The children of Israel were the only nation in the history of mankind who were solely the people of God. Because of this they should have experienced a glorious history of obedience to their Creator and its resultant blessings. Yet, in spite of their many reasons to be faithful to God, and in spite of the warnings which God gave to them, the Israelites often rejected God and served heathen idols.
During the reigns of good kings and strong judges, the Israelites did obey and serve the living and true God. On the other hand, when the kings or judges were not godly, the nation fell into all manner of sin. The chosen people had access to the teachings of their God, through the guidance of the priests and the pronouncements of the prophets, including many warnings of suffering and hardship as a result of disobedience to God’s laws. Even so, these teachings generally went unnoticed during the times when they lacked godly leaders. Their need was for godly men who could stand up against the evil of their day and teach the people the way of holiness.
The need in our day is much the same. The church is buffeted by every attack known to Satan. The devil has practiced his job for thousands of years, so by this time he knows it very well. Also, he is more determined than ever to bring the greatest harm to the kingdom of God that is possible (see Revelation 12:12); consequently the power of God is sorely needed in our land.
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence (Isaiah 64:1).
If God has all power and if He desires to give great grace and power to His church, then the church should be able to stem the horrible blight of evil which permeates our society. Yet we are constantly reminded of all kinds of evil and calamity every time we listen to the news. There must be an explanation for these ills which are so prevalent in our country, but the only explanation which makes sense is a shortage of the power of God at work on behalf of His church. For this to be true there must be something missing in the church, something which is difficult to see with the naked eye. The characteristics missing in far too many churches are: obedience, submission to God’s will, prayer, and dedication to the work of Christ.
These ingredients are missing primarily because of a lack of the kind of preaching which God counts as preaching. One of the big steps in the direction of increased power in the Christian church is for a return of true godly preaching to the pulpits. It would be an overstatement to say that there has not been one truly outstanding preacher in the entire 20th century, but at the same time it would not be far from the truth. The fact is that the preachers of our day are largely responsible for the United States getting into the wicked mess it is in.
Who could have protected the Israelites from the nations all around them? Who could have provided rain in the right amounts and at the right time every year for thousands of years? Who could have and would have immeasurably blessed the chosen people during their entire history if only they had learned obedience to Him?
Who can change the condition of the inner cities of the United States of America? Who can slow to a trickle the divorce rate, the drug traffic, child abuse, as well as many of the other evils of our society? Who can reach out through the churches and bring thousands, even millions of lost souls into the kingdom of His dear Son?
The question is never, can God do these great works? Nor is the question, does God want to do these glorious works? The question is, why does God not work in a powerful way to bless America and to advance His holy kingdom here on earth? And the next question: Is the church somehow responsible for the lack of God’s power in the world today, and the consequent problems of our modem day society?
One of the reasons for the inability of most churches to carry out the great work of God is the absence of God-ordained preaching. Many sermons honor the man who preaches them instead of honoring God. Read the sermons of great preachers prior to the twentieth century and you will almost never find the personal pronoun “I.” Listen to, or read the sermons of men in this century and you will find, in many cases, the personal pronoun “I” used in the first sentence in the sermon. When laymen walk out of a worship service knowing more about their pastor than they did when they walked in, it was because the sermon presented the pastor. What the people should have learned about was Jesus Christ and His will for their daily conduct.
What should be the uppermost thought on the minds of parishioners as they leave the worship service? For one thing, there should be a conviction that in some area of their lives there is a need for improvement, along with a determination to make the necessary improvement. Also there should be a greater appreciation for what it means to live for God’s honor and glory, along with a heart-felt desire to be more obedient and more loving.
These are good reasons why God established preaching as the means of spreading the gospel. As the Christian reads the Bible he can easily allow important truths to slip right by him simply because he does not want to experience conviction. He will read on in the hope that the conviction will disappear.
Another reason is that the minister should be a spiritual man who, as he grows in the Lord, is able to present the deep teachings of the Word which the average Christian would not otherwise learn. Not all the people in the church can be students of the Word, but the minister should be an earnest student, and he should also “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Timothy 4:2b).
True preaching presents God as the only being in the world who is important, the kingdom of God as the only work of importance, and the need for the Christian to live according to these important truths. True preaching is faithful to the Word and consequently will contain teachings of a particular matter for which Christians will have to give an answer before Christ in the day of judgment. When Christians get to heaven they will be judged by Christ, and they will be held accountable for every sinful act of their earthly lives. (At least for all the sins which were not confessed and genuinely repented of. (See II Corinthians 5:10 and I Corinthians 3:11–15.) If the minister fails to prepare the congregation for the judgment of Christ, who will help them get ready for their day of judgment? If a sermon does not contain any teachings which will help a Christian prepare for his time of judgment, has the sermon done anything of worth for the Christian? Will the Christian have learned, or gained anything by sitting under such a sermon? Has the Christian received anything of value from the worship service? Has God been worshiped by the Christian?
God is robbed when anything short of godly preaching takes place. He is robbed of the honor and glory which Christians would give to Him if they had sat under such preaching. He is robbed of the lost souls which would have been brought into the church as a result of this kind of preaching (Acts 2:41, 47). And He is robbed of the opportunity to bless and strengthen Christians who sit under anything less than godly preaching.
Only great preaching will bring about great results. Only God-ordained preaching will hold up God and all that He is before the church and the world. Only preaching which God considers to be real preaching will return this nation to some semblance of holiness and bring multitudes of lost souls into His Kingdom.
It is not God’s will that any man should parish:
As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked man turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 33:11).
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).
The preaching of the Word is God’s primary means of reaching lost souls. Therefore, the preaching of the Word, along with much fervent prayer, is the most important work within the kingdom of God. God put His stamp upon preaching by several different statements in the New Testament concerning this work. Also God put His stamp upon preaching by the examples of preaching which are contained throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts. As recorded in the second chapter of the book of Acts, the blessing of God came down upon 3,000 lost souls and brought them into the kingdom of righteousness through the instrumentality of the preaching of the Word. As a result of God establishing preaching as the primary means of spreading the gospel, the church for almost 2,000 years now has been involved in this vital work.
The minister has no choice but to preach the whole counsel of God. The fact that he is a spokesman for God in the pulpit places this responsibility very heavily upon him. His own day of judgment before Jesus Christ, where he will render an account of his work of feeding the sheep, is another reason for this grave responsibility. At the same time the fact that he is an example of Christ before the church places a responsibility upon him to live an exemplary life of obedience to God’s Word. The souls of those who are basically dependent upon him for their spiritual nourishment demands that he preach Christ and at the same time live close to Christ. The teachings of God’s Word, therefore God Himself, demand that he take his responsibilities very seriously, and give his life to the one great work of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Along with all of this, the souls of the unsaved cry out for the church to learn all it can about it’s great responsibility to be a lighthouse to lead the lost out of darkness into the glorious light of the truth.
Here are some reasons why the previous statements are true. Godly preaching moves Christians toward a genuine zeal after righteousness. Godly preaching instructs and encourages Christians to a life of obedience, a life of prayer, a greater love for God, as well as a life which seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Godly preaching reaches the hearts of the hearers and there God works, through His Holy Spirit, to give them the power to do these works of holiness. Thus, it is godly preaching, along with fervent prayer, which moves God to come down upon His church and work through it for the furtherance of His great work on earth.
Godly preaching finds its source of power only in God. It is preaching in which God is given His rightful place: God first, God last and God alone. It is preaching in which God is presented as the One who is needed by Christians in their daily lives. Godly preaching is Christ-centered preaching. It presents Christ to the people as the only reason for the existence of the church, and the only reason for any and all works in which the church engages. Godly preaching keeps before the eyes of the congregation the fact that the church is Christ’s earthly body, and that everyone in the church belongs to Him alone. It teaches the gospel of Christ’s great salvation to the lost, and it faithfully presents the claim of Christ to own, control, guide and use every Christian for His glory and in His work.
God works through human beings, Christians, to reach the lost souls which are all around them. He has resolved to use human beings in all the works which He brings to pass in this world. God used a woman, Mary, to bring His Son into the world, and He used the prayers of faithful people such as Simeon and Anna before this glorious work took place. He could have led the children of Israel out of Egypt Himself, but He chose to work through Moses for this great project. In every situation in the Scriptures we can see that God worked through human beings to bring about the great works which He determined to accomplish.
It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the preaching of the Word. Next to prayer it is the most vital work in the church. The only reason most Christians do not fully appreciate this work is because so much of what takes place in the pulpits today is quite different from real preaching. If a Christian had an opportunity to sit under real preaching for a year, he would find it exceedingly difficult to go back to sitting under much of what passes for preaching today. Under godly preaching, the Christian would become accustomed to learning what the Bible teaches about important truths, especially truths which prepare the hearers for the day of judgment. He would become used to walking out of the service with a feeling of conviction. He would become convicted of the need to make changes in his life, and would realize that without such conviction there is little or no true worship. He would appreciate the reality of God’s claim on his life, and would be under an increasing desire to live more for God and less for himself. He would find himself slowly drawing closer to God, along with a growing desire to be more like God. He would begin to see the houses around the church as dwellings of people who are in need of the gospel, and would desire to do something about reaching those lost souls for the Lord. In short. he would learn more and more about what it means to worship God. And he would find that he is totally unsatisfied with a sermon which did not enable him to draw into a closer, more vital relationship with God. Yes, he would be uncomfortable because of conviction; yes, he would have some occasions of feeling as though the preacher was “picking on him”; yes, he would not always be happy and carefree. He would, however, be willing to experience those “negative feelings” for the sake of drawing closer to God, and experiencing a greater involvement in the work of the kingdom.
God in His Word constantly instructs Christians in matters pertaining to the right kind of living,
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).
If God’s Word is meant to be a constant guide for Christians, how important it must be for them to have always before their eyes the truths of the Word which will guide them in the pathway of righteousness? It would be hard to come up with a better way for the church to keep reminding them of their obligations than through weekly preaching of those truths. So we can see, in the short verse above, the minister’s one and only reason for preaching the Word, that God might be given the opportunity to constantly show the Christian how he can live to please God. In order to do this the preacher must keep holding up, through preaching, every desire of God, every command of God, and every truth of God which is contained in the Holy Bible. If the preacher does not constantly set God’s will before the congregation, who will do this vital work? This is not to say there is no room for sermons of encouragement, of God’s love for His people. But it is to say that the most important aspect of preaching must be the faithful presentation of God’s will for His people, and without any question, His will is obedience.
Think about what you would learn from God if you were in His presence for an hour. What would you learn if you met with God for an hour a week over a period of a year? Would you learn about His greatness, His majesty, His holiness, His will for your life, what is important to Him, how much He loves you, along with the need to live in complete obedience to Him? If to worship is to be in the presence of God. then the Christian will learn many lessons during the worship service, all of which will direct him into greater Christian service. If to worship is to be in the presence of God, it stands to reason that the Christian will gain an awareness of his own inadequacies, and at the same time increase his desire to live more for God and less for self. After many such encounters (many God-ordained sermons), the Christian will become an obedient child of God. By God’s grace and power he will faithfully work for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Multiply all of this by many Christians in a given church, then multiply that total by many churches, and you will have a mighty army of Christian soldiers working in the name of God to tear down Satan’s stronghold in this nation.
Of all the people you know, who should be the first person to begin to earnestly pray for the power of God to be manifest in this world? Of all the people you know, who should be the first person to begin to fervently pray for yourself if you are a pastor, or for your pastor if you are a layman? The answer to both questions is YOU!
Pastor Justin Case graduated from Faith Seminary and taught Homiletics and Pastoral Theology at the seminary for ten years. He resides in Collingswood, New Jersey.