In our last article we examined preaching in the light of several passages from the Bible. We paid special attention to Romans 10:13-15, II Corinthians 5:18-20, and John 10:26-28. We also cited several passages from the Confessions: Lord’s Days 25, question 65; 35, question 98; and 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism; Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, and Article 3 of Head I of the Canons of Dordrecht. Our conclusions were that the Bible teaches two things about preaching: 1) Christ Himself speaks through preaching. That is, Christ functions through the office of the ministry of the Word of God. When a preacher has been duly called and ordained in office by the Church of Jesus he stands before the congregation as the representative, the ambassador of Jesus Christ. When that preacher faithfully preaches the Word of God he is bringing to the congregation the official Word of Jesus Christ, and the miracle of the sheep hearing the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd takes place. 2) The second truth unmistakably taught in the Bible is that because Christ speaks through the preaching, and because the sheep must hear His voice through that means, preaching is indispensable to salvation. Very simply put, no one can be saved apart from hearing Christ through the preaching of the Word. This latter is especially evident from the passage in Romans 10.
All of this has some terribly serious implications for both preachers and hearers of the Word. The preacher bears the grave responsibility of speaking Christ’s Word. He may not speak his own word when he preaches. That means the contents of His preaching must be nothing else than the Holy Scriptures, for there is the infallibly inspired Word of God in Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that all a preacher must do is quote the Bible. That is not preaching! But this does mean that the task of the preacher is to expound the Scriptures! He must explain the Bible in his sermons and apply what Christ says in the Scriptures to the need of his congregation. That is preaching and that is practical preaching. And only that kind of preaching saves them that hear!
The Apostle Paul sums this very beautifully in his Second Letter to Timothy, chapter two, verse fifteen: “Study to shew thyshelf approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” That text speaks volumes to God’s preachers! Preachers must not be concerned about what the congregation thinks of them. They are not to be worried about whether or not the congregation approves of them. They must be concerned only with what God thinks. Paul tells Timothy that he must do his utmost, he must strive diligently to reveal himself approved to God! He must exert every effort to be a workman who does not need to be ashamed before God. And the only way Timothy or any preacher is going to be approved of God is by “rightly dividing the word of truth!” His task is to cut straight the Word of truth! According to the context of this verse this means Timothy must avoid waging empty, vain, useless word battles which only subvert the hearers, and he must have nothing to do with profane empty chatter. Rather his task is to interpret the Word of truth aright. William Hendriksen captures the idea rather well in his New Testament Commentary on this passage, pp. 262, 263: “The man who handles the word of the truth properly does not change, pervert, mutilate, or distort it, neither does he use it with a wrong purpose in mind. On the contrary, he prayerfully interprets Scripture with Scripture. He courageously, yet lovingly, applies its glorious meaning to concrete conditions and circumstances, doing this for the glory of God, the conversion of sinners, and the edification of believers.”
Preaching therefore does not mean that the minister just presents beautiful, logical summations of some doctrines. But it means the preacher applies those doctrines of the Word to the concrete need of the church. He lets the Word shine on the path and life of the child of God. For example when he expounds the amazing doctrine of the love of God for us as revealed at the cross of Jesus Christ he never fails to tell the congregation that the practical implication is that we as the beloved of God must love one another with God’s love!
That is practical preaching—faithful exposition of the Word of God in the light of the Word of God as it applies to all of life. There is no substitute for that! Drama, films, group discussions, chalk-talks, psalm singing cannot take the place of the preaching. It is exactly the lack of good, practical preaching that is causing all the trouble in the church world today. Young people are disillusioned with the Church. It has no meaning or significance for them. The church is lifeless, out of touch, full of formalism that leaves the youth cold. WHY? The answer is: THE CHURCH HAS LONG AGO STOPPED PREACHING! Yes, there are still “sermons” delivered. Often they are delivered very capably. It is said they are very practical, too, because they speak out on the issues of the day: ghettos, poverty, war, race relations, politics, and the rest! The trouble is they are only the opinions of a man and they are NOT the living and abiding Word, which by the gospel is preached unto you, (I Peter 1:23-15)! No wonder the youth are disturbed. No wonder church membership is declining! Protestant Reformed young people, pray fervently that God will spare our churches from that! Pray for your pastors that God will. give them courage, faithfulness, love for the people of God, and above all the desire to be approved of God as workmen who don’t need to be ashamed because they rightly divide the word of truth! Therein lies the blessing of God upon our churches and upon you the youth of the church! The fruit of that preaching will be that the church flourishes and grows in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church will be strong and steadfast, the people of God will not fall from their steadfast position, and the glory will be to God. (cf. II Peter 3:17, 18) That preaching will be the power to bring the youth of God’s church to the consciousness of their faith so that they confess it before Him and His Church. Under the power of that preaching the church will be alive and full of the love of God. Its members will be consecrated as strangers in the world to the cause of Jesus Christ, the living witnesses God intends them to be. That is the sure fruit, because through that preaching Jesus will powerfully call His weary and heavy-laden sheep to Himself, and they will come to Him and receive rest. Or to put it in terms of Romans 10, thru that preaching the children of God will hear Christ, believe in Him, and call upon His name and be saved!
There is a final implication that deserves our attention. Because Christ speaks through the preaching, the preaching has authority. When your pastor faithfully expounds the infallible Scriptures he is not saying things which you may take or leave at your own discretion or whim. He is confronting you with the living Christ Who demands your whole being and life! And you have no choice but to listen and obey. We may not take the attitude that what the preacher says is his idea or his opinion. It is the Word of Christ. Let us not neglect the Word of Christ! Let us not stay away from the preaching. Let us avail ourselves of it at both services and at the weekday services and in the catechism room. Let us not sleep in the presence of Christ. When Christ is speaking let us not be tuning Him out by thinking of our things. When we come into the church of God for worship let us remember that our feet are standing on holy ground! And let us NEVER leave the church that faithfully preaches the living Word of Jesus Christ. That is THE ONLY IMPORTANT thing in life. With the desire to sit at the feet of Jesus and to walk in His steps as His disciples we will make very sure that our boyfriends and girlfriends desire the same. With that desire we will forsake all for the sake of Christ. It is THAT crucial.
To sum the matter . . . practical preaching is preaching that interprets the Word of God and applies it to the lives of God’s people. Demand nothing less of your pastors. Demand that they bring you the Word of Christ. And never forget to pray for them!