By Daniel H. King
Like the brethren at Corinth, we sometimes place too much of the wrong kind of emphasis upon preachers. We also tend to forget what the scriptural work of preachers is. Often enough, preachers remind the church of this. But still another problem that we sometimes have is facing up to the biblical measure of great preaching.
God meant for us to have preachers in the church; they have a valid place and a marvelously important work to do (Eph. 4:11). But one can miss the point of what and who preachers are today just as the Corinthians did in the first century. They had to be reminded with a number of strategically-placed questions that preachers are just people with a tough job to do, not little gods to be placed on a pedestal and idolized: “What then is Apollos? and what is Paul? Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him. I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:5-7). In the final analysis, preachers have to- “die to self” and so lose themselves in the work that they do, or else they cannot be successful in carrying out their mission. As the apostles put it: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
No text more fully says this than Paul’s own testimonial offered in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. In this tiny piece of his heart he shares with us his own feelings about preaching, and in so doing sets the spiritual agenda for all of us who preach: “And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of bod. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” We would all grant that Paul was a great man and a great preacher. Here the apostle powerfully refutes many assumptions often made about great preaching. He does so in quiet, simple reflections upon his own message and its humble but earnest delivery.
Jesus chose his men from among the common people. They were not particularly impressive to any except those whose souls hungered for eternal life and the truth that led to it. They were fishermen and tax collectors,laboreis and tradesmen. They heralded from tiny towns and villages and would have attracted little attention from those of the large cities of the time. Peter and John were regarded as “uneducated and untrained” (Acts 4:13) by the sophisticated and well-heeled members of the Sanhedrin. And though Paul was himself learned and trained with the elite of his age, yet he would not allow his acquired wisdom to “get in the way” of proclaiming the unsearchable wisdom of Christ. He did not preach “with wisdom of words.”
It is common for us today to ask a man, “Where did you go to school?” That is harmless if it is merely a question asked for sake of one’s own curiosity. But if it implies what it sometimes does, namely that one is unqualified to preach unless he has a degree from some accredited institution, then we may be robbing the church of some of her most zealous and ardent workers. If a man is faithful and able to teach others also, then he is qualified to preach the gospel (2 Tim. 2:2). If he is not, then he should not be allowed to enter the pulpit of any meeting-house of the saints. Some of our best men have been extremely capable but have had little formal instruction. Some of those who have caused the church much heartache have been among the best trained of our number. The reverse of both is also true. Educational background is thus no accurate measure of great preaching.
His own, apparent lack of eloquence was one of the things with which Paul had to contend. For some people then it was of supreme importance, given the Greek and Roman concern with rhetoric. He admitted his own lack of skill in this area (2 Cor. 11:6) but did not apologize for if. Paul instead confided to them that he made not the slightest effort at gaining proficiency as a rhetorician in order to proclaim Christ; neither “excellency of speech” nor “persuasive words of wisdom” were the drawing power of the gospel. It was rather “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That message, contained in simple but dedicated “earthen vessels,” was sufficient to accomplish the task of saving the lost.
Dedicated, truth-loving men make the best preachers. In some cases they may be “rude in speech” but so long as they are not in knowledge they can do the work well. I was surprised on several occasions when I first started preaching and heard for the first time men whose labors had made of them giants in the church. My disappointment ran deep. Few of them were what I expected them to be. I suppose I had presumed them to be great orators. I think I at first would have been disappointed with Paul for the same reason. As the years have passed I have come to see it differently, more in line with the Scriptures I hope. Most of us likely would have been. A part of growing to maturity in Christ is coming to appreciate the priceless gift inside more than the fancy packaging that covers the outside. After all, that part gets thrown away and is forgotten. What abides is love for the truth and dedication to Jesus Christ and his church. What is remembered is faithful service. That is recorded in the Lamb’s book of life and will be preserved in the loving memories of God’s people.
“Is he a good mixer? Does he have a good personality?” These are the measures of great preaching and of great preachers for some of us. One would be glad to grant that the man who preaches the gospel must be able to talk to others and possess the tact and diplomacy necessary to communicate the truth. But where does the Bible make it a qualification of the minister of the Word that he be a star in society, the life of every party? In fact, I have often observed such a man fall by the wayside early in his preaching life while others less flambouyant but deeper spiritually “hoe their row to the end,” right through the heat of the day. A bubbling personality, personal dynamism, and popularity with the young people is no measure of great preaching. Neither are fancy clothes, gold chains and rings and cuff-links. The Bible does not reflect this trend among us toward what a preacher of an earlier era called “cock of the walk preachers.” That is not to say that preachers cannot wear nice “threads” and such, but don’t let us measure the preaching of the gospel by worldly standards of this sort (cf. 1 Tim. 2:9-10).
Many churches today want a promoter. It is usually a dead church that needs such a man, being that God set men in the church as bishops and overseers to plan and supervise the worship and work of his people. If the church is not dead then it is off on some tangent, having left the way of truth. That is why it needs a promoter. Promoters don’t have to be good Bible scholars or sacrificial men of faith. They just have to be good at getting numbers on the board. The man who teaches God’s will in truth must “provoke unto love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), “reprove, rebuke and exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2), and generally encourage the church in word and deed (Rom. 12:8). But where brethren are faithful and sound there is no need for a promoter.
“Is he married? Does he have a family?” We often hear this issue brought up in regard to hiring a preacher. Most men among us are family men, and have the right to “lead about a wife … as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas” (1 Cor. 9:5). We would all defend that right. But there is another right that I would like to bring up here. This is the right to be single. Did you know that many of us would not hire Jesus as our local preacher? Many of us would not hire the apostle Paul either. Why? Because they were not married. They didn’t have a family.
The truth is that in some ways a man may conceivably do a better job in the gospel by being single. “He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided” (I Cor. 7:32-34). Paul said of the unmarried state, “I would that all men were even as I myself” (1 Cor. 7:7). Unmarried men are therefore no less qualified to preach the gospel than are family men.
These are a few of the false measures of great preaching often heard among us. We need to be extremely careful that we do not set up qualifications for preachers other than those outlined in the Word. For preaching to be right, the right men are needed and the wrong men need to be weeded out. Bible qualifications are what we require, not ones that we have invented and imposed upon others (Matt. 15:9).
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 16, pp. 500-502
August 18, 1983