Monday, December 07, 2009

The Priority of Preaching

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]

Today, as I reflect on Mark 1:29-39, I can't help but continue to dwell on the fact that Jesus' priority in His routine ministry was preaching. I must confess...I may be dwelling there because preaching is a big portion of what God has called me to do. While I recognize that bias, I am going to plunge forward with these thoughts. A man approached me after the service just yesterday who said that the teaching about the priority of preaching really resonated in his soul. A church he was attending in another time in his life focused their energies on other things, and he just knew it was wrong. (He's not a pastor, so I may not be alone in focusing here.)

So, let's think about the emphasis to be placed on preaching. Do you think preaching is important in the Bible? Have you ever been tempted to think that a pastor might emphasize preaching so he can be "in the spotlight" more often? Do you think preaching is just a 'necessary evil' within the context of corporate worship? Let's think about what the Bible says.

1. Preaching is important in the Old Testament. Think of Ezra's role in Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-8. He brings the Law of God to the people after the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, reads it, and then (with the help of others) explains what it means. This celebration of God's work through His people would be incomplete apart from proclaiming Him through preaching. Isaiah's call (6:8-10) is the call to preach, and then the rest of the book is primarily a record of his preaching ministry to God's people. God's call to the prophet Jonah was to go to Nineveh and preach. God's call to Amos was to go and preach to the northern kingdom of Israel. In fact, all the books that we call "major and minor prophets" are books containing the preaching ministries of various men set apart by God. Noah was even called a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5).

2. Preaching is important in Jesus' ministry. You can refer back to the message from yesterday, but in addition to that, think about Matthew's gospel. We see what is often called the "sermon on the mount" from chapters 5-7. Jesus preaches against the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23, and then He preaches about the end times in chapters 24-25. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve to minister. What kind of ministry are they to do? Verse 7 records Jesus' words: "And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Jesus sent them out to preach.

3. Preaching is important in the early church (Acts). It was a sermon that would clarify the meaning of the coming of the Holy Spirit (2:14-36). It was a sermon that pointed people away from focusing on miracles and to Jesus Christ (3:12-26). It was preaching that became the focus of the apostolic ministry (6:1-7). Even as the book of Acts closes, we find that it is preaching that marches on: "[Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:30-31).

4. Preaching is important in the rest of the New Testament. In Romans, Paul is eager to preach the gospel (1:15), and he says that the only way people will hear and believe the gospel is if it is preached (10:14-17). In 1 Corinthians 9:16, Paul proclaims woe on himself (and anyone else, by implication) is he does not preach the gospel. And what was it Paul wanted to pass on to young Timothy as he saw the sun setting on his own ministry? "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Paul wants Timothy to preach the gospel because a time will come when people won't put up with the gospel...won't put up with sound doctrine...they just want to hear what they want to hear but not what God wants them to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

As if this isn't enough, it needs to be stated that the end of preaching is not simply a way to boost Bible knowledge. It is not primary so that we can have thick notebooks and strong minds but empty, anemic hearts. The end of preaching is the exaltation of God and the work He has done in Jesus Christ. It is the gospel we preach, or, as Paul has put it, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). This tempts us to think that preaching is only for those who do not believe, but this can't be true since Paul was always talking to the church in his writings. I was at a conference a few years ago, and a pastor was talking about the real temptation to not preach the gospel because "your people already know these things." His response was simple, "A healthy believer loves to hear the gospel proclaimed." The gospel not only evangelizes the also strengthens the believers.

Read these words from A.W. Tozer:

"Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God (Side Note: 'Exposition' is an explanation or interpretation of the meaning/purpose of a text.) Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any spiritual nourishment whatever...The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts."

Now, look at the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Dr. Lloyd-Jones was a physician, so he often uses those kinds of images in his preaching):

"So I would sum up by saying that it is preaching alone that can convey the Truth to people, and bring them to the realization of their need, and to the only satisfaction for their need. Ceremonies and ritual, singing and entertainment, and all your interest in political and social affairs, and all else cannot do this. I am not denying that they can produce effects, I have granted that they can, and that this is where the danger sometimes comes in. What men and women need is to be brought to a 'knowledge of the truth'; and if this is not done you are simply palliating symptoms, and patching up the problem for the time being."

We have seen that the Bible places a high priority on preaching, and we have read some thought-provoking words from two godly men in the recent past. The questions that remain are these: what will you do with what you have read? Does your attitude toward preaching need to change, and if so, how? How will you listen to the preaching of the gospel differently this week as a result of these reminders? Do you see real, spiritual benefits for your own soul in hearing the gospel proclaimed week by week...if not, why not? If so, what are those benefits?

These may be helpful questions to think about this week. Maybe you can think of more. Put them with the Bible and notebook or pen you carry to corporate worship. When you are tempted to devalue the preaching of the gospel, pull them out again and ask the Lord to help you see preaching as He does. Let's think on these things together.

That's all for now...I have studying to do so that I can preach the gospel this Sunday.