It may seem like there isn't much to think about: one person speaks while many listen. But that understanding makes the sermon little more than a speech or lecture. There is a lot more happening when a sermon is delivered; or at least, there should be. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be writing about the "sermon moment" in 4 parts: (1) What the preacher must do, (2) how he should go about doing it, (3) what the hearers of the sermon must do, and (4) how they should go about doing it.
What the Preacher Must Do
Possibly the most forceful command Paul left to Timothy was to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:1-2). What qualifies as "the Word?" I think John Piper has summarized the idea in a very helpful way (see his sermon notes, here). Borrowing from Piper, we see that the context of 2 Timothy points us to the Word being "all scripture," as mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:16. For Timothy, the writings of the Old Testament were the scripture, and he would certainly have been well-taught in Paul's method of using them to lead people to faith in Christ. Piper also points to the context immediately following verses 1-2, specifically verse 3's warning about "sound doctrine." Paul has already urged Timothy keep the pattern of sound doctrine that he had received from Paul (2 Timothy 1:13). The faithful teaching that was received by Timothy was, during this period, being recorded and slowly collected as the New Testament. So, when we receive Paul's command to "preach the Word," we receive a command to preach the Bible.
So, the preacher must preach the Bible. That's much more difficult than simply picking a scripture passage and talking about it. A faithful preacher strives to ensure the meaning of his sermon is the same as the meaning of the scripture passage. In fact, the preacher's main task is to put the passage on display for the hearers to listen to it, understand it, and apply it to their own lives. That kind of preaching is called "expository" because it exposes the truth of a particular scripture passage. The sermon is not the preacher's ideas with some biblical backup sprinkled in. It is God's idea, brought to the hearers' attention by the preacher.
There are at least a few other things that good, biblical sermons must include. The central message of the whole Bible is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the theme that runs through the Scriptures, beginning to end. No sermon should leave out an explanation and appeal to respond to the gospel message. Individual sermons may give a more or less detailed explanation or appeal, but every sermon should compel its hearers to follow Christ.
A faithful preacher also ensures that the sermon gives hope and grace to hurting people. The English Congregationalist preacher, Joseph Parker, famously said, "Speak to the suffering, and you will never lack an audience. There is a broken heart in every crowd." Taken with Jesus' teachings about the meek, the lowly, the poor, suffering, and outcasts, Parker's advice should resonate with every preacher. If the gospel message isn't for the broken-hearted, it isn't for anyone.
With these things in mind, I hope you can appreciate the weight of the preaching responsibility! Pray for the men of God in your life who labor to preach faithfully. One of the most encouraging things you can do to support them is to come prepared to hear, examine, and make application of the message. Next time, we'll think about some of the tools the preacher uses in the sermon. By recognizing them, you can grow in your understanding and application of the sermons you hear.
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