Preacher, Stop Talking about God

The Bible begins with the divine king of the universe preaching his word. The entire cosmos exists and is sustained only by the Word of God (Gen 1, Ps 33:6-9, 148:5-6, Heb 1:3, 2 Pet 3:5). John Woodhouse asserts, “At the very moment of the world’s inception, we see the kind of relationship that God will have with his creation. As he brings the world into being, God’s point of contact with his creation is his Word.”1 God chose to create and act through his word as the mark of his sovereign, kingly authority over the cosmos.2 John Frame, regarding God’s speaking, notes, “This communication is essential to God’s nature. He is, among all his other attributes, a speaking God.”3

The beginning of John’s Gospel presents Jesus Christ as the eternal “Word” through whom all things were created, who appeared in human flesh as the living, acting, speaking Word of God (John 1:1-14).4 Hughes Oliphant Old explains,

One might even go so far as to say that according to the prologue of the Gospel of John, Jesus is God’s sermon to us preached in the living out of a human life. It is to this sermon, then, that all our sermons witness; it is this sermon that all our preaching unfolds and interprets.5

Vern Poythress notes the relationship between Genesis 1 and John 1,

The utterances of God spoken in Genesis are themselves the manifestation and expression of God in his triunity. In particular, they are the manifestation and action of the second person of the Trinity. None of the utterances in its particularity and specificity exhausts the eternal Word, since other utterances occur besides. But each utterance is fully divine. Each constitutes one of the specific unfolding of the eternal Word through whom all things came to be (Col 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2).6

J.I. Packer writes that the Scripture itself “may truly be described as God preaching.”7 Zack Eswine writes,

Everything changes when, standing at the bend in the road, a preacher realizes that the Bible he holds in his hands is the collected sermons of God. The fact that God speaks sets him apart from all other deities. He proclaims a Triune speech to the world: God the Father speaks (Gen. 1:3); God the Son speaks (John 1:18); God the Spirit speaks (Acts 4:25).”8

Every Christian preacher who steps before the people of God to proclaim God’s Word is positioned at the apex of kingdom warfare. Timothy Ward bemoans contemporary reticence to apply the astounding implications of the biblical witness regarding the nature of God’s word to the contemporary task of preaching his word in the church:

Yet, despite the modern nervousness about identifying the sermon with the word of God, throughout the New Testament it is simply assumed that what the disciples preach really is to be identified with God speaking. . . .To claim that one’s own human speech about Christ crucified really is God speaking, and that the Holy Spirit comes in power through one’s apparently weak speech, seems to run dangerously close to blasphemy. Yet that is clearly the pattern for the extension of the gospel after Pentecost that Christ and the apostles established. Fraught with dangers and temptations though it is, it is simply given to us as our pattern of ministry. . . . The New Testament precedent is simply that the preacher can preach and must preach, fearful and trembling because he has been given the privilege of speaking God’s words and has no power to determine the result of his preaching, but is not so fearful that he loses his resolve to know and proclaim Christ and him crucified. . . . In light of this, what the faithful preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text.9

Jason J. Stellman notes that in faithful preaching the hearers do not simply hear the preacher, they hear Christ,

In fact, Paul insists that when the saints hear Christ preached, they are actually hearing Christ Himself (Rom. 10:14, NASB; Eph. 2:17), a point made powerfully in the Second Helvetic Confession, which states that ‘the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.’ Personal ‘quiet time,’ therefore, can never replace the regular hearing of the gospel preached in the context of the local church, for it is here that God addresses His people in a unique and powerful way.”10

I fear that too often we think of our preaching as merely standing before the congregation talking about God, rather than as participating in God’s own preaching. Darrell Johnson helpfully explains,

For it turns out that as we preach, we participate in Jesus’ preaching of his Father; in the preaching moment, Jesus himself is pointing to and revealing his Father. And as we preach, we participate in the Father’s preaching of his Son; in the preaching moment, the Father himself is pointing to and revealing his Son: ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased’ (Mt 3:17); ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’ (Mt 17:5). And as we preach, we participate in the Holy Spirit’s preaching of Jesus; in the preaching moment, The Spirit is pointing to Jesus, bearing his own witness to Jesus, and doing so in a way that brings conviction and faith (Jn 16:8-15). We participate in a divine work, in a trinitarian work, the end results of which are not on our shoulders.11

John Stott powerfully summarizes, “In the ideal sermon it is the Word itself which speaks, or rather God in and through His Word.”12 With all the issues Christians are  rightly concerned about today the issue that receives little focus but is arguably the most important is the recovery of authority in the pulpit. Faithful preachers do not merely talk abstractly about God in their sermons. Faithful preachers unapologetically communicate the voice of the chief Shepherd to his sheep through preaching (John 21:17, 1 Pet 5:2, 4). His sheep know his voice and live “by every word” that comes from his mouth (Matt 4:4, John 10:27). Only a man with a blood-earnest commitment to the word of God and its unique power belongs in the pulpit.

  1. John Woodhouse, “The Preacher and the Living Word,” in When God’s Voice is Heard: The Power of Preaching, ed. Christopher Green and David Jackman (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1995), 47.
  2. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 55.
  3. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010), 48.
  4. Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 68.
  5. Hughes Oliphant Old, The Biblical Period, vol. 1 of The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 155.
  6. Vern S. Poythress, “The Supremacy of God in Interpretation” (classroom lecture notes, Westminster Theological Seminary, photocopy).
  7. James I. Packer, Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1996), 163.
  8. Zack Eswine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with Our Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 103.
  9. Ward. Words of Life, 158-59, 162. See also Jason J. Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009), 13.
  10. Jason J. Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009), 13.
  11. Darrell W. Johnson, The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God’s Transformation of the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 12-13.
  12. John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 30.

By |March 1st, 2017|Categories: Blog|Tags: |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today