Preaching can be deceptive. It can seem all so normal to those of us who attend church services every weekends. It’s easy to be distracted by the personality of the preacher and the regularity of the practice, and neglect what remarkable things God stands ready to accomplish through such an otherwise unimpressive act.
He changes the world with words.
But as familiar as we in the church can be with preaching, it makes for an utterly unique half hour for outsiders steeped in the modern world. Gone is the day of oration and listening to extended monologues with rapt attention. TED talks, academic lectures, State-of-the-Union speeches, and stand-up comedy are almost all our society knows of public speech today. And these are vastly different than preaching.
In the church, preaching is that holy half hour each week when the assembly of the redeemed closes her collective mouth, opens her ear and heart, and listens to the uninterrupted voice of her Husband, through his appointed mouthpiece, fallible though the messenger be. This weekend, see if you can rise above your familiarity with your regular preacher, and be ready to expect some amazing things when Christ’s herald steps to the pulpit and is faithful to his word, laying out the kindling for the fire of his Spirit.
The Power of the Preached Word
When we put ourselves under the preaching of God’s word, it is one of the precious few moments in modern life when we button the lip, resist the temptation to respond right away, and focus our energy and attention on hearing with faith.
There is something going on in Christian preaching, in the context of corporate worship, that is not the same as your private reading and study of the Bible. Here, as Richard Foster says, “things occur that could never occur alone,” and according to Don Whitney, we come upon “some graces and blessings that God gives only in ‘meeting together’ with other believers.”
Private devotions can’t replace corporate worship. No other experience in the Christian life compares to the sacramental power of the preached word. It is that moment when we hear, through the faithful preaching of a human voice, Jesus’s own voice applied to our one local assembled body.
As you make your way to corporate worship this weekend, or consider whether it’s really worth the effort to be there, here are five specific graces, among many more, of sitting with faith under the faithful preaching of God’s word.
1. To Forget Ourselves
One of the great blessings of good preaching is that it helps us in the life-giving activity of self-forgetfulness. Faithful preaching will expose our sin, and challenge us to change, but it does so in the verses, while the chorus calls us away from self to the Savior.
It is a glorious thing for our souls to be freed from our regular preoccupation with me, even if for only a few moments at the sermon’s climax, as we’re captivated by Christ.
2. To Fill Our Faith
Another way to say it is that faithful preaching refills our faith. Personal renewal and steady-state strengthening come not from giving ourselves a pep talk but from regularly receiving the preaching of the gospel. We simply don’t have the resources in and of ourselves. We need an external word. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the message about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Our souls are strengthened by the preached gospel, as Paul prays in his doxology at the end of Romans: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ . . . ” (Romans 16:25). It is the message of the cross that is folly to the perishing, but is the wisdom of God to those who believe, and power for the Christian life (1 Corinthians 1:18–24).
According to 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, the preached gospel is not only what we have received in the past to become Christians, but it is that grace in which we presently stand, and that by which we will be finally saved, if we continue to receive and hold onto this gospel. The ongoing preaching of the gospel is vital to the ongoing life of faith.
3. To Grow in Grace
When we sit attentively under the faithful preaching of the gospel, not only do we forget ourselves and refill our faith, but we are genuinely changed. The gospel we preach is the fragrance from life to life, or death to death (2 Corinthians 2:15–16). We grow or shrivel. Our hearts warm or cool. We soften or become callous. There is no neutrality when the preaching sounds.
Tim Keller calls it “sanctification on the spot.” The main way that preaching changes us is not by giving us points of application to take away from the sermon and tackle as to-dos for the coming week. Rather, as we hear with faith and behold the glory of Christ in our souls, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This is why it is so essential that preaching be preoccupied not with the preacher or the listeners, but with Jesus. Only in perceiving him is there true power for change. Only through his gospel is our faith strengthened and renewed. And only in knowing and enjoying him is our soul truly satisfied.
4. To Be Equipped
The main note to strike is not equipping, but it is a great benefit of faithful preaching. God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). One aspect of corporate worship is building up the church. “Strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
“True preaching is not preoccupied with the preacher, or even his listeners, but with Jesus.”
Because good preaching is faithful to the Bible, and the Bible is the most important source for building up the church and equipping the saints for ministry, good preaching will equip. It is not the focus, but it is a great effect.
5. To Encounter Jesus
Finally, and most importantly, the chief benefit of faithful preaching is encountering Jesus himself, and enjoying him, through hearing and receiving his word. As Martin Luther said, “To preach the gospel is nothing else than Christ’s coming to us or bringing us to him.”
Good preaching not only helps us to forget ourselves, but to turn our gaze to the God-man, who is the only one who can satisfy our souls. In faithful preaching, we meet Jesus, as his presence is mediated to us through his word. The highest grace of preaching is encountering Christ, to know and adore him and enjoy him as our greatest treasure.
Such will significantly change your perspective and experience of preaching. What if you came to worship this weekend, not looking merely to hear some preacher, but to encounter Jesus?
Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines is a call to hear God’s voice, have his ear, and belong to his body.
Though seemingly normal and routine, the everyday “habits of grace” we cultivate give us access to these God-designed channels through which his love and power flow — including the greatest joy of all: knowing and enjoying Jesus.