It’s that time of year once again. The leaves are beginning to fall, the temperature is ever so slightly beginning to drop, and Saturday afternoons are filled with hot wings, hamburgers, and bragging rights. Football season is back in full force. And for those who are actually playing the sport, it is a season of hard work and preparation.
The late comedian George Carlin had a stand up routine wherein he compared the sport of football to war. Carlin quipped, “In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”
In a sense, Carlin was right. In order to be triumphant, the coaches and players must approach their game preparation with the perseverance and mentailty of someone who is getting ready to enter the battlefield. And the responsibility of equipping the team with the knowledge and training that will lead them to certain victory falls heavily upon the head coach. There is no doubt that at times grumbling and complaining can be heard within the locker room.
Battle worn and wearied from the grueling days of practice, perhaps there have been players who wished that their coach would be easier on them. That the practices were more fun and relaxed instead of being so intense. But a good coach knows that to watering down the team’s preparation even to the tiniest degree would be as good as waiving the white flag of defeat come Saturday. To those who play football, it is not just a game, it’s war.
When it comes to preparing for battle, the training can never be easy. In Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians are in a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the demonic rulers and principalities of darkness. Believers in the first century held the pulpit in the highest esteem for this reason. The preaching of the Word of God was not viewed as entertainment for the family, but as a means for teaching, reproof, and training in the ways of the Lord (2 Timothy 3:16).
In the years of the Reformation, reformers such as Martin Luther made it a point to gather the family and teach them Biblical doctrine through the use of Catechisms. And preachers like John Bunyan were so dedicated to training saints through exegeting the scriptures that he had sooner rot in a prison cell than to water down or abandon the preaching of the Word. This was because the primary focus of the pulpit was to equip the saints with the knowledge of God, not to pacify the crowds.
This war time mentality has historically always been the approach taken regarding the gathering of the church and the preaching of the Word. However with the societal introductions of ideologies such modernism, postmodernism, secular humanism, many of these man centered philosophies have slowly crept into the church. So much so that the modern view of the pulpit has been warped and distorted. For a great majority of American churches, the pulpit is no longer seen as a place for doctrinal training, but a place for social acceptance.
It is no longer seen as training for engagement with the enemy, but a place for the appeasing the masses. Rebuke has been traded for encouragement. Spiritual correction exchanged for cool relevance. Exegesis has given way to devotionals. And Spiritual enlightenment swapped for entertainment. In short, equipping the saints with deep doctrinal truths that will press them forward into greater sanctification has been shunned in hopes of filling up the sanctuary with cutting edge motivational speeches.
Preaching is not fundamentally the pastor giving his opinions on the text, but rather an act of war. There have been preachers who have used the analogy of taking the cookies off of the top shelf called doctrine and putting them on the bottom shelf for easier accessibility. When our six year old son Luke was four years old, we employed this very tactic regarding cookies. He was beginning to grab them off of the bottom shelf of our pantry every time he walked past.
So in an effort to curb his constant sugar high, we moved the cookies to the top shelf. I was shocked and a bit proud the day I walked into the kitchen and saw Luke so determined to get those cookies that he had taught himself to climb each shelf in the pantry until he could reach the cookies on the top. Believe me, it was a tough climb for a child of four years old. But his perseverance paid off in the end.
After decades of low shelf preaching, can we agree that its time to raise the shelf? Young people will go to school and learn hard subjects such as calculus and chemistry each week. Adult men and women go to their respective places of work daily and handle many complex situations. Yet these same intelligent people will tune out if what is preached from the pulpit is not taught on a very elementary level. We are people who can memorize multiple songs on the radio and learn the complex plays of our favorite football team. Can we not also learn Biblical doctrine?
I am by no means in favor of preaching so far above the heads of the congregation that the sermon feels like a lecture in Greek or Hebrew. But I do believe that proper Biblical orthodoxy can be taught and explained in such a way that even a child can understand. God does not need our help in editing or repackaging His Word. He doesn’t need us to make it more relevant or add entertainment to the message in order to draw others to Himself. Dr. Owen Strachan rightly said, “People don’t need a Tony Robbins course and they don’t need a pastor who is trying to be a comedian. People need to hear about the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glory.”
Unfortunately still there are many ministers who forsake exegetical and doctrinal preaching on Sunday mornings in exchange for modern day fire side chats. And most of the time it is due to external pressures and a desire to grow people in numbers rather than grow people in sanctification. Many times the excuse is that the ministers are trying to reach people on their level. But the implication in saying that is that the Word of God as it is not sufficient without undergoing a 21st century makeover.
There is a supernatural element to God’s Word that has been forgotten by many ministers to their detriment. We have forgotten that the power of salvation does not lie in our ability to say the right words, use the right examples, or captivate our audiences. As ministers of the Gospel, we are totally incapable of drawing anyone to Christ in and of ourselves. Only Christ has the power to bring the spiritually dead to life. Only Jesus has the power to open the eyes of the blind. The only duty of the preacher is to preach the Word of God. As Steven Lawson once said, apart from His Word we have nothing to say. We see this example clearly in the book of Acts.
In Acts 16, the Apostle Paul was preaching in Philippi to a group of women. One of the women in the crowd was a lady named Lydia. We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she was a business woman. She was a dealer in purple cloth the scripture says. Purple was a color worn primarily by the rich in the 1st century due to the difficulty in making it, therefore her wares would have been pricy. We also know that Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God. This implies that she was religious, but had no true relationship or knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord.
Lydia was like many professing believers today. She came to church and most likely endured the message with little interest each Lord’s day so that she could check it off her weekly to do list and feel justified in her salvation. But this day as Paul preached, the text doesn’t say Paul told a funny joke that got her attention. It doesn’t say that Paul preached the perfect sermon that opened her eyes. Rather, it says that the Lord ‘opened her heart to receive the message and to respond.
Again, the implication is that prior to the Lord doing this, Lydia had no power to revive or respond to the message of the Gospel. Paul only preached the Word. It was the Lord who captivated her heart. And this is the biggest relief to the pastor. Because we have the assurance that if we preach His word faithfully, God will call to Himself who He pleases in spite of our many flaws.
In training his young protege and son in the faith Timothy, Paul said these Words to the aspiring preacher;
“Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2.
There was no lesson from Paul on eloquence or contextualization, because Paul himself was not a great speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6). The Apostle simple said to Timothy ‘preach the Word.’ As modern day pastors, this still holds true today. We are to preach the full council of God’s inherent Word in love and complete faith. Notice that Paul first told Timothy to preach the Word. What follows is reprove, rebuke, and exhortation. These are not so much things that Timothy does, but rather the effects of the Word being preached upon the hearts of the people.
Christian, you are a Royal Priesthood. And preaching is the means that God has ordained that He work through in order to bring people out of darkness. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says that the angels are amazed at how God brings salvation through those whom He has ordained to preach the Word. If the angels stand in awe of this high calling to preach, so should the minister be all the more captivated and emboldened in their reliance upon Holy scripture and proclaiming the truths of who God is with the greatest of passion. Preacher, equip the saints with the only thing that can sustain them in the day of trial. Preach the Word of Christ.