The sovereignty of God is a reality too rich to taste all at once. Constant meditation on God's sovereignty will paradoxically satisfy a believer yet leave him hungry for more. The Bible is explicit on the ultimate end of a Christian: to be forever in the presence of God worshipping Him unhindered by sin having been made righteous internally and externally by the work of Christ and the Spirit. For the Christian, the end is glorification (Ep 1:4, Rm 8:19-23, 2 Cor 5:17).
God, in His sovereignty, has ordained the end as well as the means to the end (Ep 1:11). Preaching is God's ordained means to bring about salvation for the Christian (Rm 10:14-17). This salvation is both the external justification and the internal sanctification leading to glorification. Indeed, God has ordained other means to change a believer from one degree of glory to another, but the preaching of God's Word is uniquely central.
Furthermore, preaching is not simply a sanctifying agent, but is itself an act of worship as one declares the glory of God revealed in Scripture. Thus, to tamper with preaching is to tamper with worship. In that light, the nature of preaching, the responsibility of the preacher, the approach to preaching, and the blessings of preaching will be discussed.
Nature of Preaching
The act of preaching is inextricably tied to the content of preaching. A man who gives a speech on any topic under the sun is not preaching. A preacher who proclaims the Word of God authoritatively, explaining its meaning as well as its application to his listeners, is preaching. Thus, the content of preaching must always be the Bible, and the nature of preaching cannot be separated from the nature of Scripture (2 Tim 4:2). Herein lies the dilemma for the man who does not think preaching must always be biblical. Such a man must be asked where he grounds his view of preaching. If he says the Scriptures, he should be asked to show the text which validates his belief; however, there is none, for that would be contrary to Scripture's own testimony. If he says anything other than Scripture, he has exchanged the authority of Scripture for man's – something no Christian should ever do.
That begs the question, what is the nature of Scripture? Scripture claims to be the very Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). Therefore, Scripture carries with it God's attributes. God is the ultimate authority over all things – seen and unseen. Thus, Scripture, as God's word, possesses that same authority. God is unchanging. Logically, His word must, too, be unchanging. God is eternal. Again, His word, likewise, is eternal (Luke 21:33). God is righteous, true, and just. In that sense, Scripture is the source of truth (Jh 17:17). As being the ultimate source of truth, Scripture cannot speak with error or with falsity. Finally, Scripture itself claims to be the sufficient source for all things pertaining to salvation and godliness (2 Tim 3:16-17). The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is applicable to all Christians in all times and will never be superseded by anything new or novel.
If preaching is the proclamation or heralding of God's word, then when the preacher preaches, God speaks. Is that not why Christian worship is so unique? Christian worship is centered on hearing from God. Christians gather to hear what God has said. And having come under His Word, the Christian becomes a doer of that Word. Christians do not labor in discovering truth for themselves. Christians do not labor in empty religious works. Christians have been given the very revelation of God.
Supernaturally, preaching is significant. The significance is related to the mystery of sanctification. As a believer interacts with the word of God, whether through reading, studying, meditation, or hearing through preaching, the Spirit conforms the believer to the image of Christ. As a Christian grows in Christ-likeness, his worship is purified. Thus, preaching fuels worship and is itself worship as the preacher proclaims the glory of God.
Responsibilities of the Preacher
If the nature of preaching is the heralding of God's Word, and God's Word carries with it His attributes, then the preacher's responsibility is unparalleled. Unequivocally, the man entrusted to steward the Word of God has been given the greatest task on earth. The responsibility rests on the reality that God's Word is not arbitrary. The power of God's Word lies in the meaning of God's Word. God's Word is not a magic formula or chant that, when spoken in proper order, releases a mystical power. The power of God's Word is that it reveals truth that fits reality and contains absolute meaning behind the words, sentences, paragraphs, and books.
Thus, the preacher's responsibility is to discover the one true meaning of a text, explain it to his audience, and exhort his listeners to apply it to their lives (1 Tim 4:13). The Spirit of God will not sanctify a believer through a misunderstanding of His Word. To preach a text wrongly is to rob it of its divine power. God does not lead people into error but into truth. In that sense, the Scriptures which warn of false teaching and mishandling of God's Word are fitting. Indeed, as there is no greater call than to preach God's Word faithfully, there is no greater error than to preach God's Word falsely. Truly, the man who mishandles God's Word slanders the very God who sustains his life.
The responsibility of a preacher goes beyond his explanation of the content of Scripture but also encompasses his application of Scripture. The preacher is always at risk for hypocrisy. He must not preach one thing and do another. He must not rebuke his congregation for their sin, and later that night, do the very same thing he preaches against (Rm 2:17-24). The preacher is to model the correct application of the message he preaches. His message and life must be in harmony.
With that said, the preacher is always one wrong decision away from disqualification. He is not safe in his own home. Unlike the doctor, salesman, or plumber, what he does in secret directly affects his fitness for his work. More than any person on earth, the preacher must live a life of absolute consistency (Titus 1:5-9).
Therefore, the preacher's responsibility is to be a man of spiritual discipline (1 Tim 4:7). Paul was clear; he disciplined himself so that he would not be disqualified (1 Cor 9:27). The preacher must be a man of prayer, meditation, study, fasting, silence and solitude, and worship. Indeed, prayer is so essential to the life of the preacher that the apostles understood their ministry as a ministry of word and prayer (Acts 6:4). He must be a man, who like Bunyan, would bleed the Bible if someone were to cut him open. This responsibility placed on the shoulders of a preacher is why the faithful preacher is called a man of God.
Many pastors have fallen into error by claiming a responsibility of relevance (2 Tim 4:3-4). Critics of the biblical mandate for preachers see their responsibility as giving their audience practical advice for life. The sermon becomes a self-help seminar. Paired with this idea is the responsibility of being welcoming to all. This type of pastor sees himself not as one who speaks the very Word of God, but rather someone who arbitrarily shows the "love" of God by being open to all people. This creates a pastor whose responsibility has shifted from a steward of the Word of God to a steward of entertainment and worldly success.
Such a preacher has given up on the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. He does not feed God's sheep but rather feeds the world's goats. He has exchanged God's mandate for worship for man's ideas for entertainment. Sunday mornings are first and foremost to worship God in Spirit and in truth (Jh 4:24). Finally, as he seeks to provide food for goats who cannot obey God, his responsibility to be a doer of the Word diminishes. His responsibility to be a man of holiness disappears because he does not preach the killing of sin to his congregation. The qualifications for elders are quite clear in 1 Timothy and Titus, and the man focused on scratching itching ears will not meet these qualifications.
Approach to Preaching
Unsurprisingly, the preacher's approach to preaching must be with the greatest of care, reverence, trepidation, seriousness, passion, zeal, and effort. He has been given the task of stewarding God's very words (1 Cor 4:1-2). As Jesus said to Peter, "Feed my sheep," the preacher is feeding God's children and equipping them for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12, Jn 21:17).
At this point, it is necessary to discuss how the preacher goes about feeding God's sheep. How does the preacher craft and deliver a sermon? Often, preaching is categorized as either topical, textual, or expository. Simply defined, expository preaching is when the preacher exegetes a text using proper hermeneutical principles to discover the author's intended meaning, explains that meaning to his audience, and exhorts his audience to apply the meaning to their lives. Topical preaching starts with a theme and uses Bible verses to present a position on the theme. Textual preaching uses a passage of Scripture as a springboard into any topic chosen by the preacher. Topical preaching may be exegetical in that the preacher may properly interpret a text related to the topic. However, consistent topical and textual preaching opens the door for many errors.
The mandate for the preacher is to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Furthermore, Scripture itself attests to the profitability of all Scripture in making a man complete, ready for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). Unsurprisingly, preaching through entire New Testament books will require the preacher to teach all doctrines indiscriminately. In a sense, expository preaching feeds the flock a well-rounded diet of God's Word.
Furthermore, expository preaching flows from the presupposition that God's Word is inerrant, infallible, and authoritative; thus, the true meaning of a text is powerful in how it affects a Spirit-sealed believer. Expository preaching, which comes from proper exegesis using sound hermeneutical principles, ensures that the preacher does not teach his own biases or preunderstandings, taint his sermons with his own experiences and feelings, or rob of the cross of its power by centering the sermon on his oratory ability rather than the meaning of a text (1 Cor 1:17, 2:1-5).
Those who favor a topical approach risk skipping texts and doctrines which are deemed divisive, non-essential, or merely hard to interpret. If the pastor is convinced that he must preach the whole counsel of God, he must be exceptional at weaving together topical sermons in a way that would fulfill that mandate. Would it not be simpler and more efficient to preach through a book, interacting with every text? Certainly, there are times for topical sermons, especially as it relates to specific doctrines that may need greater explanation within an exegetical series. However, a preacher who gives priority to expository preaching will never run out of content, will not have to labor in planning a preaching calendar, will not risk under-nourishing his sheep, and will himself grow in godliness as he studies God's word deeply.
Blessings of Preaching
Since it is true that a Christian is sanctified by interaction with God's Word (Jn 17:17), then those who sit underneath biblical preaching will find great blessing. There is no greater experience than to be in the presence of God. Though God's children live as foreigners on the earth, eagerly awaiting their journey home, God uniquely makes himself known to them in His Word (Luke 24). Blessed are the sheep who have a shepherd who opens God's Word to them and faithfully preaches its true meaning. Scripture is clear that the Word of God supernaturally searches the hearts of individuals, brings conviction, and actively conforms a believer to the image of Christ (Heb 4:12). Simply, biblical preaching results in godliness.
As the flock is blessed by expository preaching, so is the preacher. Expository preaching forces the preacher to wrestle with God's Word week after week. Every sermon he preaches, he seeks to become an expert on the text. There are few callings that allow a man constant exposure to God's Word. Moreover, every time a man of God opens the Bible, he hears from his Father. Thus, the preacher has the privilege of growing in intimacy with God that most will never experience. The constant mining of the Scriptures should produce a man who excels in holiness. Therefore, the flock is blessed by the preacher's ever-increasing holy character and his preaching.
As it relates to the unregenerate, Paul clearly presents the reality that preaching is God's means to find His lost sheep (Rm 10:14-17). Thus, the preacher who is faithful to preach God's word will likely experience the blessing of seeing God's elect regenerated. Furthermore, a Church with true preaching will be blessed by a greater purity than those who drift towards man centeredness. God's Word is foolishness to the unregenerate (1 Cor 2:14). Though there will likely be weeds sown into every local church, those who practice expository preaching will create an atmosphere which saves, sanctifies, and purifies the body.
Finally, the ultimate blessing of preaching is that it brings the body into collective worship of God's glory. As a preacher explains the glorious truths of God's nature, works, and will, the body is unified in its response to acknowledging the greatness of God. Is this not what humanity was created for?
To disagree with these blessings is to disagree with Scripture. However, most critics would not attack the blessings but the means. Which Christian preacher would argue that he does not want to have his preaching result in character change, holiness, and worship? Though, preachers who drift from the biblical mandate will likely add the blessings of entertainment, fame, relevance, and practical help. The prosperity preachers would count wealth as a blessing of preaching. However, are the temporal worldly blessings scripturally derived? The answer is a definite no.
The positions argued start from the presupposition that God's Word is inerrant, infallible, sufficient, and authoritative. God's Word is not silent on the nature of preaching, the responsibilities of the preacher, the approach to preaching, and the blessings of preaching. Thus, to form a position on preaching on any presupposition other than the Word of God is to deem Scripture non-authoritative and insufficient in leading preachers into truth. Automatically, the person who leaves the authority of Scripture replaces it with himself. True preachers are those who become mouthpieces for the one who is the true authority – God.
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
MacArthur, John. “The Man of God and Expository Preaching.” In Preaching: How to Preach Biblically, edited by John MacArthur, 63-77. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Mayhue, Richard L. “Rediscovering Expository Preaching.” In Preaching: How to Preach Biblically, edited by John MacArthur, 3-16. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Piper, John. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.
Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015.