The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 24 Summer 2017
Strengthening the Church in Biblical Preaching and Leadership
Part I: The Power For Preaching, Pt. 7
A. The Great Irony: Divine Power In Human Weakness
The first great irony in preaching is the display of divine power in our human weakness (1 Cor. 2:5). The apostle Paul made a conscious decision not to come to the Corinthian church as one who spoke eloquently or as one who communicated human wisdom. He did not come to them to impress them with his oratory or his intellect, but to preach the message that God had entrusted to him, namely the “testimony of God” (2:1), the message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). In doing so he came “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” (2:3). Such weakness and fear was not due to the opposition or ridicule of men but due to the possibility that his own personal intellect and accomplishments might be displayed and, thus, tarnish the message of the Gospel. His “weakness” was his own abilities and education, which might cause people to trust the preacher rather than the message.
As a result, this consciousness of his own human weakness caused him to speak in such a way and preach such a message that those who heard him could only conclude that his message was from God and not from him. The absence of persuasive words and human wisdom (2:4) served to magnify the “demonstration of the Spirit and power” (2:4) when people responded to the message. The response of the people in faith was, then, evidently not because of him but because of the power of God displayed in him (2:5).
The second great irony in preaching is that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul had a thorn in the flesh which he asked God to remove but God refused to do so. What his “thorn in the flesh” was we don’t know and it isn’t important. The point is that a person, who has some form of temporal weakness but whose preaching is powerful, displays the truth that God’s power is made perfect in and through that person’s human weakness. God takes us with our insufficiencies and weaknesses and proves that the power of the message we preach is from him and not from us.
Our response should be like that of Paul – “Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:9). In other words, we should be willing to step out of the way and recognize our own weakness so that God’s power can be manifested through us (see also the same principle in 2 Corinthians 4:7).
The Holy Spirit can only use a preacher in a powerful way who is fully dependent upon Him for strength and direction and who makes little of self and much of Christ. Only when we are hidden and our human weakness evident can the power of the Holy Spirit come through us.
Those preachers who try to preach the Gospel by using clever methods and even trickery detract from the power of the Gospel itself and attract to themselves. Preachers must realize that our role is subservient to the Lord and to His message. We must realize that “without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Only then is God pleased to work through us in divine power. This is the irony of divine power in human weakness.
The third great irony in preaching is that preaching is not about us (2 Cor. 4:5). “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord”. We are servants who proclaim a message about Christ Jesus the Lord. Preaching isn’t about us but it is about him, Christ Jesus the Lord - the anointed One, the Saviour, the supreme One. We are merely his bondservants who preach about Him. We do what we do “for Jesus’ sake.” Ministers who make themselves prominent in their preaching are not authentic ministers “for Jesus’ sake.”
The underlying and foremost message of the “divine irony” is that God is paramount and we are insignificant. The most important thing we can accomplish in our preaching is that God be adored, loved, praised, and trusted, and not the preacher. Through the “divine irony” the people see Christ and not the preacher. Through and in spite of the preacher’s weakness, the Lord speaks powerfully to His people, so that the people put their trust in God and not in a man.
B. The Great Problem: “Pride In The Preacher”
When pride is present in the preacher, great gifts of skill may become great hindrances for the preacher. Too often preachers themselves can be an obstacle to the Gospel by focusing dependence on them rather than on God. The great gifts that God gives to men can, thus, be their greatest liability. Pride can cause a preacher to use his spiritual gift for self-glorification (cf. Jn. 7:18) instead of God’s glorification. Preachers must not look for, nor accept, the praise of people but direct that praise to God.
Preachers, by virtue of the gifts they have, can generate the accolades of men. But if they want power in their preaching they must never draw the faith and praise of people to themselves but to God. We must “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We need to be completely absorbed with God so that through us the message of God flows out to others, totally unencumbered by self and totally identified with Christ. To do this we must be filled with a God-consciousness, with a “holy passion”, and with the Word of God.
We need to have a single-minded devotion to the preaching of the Gospel. It is the same principle as Paul expressed when he talked about straining toward the mark (Phil. 3:14). It is that absolute commitment to preaching the Gospel, a total absorption with the task God has called us to do. It is an unswerving obedience to the call of God, regardless of whether our message or our person is accepted or applauded by men. It must be an all-consuming passion with preaching.
The solution to pride in the preacher is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ solves this problem of pride in the preacher because it shows us that we are only sinners with nothing to offer to God and by showing us that only Christ’s work on the cross can make us righteous and acceptable to God.
The “old man” that wants praise and approval dies at the cross and the “new man” comes to life (cf. Eph. 4:22-24). Through the cross we “deny ourselves” and give ourselves over to following Christ. By embracing the cross of Christ we give ourselves wholly to God allowing him to direct and use our lives rather than we ourselves. Through the cross we come under a new power, the power of the Holy Spirit. At the cross the old man is reckoned dead and we become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
In order to preach with power, preachers must come daily to the cross, recognizing our own nothingness and the supremacy of Christ. It is in the cross of Christ that we must boast (Gal. 6:14) and from which we derive our power in preaching. The cross and our submission to the Lord is the only boasting that we have, so that the only thought that absorbs us is Christ and his Gospel. To do this requires that we be “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).
If the great irony of powerful preaching is that God displays his divine power in and through our human weakness, and if the great problem in preaching is pride in the preacher, then perhaps you might think that preachers must inevitably suffer from feelings of insecurity and inferiority. But such is not the case.
Ironically, to depend totally on God as you preach requires a strong personal sense of security. By personal sense of security I do not mean “pride” but a sense of spiritual well-being and security in God. If a preacher preaches in accordance with the “divine irony” (God’s power through personal weakness) and the truth that he is dead to the old self and alive to the new self, dead to sin and live to God, then he needs to have a sense of personal security.
A feeling of insecurity and inferiority is very prevalent among preachers despite all appearances to the contrary. If you suffer from a sense of personal insecurity, it makes it very difficult to remove self from view and allow God to be all in all. Insecurity is, in fact, putting self first because of this sense of personal inadequacy. It is a form of pride and self-centredness.
Preaching is no place for someone who needs human approbation. We must derive our security from knowing that we are approved by God, gifted and called by God, empowered by God, and loved by God. Only when we have this inner awareness of our security in God and a consequent sense of spiritual well-being can we preach powerfully for God, because then we will want no attention on ourselves but all attention to be on God.
To speak faithfully for God may involve rejection by people. Thus, preachers need a healthy self-identity, emotional stability, and security in Christ. It is only to the degree that we know who we are in Christ and that we have God’s approval that we can totally depend on God and not self.
C. The Great Challenge: “The Preaching Moment”
The preaching moment is when we move to the pulpit to preach. The preaching moment is the moment when all else fades from view and we face the congregation; the moment when there is an overwhelming sense that if the Spirit of God does not fill us with power from on high, we are finished and our efforts will be in vain; the moment of absolute truth when we face the acid test of whether the Holy Spirit is empowering us or not.
The “preaching moment” is when we stand in the pulpit faced with the most awesome task in our lives. It’s that moment when we feel our own intense weakness and inadequacy and our total dependence on God. It’s that moment when God mightily works among his assembled people with power, authority, and unction. It’s that moment of total dependence on the Holy Spirit - that moment, above all moments, when we have a sense of God’s presence with us.
When the preacher preaches with unction, there will be an evident effect on the congregation, because they sense a difference in the preacher. When a preacher sets aside self and preaches in the power of the Holy Spirit, something happens to him. He loses self-consciousness and he becomes absorbed with God’s Word being communicated in its essence and power to God’s people. When the preacher preaches with unction it has a practical effect on the hearers. God works through his servant to effect his work through his Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.
The presence of this spiritual power causes the people to be hushed and focused, not on the man but on what God is saying through him. The attention of the people is directed toward God and His message for them. This is not to say that everything that is preached under the unction of the Holy Spirit will be received gladly, but it will have the authenticity and power that only comes from God and which has its effect on the lives of the people. In the end result, the congregation will thank God for such preaching.
Part II: Preparing For Preaching
“Organizing the Sermon”
A. Organize Each Sermon With A Purpose
What a preacher says is the “content” of the message. What a preacher wants the message to accomplish is the “purpose” of the message. The one general purpose for preaching a message is to move people to action - to cause the hearer to take action inwardly and / or outwardly in favour or against something. All sermons should move the hearers to respond with some sort of action. The Bible speaks of “exhorting one another” – to take what we know and turn it into action.
There Are Three Specific Purposes For Preaching A Message:
a) To inspire, to reach the emotion, to motivate (the work of an orator). Paul tells Timothy to “stir up the gift…” – to be inspired to use his gift so that the fire becomes a living flame.
b) To inform, to teach (the work of a teacher). Paul often said: “I would not have you to be ignorant…” His purpose was to teach them. Jesus talked about the use of parables that some would hear and understand; some would hear and not understand. Again, his purpose was teaching.
c) To convince, to win an argument (the work of a lawyer, statesman). “Knowing…the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Here the purpose is to convince them.
In most messages, one of these purposes is the dominant purpose (while the other purposes may play a secondary role), depending on the need of the congregation – whether they need to be motivated, taught, or convinced.
Design Your Messages To Accomplish A Specific Purpose
Effective expositors prepare and present their message to accomplish the specific purpose of the sermon and its overall purpose. To help you with this, here are five questions you need to ask yourself about every sermon:
(1) “What is my sermon about?”
(2) “Why am I preaching this message?” Not because its Sunday morning again and not to please self. The reason must be to glorify God and to change the hearers.
(3) “What do I want my hearers to know, to do, or to become as a result of preaching this sermon? What action or response do I want them to take?”
(4) “How can I best accomplish my specific purpose?” – by inspiring, informing, or convincing
(5) “How can I best accomplish my overall purpose?” – to move people to action.
Having a purpose serves as a control to your sermon. In biblical exposition, purpose must control everything except the biblical text.
Purpose controls content - what you put in and what you leave out. Only include what contributes to the purpose. Keeping this in mind will save you time in your research of commentaries, which are often repetitious and contain lots of good research but which is no good for your purpose. Everything that does not contribute to the purpose, even though it may be interesting and accurate, should be eliminated
Purpose controls structure. Since purpose determines content, the purpose of each message should be reflected in your main points. Each message should be divided into a series of clearly stated propositional, applicational headings, such that if the people heard nothing more than that, they would understand your message. The result is to present main points in such a way that the people go away with an understanding of at least one truth of the Bible and its many application to their lives.
Purpose controls delivery - how you present your messages and how to apply your messages.
Content and delivery are the means by which preachers achieve their God-given purpose. Paul states that preaching was ordained by God for salvation (1 Cor. 1:17-18). This is a message that Jews would not receive because it was a scandal to them, and which Gentiles would not receive because it was foolishness to them. But this was the message he preached anyway (1 Cor. 2:1-9).
Why preach a message that is not acceptable? Because Paul depended on the Holy Spirit not on his own ability. He preached what was intellectually and culturally repugnant to Jew and Gentile but which was acceptable to God in order to accomplish his purpose – that their “faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (2 Cor. 2:5).
A preacher must preach a message which accomplishes its purpose – either to inspire, teach, or convince, and certainly to move to action. When you know what God’s purpose is in the message, that will direct the composition of your message and your delivery of it.
B. Organize Each Sermon With Creativity
Preaching is both art and science. Science is the research of the text – what it means and what it is saying. Art is the presentation of the sermon – how to present the material discovered in the research in a way that is informative and convincing. This is creative work. Sermons must be arranged so that listeners can readily understand and follow the message.
Phrasing affects meaning. Choose your phrasing creatively so that your phrases stick in people’s minds. This is true in any form of public speaking - for example, President John F. Kennedy’s line: “Do not ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Or, Martin Luther King’s speech, “I have a dream…” The wording and delivery of these phrases stick in your memory.
Choice of vocabulary is extremely important for effective communication. Vocabulary might be technical (e.g. academic or theological), simple, or even conversational. But you are well advised not to use vernacular, and certainly never to use coarse vocabulary, but to always be refined and dignified in your use of language. Always be aware of the nuances of meaning in words and try to use the most accurate word.
4. Literary Characteristics
The literary characteristics of a sermon determine the degree of effective reception and comprehension by the listeners. There are four essential literary elements:
1) Clarity. If the meaning of your statements is not clear, they will confuse the audience. When the preacher grasps the meaning, he needs to select words that state his thoughts exactly and that convey the meaning exactly.
2) Brevity. The less time you take to express your thoughts adequately and accurately, the more listener attention and acceptance you will command.
3) Coherence. Coherence is attained and maintained by using connectives between thoughts. Connectives may be transitional sentences or expressions, or repetition of the main point that leads to the next point.
4) Unity. Unity is preserved by making all parts of the message (a) relate to the theme (subject) of the sermon, and (b) support the proposition of the sermon.
Part III: Devotional Exposition
“The Comprehension of the Gospel - II” (1 Cor. 3:1-4)
By: Dr. Stephen F. Olford
In the verses before us, Paul is still speaking of the gospel and the problem of its comprehension. He anticipates the question of how people can know spiritual initiation, illumination, and interpretation, and yet be infantile in their understanding of the things of God. The answer he gives is that of carnality instead of spirituality in the Christian life. He shows, moreover, that such carnality is the root cause of division in the church of Jesus Christ. Three aspects of carnal Christians are brought to our attention:
I. The Category Of Carnal Christians
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Bearing in mind the closing verses of the previous chapter, Paul introduces us to three categories of people here on earth:
1) There is the Natural Man. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural man is the unregenerate man. He is man as he is – shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). He may be civilized and cultured; he may be educated and refined; but all this improvement is within the realm of his natural character. He is still destitute of the Spirit of God. Although a candidate for the gospel, he is lost and undone. This is the natural man.
2) There is the Spiritual Man. “But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one” (1 Corinthians 2:15). The spiritual man possesses not only physical life, but also spiritual life. He has two lives because he has two births! The first came through Adam, whereas the second comes through Christ. This spiritual life feeds on spiritual food and matures according to its nature; and since the nature of this life is spiritual, all development is spiritual.
The most important thing in the spiritual life is that we should grow. We have, no doubt, all met people who do not seem to grow. Their spiritual life is obviously static and stale; there is nothing fresh in their experience of Christ. Such a condition is as tragic as it is true.
At this point, we might well ask: “Can we produce growth?” The answer is “no.” The power to grow is within the nature of the life in us, whether physical or spiritual. God alone can cause life to develop. At the same time, there are certain conditions which encourage growth. We are exhorted to “…grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 3:18). This simply means that we are to stimulate growth by abiding in grace as it is in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we are to emulate growth by conforming to truth as it is in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When a Christian fulfills these laws of spiritual growth, he experiences what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the normal Christian life.
3) There is the Carnal Man. “And I, Brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ…for you are still carnal…” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 3). To understand the characteristics of a carnal Christian, it is most important to note the differences which Paul makes between the mentions of the word “carnal” in verses 1 and 3. In the first instance, the word signifies “the partaking of the nature of the flesh;” but in the other reference, the Apostle uses a more severe term which means “sensual” and usually implies a life under the control of the “fleshly nature” instead of being governed by the Spirit of God. As W. E. Vine puts it: “In respect of the first term used in verse 1, the Corinthian saints, while they were not making progress, were not anti-spiritual; they were ‘babes.’ In respect of the term used in verse 3, their jealousy and strife rendered them guilty of yielding to the lusts which have their source in man’s corrupt and fallen nature.”
So we see that a carnal Christian is a person whose spiritual life is dwarfed, and therefore whose spiritual walk is defeated. What category are you in? Are you a natural man, a spiritual man, or a carnal man? In Corinth, the saints were, for the most part, carnal, and so Paul proceeds to discuss:
II. The Capacity Of Carnal Christians
“I have fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:2). The capacity of carnal Christians is pathetically limited. It is a capacity which is restricted to an infantile formula. Paul describes this diet as milk as opposed to meat. The Apostle longed to feed the Corinthians on the meat of the Word, but he could not. As the Scriptures point out in another place: “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In other words, strong meat or solid food is for the spiritual; for those whose measure of maturity enables them to discern both good and evil. On the other hand, the milk of the Word is for carnal Christians whose limited capacity renders them incapable of:
1) Appreciating the Meat of the Word. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Although the Apostle softens his rebuke with the affectionate term “brethren,” he makes it nevertheless plain that he is speaking to people who are incapable of appreciating “the deep things of God.” Nothing is more disappointing, if not discouraging, to the preacher of the gospel, than a congregation of babies who will not grow up! And how true this is of so many Christians today! Saved for years, but still drinking milk; still wrapped up in the baby garments of their first days in Christ! Now and again, they enjoy the milk-and-water ministry of so-called popular preachers; but when it comes to pure, rich milk, or the meat of the Word, it is just not appreciated. Through lack of growth and experience in the Word of righteousness, there is no discernment of truth. Being unable to appreciate truth, carnal Christians are also incapable of:
2) Appropriating the Meat of the Word. “I have fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:2). This is the supreme tragedy of carnality in the Christian life. Because of failure to appreciate truth, there is corresponding failure to appropriate and apply truth. The writer to the Hebrews puts this perfectly when he says: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe” (Hebrews 5:13). “The word of righteousness” must signify fully-developed Christian teaching. By being unskilled in the word of righteousness, the writer implies the inexperienced handling and applying of God’s Word; or the very opposite of Paul’s injunction in 1 Timothy 2:15, where he says: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Tell me, do you fail in your appreciation and application of truth? After years of so-called church life, are you still inexperienced and unskillful in the word of righteousness? If so, you stand as a self-confessed babe, which to say the least is a major tragedy.
Oh, if you could only see yourself as heaven sees you, you would be done with carnality today! You would strive, in the might of the Holy Spirit, to be spiritual, full-grown and a pleasure to your God. Before we conclude, however, we must consider the third aspect of this carnality:
III. The Conduct Of Carnal Christians
“For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul.’ And another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4). In this classic word-picture of spiritual babyhood, Paul tells us that the believer who never seems to pass the childish stage is carnal in all his behavior. His conduct is characterized by:
1) Unhealthy Discontent. “…For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3). The word “envy” means “zeal out of control which easily leads to jealousy and the like.” How accurate Paul is! For you know as well as I know how some children are discontented and envious when they cease to become the center of attraction. In a similar way, these Corinthian babies had become envious of one another’s hero speakers, since such hero worship served to draw attention to themselves. The message that the Apostle preached was secondary. What really mattered was whether or not they belonged to the prominent section of the church. What carnality and fleshly lust!
2) Unhealthy Discord. “…For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3). “Strife” denotes “wrangling” or what Phillips renders as “squabbling.” Watch a nursery of discontented babies, and it will not be long before there is discord and strife. The same is true in the church. Where there are those who refuse to grow up, there is always wrangling and squabbling. Everything that happens, and everyone who ministers, becomes a bone of contention.
3) Unhealthy Division. “…For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:3, 4). Although the word “divisions” is not in the best manuscripts, the thought is quite clear by the context. So Paul speaks of the factions which these carnal Christians had created. Instead of finding their center in Christ, they were saying: “I am of Paul;” “I am of Apollos;” “I am of Cephas;” “I am of Christ.” Think of it, bringing Christ down to the level of mere men, instead of making Him the one and only center of all true fellowship! Divisions in the church are nothing new. But whether in Paul’s day or in our own day, it is a sure evidence of spiritual babyhood.
Is your life characterized by these marks of carnality? Do you create discontent, discord, and division in the circles in which you move? How repelling are these traits of the flesh! And yet how often are they seen in our lives!
As we examine ourselves in the light of this exposition, how it makes us want to grow until we have left spiritual babyhood behind. No wonder Paul declared: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Are you prepared to take that attitude today? It is yours to say a manly “yes” or a childish “no.”
Part IV. Sermon Outlines
Title: Washing the Disciples Feet
Point #1: We must understand the basis of true servanthood (1-3)
(the audio messages for this point were included with the last edition of this journal)
1. The basis of true servanthood is the confidence that come from knowledge
(1a) The knowledge of where we are going and how we are getting there (1a)
- “Jesus knew that his hour had come…”
(1b) The knowledge of who we are and how we fit in (2-3a)
- “Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands”
(1c) The knowledge of where we have come from and why we are here (3b)
- “Jesus knew…that he had come from God and was going to God”
2. The basis of true servanthood is the motivation that comes from love
(2a) The motivation that comes from love is shown in the object of that love (1c)
- “having loved his own”
(2b) The motivation that comes from love is shown in the extent of that love
- “having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end”
Point #2: We must demonstrate the character of true servanthood (4-11)
1. In the way we present ourselves to others (4b-c)
2. In the things we do for others (5)
3. In the manner we relate to others (6-11)
(3a) … by being courteous to those who oppose us (6-8)
(3b) … by being patient with those who misunderstand us (9-11)
Point #3: We must imitate the nature of true servanthood (12-17)
1. By remembering that the Lord is our Master (12-13, 16)
2. By doing for each other what Jesus has done for us (14-15)
3. By practising what we preach (17)
Related Topics: Pastors