The Foolishness of Preaching

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©{{{copyright}}}
What is preaching? One classic definition is: It is God’s truth through human personality. It’s the spiritual activity of a God-ordained person and a ministry to which one is called by God. A preacher stands in Christ’s stead, under His authority and in obedience to His call and command to preach. A preacher proclaims, explains, illustrates, persuades and applies the whole counsel of God to daily living.

So what about these wise men, these scholars, these brilliant debaters of this world’s great affairs? God has made them all look foolish and shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. For God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance and then he stepped in and saved all those who believed his message, which the world calls foolish and silly. It seems foolish to the Jews: because they want a sign from heaven as proof that what is preached is true and it’s foolish to the Gentiles: because they believe only what agrees with their philosophy and seems wise to them. So when we preach about Christ dying to save them, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But God has opened the eyes of those called to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, to see that Christ is the mighty power of God to save them; Christ himself is the center of God’s wise plan for their salvation. This so-called foolish plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man, and God in his weakness – Christ dying on the cross – is far stronger than any man. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25)



In meeting new people, I have a lot of fun answering the question, “What do you do?” Do you know one of my favorite answers? “I comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Doesn’t the writer of Hebrews say that the Bible – God’s Word – is like a two edged sword?

The Bible is more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a machete, it doesn’t cut, it divides. Hebrews 4:12-13: “For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are. He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.”

Not everyone wants to know God’s Word because they don’t want to be exposed for what they really are. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Either God’s Word will keep us from sin or sin will keep us from God’s Word.” It’s not always easy exposing ourselves to the truth about ourselves, is it? (Cf. Psalm 139:23- 24).

In recent days the place and importance of preaching has been downplayed, but that’s not the case in Scripture. When it comes to our salvation we’re reminded that God ordains both the ends and the means.

1 Corinthians 1:21b, “…it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.”
2 Timothy 3:15, “…the Holy Scripture makes us wise, leading us the salvation through faith in Christ.”
Romans10:14-15, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach, except they are sent?

How many people clearly understand the nature and importance of preaching today? My guess is very few!

1) What is preaching anyway and what are some basic elements of biblical preaching?
2) What are some of the impediments or barriers to good preaching?
3) What is the responsibility of those who listen to the preacher?

These are the basic questions we want to consider in this article.

What is preaching? One classic definition is: It is God’s truth through human personality. It’s the spiritual activity of a God-ordained person and a ministry to which one is called by God. A preacher stands in Christ’s stead, under His authority and in obedience to His call and command to preach. A preacher proclaims, explains, illustrates, persuades and applies the whole counsel of God to daily living.

What is the focus of preaching? The focus of preaching is God’s Word – “the whole counsel or purpose of God” (Acts 20:26- 27). The focus of God’s Word – a revelation of the nature and character of God (the Law and the Gospel). The focus of the gospel is God’s love and grace revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The focus of the person of Christ is the Son of Man (human nature) and the Son of God (divine nature). The focus of the work of Christ is His sinless life, atoning death and victorious resurrection.

What we are called to preach is not a reductionist gospel for your personal salvation only. What is being preached is the gospel of grace – the glorious good news of the Kingdom of God!

What is preaching?

What is preaching? It is the authoritative and persuasive proclamation of the good news of God’s grace. Preaching is the exposition, illustration and application of God’s authoritative and inspired Word to daily living. It involves proclaiming the living Word of God by those called of God and controlled by the Spirit of GOD. The goal isn’t information but transformation by illumination and conviction leading to repentance and faith. In Acts 26:28, King Agrippa said that Paul almost persuaded him to become a Christian.

Preaching doesn’t consist in excellence of speech, or in human wisdom, or in worldly power. Preaching involves the testimony, wisdom and power of God transmitted through His Word and Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5: Dear brothers, even when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message. For I decided that I would speak only of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. I came to you in weakness – timid and trembling. And my preaching was very plain, not with a lot of oratory and human wisdom, but the Holy Spirit’s power was in my words, proving to those who heard them that the message was from God. I did this because I wanted your faith to stand firmly upon God, not on man’s great ideas.

Preaching needs to be Bible based, Christ-centered, Spirit controlled and person oriented (2 Tim. 3:15). It reveals the hearts of men, the nature and will of God, and the way of salvation through faith in Christ. Biblical preaching is authoritative and persuasive because it is based on the Word and Spirit of God. Preaching is not only grounded in God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1-2; 1 Cor. 2:2), it harmonizes with truth (Gal. 1:6-7), “The sum of Thy word is truth.” It is simple and practical. It reveals the sinfulness of sin (Rom. 7:7, 13) and the love of God through Christ (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Good preaching is well rounded – it involves preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20-35). It also proclaims and clarifies God’s intended purposes (desirous will) for His people.

Spiritually effective preaching

What is it that makes preaching spiritually effective? In a word, the unction or anointing of the Spirit. In the unction of the Spirit, the preacher becomes a channel though which God’s powerful and loving presence and persuasive purpose is realized.

Briefly, what are some of the characteristics of this unction?

1. Care and diligent preparation in the Word and prayer and submission to the Spirit of God are essential.
2. Servants of God are called and gifted by God to minister the Word of God in the power of the Spirit.
3. Preaching presupposes that we recognize the Word of God as the final authority of faith and practice.
4. God’s Spirit must accompany the preached Word in order to have the desired result or effect.
5. Preaching must be done with great conviction and loving boldness or it will be a hypocritical show.
6. The gospel we preach is urgent and important and we must be passionate and enthusiastic about it.
7. The minister must be properly motivated: to persuade people and to please God.
8. Preaching must be based on God’s purposes and we must not to seek to please men.
9. Preaching must be according to God’s will, God’s Word, God’s way, and God’s glory. Finally…
10. Preaching must include law and gospel so as to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

What’s the goal of preaching? The goal of preaching isn’t necessarily to make one feel good. The goal of preaching stated by Paul in his missional vision was “the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26); by this Paul meant the obedience that results from faith. Biblical preaching is both objective and subjective: 1) Preaching is concerned with what God has objectively done in human history through Christ; and 2) Preaching is subjectively concerned about awakening the human heart by the Spirit (regeneration/illumination) (Cf. 1 Cor. 2:12-14).

What are some of the modern hindrances that today’s preachers need to avoid?

1. We need to avoid becoming too moralistic by not stressing human effort and/or human decision.
2. We need to avoid placing too much emphasis on the importance of knowledge which only puffs up.
3. We need to avoid “cheap grace” or “easy believism” – a faith without repentance or obedience.
4. We need to avoid dead orthodoxy – enslavement to human traditions – even orthodox Church traditions.
5. We need to avoid exhibitionism – trying to entertain or please the people rather than God (Gal. 1:10).
6. We need to avoid substituting style for substance and being too preoccupied with feel good Christianity.
7. We need to avoid the practice of “eisegesis” – reading into the text what is not in the text.
8. We need to avoid over politicizing the gospel. Jesus is not a republican or a democrat but judges both.
9. We need to avoid being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
10. We need to avoid being so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good.

Did you know that hearing a sermon is an act of worship? We need to be very careful how we hear. What responsibility do the worshippers have in listening to the Pastor’s sermon?

  • We need to prepare our hearts to receive God’s Word and commit to obey God’s Word in advance.
  • We need to have an expectation that God is going to speak to us through the preached word.
  • We need to have the right attitude – i.e., “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10)
  • We need to have the right motivation – wanting to please God through glorifying Him (1 Cor. 10:31).
  • We need to ask “why” questions, not just “what” questions to know both what and why we believe.
  • We need to be active listeners and takes notes on what is being said and how it applies to our lives.
  • We need to be reminded that listening to a sermon is an essential act in the corporate worship of God.
  • We need to be humble and teachable and apply whatever we’re learning on an ongoing basis.
  • We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day and regularly remind ourselves of God’s grace.

How do we know if a preacher is reliable? Here are five questions to help determine the reliability of a preacher:

1) Does the preacher ground everything he says in the Bible? Does he, in other words, begin with the authority and sufficiency of Scripture?
2) Does the preacher freely emphasize that because of sin, a right relationship with God can only be established by God’s grace alone?
3) Does the preacher stress that salvation is not achieved by what we can do; rather salvation is received by faith in what Christ has already done?
4) Does the preacher underline that Christ is the exclusive mediator between God and man? Does the explainer both affirm and proclaim that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that nobody comes to the Father but by Christ? Does he talk about sin and the necessity of Christ?
5) Does the preacher exalt God above all?

If we take our preaching seriously then Jesus’ words will come to fruition: “He who hears you, hears me (Luke 10:16). Then and only then will we be a means of grace to God’s people in a lost and dying world.

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