Position in Preaching

Position in preaching is an important matter about which all too little is said—and yet it can make all the difference. What am I talking about? What is ‘position’ anyway?

Position represents a preacher’s relationship to a passage as well as to the persons who are involved with it. With whom does one identify as preacher, and with whom does he identify his congregation? The answer to those two questions tells one what his position is.

There are several possible positions that one might assume. Various names may be assigned to each, and possibly more than the three that I shall mention might be distinguished, but in order to raise the question and to point toward the desired biblical position of the preacher these three will do:

  1. The loving, learning SPECTATOR
  2. The faithful, listening RECIPIENT
  3. The ordained, sent HERALD

There clusters about each of these positions a number of factors that are consistent with the position itself. Take the SPECTATOR, for instance. Such a preacher doesn’t identify with any one particular in the preaching portion. He does not speak as does the writer of the epistle or as the preacher in the gospel; he is an outsider who is looking in on what is happening and who sees his task as enabling the congregation to look in along with him. He is, in effect, the cameraman, whose sole job is to paint the picture for the viewer. As such, for instance, he looks in on the events of the text to view Jesus at work in His redemptive-historical tasks. Largely he speaks in third person language. His prevailing response, and that of his congregation, is worship, awe, gratitude. His temptation is to be merely a listener, a viewer, a spectator. There is little that is ethical or doctrinal about his preaching. The preacher who is most likely to take this position is the biblically-theologically oriented preacher.

Then there is the RECIPIENT. This preacher stands in the crowd, along with the congregation or the individual receiving the letter, book, or message in the preaching portion. He identifies himself with those receiving truth or an exhortation or rebuke. In the gospel he identifies not with Jesus but with the crowds or Nicodemus or the man born blind, and he puts his congregation as well as himself in the same position. Whereas the spectator uses “they, he, she,” the recipient’s favorite preaching pronoun is “we.” He is no bystander, as the first preacher tends to be; he is a participant, faithfully hearing Christ’s Word to him and to his congregation, feeling its impact in his life and going out to do it. Though some ‘expository’ preachers may identify most closely with the spectator position, most would be lured into identifying with the recipient.

In contrast to the other two, the HERALD assumes a position of authority (conferred, not inherent) and exercises it in the name of the One Who sent him. He stands with Christ and the biblical writers and preachers, speaking to the congregation in the name of God and with His message and authority. He identifies with the messenger in the passage, so his favorite pronoun is “you.” This position encompasses the other two as well; the benefits of the other two positions are his and are conveyed to the congregation as well. However, he assumes the other two positions in the study and not in the pulpit. As he studies the Scripture he wants to look in, in order to be struck by the greatness of the redemption that is in Christ; and when he is, he will prepare and preach differently than if he had not been. In the study he also wants to identify with those receiving the message, so that he may experience its benefits in his own life. That too will affect how he prepares and preaches his message when he gets into the pulpit. But when he stands before the congregation, he is neither recipient nor spectator; he is an ambassador of Christ, a herald of the good news. As such, he says to his congregation (whom he views as participating observers, required to be hearers as well as doers of the Word), “Thus says the Lord!”

How do you preach? Throughout the previous articles on preaching I have stressed the need for a preaching rather than a lecturing stance, and a focus on the Holy Spirit’s telos, or purpose, in the preaching portion. Such emphases are consistent only with the third position. The herald preaches not about the Bible, or about the Amalekites or Paul, but from the Bible, about the congregation present and about God. He is not a mere onlooker or one who enables others to see what happened long ago and far away. Nor is he concerned with interpretation and meaning as ends in themselves. He is one who believes that Scripture was recorded for the admonition of his congregation and that, as he proclaims it to his people, God still deigns to effect changes in the thoughts and lives of His congregation. As a herald of the Spirit’s Word, he views true preaching as an occasion during which God and His people meet in the Word.

A Key to the Book of Revelation

A key to the two-part nature of the Book is found in chapter 10, verse 11:

You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.

After the letters to the seven churches, there are two great sections to the Book:

Section One: The First Enemy of the Church and its destruction.

Section Two: The Second Enemy of the Church and its destruction.

This verse stands between them.

If the second section deals with all sorts of peoples of various languages (hint, hint), what do you think the first section deals with?

Just a few thoughts to get you searching. Have fun!

Providence and Reasons Unknown

God’s providence is a wonderful thing; by it we know that all things work together for the good of His children. In counseling, or preaching, a man of God is able assure others of this fact. He should often revert to that comforting doctrine.

But some are not satisfied with that assurance. They want more. They insist on finding out how God is working out good in any given situation. Sometimes it is apparent how God is providentially at work (or at least partially so), but more often than not we are unable to do more than conjecture about it, Paul—an inspired prophet and apostle—at times found that he could not say for sure what God was doing providentially. In the situation in which Onesimus, a runaway slave came to know Christ through that experience, he writes “perhaps” that is why the event occurred (v.15), but (having no revelation of such facts) will go no further. It would do well for us most of the time to do the same. What we have in this little book of Philemon, interestingly, is an inspired “perhaps.”

Where Protection Is Found

The psalmist writes:

Rest in God alone, my soul . . . He alone is my rock (Ps. 61: 8 HCSB).

This world is a dangerous place; full of disease, war, treachery, accidents—you name it! How can you go through life in a calm, restful manner? That’s what the Psalmist is speaking about. Behind a rock was a place to find protection in biblical days. If someone was tracking you down—as Saul tracked David—to locate a large, impregnable rock to use as a wall between yourself and the tracker would be highly desirable. That is why God is frequently called one’s Rock. That is to say, He is the Protector of His people.

In this uncertain life, have you found rest in the only true Rock? There is only one way to do so—through His Son, Jesus Christ Who died in the place of all those who would trust Him as Savior. He bore their guilt and suffered in their place. He is the One Who, alone, can lead you to the Rock of this verse—the “Rock that is higher than I.”

Need rest? Protection? You need the Rock behind which you can lie down and feel safe.

God’s Word—purified seven times over

That’s what Psalm 11:8 has to say.

”But what does it mean?”

The verse also compares it to silver that is purified that often.

“Does that mean the Word was impure and had to be purified?”

Certainly not.

“Well then, why does it go on to compare it to silver that has to be purified that many times to rid it of all impurities?”

It is not the process of purification that is under comparison.

“What then is?”

The product of the process!

“What do you mean?”

Simply this: as silver that is refined seven times over is said to be totally free from all impurities, so too are the Scriptures totally free from all error and harmful teaching.

“Oh.”

The verse means that the Bible is wholly free from error and, therefore, is pure truth! When you turn to its pages, you must have this thought in mind and be willing to accept whatever it says as absolute truth!

“You might say that it is a sterling book then . . . ?”

You might.

 

Paths

Everyone’s on one. That includes YOU. It’s interesting how God describes the pathway of His people:

The path of the righteous[1] is like the light of the dawn , shining brighter and brighter until midday (Prov. 4: 18; HCSB).

It’s a path that runs from sunrise till noon! How descriptive! The longer we walk on it the more clearly we see! The brighter life becomes, the more shining the landscape! What a beautiful description the writer gives us.

Sometime, shadows do obstruct clear sight; often we tire along the way. But the great truth all of God’s true children must admit is brilliantly expressed in these words!

The closer to the end of the journey, the more the way is illuminated. Jesus Christ is the one Who stands at the conclusion of the walk—how could it be otherwise?

 

[1] The righteous are not those who are righteous in themselves, but those who have been declared righteous by faith in the work of Christ on the cross

God’s Challenge

Here it is:

Who, like Me, can announce the future? . . . Let these gods declare the coming things, and what will take place. (Isaiah 44:7; HCSB).

God is declaring that prophecy proves.

“What do you mean by that?”

Simply this—the fact that the biblical God has predicted the future proves He is the true God. And, to boot, the fact that He alone can make the claim stick! Indeed, because of the latter fact, the former is true too.

“How so?”

Since there is no other challenger who can substantiate his claim, as He can, clearly, the former is true.

“But don’t other gods claim the same?”

Not too many of them even make the claim to predict coming events, but whenever they do they fail the test of giving the predicting facts beforehand—and, indeed, often long before—in writing that is publically received and tested as to its truth.

“What do you mean by that—and how is it tested?”

Simply in this way: hundreds of scriptural prophesies have been written, received, kept intact, etc., for hundreds (often thousands) of years which years later have been fulfilled to the T.  And that is not true of any other God but Yahweh!

“Are you sure?”

Absolutely. No other supposed God has any written record such as He has to which to point to show the fact of his existence and knowledge of the future.

“Hmmmm.”

Any God worthy of the name must be able to demonstrate His ability to do so.

“Where can I get a list of such prophecies?”

Such lists are often found in the back of Bibles in a section next to the maps. You can easily find it.

“Well, I’m going to take a look at one. Thanks for the clue.”

Welcome. Reader, how about you?

 

Occasional Preaching

imagesWhen Chrysostom arose to preach that day, he was ready—even though he had had less than twenty-four hours to prepare. And when he preached, he delivered one of the most famous sermons of all time.

The occasion was the fall of Eutropius, the imperial minister in Constantinople who had attacked the church and had even forbidden her to offer refuge to political prisoners. Yesterday he broke his own law and fled to Chrysostom’s church for sanctuary. Chrysostom admitted him, and when the soldiers in hot pursuit reached the door of the church, they were met by Chrysostom, who declared, “You enter here over my body” (the origin of our expression ‘over my dead body’). Now one day later, the entire town has gathered to hear Chrysostom preach. What will he say?

Many standing in the tightly packed crowd are furious. They are convinced that Chrysostom missed a great opportunity to rid the community of one of the church’s vilest enemies. Why has he received Eutropius? What can he say in his defense? They have come to find out.

From the front of the church, those who are regular attendees notice a curtain has been drawn across the altar. What does that mean? Ah, here comes Chrysostom; we shall find out soon.

After normal proceedings according to his usual custom, Chrysostom takes his place at the ambo, the reader’s desk, so that he may be closer to the congregation when he preaches. He is ready to speak. No, wait a moment! The curtain—they’re drawing it aside and—listen to that crowd! They all understand now. There he is! There’s Eutropius clinging to a post supporting the altar. Is Chrysostom going to preach with him there like a pinned butterfly … like that?

“Vanity of vanities; all is vanities” declares the preacher. And then he continues, preaching … not to the crowd, but … to Eutropius! He asks him where all his fair-weather friends are now, shows how vain all his pursuits were, pleads with him to repent, and then turns to the congregation and addresses them. He tells them that he has done this not to rub salt in Eutropius’ wounds but to offer them a living demonstration of his text. This he does as a warning to all who are yet afloat, that they may not sink as this poor wretch has. He shows how the trembling tree, clinging to the altar post, has shaken loose all its leaves and is barren, and then urges rich and poor alike to take heed.

Then he takes up objections. Why did he receive this fugitive? Because he represents the Lord Jesus Christ in whom there is mercy and forgiveness. Eutropius does not defile the altar any more than did the sinful woman who touched the feet of Jesus defiled Him. Indeed the Holy Savior can forgive even an enemy like him and make him pure. Others may have no pity, but Christ’s church will show pity and receive him into her bosom. On and on he goes, until at last tears stream from the cheeks of the people and Chrysostom knows that their hearts have been softened.

What a sermon!

Read it sometime. It will be worth your while. And, by the way, it will be worth studying the preaching of Chrysostom to see how he met other occasions (see, for example, the sermons on the statues).

“But no one ever enters my church with soldiers chasing him,” you say. “How, then, can I do occasional preaching?” In his sermons on the statues, Chrysostom had no such dramatic episode within his church auditorium either. But he saw danger, warned about it from the pulpit (he urged the congregation not to follow foreign agitators against the unfair tax levied on the city) and, when his advice was not heeded and the emperor’s statues were destroyed, preached repentance and faith. You may warn and urge too when you perceive dangers into which your people possibly might fall.

“But Chrysostom preached about every day affairs in the city.” Yes, and he did so from an expository stance that was aimed at the people to whom he was speaking. He preached to people on significant occasions—biblically. And there is no reason why you cannot do the same.

There are many occasions about which the people in your congregation would like to hear what God has to say—so that they will know how He wants them to respond. When a president is shot, everyone (rightly) expects the preacher to say something about this from God’s Word. The newspaper and the telecasters have all had their say; shouldn’t God have His? When tornadoes or floods devastate a community, should the preacher keep silent? Of course not. He must bring God’s message of the hour to bewildered believers.

Christians expect, and should expect, a word from God on all such occasions. You must not disappoint them. Perhaps sometimes they are more prepared to listen than at other times. I am not suggesting that you should preach occasional sermons regularly—or even often. What is regular is not occasional; what is occasional is not regular. But when a significant occasion arises, the congregation expects to hear God’s Word to them about the stance they should take toward, or the part they should play in, the event.

How did Chrysostom preach a sermon that was so powerful in pathos and cogency on such short notice? He did what every other great preacher would do in times like that: he didn’t choose a preaching portion that was unfamiliar to him (see his opening remark about sermons on his text always being appropriate). He used appropriate to the occasion a passage on which he already had done the exegesis and had preached a sermon or two. He spent what time he had working on the adaptation, weaving into the material already at hand the facts of the occasion and how the Bible passage pertains to them. He also worked on form. The sermon shows that you can do the same.

Look for occasions. Don’t miss them. Surely this year there will be more than one occasion nationally, locally, or in your congregation (the death of an entire family in an automobile accident, perhaps) that will be so much on the minds of the congregation as they meet that they will hear nothing you say unless you speak to them about their relationship to the occasion (from the Bible, of course). That is when you must do occasional preaching. And that is how you do it. Will you be ready?

Toil or Talk?

Listen to Proverbs 14:23—

There is profit in all hard work; But endless talk leads only to poverty (HCSB).

You know the type that the writer of Proverbs is describing, don’t you? He’s full of plans, will spend hours (if you let him) telling you all about them, and will bend as many others’ ears as he can in order to do the same.

But you never see the results of those plans. It’s all talk!

If you get taken in by such a person, you may find yourself giving him your time, your money – or who knows what else?

The FYI statement is there in the Bible not merely for the interest it may arouse in those who read it; it is a strong warning not to be caught up in another’s schemes—which may turn out to be little more than talk. If you do, eventually you will discover you have leaned on a fragile reed—a person who is full of talk but with no results! And you too will have wasted your time (at the very least) listening to him.

Watch out for those who talk excessively about what they are going to do, but never show you any results. If they were to expend effort toiling rather than talking endlessly they might be able to achieve something. That’s what the verse is saying.

Christians can fill their conversations with pious sentiments, objectives and desires (how much they are going to do for Christ), but when they fail to produce, they have insulted the Lord who saved them. Ask them to show you results of some of their past pet projects. When they cannot do so, shun such future conversations. They are a waste of time and will probably not end in any real results for the Lord than did some previous scheme.

Many people may mean well—not all are shysters—but they still are all talk and no toil. Perhaps you can help them by pointing them to this verse and exhorting them to get to work on some project rather than merely talk about it.

 

The Fool

The Fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”      (Psalm 14:1).

How do we know that he is a fool?

Simple. A fool speaks as if he has the answer to a question to which he cannot have an answer. No man knows enough to make that statement. You would have to be everywhere at the same time to reach that conclusion. Otherwise, God might be just one jump ahead of him.

But to be everywhere at once is to be God! And the strangest part of it is that he isn’t just boasting, showing off or something. He believes it—partially, at least—and is trying to fully convince himself that it is really true.

Say, fool—will you come to your senses? When you do, it is time to find out about the Salvation that is in Christ Jesus. If you need help, let us know.

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