This was my morning exposition to open this year’s Preaching Conference yesterday.
Scriptural Confidence in the Preached Word
“In Scripture we find the canon of saving speech; in preaching, the ongoing means by which this saving speech generates a new creation, so that even in this present evil age we ‘[taste] the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come’ (Heb 6:5). This is ‘how’ the kingdom comes…
Though seemingly powerless and ineffective, the creaturely mediation of his Word through faltering human lips is the most powerful thing on earth…
Typically, we prefer what we can see to what we hear: ‘A picture tells a thousand words.’ Our new images may not be statues that we venerate, but there is a real danger in Protestant churches of once again silencing God’s living and active speech (i.e. the exposition of Scripture) in a sea of our own insights, visual dramas, and the blue luminosity of our computer screens. Yet our Lord chose not only the content but the medium. We do not find God; he finds us. Faith comes not by feeling, thinking, seeing, or striving, but by ‘hearing’.”
Michael Horton, “The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way”, pg. 751-62.
Galatians 3:1 & 2
Galatians 3:1 Ὦ ἀνόητοι Γαλάται, τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανεν, οἷς κατ᾽ ὀφθαλμοὺς Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς προεγράφη ἐσταυρωμένος; 2 τοῦτο μόνον θέλω μαθεῖν ἀφ᾽ ὑμῶν· ἐξ ἔργων νόμου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐλάβετε ἢ ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως;
Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
This will be brief… I would like to offer some general reflections on this text and how I think it offers a needed correction for some of what passes as “preaching” (yes, even in Protestant Evangelical churches) today.
Paul asserts in verse 2, by way of a pointed, rhetorical question that the Galatian believers received the Spirit through faith by hearing.
Yet in verse 1 he seems to be saying something else. He seems to be saying that they saw Christ crucified… or is that what he is saying?
No in verse 1 he is giving a powerful description of the effectiveness of the preached word!
“The word ‘portrayed’ comes from the world of advertising. The Greek used it to refer, for example, to a kind of public notice posted to show that a property was up for sale. What the Galatians had seen, then, was a graphic and public display of the crucified Christ. Jesus Christ had been placarded before them, as if on a giant billboard or large canvas… It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But if there is time for a thousand words, people can see for themselves, which is what happened when Paul presented the gospel.” (Philip Ryken, Galatians, pg. 83)
The word preached was the public portraying of Jesus Christ crucified before their very eyes. These people did not actually see Jesus crucified in Jerusalem. They were not there. Paul came to their city and preached Christ and Him crucified and the people saw in the preached word their crucified Saviour!
By way of observation I see a couple of related tendencies and trends in preaching.
- Preaching is boiled down to explanation. Have I explained the text accurately?
Clearly I am not advocating an approach to preaching the ignores meaning or lessens the importance of careful study of the meaning of the text.
But is preaching nothing more than explanation? I need to explain the text. Everything I say must flow out of an accurate understanding of the meaning of the text. But, having explained the text, am I done?
- Preaching has become unhealthily married to visual aids.
Some preachers will spend nearly as much time in their week working on their PowerPoint or looking for that perfect intro video (or making one of their own) as they do in any other part of their sermon prep.
Both of these tendencies and trends, I would suggest, reveal a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the preached word.
Explaining and delivering accurate information is sufficient for effective change.
The message is made effective by the visual, the wow factor, the emotional response to the background music, etc.
I would suggest we need to regain and/or renew our commit to and passion for preaching. Preaching in such a way that moves beyond simply explanation and is freed from an unhealthy dependence on the visual and audibly proclaims Christ and Him crucified that by God’s grace will result in genuine faith in the lives of those who hear the message.
Calvin, “Let those who want to discharge the ministry of the Gospel learn not only to speak and declaim but also to penetrate into consciences, so that men may see Christ crucified and that His blood may flow. When the church has such painters as these she no longer needs wood and stone, dead images, she no longer requires any pictures.” (John Calvin, Galatians, pg. 147)
How can we do this? I offer three suggestions for us all to consider:
- 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 => Renew your confidence in and commitment to the absolute authority and sufficiency of the inspired Scripture. If you are unsure if this is God’s Word in some way or some place you will not preach with power, passion, and authority.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 4:1 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:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim. 3:14-4:5 ESV)
- 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 => Renew your love for the people you serve. Stop trying to impress them (or anyone), but willingly pour your life out for them. If you really love the people you are preaching to you will passionately desire for them to be changed by the power of God’s Word.
5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed– God is witness.
6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.
7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:5-8 ESV)
- Colossians 4:2-4 => Pray and invite your congregation to pray for you, that you might grow in the effective, clear, declaration of the mysteries of Christ.
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison–
4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
(Col. 4:2-4 ESV)
Let’s pray as I hand things over to Phillip…