How to know if you’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word
I’ve recently had a couple of people speak to me about the concerns they have regarding the preaching at their respective churches. One very concerned brother sent me some notes he took during the preaching and I must admit, reading his notes (based on the content of the message preached) left me concerned as well.
It is no exaggeration to say that as Christians make their way off to their different local churches for the Lord’s Day services, there is no guarantee that they will actually be sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. It is this sad reality that has led me to this question: “How do you know if you’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word?”
Now few would even dare ask or think of such a question. Many would instead find great safety and comfort in just assuming that whenever the Bible is opened and Scriptures are quoted, preaching is taking place. However, this unfortunate minimalistic approach to understanding preaching falls short of what true preaching is really about.
Preaching is not simply opening the Bible and quoting a few Scriptures and saying a few things that you think is relevant to those verses quoted. Preaching is not having a topic and looking for supporting verses for that topic. Preaching is not talking loudly, moving swiftly and sweating profusely behind the pulpit. Preaching is not merely saying things you deem encouraging, uplifting and motivational. Yet, this is exactly what passes itself off as preaching and what many Christians are sitting under.
- Preach the Word
So, how do we know if we’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word? Well, before we get to that, it’s worth stressing that the preacher has to have a deep and overwhelming commitment to actually “preach the Word” – 2 Timothy 4:2. This is the great pastoral obligation; this is the chief responsibility of the shepherd. Sitting under the preaching of the Word is the duly expected privilege of every believer who gathers for corporate worship! The church does not gather on the Lord’s Day to hear what the preacher has to say but to hear what the Lord has to say. The Lord speaks through the faithful preaching of His Word. Unfortunately, we cannot merely take it for granted that every person standing behind the pulpit has this holy ambition.
Too many preachers come to the pulpit with the pretense of preaching God’s Word when all they are really interested in is preaching about their personal interests, so-called spiritual impressions, man-centered agendas, or supposed words they have heard from God. In too many churches the regular spiritual diet of the church consists of nothing more than the preachers biblically deficient interests. We find ourselves at a very dangerous intersection in many churches, where the vain interests and itching ears of the hearers meet up with the unskilled, unqualified, and unsound utterances of the preachers.
We were warned:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3–4
But this is remedied by the man of God’s unflinching commitment to “preach the Word” – 2 Timothy 4:2. Therefore, being assured that you are actually sitting under the preaching of God’s Word means you have seen the preacher (or Pastor) model to you a high commitment to the preaching of God’s Word.
Now, I know I haven’t yet answered the main question, if anything I’ve just made the question longer: “How do I know that the preacher has a high commitment to preach the Word and that I’m actually sitting under the preaching of the word?” Here’s a brief answer:
- Keep the main point the main point
Preaching the Word is when the preacher has for his main point of the message the main point of the selected passage of Scripture. Preaching the Word happens when the main point of the biblical passage is drawn out and explained and applications are made that are faithful to the actual meaning of the passage. So, the preacher selects a passage of Scripture and he studies that passage. His aim is to determine what the actually author of that passage said when he wrote it and then drawing out that original intent he makes the relevant and varied applications.
Borrowing from one Bible teacher “… preaching is that… which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds it for the people of God” (Mark Dever). This explanation helps us to understand and answer the question at hand. How can we know if we’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word? Well, was the main point of the message taken from the meaning (and main point) of the passage and were the applications made relevant to the meaning of the passage?
For example, if the passage the preacher is having you turn to is Jeremiah 29:11 it is the preacher’s responsibility to show you what Jeremiah meant by what he said, and to whom he said it and in what context he said it. Only after seriously considering the author’s intent, the historical context, and its significance to the original audience can the preacher begin to entertain possible application for us today.
It is not relevant to begin with what the preacher presumes the passage means to him and his hearers. What is incumbent upon the preacher when he stands with God’s Word open before the assembled congregation is to explain the meaning of the particular passage he has selected and determine the original author’s intent. This is the very pattern followed by the men in the Bible:
They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. – Nehemiah 8:8
If John 3:16 which reads, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life”, was the main passage, then the main point ought to have been about God’s plan of salvation. Yet, it would not be uncommon to hear such a passage used to encourage a congregation to be more faithful and regular in their giving of tithes just like God was in giving us His Son. The point of the passage obviously is not about the importance of us giving to the Lord.
If Philippians 4:13 which reads “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” was the main text then the main point should have been about how Christ strengthens us to be content in Him with plenty or with little (Phil. 4:10-12). Instead the more popular approach to this passage is about how we can literally do all things through Christ who strengthen us. This is, to say the least, employing a naïve hermeneutic that fails to take into account the context in which Philippians 4:13 is found and it of course misses the entire point of the passage.
There are countless other examples to give but I provide these to illustrate that if the preacher misses the main point of the passage in the preaching of that passage he is not preaching God’s Word anymore and the congregation is not sitting under God’s Word anymore. This then is how you know whether you are sitting under the preaching of God’s Word: is the main point of the passage being drawn out and explained and are the applications made relevant and consistent with the actual point of the passage?
- A good point but not from that verse
It is far too common that good points are made at the expense of the actual meaning of a passage. Perhaps the point that is being made by the preacher is a fair and even good point. Yet, if the passage in question does not make that point the preacher must find another passage that does or just admit it is some insights he has and the congregation is welcome to make use of it.
To illustrated this, we may hear the preacher passionately proclaim that we must lift up Jesus, he then quotes John 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” So, the preacher continues his exhortation: “we need to lift up Jesus because if we lift Him up He will draw all men unto Himself”.
What the preacher means is that we must exalt and praise Jesus, we must declare His fame and renown so that through this men will be drawn toward the Lord Jesus. This may be a good point. However, this is not the point Jesus made and it is not the point of John 12:32. The point of John 12:32 “If I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” is clearly stated in the next verse: (John 12:33) “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die”.
Passing off our personal insights irrespective of how good and wise it may be as God’s Word binds the peoples conscience to what we’re saying and imposes upon them obligations to our insights and not God’s Word.
- Consider carefully what you hear
Good points made at the expense of God’s Word are more than likely what is happening in many pulpits. This is why believers must care that they’re actually sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. Believers must care to study along with the preacher and follow along as he unpacks the passage. We cannot merely accept everything that is being said to us, we need to “examine the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) so that when we meet on the Lord’s Day to listen to the preaching of God’s Word we will know how to discern whether it really is God’s Word we are hearing.
As we open our Bibles to the specified passage on a Sunday morning, we must ready ourselves to be persuaded by the preacher of the meaning of that passage and how it relates to our lives. We must expect the preacher to first ask: “What did Paul mean when he wrote this?” and then upon drawing out Paul’s intended meaning we can then expect the preacher to ask: ‘What does this mean to us today?” This is why preachers are called expositors and not inventors because they exposit the meaning of God’s word, they do not make up a meaning that suits their interests.