Made Sufficient: A Theology of Preaching

preachMade Sufficient: A Theology of Preaching

INTRODUCTION

Life in our culture today has one very common personal philosophy that will be heard anywhere you go: “You can be anything you set your mind to.” Our school systems, parental urgings, and media culture all cheer us on with shouts of “be all we can be, “just do it,” and “you can make friends and influence people!” We live in a world of driven and purposeful self-sufficiency. If you are a doctor and you find a new condition you are not familiar with, you study, research, prepare, and build the knowledge base and skill set within yourself to accomplish the task. You work hard to achieve the skills required for the task. If an engineer is faced with a new complicated project, they also turn to the books and the training. Study, prepare, practice, test, do all things to develop the personal skills to become competent and capable.

Coming to scripture with this worldview is dangerous enough for the average Christian, but it’s a death wish for those aspiring to the pulpit. In so many ways, our career success cultural handicap has created “you can achieve anything you set your mind to” preaching. Young men feeling the call to preaching start with the philosophy that hard work and personal development of precise skills is all that is needed to assume the pulpit and to receive the celebration and cheers of men. This is why Paul’s words to the Corinthians regarding the ministry of the New Covenant is so shocking.[1] You can just about hear the needle scratching across the record as our culture engages with Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 2:16b-17,

…who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ[2]

and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6,

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.

The World’s response to Paul is: “Who is sufficient for these things? I am of course! I can do anything I set my mind to. I will work hard and become sufficient to preach.” This response, whether voiced or felt secretly deep in our heart is the issue at hand. The biblical act of preaching is not a calling that can be professionalized. Preaching is not something that can be undertaken or mastered by sheer personal will. Preaching is an act like no other. Preaching is not a career choice. Preaching is a supernatural calling to proclaim God’s Word as a reconciled ambassador for Christ. It is only through God that we are made sufficient to speak on His behalf.

MADE SUFFICIENT

Preaching the Word of God is every bit as challenging as walking a tightrope hundreds of feet above the ground. Lean too far in one direction and you fall to a certain death. Overcorrect and lean too far the other direction and you experience the same results. One missed step and you are in great danger. Preaching is similar, not in physical balance and concentration, but in spiritual balance and humility. On one side we can fall into the certain dangers of self-sufficiency and on the other, the certain peril of lazy unpreparedness. The rope itself, on which we safely traverse to the other side, is humility grounded in the knowledge that we are not sufficient to accomplish this task in our own strength and skills, but we are made sufficient by the power of the one of whom we speak. To make the point of how God accommodates our weakness by providing preachers to speak on His behalf, Peter Adam[3], in his little book, Speaking God’s Words, quotes John Calvin, from his Institutes, on the power of God in preaching through the man, rather than the power coming from the man himself:[4]

it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? Who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? Who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. [5]

All men would fall on their faces in reverence if God came down from Heaven and preached to us. However, God chose to use feeble broken men sprung up from the dust to deliver His message to the World (Ex 4:10-12, 1 Cor 1:17-21,1 Thes 2:1-4, 1 Tim 1:12-15). To understand how this feeble, unremarkable, inferior  man can faithfully represent the infinite, holy, omnipresent God of the universe, we must understand the theology of preaching.

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Quotes: Charles Spurgeon on Humility in the Pulpit

From the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, in his work “The Soulwinner”:

“In the matter of soul-winning, humility makes you feel that you are nothing and nobody, and that, if God gives you success in the work, you will be driven to ascribe to Him all the glory, for none of the credit of it could properly belong to you. If you do not have success, humility will lead you to blame your own folly and weakness, not God’s sovereignty. Why should God give the blessing, and then let you run away with the glory of it? The glory of the salvation of souls belongs to Him, and to Him alone. Then why should you try to steal it? You know how many attempt this theft. ‘When I was preaching at such-and-such a place, fifteen persons came into the vestry at the close of service, and thanked me for the sermon I had preached.’ You and your blessed sermon be hanged, – I might have used a stronger word if I had liked, for really you are worthy of condemnation whenever you take to yourself the honour which belongeth unto God only. You remember the story of the young prince, who came into the room where he thought his dying father was sleeping, and put the king’s crown on his head to see how it would fit him. The king, who was watching him, said, ‘Wait a little while, my son, wait till I am dead.’ So, when you feel any inclination to put the crown of glory on your head, just fancy that you hear God saying to you, ‘Wait till I am dead, before you try on My crown.’ As that will never be, you had better leave the crown alone, and let Him wear it to who it rightly belongs. Our song must ever be, ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake.'”