Saying Isn’t Doing
In an age where everyone from prosperity preachers to liberals and true theological conservatives claim to be rightly preaching the Word, we must ask ourselves how do we actually identify faithful preaching? Just because a man claims to be preaching Scripture and professes to accurately handle the word does not mean he actually is doing so. It is important for us as believers to be able to discern what faithful preaching is and what it looks like so we can ensure we are not being deceived, but instead sitting under a faithful man true to the Word of God. To that end, in this post, I want to layout several identifying factors of biblical preaching.
Now, before we dive in I want to put out a short disclaimer. Just because I am writing on biblical preaching does not mean I am considering myself to be perfect every time I step into the pulpit. Every pastor can look back on sermons knowing he could have added more details, placed the passage better in its context, or clarified something better than he did. Yet, there should be consistency in a faithful pastor where you see him properly interpreting the passage, understanding and explaining its context, and applying the Scripture with accuracy, all the while having a great passion for the Scripture and the glory of God. People should know this is a man who studies the Word deeply and feeds the sheep thoroughly. There are no perfect preachers, but there should be consistent faithfulness, or else something is dramatically wrong.
Preaching The Point of The Text
I am drawing from Paul’s words to Timothy on this particular point. 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2 states:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
-2 Timothy 3:6-4:2
In the context of this passage, Timothy is dealing with multiple issues. You can read through both 1 and 2 Timothy to see how he is dealing with everything from false teachers to issues within the church itself. That phrase “man of God” used in verse 17 has a rich background discussing one who is called to proclaim God’s truth as a leader. For example, it is used of Moses in Deuteronomy 33:1, David in Nehemiah 12:24, and only of Timothy in the New Testament, just to name a few examples. So, Paul is discussing the sufficiency of Scripture as the authority for the man of God, the ministerial leader, to bring glory to God in all of life and proclamation. Of course, the sufficiency of the Scripture for life applies to all believers. Specifically, since Paul pointed Timothy to the Word, then it is imperative for proclaimers of the truth to rightly know and teach that Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
What does it look like for a man to rightly handle the Scripture? First of all, you should notice that he preaches the point of the text. Dear reader, this point is vital to comprehend, so focus in with me here. A man may theologically say accurate things in a sermon, but if he is not rooted in the text, that is a dangerous sign. Because he is simply spouting his ideas without anchoring them in the interpretation of the text. What you should notice is that a faithful pastor will come to a passage rightly interpreting it, setting it in its context, explain it, and preach the main point of that specific passage. In other words, everything in the sermon stems from the text and flows from the Scripture itself. The preacher should seek to apply that passage to his congregation, but he does so in ways which fit with the exhortations and primary points the biblical author is making. He doesn’t insert his own ideas into the passage rather he submits to the Word rightly exegeting it, then proclaiming what the text says. He takes time to squeeze everything he can out of each verse doing his absolute best to wring every drop of divine wisdom out of that text before moving to the next one!
Let me pause here to address an issue that some may have at this point. Some may object to my saying that a pastor who speaks with theological accuracy, but is not grounded in the text is not preaching faithfully. Here is why I make this particular point. Paul told Timothy to “preach the Word” clearly demonstrating the calling of the minister is to declare what the text says. If a man walks into a pulpit, reads a passage, then preaches his theological views apart from the meaning of the text, then he is preaching his ideas, which may be accurate or not, and failing to actually declare the Scripture. Fundamentally he is thus straying from his foundational duty as a minister of Christ. He is showing himself to be an individual who does not ground himself in the Word. Preaching requires the actual passionate declaration of what the text itself says. Primarily, though not entirely exclusively, it should consist of going verse by verse through books of the Bible because that is how God gave us His Word. Certainly, the applicable use of cross-references is legitimate for the preacher, but those should be used to help clarify the main passage in its context. We do not need men standing up to declare their views, but rather the very Word of God itself. The danger is that a man who is simply declaring his views is not preaching God’s Word, meaning that he will stray at some point. Because he is engaging in eisegesis, meaning he is inserting things into the text instead of exegetically drawing his sermon from the passage. It is a huge red flag that anyone should be wary of when they see this type of declaration from a pulpit. For example, many a pastor has talked about the wonders of eternity by looking at 1 Corinthians 2:9. What they say about our future with Christ may be accurate, but it has nothing to do with that text which is discussing the greatness of God and primarily His glorious wisdom (more on that here). Such misunderstanding of a biblical passage is not a good sign and demonstrates a pastor is not exegeting the text as well as he should.
Dedicated To The Scripture
Another point which should be evident about a faithful preacher is his passionate dedication for the Word of God. In 1 Timothy 4:13-16 we read:
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” -1 Timothy 4:13-16
I specifically want to focus on verse 16, where Paul told Timothy to “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them,” clearly this text shows the dedication the pastor must have. He must throw himself into the work being wholly given to the Scripture. John MacArthur says this:
A man of God must have a single-minded, consuming devotion to his calling. He is not to be like the double-minded man James characterized as “unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Meletaō (take pains with) carries the idea of thinking through beforehand, planning, strategizing, or premeditating. When not involved in ministry, the excellent minister is preparing, praying, or planning for it. Absorbed is not in the Greek text which literally reads be in them, a phrase emphasizing being totally engulfed. An excellent minister is consumed by his work.1
MacArthur rightly emphasizes the dedication a faithful man has to the work set before him. His dedication is to understand the Scripture, rightly declare the Scripture, and rightly apply it. Thinking about this aspect in terms of preaching, it should be evident that a pastor progresses in his preaching continually improving. He grows to get deeper into the text. His delivery gets sharper, crisper, and more to the point. His illustrations are more pointed and increasingly work better with the passage. He has a love for God and the study of the Word, which evidences itself in a passion for the work God has called him to undertake. The pastor should be joyful in the preaching to where his eagerness for the work is clearly seen. This text gives us another clear marker of biblical preaching.
Focused on The Glory of God
In his letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul is in prison, and his boldness for Christ is having the effect of giving the brethren more courage to proclaim the truth. Philippians 1:15-18 says:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” -Philippians 1:15-18
I want you to notice that even though some of these men preaching are trying to afflict Paul, he still rejoices in the proclamation of Christ. He identifies the issues in these men, and we can’t neglect to see that reality, but undoubtedly Paul saw the main goal of preaching was the glory of Christ seeing His name magnified. Every pastor seeking to practice biblical preaching must be focused on the glory of the Triune God. He must magnify Christ preaching not for the approval of man, but of the Lord. His goal must be to set forth the glory of the Lord before the people as much as possible. Therefore, a biblical preacher will be a God-centered one who is not focused upon man but the praise of Christ.
I hope that this post has served to give you several key markers of biblical preaching. If you are sitting under the consistent preaching of a man faithful to the Word then praise God for him and express your gratitude. However, if you find yourself sitting under the preaching of a man who is engaging in proclamation unbiblically, then I would recommend you pray about it for a while and think biblically about how to handle the situation and what the primary issue is. Then, go to the man with a heart of complete humility and address the issues. If the unbiblical preaching continually persists for an extended period, then try to talk to another elder and bring him to the preacher with the issue. If that does not work, then you may have to move to a different congregation with a pastor who will rightly handle the word if the original congregation will not take action to get a biblical preacher. I should also note this post was just about the preaching of the pastor, there are other elements of ministry such as his shepherding of the flock, his family life, and others to consider. But, today, I wanted to lock in on identifying biblical preaching from the pulpit, and I pray you were blessed by what Scriptures says on this issue!
1 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy, p. 180.