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"Preach the Word"

By Jess Hall Jr.

religion, articles, christianity
I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:1­2).

No more serious adjuration could be given than that which Paul gave to Timothy when he charged him to "preach the word." Given the solemnity of the supplication and the earnestness of the entreaty, the importance of the instruction cannot be overstated. "Preach the word!" Timothy was not to create a gospel; he was to preach the gospel.

To some, "preaching the word" requires that every word must be phrased in biblical language (Strangely, many who insist on "biblical language" don't know a word of Greek) and a biblical citation must accompany every point, if not every sentence. While such an approach guarantees a dry sermon, it does not guarantee "preaching the word." Even string citations of Scripture can be misapplied. Additionally, if a statement of Scripture is to accompany (almost) every statement, of what need is the preacher? Can we not dispense with "preaching the word," and just read Scripture when preaching is nothing more than "reading the Scripture" interrupted by a comment? Would not the pure reading of Scripture without the rudeness of the interruption be more effective?

When the Word is preached, the sermon is centered on God because the Bible is centered on God. From Genesis to Revelation the battle is fought and the victory is won. God's working out of his purpose underlies and saturates all Scripture. Poets may illustrate, philosophers may clarify, but Jesus saves.

And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1­2).

Preaching that is not centered on God's Word through Jesus Christ may be any number of things, but it is not biblical preaching. The opinions of the preacher deserve to be heard but not from the pulpit. They constitute no part of "preaching the word."

When the Word is preached, themes are Bible­based and applied in a modern context. This does not mean, of course, that Bible themes must always be discussed in the same context in which they are presented in Scripture. For example, in Romans and 1 Corinthians Paul discusses the themes of Christian liberty, mutual respect, and reciprocal love in matters of opinion in the context of meat sacrificed to idols. In our society, we don't worry much any more about meat sacrificed to idols, but the themes of Christian liberty, mutual respect, and reciprocal love still find application in modern contexts. Since human nature hasn't changed, such ancient themes as greed, lust, social welfare, family relationships, and worship, to name a few, are still relevant. If the preacher is to "connect" with his hearers, however, they need to be addressed in their modern context.

Discussing biblical themes in a modern context requires more than spending 30 minutes discussing the ancient context followed by 30 seconds in which the possible existence of a modern context is both recognized and dismissed with the aside, "This still applies to us today."

Hearers need help with present­day needs. While hearers "felt" needs and true needs may not be the same, this does not obviate the existence of true needs that must be addressed. Each time a preacher stands in the pulpit he has before him a group of wounded and weary soldiers: some have lost jobs; some have problems with children; a husband and wife are on the brink of divorce; young people struggle with drugs and immorality; some have been overtaken in trespasses of various kinds; some are thirsting for a first taste of the living water. As did Zedekiah of old, hearts cry out, "Is there any word from the Lord?" As God's true preacher, Jeremiah replied? "There is" (Jer. 37:17).

Only those who "preach the word" can lead the wounded to the Balm of Gilead. Burdens are not lifted by human opinion, philosophy, psychology, sentimental trifles, or comedy routines; burdens are lifted at Calvary. He who offers less is like Ehud, who, having gained audience by professing to have a message from God, destroyed his hearer (Judges 3:15­22).

On the hearer's side the difference is between hearing a sermon and hearing the Word of God; between seeing the forked lightning on a film, and being exposed to the whip and terror of the thing itself; between reading an article about life in the army and being handed our call­up papers; between discussing a dogma and meeting the living God. (Keir, Thomas, The Word in Worship, [London: Oxford University Press, 1962], p. 133.)

The preacher who does not "preach the word" in a manner that enables his hearers to meet the living God has failed both his hearers and his God.

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Published January 1996