations at Pentecost but was always used in the church.
The Old Testament meaning of the term “preach” is “to herald.” In the New Testament there are two terms used to describe the preaching of the gospel by the church. The first one is the word from which we get our English word “evangelism.” This word means to proclaim the good news of salvation. And indeed this is what the pastor is called upon to do from the pulpit each Lord’s Day—proclaim the glad tidings of salvation. But this word for preaching is also used in a more general way to describe what every believer is called to do. All of us are witnesses to the gospel, all of us speak forth the glad tidings of salvation.
But there is another term found in the New Testament that is used to describe only the proclamation of the gospel by the preacher, or pastor. It is, once again, that word, “ to herald.” This word refers to the truth that the minister of the gospel is chosen by God to cry out or shout the word of a king. That is what the herald did years ago, long before the Internet, telephone, or mail delivery: he went out into the streets of the provinces and cities of the realm and cried out for everyone to hear the word of the king. As such, the message he brought—not one word omitted and not one word added—was the official word of the king. Moreover, these heralds were chosen to their position by the king himself. They were trusted and sent out in order to cry out or herald the king’s commands.
Now, in all of this the Bible reveals to us what God Himself teaches us about preaching. It is the official proclamation of the King by men the King sends out. Who is this King? None other than Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Head or the King of the church. This is the supreme principle of biblical church polity: Christ alone is the King or Head of the church. He reigns over His people in the church. He is the head of the body, and we as members are subservient to no other head save Jesus Christ Himself. No man can claim that to himself. There is no vicar of Christ, there is no supreme pontiff in the church other than Christ Himself. It is His Word that goes out into the church and the world. He it is that commands all men to believe and repent. He alone through His Spirit calls elect sinners out of darkness and into the confines of His church. But since Christ is no longer on earth but in heaven, His Word goes forth through the mouths of those whom He chooses unto this task. Christ chooses such men by His church. Romans 10:15 teaches, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Christ through His church sends out pastors and teachers into the midst of the church and world at large proclaiming the message of the King. The church trains and properly equips, calls, and sends men to preach the message of the King. That message is heard by means of the preaching of the gospel. The preacher takes in hand the Word of God and expounds to God’s people the Word of the King. What is that Word, what is the message of the ambassadors of Christ? The Scriptures, as they center in Christ and Him crucified.
Notice what Paul writes to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 1:22, 23: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” Or again in chapter 2:2: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul says, I determined not to bring to you anything else save the Word of the King of the church. Christ sends out His heralds to shout or to cry: salvation from sin through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross of Christ is the answer to the manifold sin and misery in this world. The cross of Christ is the only way back into the presence of God who has alienated us on account of sin. The cross of Christ pays the price of our guilt before God. The cross of Christ cleanses from iniquity and opens the eyes of those blinded in unbelief. The cross of Christ is the only source of joy and peace and assurance in this life. The only way! Christ gives this message into the hands of His servants and sends them out into the world and tells them to preach that gospel to all nations and peoples of the earth.
Now, there is something all of us must be aware of: there are many who do not preach this Christ in sincerity and truth. Christ Himself warns us that in the last days there will arise false Christs and false prophets who will say ,“Lo, here is Christ, or there.” Paul tells Timothy that in the last days evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. Many will come in the name of the King and teach a false Christ—a Christ they will pass off as the real Christ, but a Christ who is powerless to save, or a Christ that is only a wonderful teacher and example, but not a Savior. This is why the content of the preaching is more than simply the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The message of the King is Scripture in its entirety. “Preach the Word” is God’s command to the church in II Timothy 4:1. The Word—the inspired Scriptures that have as their central theme Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That Word of God is written in objective form so that no one can mistake it or deny it. And though evil men today still twist the simple testimony of the Scriptures to fit their purposes, nevertheless God’s people can read it for themselves. The Bible contains the message of the King. This is what must be preached in all its beauty and fullness. Every preacher is under obligation to bring the Word of God to God’s people, and all the while he must use it to bring God’s people to the cross of Jesus Christ.
Listen to how Paul explains this in I Corinthians 2:1-5: “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.” Paul went out into the cities of the world carrying with him the Word of God and preached from it the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He did not try to wax eloquent and intellectual so that no one could even understand what he was saying. He did not confuse people by his clever attempts to be witty and funny. He did not use enticing words or excellency of speech. He did not lay before people his own wisdom: his own anecdotes, his own advice, his own opinions in certain matters. He preached a simple message from the Scriptures. He expounded the Word of God.
What, I ask, do many churches and members of churches say about the preaching today? Many are concerned that preaching will take up too much time in worship, so the preacher is allotted but a few minutes. Many preachers are adept at preaching short moral homilies that perhaps contain a shred of truth but are without the power of the cross. Others take to the pulpit their political or social views. Others use the pulpit as a comedy skit to show how clever they are. Others who may speak for a longer period of time use the pulpit to promote their own private agenda. They teach a prosperity religion, or they work on people’s emotions to incite them in the gifts of the Spirit. Even those who limit themselves to the Bible give but a shallow overview of a chapter or two of the Bible. Few today truly herald the message of the King: studying, expounding, mining out of God’s Word the truth in Christ Jesus, and then proclaiming it and applying it.
Because of this, preaching today has become a lost art. It is little wonder that there are many who leave the church today. They are being given stones for bread and scorpions for fish. Who needs to sit under the preaching if the preaching is only that? Who needs to belong to a church if the church is giving them nothing? It is little wonder that those who yet remain in churches of today do not know of the power and efficacy of the preaching! They view it as only one more means among others to learn about the Bible. Discussion groups, concerts, or crusades are just as profitable to them. They do not recognize the power of God in the preaching because the power of God has not been present in the preaching they received. And when someone explains to them that the preaching of the gospel cannot be replaced, that it is indispensable for salvation, that it is so important in the life of a believer that he may not live without it, they are perplexed.
Why make such a big deal out of the preaching? Because God makes a big deal out of the preaching! The prophets of the Old Testament preached the Word: “thus saith the Lord!” and the people rejected what they taught. Because they rejected knowledge, the Lord rejected them and cast them out. Today Christ commands His church to preach the gospel to every creature. Paul writes about the preaching in the first four chapters of I Corinthians. God’s Word commands in II Timothy 4:1-4, “I charge thee therefore before God,… Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” In every epistle Paul explains the necessity and power of the preaching in the lives of God’s people. They cannot live, they may not live, without the preaching of the gospel. The command goes forth from the King of the church to the church: preach. Of course God commands His people to sit beneath the true preaching of the Word. For what other reason would Christ send forth the great company of preachers into this world if He did not want people to hear them?
Why Preaching
But why is preaching so much a necessity in the life of God’s people? What makes the preaching so special? Why is there no substitute for the preaching? What makes the preaching so unique a means of learning God’s Word? Paul explains it I Corinthians 1:18: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” That the preaching is the power of God unto salvation is repeated in verses 23, 24, and then one more time in I Corinthians 2:5. This is why so much of the contemporary church world of our day fails to understand: the preaching is the power or God! For a half a century her leaders have never taught this to her members! Her members are oblivious to it: the preaching is the power of God. What that means will have to wait for our next broadcast. Tune in then and we will discover the beauty and power of the preaching.