Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD” (Hag 1:13, KJV).
With the above verse before us, it is no profound statement to say that speaking for God requires preparing both the man and the message. The character of the speaker as well as the content and communication of the message are all important.
Public service for God requires godliness of character; it is a character profession. A school teacher, a construction worker, a brain surgeon, or an air traffic controller can be immoral or covetous or intemperate and still function well and properly in his chosen profession. But if a believer tries to serve God and does not have a godly character, not only is he acting hypocritically but he is unable to properly discharge his responsibilities. This service would seem to come under the heading of “deacon work” and those who do it should be marked by, and striving to fulfill, the qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3. The deacon’s ability to speak authoritatively for God is intimately related to his course in life, a life-long desire to please and serve God.
Public service for God requires God-given gift. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth…” (1Peter 4:11, KJV).
Public service for God requires grace to properly use that gift, to do so humbly and without self-reference or self-seeking. The aim of all service is “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to Whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1Peter 4:11, KJV)
A messenger without a message is an anomaly. The prophets in the Old Testament often spoke about the “burden of the Lord.” Theirs was a message the Lord had laid upon their hearts and they were to deliver it in the fear of God. Extemporaneous speaking, “off-the-cuff” messages that have not been thought out in the presence of God should certainly not be the custom. If your name is Spurgeon or Whitefield you might get away with it. Otherwise, we should stick to the tried and proven method of waiting before God to know what He would have us say. John Bunyan quaintly said, “I preached what I smartingly did feel.”
The Methods of Preaching
There are numerous ways to approach the responsibility of communicating truth from God. A few of them are:
- The topical:Tracing a theme or topic in a number of passages can be a very effective means of presenting the gospel if the speaker has organized his thoughts and presents his points in a proper sequence. In Acts 13, the Apostle Paul speaks first of Israel’s failure and sin, the rejection of the Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection, the offer of forgiveness, and the danger of failing to hear the Word of God. While this order is not ironclad, it would seem strange to attempt to preach by speaking first of the coming of the Lord, following that with reference to His resurrection, His sufferings on the cross, God’s love for all mankind, and then finishing with a word about man’s total depravity. One danger to be avoided is the linking together of unrelated verses and subjects, simply because a similar word or phrase occurs in all of them.
- The textual:This is perhaps the most common, and likely the easiest for an audience to follow. It involves taking a text and presenting truth from what is stated in that verse. Isaiah 45:22, for instance, lends itself to the easily remembered consideration of the greatest blessing (“salvation”), the simplest method (“look”), the widest scope (“all the ends of the earth”), and the highest authority (“I am God”). The use of alliteration is a commonly employed practice for fastening thoughts in the minds of speakers and hearers, but it has the opposite effect if it appears contrived or forced. Sometimes it is wiser to conceal the alliteration, if it is being used, and allow it to be merely a tool to aid the speaker in recalling his points.
- The expositional: This involves explaining a passage of Scripture and developing its meaning based on its context. The gospel preacher might take up Romans chapter 3 and explain its setting first of all, and then deal with its detailed teaching about human guilt and depravity.
The Model of Preaching
Studying the Savior’s preaching and His gracious approach to men and women will prove beneficial to any who wish to win souls for Christ.
In John 3 (KJV), the Lord Jesus
- states a truth: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
- illustrates a truth: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”
- applies a truth: “Ye must be born again.”
Could any gospel preacher do better than seeking to emulate the Master?
- Stating truth: Allowing an audience to know exactly what we are trying to say is a great aid to obtaining and holding its attention. It is possible to be so nebulous in our opening comments, so abstruse in our introductions, that we lose an audience before we even begin. If you wish to present the seriousness of sin, the imminence of death, the importance of salvation or the value of the blood – say so. With a whole Bible to back us up, we can then range over its limitless arsenal for fresh help in assaulting the faulty thinking of ruined mankind. Quoting a verse from God’s Word at the proper time can be like a sharp arrow skillfully aimed at a target. “How forcible are right words!” (Job 6:25, KJV). “The preacher sought to find out acceptable words … The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies” (Eccl 12:10-11, KJV). The proper use of Scripture to prove what we are saying is indispensable because it is not our word but His that is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.
- Illustrating truth: C. H. Spurgeon said, “Illustrations are like windows; they let in the light.” If that is the case, then Biblical illustrations, such as the Lord employed in John 3:14, 15, are like skylights, admitting illumination directly from above. What rich veins of truth the Bible contains, supplying the preacher with invaluable material to embellish his message and hold a congregation’s attention! Crystal-clear parables, mighty miracles, events in the lives of Biblical characters; all these and many other things can be powerful tools to drive home a scriptural truth. Since the Lord Jesus, as well as the apostles, drew illustrations from their surroundings, we are certainly wise to do the same. Think of the Savior saying, “A sower went forth to sow His seed” (Matt 13:3, KJV), or “There was a certain rich man which was clothed in purple and fine linen” (Luke 16:19, KJV), or “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30, KJV) The Apostle Paul made reference to the things he saw in the city of Athens and freely quoted from one of the Athenians’ own pagan poets. An apt illustration or incident can rivet a truth in people’s minds. But an illustration stretched to fit where it does not belong or an anecdote told just for the sake of the story or for mere emotional effect is worse than no illustration at all. Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” What is true about words is certainly true about anecdotes as well.
- Applying truth: There was no doubt in Nicodemus’ mind that the Lord Jesus was speaking about him. He did not leave under the false assumption that the Savior meant the “pagan” world or merely irreverent Israelites. It is the application of truth that most often awakens the conscience and leads either to repentance or rejection. The apostles so mightily applied their preaching that the listeners cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37, KJV). So unmistakably clear was the message in Acts chapter 5 that the leaders said, “Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us” (v28, KJV). Stephen’s martyrdom was not the result of a mumbled message to sleepy souls! John Wesley came to America to “serve God.” But when the truths he was trying to preach began to take hold of him he realized that he was lost. He wrote, “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but, oh! who shall convert me?” Truth that is never applied, however cleverly or masterfully prepared, is like a sumptuous feast that never gets from the kitchen to the dining room.
The gospel preacher, whether preparing his heart or his message, must never forget that it is only the light of divine truth in the hand of the Spirit of God which can illuminate the darkened natural mind. How else should the gospel be preached but prayerfully, fervently and in humble dependence on God?