March 16, 2017


PREACHERS OF JESUS CHRIST are not parrots. As close as they should stay to Holy Scripture, God has gifted them to put eternal truths in words of their own,  explaining the sacred truths and coining them in such a way as to be understandable to the listeners. This is not putting their words above Scripture but rather is the exercising of the gift of preaching/teaching imparted by God so as to make clear “the sense” of any given passage. In Ezra’s day it is said that, upon gathering the people and reading the Scriptures, “THEY (the teachers) GAVE THE SENSE, AND HELPED THEM TO UNDERSTAND THE READING” (Nehemiah 8:8). This gift when recognized and valued for what it is, requires teachers of the Word to so trust God that, after diligent study and prayer, they are not overly dependent upon notes and should rethink any inclination to merely read the message at time of delivery. Such dependency stilts not only the style of delivery but inhibits the soul and mind from being a ready tool of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit wants to be in full control of the messenger's mind controlling the formation of the thoughts and words to be uttered at the moment of preaching. This, of course, is different from the Divine process used in the authorship of the Scriptures themselves, but is akin to the anointing in 1 John 2:27, possessed by all believers, only especially tailored to the preaching experience.  A preacher who reads his sermons, even though a good reader and animated, over time becomes very predictable and singsong. (This latter word is defined as “monotonous rhythmical cadence, tone, or sound.) I'm not saying a reading preacher can't be used of God or controlled by the Holy Spirit to some extent (history, often positively so, informs us of this possibility), but I am saying that being glued to a manuscript can't help but serve as an inhibition to some degree of God's perfect ideal.

I once heard a preacher renown for Scripture memory. He had a fantastic gift to recite Scripture, verse after verse. It was most impressive except that, when he was finished, and, upon after-message reflection, I concluded that it was void of imparting “the sense of Scripture.” And, even though it was an amazing display of a gifted mind, my soul was craving the contemplation and practical significance of all those verses set forth. It was a stand-up display of a most gifted mind and the good content thereof, but it was not preaching. Preaching is the God-given ability to understand the truths of the Bible and to set them forth in an imaginative and life challenging way. All acceptable preaching is teaching but not all teaching is preaching. Teaching aims principally for the mind to inform it of truth. Preaching aims for the mind, of course, but also presses truth further to the stirring of the soul (the emotions) and the inciting of the soul to put what is learned into practice.

Historian George Marsden in a Wall Street Journal (March 23, 2016) extols the abilities of C.S. Lewis in writing. What he said about Lewis is applicable to preachers. Marsden said, “MERE CHRISTIANITY contains arguments enlivened with images, metaphors and analogies that capture the imagination. The Lewis of MERE CHRISTIANITY is the same as the Lewis of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. Imagination, he believed, was ‘the organ of meaning,’ even if reason was ‘the organ of truth.’

Marsden goes on to say, “Lewis’s first ambition had been to be a poet. It shows in his prose, where meaning is often conveyed through vivid analogies. Lewis writes that when God enters your life, he begins ‘to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.’ He explains that becoming Christian isn’t an improvement but a transformation, like a horse becoming a Pegasus.”

Somehow, I think what Lewis masters in his writing preachers should apply to their preachments. True preaching emanates from the diligent study of the Bible (utilizing all the sound principles of hermeneutics), with truths processed by the mind under the illuminations of the Holy Spirit and messages prepared prayerfully but with deep thought processes that specialize in proper presentational order for the delivery thereof, and the inclusion of appropriate illustrations from the Bible and explanations that search for imaginative ways of setting forth the precious truths of any given passage of Holy Scripture.

Jesus did this when instead of merely saying if you believe in Me you are changed within, declared the truth in this manner, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” And if that wasn’t imaginative enough, He proceeds to say, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37,38). Think how relevant, colorful and stirring that was! Who wouldn’t want to lift the cup and drink?

Dick D. Christen