Jesus was a preacher. In fact, Matthew organizes his account of the life of Jesus on earth around five sermons that Jesus preached (chapters 5-7; 10, 13, 18, 23-25). Jesus gave the “great commission” to His disciples as recorded by Mark, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:16). Luke’s inspired history of the early church, the book of Acts, includes more than a dozen sermons or parts of sermons. Clearly preaching was an important part of the life of Jesus and an important activity of the First Century church, the followers of Jesus.
Notice clearly that preaching was part of the worship of the New Testament church according to the book of Acts. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). First, note that this is an approved apostolic example of preaching as part of worship. Second, note that this preaching was part of that assembly of the church and that the sermon was directed toward all those who were present (i.e. “Paul preached to them”).
“Preaching the word” requires reproving, rebuking, exhorting and teaching (doctrine) (2 Tim. 4:2). These requirements relate to the church. Each of these is necessary to keep the church built up (edified) and guided away from error and instructed according to the guidance of God’s Word. It cannot be over-emphasized that the basis for all preaching is the Word of God. The sermons in Acts are almost entirely based on and saturated with Old Testament Scripture (note: the New Testament was not available at that time in written form). Inspired preaching in the apostolic age was “book, chapter, and verse” preaching. Preaching is not intended to be entertainment; it is not intended to be a display of one’s educational prowess; it is not to be focused on the style of delivery, dress of the proclaimer, or eloquence of his presentation. Preaching as part of worship is to be instruction from God’s Word. Paul stated,
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among, save Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
Remember that when Paul gave the Corinthians inspired guidance regarding their use of miraculous spiritual gifts (miraculous spiritual gifts like the speaking in languages ended in the First Century) in their church assemblies he emphasized the importance of the understanding of the congregation. For this reason, Paul emphasized the superior value of prophesying (preaching) in these words, “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3). The messages (sermons) were to be understood. Sermons are to result in “edification, exhortation, and comfort.”
This kind of preaching is not always acceptable to those hearing it. Paul wrote, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Paul here reminded us of two important things. 1) People will sometimes prefer to hear fables (lies) rather than sound (healthy) doctrine, the truth. This was true then, and it is certainly true today. Some people want to have their ears scratched and don’t want to hear anything that might make them feel uncomfortable. 2) There are a “heap” of teachers out there and sometimes hiding in the church who are more than willing to “preach” anything the people want to hear. But, the remedy for this is not to compromise the truth, not to omit from the truth those parts which make the people feel uncomfortable, and not to water down the message; the remedy is to “preach the Word, be instant (urgent, ASV) in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Brother Keeble used to say that this means both when people like it and when people don’t like it. He was right. People’s reaction should never determine what is to be preached.
Paul described his preaching in Ephesus by saying, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the (whole, ASV) counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This is what every preacher is to do. Whenever an eldership prohibits preaching on certain subjects or certain passages of Scripture, something is terribly wrong. No preacher who desires to be pleasing to God should accept such strictures. Every congregation needs to hear everything that God has revealed in His Word. This is the only way for a person to be “perfect, throughly furnished unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). Certainly, preaching should be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), but love for God, love for the lost and love for the saved would not cause a preacher to keep back “nothing that was profitable”, but to “warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:20, 31) as Paul did.
Another aspect of preaching includes the recognition of the fact that within those assemblies there were (are) the “unlearned” (i.e. non-Christians) (1 Cor. 14:16). Preaching is to be evangelistic. Sinners are to be convicted of sin and then told what they need to do according to God’s plan of redemption to be saved. The sinners present may also include Christians who have erred from the truth and need to be converted (Jas. 5:19-20). All these souls are lost and need to hear the gospel of Christ, the only means of salvation (Rom. 1:16). They need to know God’s plan through Christ for saving them. They need to be told what they need to do to be saved (Acts 16:30). Therefore, any sermon that does not include these salvation essentials falls short because no one knows when they will have the last opportunity to obey before life is gone or our Lord returns. There is always to be an urgency in preaching! Souls are in jeopardy!
It should also be mentioned that there are two sides to preaching. When thought is given to the acts of worship that God has authorized, some tend to think that preaching is something that only the preacher does and the rest of the people present are passive. That is not the case. The way a person listens to the sermon is an essential part of this act of worship. Notice when Peter preached to Cornelius and his household we are told that they were present “to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33). They were there to “hear all things” that God had commanded Peter to preach. They were not there to make decisions about what part of the sermon they liked and to discard the rest. They were eager to hear all of God’s commands.
Jesus said, “Take heed, therefore, how ye hear” (Luke 8:18). Those that listen to the sermon are to be discriminating while they listen. They are to insist that what they are hearing is the “doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9-11). The listeners are to be as the Bereans who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). This verse means: eager to learn the truth and examining what is taught to the Scripture. People are not to look at worship as something to be avoided or reluctantly endured. This includes preaching. We should not duplicate the attitude of Israel in the days of Malachi who thought of worship, “behold what a weariness it is!” (Mal. 1:13). Drawing close to God should be a joy to everyone who loves the Lord!
When sermons are preached those that listen should be encouraged to take notes for later reference and should be encouraged to open their Bibles and read, when possible, the Scriptures that are cited. (As a preacher, I have always loved to hear the sound of the turning of Bible pages while I preach.) After the sermon ends, more study should be given to what has been said. During the sermon should not be the only time when the searching of the Scriptures is done, but as the Bereans this should be done “daily.”
The Thessalonians should be commended here. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thes. 2:13).
Preaching is a part of worship. Preaching requires that the Word of God is proclaimed. Preaching requires that those that hear discern the Word of God with an eagerness to learn the truth and apply that truth to their lives. Preaching should bring everyone closer to God and urge obedience to God’s Word. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And shall they hear without a preacher?….How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:14-15). “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psa. 19:9-10).