Knowing definitions and remaining clueless of foundational reasons leaves only a hollow act. With a proper meaning of preaching established, it now becomes important to understand the purpose. There are three purposes that I would like to highlight from the Word. Glorifying God is the first and most supreme goal of not only preaching, but also all that we do. Can you imagine preaching without the context of glorifying God? Who would be exalted by such a sermon and what hope would it offer?
Another reason for preaching is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Standing behind the pulpit alone does not mean that the gospel should be carried out alone. Lastly, Scripture also teaches us that an important objective of preaching is to help believers reach spiritual maturity. As people are born again into Christ and sip the milk of the Word, preaching should whet their appetite and gradually guide them as they grow up into the full stature of Christ. Exalting God, equipping the saints, and edifying the body should all be integral parts of proclaiming the kingdom of God. When these three purposes are realized and put into practice, preaching will be much closer to its true function within the body of Christ.
1. To Exalt God
Whatever we do we are to do it to the glory of God and preaching is not an exception (1 Cor 10:31). However, this certainly isn’t the only biblical warrant that preaching is for God’s glory. The prophet Isaiah beautifully displays this thought when he speaks of the year of the Lord’s favor in Isaiah 61:1–3:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”
Isaiah was anointed to preach, and as you trace the entire thought of this passage you find that the end result is that God be glorified. What beautiful words Isaiah offers for the task of preaching to the meek. To exchange beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning is to contrast the worthlessness of our own selves with the worthiness of God. It might be said that the glory of something rests in the complete worthiness of all its attributes for praise. We would not call something glorious if ninety percent, a half, or even a fourth of it were faulty or mediocre. In order to achieve that status, every aspect of it would have to excel. God’s manifold perfection, as revealed through His word, should always motivate deep reverence and jubilant praise. All aspects of his infinite nature are worthy to be applauded at all times. To preach the cross of Christ is to display the mercies of God. To proclaim the resurrection of Christ is to give ear to his power. Heralding the coming judgment of God paints a picture of his justice. No matter the particular subject of a sermon, it should rightfully all boil down to who God is and this is his glory. Scottish preacher James Stewart sums this thought up quite well:
The aims of all genuine preaching are to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.
Notice that it all goes back to the central theme of who God is. From the Old Testament prophets who declared oracles of judgment or mercy to the many preachers of today, all preaching should have a clear overarching purpose of glory in view. It was done to the praise of his name through prophets of old and should continue today—not for the sake of history, but for the sake of his name.
2. To Equip the Saints
The glory of God is the chief purpose of preaching, but not the only one. Scripture also teaches us that preaching should equip the saints for the work of the ministry. The apostle Paul teaches this principle in Ephesians 4:11–15.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.
This passage plainly states that prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are given for the perfecting of the saints in the work of the ministry. There is a certain amount of humility in recognizing that one person can’t accomplish the work of the Gospel. Certainly Jesus accomplished the greatest work on Calvary, but Jesus was God Incarnate. Proclaiming the counsel of God should not be simply reading the sheep bedtime stories to make them feel safe and secure, but should equip them for the battle they are in and perhaps ignorant of. Lulling congregations into comfortable positions may make for a fairly content flock, however, sooner or later, the shepherd will become physically and spiritually exhausted. How many pastors prepare three sermons, a Sunday school lesson, visit the sick, and find themselves changing light bulbs, landscaping the church grounds, and countless other tasks? Could it be that they accept this multitude of responsibilities because they have neglected the biblical responsibility of teaching others to share in the work? God’s word beckons us to instruct others in lifting their hands to the eternal matters before us.
As Jesus sent out laborers at the very beginning of Luke 10, he instructed them to pray that God would send forth even more workers in the harvest. God in human form asked for and trained laborers. As we labor for the kingdom, if we find no helpers on our left or right we might want to ask ourselves if we have remembered this purpose of preaching. Working together and empowered by the spirit, we can accomplish more than playing the part of a spiritual maverick. Preaching must display for people the glories of God and it must demonstrate for them the importance of discovering and extending Christ together. When this is achieved, the Gospel in all its glory can reach further. Placing the responsibility of the ministry on Christians and not merely on preachers is crucial and this should be an aim of the preacher.
3. To Edify the Body
Within the same context of Ephesians 4: 11–15, there is yet another reason stated for preaching. It is to help believers grow up into Christ, unto the full measure of his stature. What a full stature that is! The preaching ministry is not a ministry of indoctrinating people, but teaching them how to form doctrine. Preachers should unashamedly present the doctrines of the word as their convictions and the Spirit leads them, however, they should go beyond this and model the proper study of God’s word. The goal is building up the body of Christ in the knowledge of the glory of God. If this great task is neglected the end result will be a people who can repeat a few doctrinal phrases yet be utterly clueless of the reason behind the hope that dwells in them (1 Pet. 3:15). This type of Christian is what I like to call a “pull-string Christian.” You can probably picture a childhood toy that uttered phrases once the string was pulled. When asking this type of believer a question you metaphorically pull their string and await a pre-programmed response. The high calling of ministering the word of God is not merely to equip congregants with a few deep phrases, but to educate them in grappling with the Bible. Let us labor to edify the church through proclamation and through demonstration of personal study. Then the people of God will form deep convictions and not mimicked messages.
Biblical shallowness is not the goal we are called to aim for. Furthermore, spiritual immaturity causes the fragility of faith. If the storms of adversity blow, the roots of someone else’s beliefs will not hold, but roots that personally sink into the word of God are strong indeed. Preaching should display the worth of the Father, draw in workers for the Kingdom, and deepen the wisdom of God’s people. Preaching must be biblically defined and delineated. The consequences of neglecting to do so are too dire.
Definitions help in understanding, purpose aids in believing, and power enables action. It is important to know where the power of preaching comes from. Is it empowered through some mystical gem or perhaps some new clever strategy? Certainly there is a source which preaching must pull from in order to fully carry out its purposes. This source is the subject of the next post in this series.
Calvinist Picard is a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies graduate and currently about halfway through a Ph.D. in Leadership program. He has worked in education and ministry in various roles for just a little over a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @CalvinistPicard and on Facebook at CalvinistPicard.