There is a pure motivation for the man who preaches biblically, and why he is wholeheartedly committed to its foremost priority during corporate worship. Indeed, every man of God worth his grain of salt throughout church history has unanimously affirmed the priority to preach. The Puritans were particularly men who were known to be vigorous students of God’s Word, aggressive readers, and prolific writers. But more than anything else, they were known for their preaching. In fact, when the Puritans came to the American colonies, finally having the opportunity to worship freely, apart from the liturgical corruption of the Anglican Church of England. Those churches had the altar front and center of their sanctuaries because their priority was the sacrament. So, when the Puritans came to America, they promptly placed their pulpits in the middle of their churches to make the priority to preach unmistakably clear. Everything else either lead up, or was in response to the preaching.
Recently though (actually, all throughout the last century), there has been a growing trend toward the devaluation of preaching. In fact, not just a devaluation, but even a hostility towards it.
At the turn of the 20th century, G. Campbell Morgan observed the death of good preaching in America saying, “The supreme work of the Christian minister is the work of preaching. This is a day in which one of our great perils is that of doing a thousand little things to the neglect of the one thing, which is preaching.”
Others have attested to the same.
In 1940, Jeff Ray said, “The church today is growing, in worldliness, but the pulpit is the church’s weak spot.”
Merrill Unger said in 1955, “The glory of the Christian pulpit is a borrowed glow… to an alarming extent the glory is departing from the pulpit of the 20th century.”
Then, lest you still be unconvinced, Nolan Howington said in 1959, “Whatever be the marks of the contemporary pulpit, the centrality of biblical preaching is not one of them.”
In 1976, Klyne Snodgrass said, “Everyone stresses the necessity of a solid exegesis of the text, but few are adept at providing such an exegesis and preaching effectively from it.”
I can go on, but let me finish with this last one.
In 1990, John MacArthur also took note that “There is a discernible trend in contemporary evangelicalism away form biblical preaching.”
Well… it’s only gotten worse, and it will only continue to get worse because, as they say, “As the seminaries go, so goes the church,” and quite frankly, the main objective of most seminaries today is not to train their men to preach and rightly divide the Word of God. Instead they are consumed with methodologies, church growth tactics, and social theories. As a result, we have all kinds of new “altars” in the church today, taking the place of the priority to preach. Praise bands, drama teams, or just all the “stuff” (the “thousand little things” as Morgan put it) that a church does, all to the devaluation of preaching.
So, many of today’s “preachers” preach these light-weight messages that are so utterly adolescent and inane that they reflect less theological truth that the five minute lessons the Puritans taught their six year-olds. The commitment to preach is simply non-existent. Many pastors will even try to find every way possible to wiggle out of their obligation to preach on Sunday so they can get out of the hard work of studying.
It shouldn’t be that way though, and as many as those men claim that they “love Jesus,” I seriously doubt it. I don’t doubt that they might think they love Jesus, but I doubt that they actually do.
In John 21:15-17, John records Jesus’ conversation with Peter – post Peter’s infamous denial of Christ. Three times Jesus question the purity of Peter’s love for him, and what is so significant about that text is Jesus’ interchange between the two words for love that He uses.
Now, a lot has been said about the difference between those two words, agape and phileo. Really, it’s an overstatement of the issue though. There is a lot of overlap in their meaning, and they both reflect a sincere, genuine love. But if we highlighted a distinction it would be this: where agape love emphasizes a love that indicates a total commitment to one’s cause or purpose, phileo love emphasizes a love for one’s person.So, when Jesus questions Peter in vs. 15, “Do you agape Me” (are you committed to My purpose for you?), Peter isn’t sure, and he responds with the love he thought he was confident in. “I love you (phileo), Jesus.” And how does Jesus respond?
Tend My lambs.That word “tend” is interesting, because it’s normally translated “feed.” So, Jesus is telling Peter, if you love Me, “feed my lambs.” He asks Peter again, “Do you agape Me?” and Peter again responds, “Yes Lord, you know that I phileo you” (vs. 16). Then Jesus says, “Shepherd My sheep.” But then it gets really interesting because Jesus no longer asks Peter, “Do you agape Me.” Because Peter continually responded with phileo, Jesus switches to phileo. Yes, because of Peter’s denial, Jesus might have cause to question the nature of Peter’s love for His cause. But to question Peter’s love for Him? That cut right into Peter’s heart, and he was “grieved,” and said one more time, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” One last time, Jesus again affirmed, then “Feed My sheep!” The lesson isn’t lost on us. “Peter, if you don’t have a love for My cause and My purposes, then I have cause to question your personally love for Me, and if you love Me, you will feed My sheep.” Indeed, the de-emphasis on the priority to preach is a sure sign that many churches have deserted their love for Christ, and have replaced it instead with a love for altars. People don’t like preaching. It’s not a one-sided event, but it pierces the heart and convicts the soul (Hev. 4:12-13). Not only that, but it’s authoritative, and that’s something utterly despised in our postmodern culture. 1 Peter 4:11 says, according the Holman Standard Bible, “If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s ‘words’ (the logos).” The NASB puts that, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one speaking the utterances of God.” Likewise, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Well, that’s why preaching is “out of season.” Preaching is authoritative, not because we’re proclaiming our words, but because we’re exposing the revelation of God. But we preach, even out of season because of a pure motivation. We preach because we love Christ, and how appropriate to dwell on the reason why during this upcoming holiday. We love because “He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19) manifested by His perfect love when He “laid down His life for His sheep” (1 Jn. 3:16). For that reason, I readily affirm with Paul, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God” (Col. 1:25). Tomorrow is Good Friday. Let us “preach Christ crucified,” motivated by our compassionate love for Him.