By Ken Weliever
“I have tried to examine in the New Testament, and in the Old Testament, the great preaching of both the prophets of the Old and the apostles and evangelists of the New. And if I am asked to condense into words the essentials of a sermon, I do it with these three: Truth, Clarity, Passion.”
There seems to be a great deal of interest among brethren today concerning preaching style, methods, selection of topics, manner, and demeanor in presentation. If I may add one more article to the increasing number addressing this issue, it seems to me that the famed expositor and Bible teacher, G. Campbell Morgan, in the above quote, provided the best and briefest summary of the essentials of a sermon that I have ever heard. Both preachers and hearers may profit from this study.
Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy Word, thy Word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Jesus is the epitome and essence of this truth (Jn. 14:6) It was this truth into which the Holy Spirit guided the apostles (Jn 16:13). The apostle Paul based his preaching on the truth of Christ (1 Tim. 2:7).
Any sermon today that is of benefit to its hearers must be Bible-based, Christ-centered and Spirit-filled. We must give book, chapter and verse for all we say. Let us “speak where the Scriptures speak and be silent where the Scriptures are silent.” May we forever hold high the blood-stained banner of Jesus Christ.
Of course, no one has any corner of the commodity of truth. Truth is truth regardless of who says it. I have heard and read from some denominational preachers who spoke the truth on certain issues. Was it any less the truth because of , the one who issued it?
In preaching, our conclusions and applications must be based on truth. They must be in harmony with every Bible principle. Are we in the midst of a time when we have a host of so-called conservative preachers who are not preaching the truth any more? We hope not. But if we are, who are these “silver-tongued” men who have changed the truth of God into a lie and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator? Let them cease and desist from their wily ways. We must be firm in our conviction that God’s Word is Truth and that we indeed have “everything that pertains to life and godliness.”
Truth needs to be preached in clear, concise, and concrete terms. The late James P. Miller once told me about a lady who thought “her preacher” was great. Brother Miller said, “I didn’t think he was all that hot, so I asked her ‘Why do you think he’s so great?… The unsuspecting sister replied, “Oh, he’s so intelligent. Why, you can only understand about every fourth word!” Brethren, that’s no compliment to a preacher. Brother Hailey used to tell us preacher boys, “Jesus said to feed my sheep, not feed my giraffes.” Let’s put it down where the people can understand what we are saying.
When Peter preached on Pentecost, his pointed sermon pricked the hearts of those who cried, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” (Acts 2:47) There was no misunderstanding Paul in Philippi when he was put in prison for preaching Christ (Acts 16). Today we need more plain and pointed preaching that will penetrate and pierce the hearts and minds of our hearers.
I have heard some good men preach the truth, but the message was not very clear. It was hard to understand their point. I had a problem in seeing what application was to be made in my life. Of course, someone may say, “Well, Weliever is so simple – that’s the problem.” Maybe. But I’m reminded of another preacher who advised me – “if you put the hay down where the calves can reach it, the cows won’t have any trouble either.”
We need to be more like Paul who, though a learned man, wrote and preached in a way “where when ye read, ye can understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). Our job is to help people “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). When we preach, let’s be like Ezra and “read distinctly, give the sense and cause them to understand” (Neh. 8:8).
Yes, we need the truth preached. But it needs to be preached in a way that is spiritually edifying, not just the reading of a collection of Scriptures. Preaching the truth must involve a clear exposition and explanation of the passage with a practical application to the lives of those listening.
In world where it is cool to be aloof and indifferent, we need proclaimers of the gospel to be passionate and persuasive in their preaching. We are all different in our style, preaching technique and manner of presentation. But that’s no excuse for preaching that is dull, dry and dreary. Someone said, “I preach as if I never should preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” Or as William McPhail put it, “The best cure for sleeping sickness in the pew is some soul stirring preaching from the pulpit.”
I am not talking about being loud or shouting people down. I have heard some quiet spoken men who obviously felt very deeply about the topic they were teaching and who communicated the truth of God to the audience in a very moving and inspiring manner. “To be instant in season and out of season” involves a passion for preaching. “To reprove, rebuke and exhort” demands interest and enthusiasm both for the truth and the souls of those who need to hear it.
I’m afraid we may have some who are like the preacher who asked the actor: “Why is it that you can act out a part and move an audience to tears, while I preach Bible truth and people remain unmoved?” Said the actor, “The answer is really quite simple. It is because I act out fiction as if it were truth and you preach truth as if it were fiction.” Brethren, we are preaching a gospel that is “alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Let’s not limit its power or blunt its edge by a lack of passion in our preaching.
I don’t care what label is put on a man – “positive” or “negative,” a “college man,” or not a “college man,” a “writing preacher,” or not a “writing preacher,” associated with “the paper,” or not associated with “the paper,” “big name” or “little name,” refined and eloquent or down-home and country – as long as he preaches the Truth, presents it plainly and speaks with passion, I am sure he will edify, encourage and enliven my spirit.
Quite frankly, I don’t have the time or inclination to decide what topics or texts my preaching peers need to address in meetings or in local churches. Time, circumstance, moral problems, local situations and the pressing needs of the hour will determine what I preach this Sunday. And it will you too. But little by little and week by week, I will “declare the whole counsel of God” and give the audience not what they want, but what they need at this precious moment.
May I call upon elders and brethren everywhere to demand of those of us who preach to teach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; to make it easy to understand; and to do it in a way that will inspire motivate and challenge each one to become all that God wants him to be.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, pp. 35-36, 55
January 19, 1989