By Weldon E. Warnock
Over many pulpits in Kentucky several years ago were the words, “Preach the word.” It might serve as a good reminder to put these words over our pulpits today as such preachers are fastly becoming an endangered species.
N.B. Hardeman said, “The most solemn charge ever delivered to mortal man or clothed in human words was announced by Paul to Timothy when he said: ‘I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and kingdom; preach the word.’ I have attended some courts in the country where I chance to live, and have heard the charges of the judge delivered to the jury and to the gentlemen of the audience at large. Many of them were impressive and attractive; but when I think of this one, delivered by the peerless apostle, in which he called to witness both God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, I can but be impressed with its weight and importance. ‘I bid you preach the word.'”(1)
Preachers among us in an effort to be “cultured,” and “modern,” and “broad,” have substituted speculation, philosophy, psychology, current events, book reviews and razzle-dazzle for the word of the living God. Daniel Webster said when a preacher took his text from the Bible and preached from the newspaper, he preferred to stay at home.
Many preach a watered-down version of truth which is not truth at all. It is less than truth. Not a few preach in generalities that could be preached in most denominational churches. To the credit of a few sectarian churches they would not tolerate such indecisive and vacillating preaching we are hearing among us on such things as social drinking, gambling, risque movies, immodest dress and divorce and remarriage for every cause.
How often have some of you preachers heard brethren say after you preached a plain, simple, firm, fundamental, biblical sermon, “We are starving for that kind of preaching”? “That’s the kind of preaching I grew up on, but we don’t hear it anymore.” “All we hear is love and grace.” “There is no distinctive ring to the preaching we hear.” “There hasn’t been a sermon preached on the conversion of the eunuch, the one church, instrumental music, denominationalism, etc., since I can remember.”
Let us preach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Quit trying to be a Billy Graham, a Charles Swindoll or a Max Lucado. Be a gospel preacher! Reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. Do the work of an evangelist. Discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Tim. 4:2-5). We have been called through the gospel to preach the word. What a noble calling it is. The imitable apostle Paul considered preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ a favor bestowed upon him by God (Eph. 3:8). Is it any less for us?
What Is Wrong?
A question was asked, “What is wrong with today’s preaching?” “Plenty!” was the answer given. The following indictments were given against preaching in our day:
(1) Trivial, trite. (2) Humdrum sermons, vague and rambling with no clear-cut point. (3) Pretentious delivery with no feeling or an exaggeration of it. (4) Sermon length cut more and more to make it easy on the congregation. (5) Tendency to tone down the message to please the people. (6) Timidity about stressing the harder demands of religion in action.
Following the aforementioned question and answers was another question, “What is the solution?” The following answers were given: (1) A return to the brave preaching of the early church and the apostles. (2) A renewed emphasis upon biblical and expository preaching. (3) More time spent in sermon preparation. (4) Plain speech that will nourish souls of the laymen.(2)
The above comments came from a world-wide conference on Methodism about 25 years ago as to what they thought of their preachers. Except for the word “laymen,” you might think that some writer was reporting on a recent survey of churches of Christ. Indeed, in far too many cases our preaching has become: trivial, feeble, humdrum, no feeling, short talks, toned-down, no content and timid about demands. We need to return to brave preaching of the early church and apostles, more Bible in our preaching, better preparation and plain, bold speech that lets hearers know what God says about the matter. I believe the Lord is in a better position to know our needs then Barth, Bonhoffer, Freud, Fosdick, Calvin, college Bible professors, preachers, or any other uninspired men. Why not try, for example, such men as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, or Peter, John and Paul?
Perhaps the inspired men who wrote the Bible have become too obsolete for some of us. We can’t appear intellectual or fashionable by quoting the Bible so we resort to the wisdom of men. “I bid you preach the word.” Remember, for “after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Brother, if the Bible is too antiquated for you, then get out of the pulpit, find a secular job and earn an honest living.
George Klingman once prayed, “God forbid that the day may ever come when our boys may feel that theology, or man’s philosophy, or anything else, will make a person stronger than the word of God.” Some of our young preachers, and a few of the older ones, seem to be constantly striving to be different, to be novel, in order to attract attention to self or something else and are gradually leading people away from the love and devotion to truth. Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, rightly said, “The true end of preaching is to mend men’s lives and not to fill their heads with unprofitable speculation.” Paul wrote to Timothy, “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:16).
The need of the hour is to preach the word. We have no other choice and meet God’s approbation. The Lord told Jeremiah, “whatsoever I command thee thou shall speak” (Jer. 1:7; cf. v. 17). Again, “all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word” (Jer. 26:2). Jonah was told, “Preach unto it (Nineveh) the preaching I bid thee” (Jonah 3:2). Ezekiel spoke the word of the Lord. “The word of the Lord came unto me” appears 49 times in Ezekiel. This statement and “thus saith the Lord unto me” or “thus saith the Lord” or a similar statement appears 309 times in the book of Ezekiel. He preached, as well as all of God’s prophets, revelation and not speculation.
May all who preach resolve to be like Micaiah when he said, “As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak” (1 Kgs. 22:14). The “what” must always coincide with the “that.” Let us be able to say with Paul, “I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19). Little sermonic talks and “after dinner” speeches that consist of mental health suggestions and interpersonal relationships do’s and don’t’s, are not preaching the word. Only the gospel will save us and take us to heaven. “There is not a single step that man is called upon to take, from the time he leaves the world of sin and wickedness and woe until at last he sweeps through the gates that stand ajar to receive the golden crown, but that sad step is affected either directly or indirectly by the word of God.”(3)
The first-century Christians believed in the saving and transforming power of the word of God. Hence, they went everywhere preaching it. “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4; cf. 11:19-20). At Salamis on Cyprus Paul and Barnabas “preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (Acts 13:5). At Perga they preached the word (Acts 14:25). Everywhere they preached, the word of God (also called the gospel, the faith, the truth, Christ) was proclaimed (Acts 15:36-37; 17:13; cf. 5:42; 8:5,12,35; 9:20; 16:10; 19:13; 20:25; 28:30-31).
Needless to say we cannot preach the word unless we know what it is. Knowledge of the word of God demands much study. Our main textbook as preachers is the Bible – not these Calvinistic books that are so widely acclaimed. Many study about the Bible and preach about the Bible, but don’t preach much from the Bible. Let us fill our hearts with what God says and be like Jeremiah when he wrote, “But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay (remain quiet)” (Jer. 20:9). I am not suggesting we throw our books away (although for some of them might be a good idea), but let us never forget they are only a tool and nothing more.
What Preaching Accomplishes
Preaching the word of God accomplishes several things. Let us observe that the word:
1. Gives direction. “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jet. 10:23). Man cannot know by his own intuition. David wrote, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105).
2. Prevents sin. “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:11).
3. Cleanses from sin. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (Jn. 15:3).
4. Saves. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3).
5. Brings us to spiritual maturity. Peter wrote that we are to “desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). The author of Hebrews states that God’s word will produce spiritual growth, discernment and maturity (Heb. 5:12-14).
6. Enables us to fight the enemies of truth. The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17), helps arm us to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). You can’t be very effective in casting down strongholds of false doctrines (2 Cor. 10:3-5) by being suave and sweet-talking. You must take up the sword of the Spirit and become adept in using it.
May we fully realize that God’s word has the energy, power, capability and the effectiveness to accomplish all of these things that he has designed it to do. However, it cannot do its work if it is not allowed to. Hence, preach the word!
Preachers who try to make everyone feel good about themselves, don’t arouse guilt, don’t preach anything controversial, emphasize only positive elements, use puerile and fiddle-faddle topics, such as, “How to Kiss a Frog,” “How to Get a Turtle on a Fence Post,” “Snake Bites That Snafu Your Life,” and never preach longer than 15 to 20 minutes, are not gospel preachers. They are a new breed of preachers among us who don’t know what the gospel is. They don’t have enough power in their message to lift a feather in a vacuum, much less to change men and women and fit them for heaven.
May the Lord help us to get back to preaching the old Jerusalem gospel in its ancient simplicity and purity with conviction and certainty. Human hearts still cry out for the bread of life. Let’s not give them a stone or a serpent.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 3, pp. 67-69
February 6, 1992