As you make your way through Paul’s New Testament writings, you will uncover a common thread woven through each of his individual letters. In twelve of the apostle’s thirteen epistles (Philemon being the exception), Paul devotes large sections of his letters to either expositing sound doctrine or to exhorting the leaders in the church to preach and maintain it. In nearly every letter there is a dominating concern over the preservation and proclamation of sound teaching.
Paul’s concern over the defense and declaration of healthy doctrine, however, was not the passion of an intellectual elitist who loved to propound theology for its own sake. No, Paul made sound doctrine the focal point of his ministry and pastoral discipleship because he understood right conduct will manifest itself in people’s lives when truth reigns in their hearts.
The Practicality of Preaching
Conversely, the apostle also knew that where false teaching gains a foothold, ungodliness inevitably follows. The Galatians had been tricked into adding to the gospel, so they were becoming more susceptible to the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21). The Corinthians didn’t rightly understand the nature of Christian ministry, so they exalted some ministers over others (see 1 Cor 3:1-15). They also failed to understand the doctrine of sin, the purity of the church, and church discipline, so they allowed immorality to remain in the congregation (1 Cor 5:1-12).
The Colossians were falling prey to pseudo-spiritual aestheticism, so Paul had to bolster their understanding of the gospel and how Christ’s work fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant (Col 2:6-23). The Thessalonians were confused about the second coming of Christ, so some of them had developed poor work ethic (2 Thess 3:6-12).
Due to the practical importance of sound doctrine within the church, Paul repeatedly exhorted Timothy and Titus to teach and preach the truth and raise up other leaders who would follow their example (1 Tim 1:3, 10; 1 Tim 3:2; 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2; 2:24; 4:2; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Paul concluded his final letter to Timothy with the urgent exhortation, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). It was into this work that Timothy was to immerse himself (1 Tim 4:11-15).
It’s no wonder why Paul would make preaching a foundational element of Timothy’s pastoral role and a centerpiece of local church life. It is through preaching that Christians are instructed (2 Tim 4:2), unbelievers are converted (Rom 10:14), and the church as a whole is protected from the deleterious effects of false teaching (2 Tim 4:2-3).
The Precedent of Preaching
Paul’s passion to establish a sound pulpit within the church was not a novel development in the history of redemption. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s message was delivered by preaching leaders and prophets (Exod 36:6; Lev 23:44; Deut 5:5; Neh 8:1-8; Ezek 20:46). Following the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist “came preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matt 3:1) in order to prepare Israel for her Messiah. When Jesus stepped onto the scene, He began His ministry with preaching (Mark 1:39; 2:2; Luke 4:44) and continued preaching until He was arrested (Luke 20:1). For Jesus, preaching was one of the primary purposes of the incarnation (Luke 4:44).
After Jesus’ resurrection and the spiritual blessing of Pentecost, the apostles gave themselves to preaching the gospel (Acts 2:14-36; 5:42; 6:2; 8:12, 25, 40), with Paul following this pattern immediately after his conversion and throughout his ministry (Acts 9:27; Rom 1:15; 15:20). From Old Testament leaders and prophets to New Testament apostles and pastors, God has ordained that His people receive His Word primarily through preaching.
The Power of Preaching
But we might ask, “Why preaching?” What is it about this medium that is particularly conducive to the reception of God’s Word? The answer lies in (1) the nature of the message and (2) the nature of the recipient.
First, the gospel is “good news.” But it’s not a temporary pick-me-up, like those feel-good stories in your Facebook feed. No, the gospel is the greatest news in the universe, the implications of which span all the way into eternity. The gospel is the true message of reconciliation with our glorious Creator, forgiveness of and victory over sin, a relationship with Jesus Christ, eternal life, and the escape from the never-ending nightmare of hell. By definition this message cannot be relegated exclusively to polite discussions or coffeeshop chats: the gospel demands proclamation!
Second, our nature as human creatures also necessitates preaching. God has designed that the Spirit dwell in our hearts through hearing the Word of God with faith (Gal 3:1-2). Preaching is a means of communication that enables people to simply listen as God’s messenger unfolds the beauty of Christ in the Scripture. It is also an experience in which the listener, while not completely passive, is clearly the recipient of the message, not its contributor. The very method of Christian preaching, therefore, corresponds to our status as recipients of grace, not suppliers of it.
But our nature as sinful human creatures also requires preaching. Our hearts naturally look for ways to deflect the truth and guard ourselves from conviction. But when we sit under the biblical preaching, we are less able to shield ourselves from God’s Word as we are confronted by it. Unlike personal or corporate Bible studies, we are unable to interrupt the preacher or relieve our conviction with a question or comment while he is delivering God’s Word. For this reason, preaching has the power to arrest the mind, pierce the conscience, warm the affections, and move the will. It is a means whereby we truly encounter God in all His glory, majesty, and grace.
The Place of Preaching
For these reasons, the preaching of God’s Word should take center-stage as the church gathers each week. Where preaching is prized, a church will be well fed, thoroughly instructed, and growing in spiritual maturity. Worship will remain Christ-centered and our ministries rooted in the truth.
While Bible studies, corporate singing, and times of fellowship are each vital to the health of a local congregation, each of these spiritual activities find their stability and nourishment through the church’s weekly preaching ministry. Through preaching, God’s people will behold their Savior’s glory and be changed by it (2 Cor 3:18); they will be corrected, rebuked, and encouraged (2 Tim 3:16-17; Ps 19:7-11); they will be cleansed from sin (John 15:3), equipped for ministry (Eph 4:12), and protected from spiritual compromise (2 Tim 4:2-3). Sinners will be saved (1 Cor 1:21; 1 Pet 1:22-25) and the believers from different backgrounds and ethnicities will find unity in Christ (Eph 2:11-18).
The Priority of Preaching
There are many good things in which the church can engage. Given a church’s location and proximity to various needs, a local congregation may find many ways to serve their community and be rich in good works (Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14; Heb 10:24). But we know we’ve lost our scriptural bearings when we neglect the one thing that only the church can do: preach the Word of God.
Christ’s church is the sole institution in the world that possesses the good news of salvation and the spiritual competence to unfold God’s Word to lost and hungry souls. Pastors who fail to uphold the priority of preaching in their local congregation are not hedging on a secondary ecclesial practice; they are giving up the very specialty of the church. It can be said, then, that where preaching disappears, the church disappears.
Your Prayer for Preaching
As a member of a local congregation, you should expect your pastor to preach the Bible week in and week out because Scripture defines his primary role as a herald of God’s Word. But it is also your responsibility to pray for your pastor in his labor as a preacher.
The work of study, prayer, sermon craft, and Bible exposition is a mentally and spiritually demanding business. The effort to quarry a text, determine its meaning, consult theological resources, synthesize research, consider relevant implications and applications, and then refine one’s discoveries into a coherent and well-ordered message while also diligently applying the truth to one’s own heart is often underestimated by those not faced with this weekly task. A pastor who takes his calling as a preacher seriously will often sense a constant spiritual burden that is rarely eased. Pray that God would grant your pastor the time, energy, and spiritual resources with which to develop and deliver the sermon each week.
Pray also for God to establish excellent preaching in churches, locally and globally, where there is a scarcity of pastors committed to proclaiming God’s Word every Sunday. Pray for yourself as you come into corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, asking the Spirit to ready your heart to hear the Word of God with faith. Pray for your spiritual siblings that they would receive the preached Word and grow thereby (1 Pet 2:1-3). Above all, pray that God would be merciful to you, your church, and other local congregations in maintaining powerful and Word-centered pulpits among His people.