Preaching that shows confidence in the Bible

Preaching that shows confidence in the Bible

What makes a sermon a good sermon? Everyone will have a different personal opinion. Some like loud, enthusiastic preachers who call for ‘Amens’ and ‘Praise the Lords’ at regular intervals. Others like careful, logical, well-thought out dense sermons. Many have a favourite preacher. But how might we assess preaching in a Biblical way?

The basic principle is that the power is found in the Word of God, not in the preacher. That has always been true. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12 ESV)

So when it comes to preaching, it is important that it is the Word of God that is front and centre. The preacher is there to deliver the message in a way that is faithful and helpful, but should not be the centre of attention. The preacher should make sure they are not getting in the way of the Word but unpacking it and making clear what is already there.

Paul puts it memorably in 1 Corinthians:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5 ESV)

I fear that it is very easy, particularly in our celebrity-obsessed world, for preachers to miss this emphasis. The short clips that famous preachers have online are often their illustrations, their impressive rhetoric, something that shows off their cleverness. That’s against the concern here in 1 Corinthians 2. We should be explaining clearly what the Bible says, not to draw attention to ourselves.

The truth is that the Bible itself is powerful. We don’t make it powerful through a memorable illustration or a structure of three points that all start with the same letter. There are lots of ways of presenting Biblical truth. It can be done with repetition and calls for ‘Praise the Lords’ or it can be done calmly and quietly. The key is to make sure that the hearers engage with the Word, not just with the speaker.

This has to include preaching the whole counsel of God, the bits that are easy and the bits that are hard. We cannot only preach on the joy of knowing Jesus and not on repentance. We cannot only preach on salvation and not judgement. God has told us so much; we need to pass it all on.

Ideally, the preacher themselves should be forgettable. I know that’s odd to say in a world where we identify churches by their preachers and people carefully cultivate their brand. But if the main response to a sermon is to be impressed by how good the preacher is, that’s a disaster. The main response should be how good God is, and how clear and helpful his Word is to us. Preachers need to get out of the way and let the Word do its powerful work.

A good sermon directs people to the text of Scripture. It should be common to see people looking down at their Bibles and not just up at the preacher. We come to a sermon expecting to hear God speak to us through His Word, and to have that explained so we can understand it.

Don’t assess a good sermon by its entertainment value; there are great public speakers who show no respect for the Word of God and instead draw our praise to themselves. Assess a good sermon by its unpacking of the Scriptures and the fact it points us to Jesus. Everything else is secondary. May God be exalted, and the witnesses to God’s word fade into the background.