This is part one of a two-part Pastor’s Perspective. Look for part two in next week’s First Epistle.
Having taken time to address the priority of prayer in the life of the church in general, and the importance of the prayer meeting in particular, last time, I thought it might be useful to think about the centrality of preaching this time. My interest here is not so much to extoll the virtues of expository preaching as the best method for the faithful delivery of a well rounded diet of biblical truth (it is!), nor is it my intent to open for you the glories of a theology of preaching. We might, were we so inclined, remind ourselves of the words of the famous Swiss Reformation era statement of the truth, the Second Helvetic Confession, that declares that “the preaching of the word of God is the word of God.” Not that every word the preacher says is inerrant or inspired, of course, but that, insofar as what he says is what God himself says in the text of Holy Scripture, then what he says has the full authority of the God who speaks in those scriptures. The Word preached is the Word still. In an age when we long to hear from God, we can guarantee that you will hear His voice every single week. Come and listen to the exposition of the Bible! It is there that God talks to us. As useful as all that might be, however, my concern today is to answer a more basic and practical question: how can we ensure that when we come to hear the exposition of scripture we derive maximal benefit from it? How can we profit from the Word?
Let me offer three suggestions:
1. Read over the chosen scripture text before you come to church. The passages and the titles for the forthcoming Sunday sermons are typically included in the First Epistle each week, and even without this we can usually anticipate the next preaching portion simply by reading ahead in the book or portion of scripture under study. Merely reading it over two or three times will help immensely to orient your thinking to the main contours of the message you will hear that Sunday. You will be more aware of the challenges of the language. You will come armed with questions raised by the passage that you will want answered. You will come excited by the potential for comfort or assurance the text offers. In short, you will come to church primed to engage with the text. It is, after all, not the engagement of your mind with the rhetoric of the preacher that will change you, but your engagement with the message of the text of God’s Word that will do it. The preacher is the servant of the text. He serves up nothing else (or he ought not to) except a steady diet of Bible. Read over the text and whet your appetite before you come to church.
This goes along with an exhortation to be regularly in the Bible for the nurture of your own soul throughout the week. A few brief glances at the next preaching portion while neglecting the Scriptures for your own daily sustenance will do no good. When I was a child, I didn’t like the taste of mustard, olives, or avocado. Now I love all three. Before we were Christians we had no taste for Bible. Conversion to Christ and the sanctifying process of change that follows is an exercise in re-educating our spiritual palettes so that we develop a taste for the Word of God. When there are so many things to dull our spiritual taste buds, we need to take deliberate and disciplined action to be reading the scriptures for ourselves daily. When we do, we will find our hearts more receptive the preaching of the Word of God and our minds readier to receive its instruction. Do you have a daily reading plan? Get one. Keep it simple. Don’t try to do more than you can meaningfully maintain. Do not substitute devotional books for direct exposure to the text of the Bible. Go to the source and drink from the well yourself! When you do, you will find the satisfying draught of water that is Holy Scripture will leave you longing for more and preaching will be a feast to your soul.