It is not surprising that Paul’s final words include references to the gospel and its ministry for they reflect the passion of a lifetime. Since salvation’s day he had been involved in the furtherance of the gospel and in its mighty defense. Everything focuses on the great mandate to “preach Christ” and to see the kingdom of God advanced. But the apostle’s concern was not just with the content of the message but with its actual presentation. Great care and diligent effort were exercised and the same should be true today as well. That such a wondrous message has been put into the hands of sinners is truly amazing for everything that man has touched has ultimately been marked by failure and corruption. Yet despite the fact that our ministry has often been marked by weakness and barrenness, His final words to His own were to “preach the gospel to every creature” with the assurance of His presence and blessing. There is no greater message, for it involves time as well as eternity. Thus, the clear and accurate delivery of the gospel is of tremendous importance.
Authority and Power
One of the most foundational truths in gospel preaching concerns our understanding of a God-given responsibility. Peter wrote, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). We are to speak the Word of God on behalf of God Himself. With the Word of God before us we can proclaim “Thus saith the Lord” as confidently as did the prophets of old. The speaker may be disdained but the message must not be disregarded. Being the “mouthpiece of God” to a perishing world involves two aspects. Not only must we have the confidencethat what we are saying accurately reflects the mind of God but also the conviction that God would have us say it. Sometimes younger brethren (and older ones too!) will start their message with an apology or nervously remind their audiences that they are not public speakers. This may well be true but it immediately focuses more attention on the messenger than on the message. We are not there to represent ourselves but God. It is His message and we are to be His servants.
Closely linked with the truth of authority is the tremendous need for power – both with God and with men. Preaching the gospel is spiritual work and we must do it as those possessed and moved by the Holy Spirit. Paul did not come to Corinth with “excellency of speech” or “enticing words of man’s wisdom” but in the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” This divine unction can only be found in time alone with God.
There is often the temptation to seek to “move” people by various natural means. An emotional story, a clever outline, skillful, smooth-flowing words may have value in our presentations but can never be the source of our power. We need the Spirit’s enablement and presence even m our speaking for He alone can convey truth to hearts and minds, bringing men out of darkness into marvelous light.
Clarity and Simplicity
Another important factor in gospel presentation is clarity. The Corinthians were asked, “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). The audience should never leave a meeting confused as to the message. Our words must be “easy to be understood” and orderly or we will end up speaking “into the air. Thus, for the preacher, the message must be dear in his own mind before it can be clear to others. We need to ask ourselves, “What is my main point? What am I seeking to emphasize? Do my illustrations reinforce or confuse?” Many times it is better to take one or two verses and “drive them home” rather than touch on a dozen points from Genesis to Revelation. (Incidently, do not assume your audience is familiar with the Scriptures. Give directions and time for your listeners to find the passage or they will not hear what you are reading in their efforts to find the place). Seek to speak simply and relevantly. Who has not marveled at the absolute simplicity and clarity with which the Savior spoke?
Intelligence and Balance
There are a number of practical and pressing concerns that require intelligence and balance. In this “post-Christian” era our task in preaching is momentous. We have been called to preach the “changeless Word to a changing world”. As the age degenerates and foundational truths are disregarded and undermined, there is an increasing need to lay a sound doctrinal basis for faith. Too much of our preaching is exhortative without clear doctrinal explanations. The listener must receive clear and solid facts upon which to base convictions. This is true for both scriptural facts and general information. For today’s educated audience it is absolutely imperative to quote verifiable facts. If we are proclaiming inaccurate “earthly” facts how can we expect our listeners to accept our spiritual claims? We are called upon “to persuade men.” Minds must be faced with truths that the Holy Spirit can use to bring enlightenment conviction and deliverance. As one evangelist has observed, “We must address the whole person (mind, heart, and will) with the whole gospel (Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning, coming again and much else besides.) We shall argue with his mind and plead with his heart, in order to move his will, and we shall put our trust in the Holy Spirit throughout.”
We must also intelligently know our audience. The Lord spoke differently to the masses than He did to the scribes and Pharisees. Seek to fit the depth and style of your presentation to your audience. How different are the interviews of John 3 and 4 but both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were won for the Savior.
Finally, seek to maintain a balance in your preaching, both in emphasis and style. A continual and undue focus on one particular doctrine or favorite passage does not constitute a full gospel presentation. This is not to suggest that every message must cover every gospel dimension but we must not “slant” the presentation so that one truth is focused to the exclusion of others. Variations of volume and tone can also be very effective in maintaining attention and reinforcing truth.
Earnestness and Compassion
Much could be written on the actual manner and style of gospel preaching. Every servant is different and we must honestly seek to be “what we are.” Don’t try to imitate a favorite preacher. Be yourself. Though we all differ in our degree of emotional expression, no one should deal with eternal issues without sincerity and earnestness. The Savior Himself wept over a perishing, unbelieving nation, but our tearless preaching is a sad revelation of the coldness of our hearts. The old Puritans used to say, “Cease to amuse, seek to arouse!” We are to speak “as a dying man to dying men.” This is not moroseness. Some brethren, while preaching, convey a sense of cold sternness and anger in their style and countenance and one almost gets the impression that salvation is to be endured rather than enjoyed. Remember our battle is not with the “flesh and blood” before us but against the principalities and powers that hold them captive. Do not be vindictive against your hearers. Warn them kindly. A warm smile will not go astray.
Our presentation should also convey a sincere interest for the hearer. We are speaking to “fellow-travelers” with a message of eternal dimension. Look at your audience. Make eye contact with them. Watch for responses. How difficult it is to listen to a preacher whose eyes are firmly focused on the back wall! Seek to capture their attention with a question, a quote or a story. A gospel message is to be a dialogue where we connect with our audience. Don’t just preach a sermon.
Christ and the Cross
Above all else, our preaching is to be Christ-centered. Paul preached “Christ and Him crucified.” If we miss Calvary and the finished work, we have not preached the gospel. All of us desire to see souls saved and to glorify God by a faithful declaration of truth, but should we not also long to magnify the Savior in all His virtues and perfections? How tragic and sad to see the Person of Christ handled so lightly and cheaply in much of evangelical preaching today. May we ever seek to honor and exalt Him.
As the century draws to a close and the spiritual darkness deepens, may the Lord raise up many to clearly, faithfully, compassionately and relevantly preach the gospel. There is no greater mandate for the Christian and no other solution for a sinking world, for the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.