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Preaching To Impress, Or Preaching For God's Glory?

For anyone who has ever gotten in front of a crowd to preach a sermon or simply lead a bible discussion, you know what it’s like to be concerned about what they think of you, how they will receive what you are delivering, and ultimately whether they will like you more, or less, after it’s all said and done. This is the great challenge of being a herald of God and many men and women have faced such things throughout the ages. Just scan the contents of the bible, you will see people left and right proclaiming a message that is often unpopular, perhaps even one that will jeopardize their own well being and cost them their life. And indeed, it at times did … and does. So this is a shout out to all those young and upcoming preachers today (though it applies to the ‘old heads’ as well), the heralds of God’s voice, as though God were reconciling men back to himself through you (c.f. 2 Cor 5:18-20 – though I would in fact argue that this would apply to all Christians, not just ‘preachers’ in the traditional religious sense). "Young people today don't get fired up about denominations and agencies. They get fired up about the greatness of a global God, and about the unstoppable purpose of a sovereign King." So what is your goal when preparing a sermon, bible lesson, or bible study to share with others? Is it truly God’s glory? Or is it your own? Is there a mixture of the two? I know for myself there usually is. “God himself is the necessary subject matter of our preaching, in his majesty and truth and holiness and righteousness and wisdom and faithfulness and sovereignty and grace. I don't mean we shouldn't preach about nitty-gritty, practical things like parenthood and divorce and AIDS and gluttony and television and sex (see here for more on some pitfalls of practical preaching). What I mean is that every one of those things should be swept up into the holy presence of God and laid bare to the roots of its Godwardness or godlessness. … It is not the job of the Christian preacher to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world…” And yet when we speak the oracles of God and represent Him as honestly, joyfully, reverently and soberly as we can, many times we will not fully realize the fruit that the seed will bear. “The fact that the true usefulness of our preaching will not be known to us until each fruit on all the branches on all the trees that have sprung up from all the seeds we’ve sown has fully ripened in the sunshine of eternity.” Many times, we are simply looking for some ‘Amens’ in the crowd, some laughter, smiles … anything we can to let us know that we are doing a good job. We sometimes hear many “job well done’s” afterwards, or ‘that was great bro’, ‘great sermon’, ‘man you hit a homerun’, ‘that was awesome!’ … but what about God? Are His glory, His majesty, His dominion, sovereignty, and reign being magnified in the minds and hearts of the hearers? Are many coming to faith because of your message (and faith in what exactly)? (c.f. Acts 14:1) Or are you simply getting an ‘at-a-boy’ at the end of it all? (c.f. 2 Tim 4:3) “I doubt that there is a more important passage on preaching in all the Bible than the first and second chapters of 1 Corinthians, where Paul shows that the great obstacle to the aims of preaching in Corinth was pride. The people are enamored with oratorical skill and intellectual prowess and philosophical airs. They line up behind their favorite teachers and boast in men; ‘I belong to Paul!’ ‘I belong to Apollos!’ ‘I belong to Cephas!’” Our goal should not be to come with eloquent words and smooth polished presentations, but in the power of the Spirit (1 Cor 1:17, 2:1). “Without this demonstration of Spirit and power in our preaching nothing of any abiding value will be achieved no matter how many people may admire our cogency or enjoy our illustrations or learn from our doctrine.” The preacher’s main purpose is not to simply win the affection of his listeners, but to bring them somehow closer to the presence and truth of God, being more in awe, more humbled, more loving, and more transformed into the likeness of Christ than which they came (c.f. 2 Cor 3:28). “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” (Cotton Mather, 1726) I think for many of us we simply aren’t used to this type of preaching. We aren’t used to having someone help us be transported into the presence of God in a way that transforms our hearts, our minds, and our lives. We are used to walking out of service having heard a sermon that gives us an acronym that we might remember for 48 hours and possibly two or three tangible things that we need to change about our behavior. We are used to laughing and being entertained, with the occasional ‘ooohhhh’ in unison as the preacher tries to make some convicting or serious point. “If you endeavor to bring a holy hush upon people in a worship service, you can be assured that someone will say that the atmosphere is unfriendly or cold. All that many people can imagine is that the absence of chatter would mean the presence of stiff, awkward unfriendliness. Sine they have little or no experience with the deep gladness of momentous gravity, they strive for gladness the only way they know how – by being light-hearted, chipper, and talkative. … Pastors have absorbed a narrow view of gladness and friendliness and now cultivate it across the land with pulpit demeanor and verbal casualness that make the ‘blood-earnestness’ (of some preachers of an older time) unthinkable. The result is a preaching atmosphere and a preaching style plagued by triviality, levity, carelessness, flippancy, and a general sprit that nothing of eternal and infinite proportions is being done or said on Sunday morning. … Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burdens of the saints. … Love for people does not take precious realities lightly (hence the call for gravity), and love for people does not load people with the burden of obedience without providing the strength of joy to help them carry it (hence the call for gladness).” “One reason why people sometimes doubt the abiding value of God-centered preaching is because they have never heard any. … Most people today have so little experience of deep, earnest, reverent, powerful encounters with God in preaching that the only associations that come to mind when the notion is mentioned are that the preacher is morose or boring or dismal or sullen or gloomy or surly or unfriendly.” So what is it that we are to deliver from the pulpit? I propose that ‘the keynote in the mouth of every prophet-preacher whether in Isaiah’s day or Jesus’ day or our day, is “Your God Reigns!” God is the King of the universe; he has absolute creator rights over this world and everyone in it. Rebellion and mutiny are on all sides, however, and his authority is scorned by millions. So the Lords sends preachers into the world to cry out that God reigns, that he will not suffer his glory to be scorned indefinitely, that he will vindicate his name in great and terrible wrath. But they are also sent to cry that for now a full and free amnesty is offered to all the rebel subjects who will turn from their rebellion, call on him for mercy, bow before his throne, and swear allegiance and fealty to him forever. The amnesty is signed in the blood of his Son.’ “The implication for preaching is plain: When God sends his emissaries to declare, ‘Your God reigns!’ his aim is not to constrain man’s submission by an act of raw authority; his aim is to ravish our affections with irresistible display of glory. … Therefore, if the goal of preaching is to glorify God, it must aim at glad submission to his kingdom, not raw submission.” *excerpts taken from John Piper: The Supremacy of God in Preaching


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