What’s the purpose of a sermon? What is the preacher trying to accomplish? While ministering in Belfast, I heard Pastor John answer this question by saying, “The preacher’s job is for people to know God and to find him more satisfying than food, sex, money, sports, or media. They’re idolaters if they don’t.” Wow — powerful language about the urgency of the preacher’s task. He’s not a stand-up comedian trying to get laughs. He’s not a stage performer trying to out-entertain the overstimulated attention span of Netflix addicts. He’s seeking after eternal things to grab hold of the hearts of his people in order for them to find more joy in the Giver than in the gifts of the Giver. That’s the task of the preacher. Here’s the full clip from Ireland. Keith Getty is leading a conversation with Pastor John about his recent book on preaching.
Keith Getty: Each person at the conference is getting this book Expository Exultation. You know, I made the joke yesterday that when I was reading Desiring God, I was on the ferry. Now every time I see the book, I still smell that seawater and boat. It’s really weird. But as I said, it was a unique eye-opener for me because it was both this rich biblical doctrine, and there was so much of the emotions, the affections, the passion, and the outworking of it. I’ve always come alive with Charles Wesley’s lyrics because I think they explode theology in a way that opens all the affections. Talk to us about Expository Exultation and preaching and worship.
Light to the Mind
John Piper: The goal of life, worship, and preaching is a people alive to God — knowing God truly, loving him duly. The fact that those rhyme says something. I work at sentences like that. I sit for half an hour, trying to think of how to say new things. I mean, that one will get old. It’s already old to me. Know God truly. Love him duly — that’s already old to me. It might not be old to you. I work at things like that. But that’s another topic.
If that’s the goal, then my people need to know God, and my people need to have passions for God so that they have more satisfaction in God than food or sex or money or sports or media. They’re idolaters if they don’t. And that’s my job: to help make that happen.
“My people need to know God, and my people need to have passions for God.”
So if that’s your job, pastor, what are you going to do? Both of those are impossible. The devil is blinding their minds, and their hearts are as hard as stone. You can’t do anything about that in yourself. Preaching is an impossible task; it has an impossible goal. Miracles have to abound in this room if anything eternal is going to happen. So, what do you do? Those two words: expository and exultation — with a u, not an a; not exaltation, but exultation. One is transitive, and one’s intransitive. Remember those words from grammar? No. “What do they teach in school these days?” C.S. Lewis said.
Those two words capture those two goals. Expository means my job is to see what God has revealed of himself in this book, to see how he revealed it in the very words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, and then to find words and structures of thought to teach it. Elders must be apt to teach — didaktikos. It would be really good to meditate on what that adjective means. They must be apt to teach so that, when he’s done, understanding has happened, light has gone on in the mind, and they are better aware of the reality of God in their minds.
Worship What You Know
I don’t know where you are on this, but here are a couple of things about how knowledge relates to worship. I have watched some people who are so disinclined to theology and so inclined to mystery that they try to make God look greater by highlighting what we can’t know because he’s so great.
But when I read the Bible — which is a very thick book; mine has over a thousand pages — this is not written so that you will praise God for how little you know of him. It’s not. I just know it’s not. God did not waste so many people’s time putting so much glorious truth about himself in this book for us to say so little of it, know so little of it, and justify our ignorance by the wonders of mystery. Baloney.
The way you come to appreciate mystery is by climbing to the top of the highest mountain you can find and looking over it and seeing, “Oh, there’s another range out there,” and then climbing that one and looking over the top and saying, “Oh, there’s another range out there,” and then climbing over that one. That’s called theology. Those mountain ranges are learning about God from the book. So, that’s my first beef with those who try to create worship out of not knowing.
“If a pastor is not responding with his heart to what he’s seen here, he’s not preaching and he’s not worshiping.”
Here’s another one: God cannot be glorified by being trusted without reason. So many people extol leaps, like “Just leap into the dark.” Well, if a man you don’t know walks up to you on the street and gives you a bag, and he says, “There’s $10,000 in cash in here. Would you go deposit it at my bank? Here’s my bank number, here’s my pin, here’s the account number, here’s everything you need. And I’ll see you later.” And you look at him and say, “I don’t even know you. Why would you trust me with this?” And he says, “I just do.” Would you think he’s a wonderful person? No, he’s an idiot. And God would say he’s an idiot.
However, if when you say, “I don’t even know you,” he says, “Well, I know you. I’ve been watching you at work. I work down the hall. I’ve tested you. I’ve seen everything you do. You are a man of great integrity. You will put this in the bank. I know you will.” Now how do you feel? He’s not an idiot. He’s done his research. He knows you. He’s honoring you. That’s the way God wants to be honored.
This book has in it countless reasons for trusting God — countless reasons for trusting God. If you try to make much of God without reasons to make much of God, he’s not honored. You’re an idiot. So, that’s another beef I have with people who say, “Leap in the dark.”
Make the Sermon Sing
You want people to be knowing God truly and loving him duly. Well, stocking their minds with ideas is not sufficient for awakening love and affections. How does that happen? It’s a miracle. I said to one of our worship leaders at Bethlehem, Chuck, early on in our ministry together: “We don’t worship and then preaching. We worship with singing and then we worship with preaching. You and I are doing the same thing. I’m using preaching, you’re using singing, and we’re both worshiping.”
So, what does it mean for a pastor to worship as he preaches? Telling the truth is half of it. Making it visible and plain from the Bible is half of it. But if he’s not responding with his heart to what he’s seen here, he’s not preaching and he’s not worshiping. There have to be evidences in that man’s voice, in that man’s eyes, in that man’s demeanor that he believes this. He loves this. He’s afraid of this. He’s amazed at this. Whatever the proper emotions are for this particular psalm or text in Romans — whatever those particular, appropriate responses of the heart are — he should have them. And that’s exultation — expository exultation.
Expository Exultation is an effort to see preaching as an embodiment of what you want out there in the people. What you want in the people is people who know God rightly, and then feel deeply about what they know about him (or feel appropriately).
If it’s hell, you want them to feel the horror of it. If it’s lostness, you want them to feel the grief of it. If it’s heaven, you want them to feel the hope of it. If it’s a great gift, you want them to feel thankfulness for it. If it’s some horrible sin they’ve committed, you want them to feel broken for it. All those feelings are worship. That’s what matters. And you’ve got to embody that. Preach that. And then, if God pleases, it happens in people.