Having already examined the definition and purpose of preaching in the first two posts of this series, the power of preaching is now the focus. In one word, the power of preaching is God. In at least five ways, God is the true source which makes preaching possible. Through the Holy Spirit, prayer, the Word of God, the Gospel, and the joy of the Lord, he sends, supplies, and sustains preachers.
1. The Holy Spirit
Some may wonder why the salvation of sinners has not yet appeared in the definition or purposes of preaching. Salvation was not included within the purposes of preaching because I firmly believe that this is an act of sovereign grace and a purpose of God. He is glorified when sinners repent and throw themselves on the mercies of Christ. What effect would preaching a sermon have in the absence of the Holy Spirit? We must be careful not to create a human formula for salvation and leave out the one vital element. No one can come to the father unless they are drawn (John 6:44). Sinners need to hear the preaching of God’s word and preachers must understand that the spirit alone can regenerate a hard heart.
God is sovereign over his creation. No cunning or craftiness of man can accomplish the glad purposes of God. He alone saves and he alone sanctifies. Salvation is God wrought, blood bought, and spirit caught. Sanctification is no different. Paul illustrates this in Philippians 2:12–13:
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Most assuredly, salvation is by faith alone and nothing we can do. Therefore, this cannot be a working to merit salvation. It is a living out what God has worked within. God works in us through the person of the Holy Spirit to change our will and to guide our lives. In this manner, our motives and actions are internally shaped. Preaching is an instrument through which God works this inner miracle and causes His children to grow closer to him. However, even the most educated, well-spoken, and dynamic preacher will be powerless without the Holy Spirit to minister to the heart of the listener. We often understand that regeneration is performed by the spirit, but we tend to leave new converts to live the rest of their lives with only human exertion to aid them. The God who saves also sanctifies. He plants the comforter in our hearts that our hearts might be changed to align with His. In this way, God continually draws us nearer to Himself through the Holy Spirit.
2. The Word of God
Another equally important power of preaching is the well from which we must draw the water of life to carry to a spiritually dehydrated world. The well is the word of God. Many disciples turned back from following Jesus on one occasion and He turned to the twelve and asked if they wished to turn away as well. Peter spoke words that clue us in to the power of the words of God. “Where else could we go? You have the words of eternal life,” Peter said (John 6: 66–69). Let us consider this same question. Where else can we go for the words of eternal life? The big danger in leaning on resources other than God’s infallible word is providing people with information that is temporarily beneficial, but eternally insignificant. Only God has eternal words. Any words we add to this are mere shadows to the fullness of His stature. When defining preaching earlier through various biblical phrases, one phrase that continued to manifest itself was preaching the word. Again Peter sums this up in 1 Peter 1:23–25.
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
We are born again by the word which lives and abides forever. Man’s flesh and man’s glory in all their earthly effort cannot stand perpetually. The words of the Lord continue on in eternity and these words are the gospel which should be preached. Any attempt of man to supplement the infinite worth of divine inspiration is at best a withering blade of grass and a falling flower. In a world of such depravity, can we afford to stand up and hold forth the blossom of fleeting hope? It should be noted that there could be an initial attraction to the gospel of withering flowers; even withering flowers have their day of beauty. However, that day soon passes and hope passes with it.
If the spirit and the word are essential, then our dependence upon God in both of these through prayer is equally as important. The heart’s desire of Paul in Romans 10 verse 1 is that Israel might be saved and this is evidenced in his prayer to God for them. He is concerned for their salvation, he realizes that only God can accomplish this, and so he makes much of earnest prayer on their behalf. The apostle relied on prayer not only in this way, but he also called for the Ephesians to make supplication for all saints and for himself as he boldly proclaimed the mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 6:18–19). This gives us a twofold approach to praying for the lost.
Surely we must pray for the conversion of sinners, but we must also issue a call for others to pray for preachers that the mystery of the gospel might be embraced in the hearts of its hearers. As prayers ascend to the very throne of God, He notices His people’s cries of dependence and graciously manifests his presence. Phil Keaggy has penned song lyrics which perfectly sum up this point.
There is an eye that never sleeps beneath the wing of night,
there is an ear that never shuts when sink the beams of light. there is an arm that never tires when human strength gives way,
there is a love that never fails when earthly loves decay.
But there’s a power which man can wield when mortal aid is vain.
That eye, that arm, that love to reach, the listening ear to gain.
That power is prayer which soars on high, through Jesus to the throne, which moves the hand, which moves the world to bring salvation down, bring salvation down.
If the Holy Spirit is the power to convert sinners, then prayer is the beseeching of God to unleash his power in this way. Man’s condition and God’s power are puzzle pieces that cannot fit without Christ. Should we consider, even for a moment, the lost nature of mankind, the eternal fate of unbelievers, the hope made possible through Christ, and the inability of man to connect all these puzzle pieces, then we would enter the prayer closet before this sentence is completed.
4. The Gospel
Previously, in clarifying definitions, one of the major phrases that surfaced was preaching the gospel. So what is the gospel? How should the gospel be presented? These two questions are incredibly urgent and are often brushed aside. Paul writes to the Corinthians, refusing to tamper with the word of God, and gives a concise meaning of the gospel.
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
–2 Corinthians 4:1–6
As seen in this passage, the Gospel could be defined as light which is the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Some would object to this simple definition saying that an accurate explanation of the gospel must include Christ’s virgin birth, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. This of course is true, but I wish to point out that the Gospel is not merely facts. It is plausible that a person could accept the above list of facts as true and not truly accept “the Gospel” in its saving power. Even Satan and his demons believe the aforementioned points. The Gospel must not simply be statements about Christ, but the heralding of the glory of Christ who is the image of God! How then will this difference in definition change how the Gospel is presented? If the Gospel is characterized only by mere facts it will be presented similarly. For example, preaching that sinners should repent and accept Christ because one day they will see their loved ones again does not point towards the glory of Christ, but towards a benefit of the glory of Christ. The danger is in substituting side effects of glory for glory. The Gospel should never be stated as merely escaping hell, reuniting with loved ones, better marriages, or golden streets. All these things are true and good, but they are only glimmers of the glory of Christ.
5. The Joy of the Lord
Suppose a preacher understands the previously mentioned sources of power and yet something is still missing. He preaches in dependence on the spirit, directly from the scripture, praying continuously, and proclaiming the unadjusted gospel; but something is still out of place. Yet another power of preaching is the joy of the Lord. In at least three ways the word teaches us that preachers who do not possess joy are ineffective. From the outset, it must be clear that this is not a general joy, but a joy rooted only in God. In other words, following the last four powers of preaching cannot be going through the motions, but an earnest seeking of the presence and power of God. Joyless preaching is futile preaching. The author of Hebrews gives us an insight into this truth.
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
The followers of Christ are urged to submit to their God appointed leaders. This submission is precisely to help leaders do their task with joy and without grief. It is hard to imagine a pastor being content if his people are unruly. According to this text, if the pastors contentment wavers, then his ministry will be unprofitable for the people. Was this not the very plight of Moses as he struck the rock? For forty years they had wandered in the wilderness and he was the ear for the complaints of the Israelites. It was the end of his journey to the Promised Land.
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
–1 Peter 5:1–4
For a pastor to be fruitful he must labor without compulsion or constraint and with joy. His service must not flow from a sense of obligation, but from a sense of delight in God. People are not ignorant to the true motives of their leaders. Fervency cannot be faked indefinitely. Sooner or later, the reality of the heart will surface in word and deed.
These essential powers of preaching must not be ignored. They are all interconnected in ways that we cannot fathom, but they are also independently imperative to the preacher. Neglecting these powers of preaching is to pursue ministry in your own strength. In so doing, the glory of God is relegated and this is no laughing matter. Ignoring 1 Peter 4:11 will only result in “pseudo-ministry.”