|Volume 24 Number 6 June 2022
Recently, I spoke to a brother in the hospital. He was there because his primary care physician told him to check himself in through the emergency room so his symptoms could be stabilized, and a specialist could see him. This brother, who made it a point to pray with his doctors and nurses, had already passed out business card-sized invitations to the local church’s services and was equipped with a few sets of Back to the Bible personal evangelism booklets, just in case people at the hospital accepted his invitation to a Bible study. This brother revealed in the conversation that his usual overnight bag consists of personal evangelism tools because, “You never know when you’ll need them to teach people the Gospel.” Here is a brother who was packed for evangelism. What a great example!
The apostle Paul stated, “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also” (Romans 1:14-15 NKJV). Paul revealed two tremendous attitudes that are necessary for personal evangelism. First, he felt an obligation to all people (Romans 1:14). The word translated “debtor” refers to someone who is “under obligation” (ESV). Although this particular verse does not identify why Paul felt the obligation, an examination of his life suggests that at least part of it was that he himself was forgiven so great a debt of sin that he saw the need – the obligation – to let as many people know that they too could receive the same forgiveness (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Second, Paul was “ready” (NKJV) or “eager” (ESV),” which is translated from a word that refers to willingness or eagerness. It is used in only two other places, where Jesus said, “…The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 NKJV; Mark 14:38).
When we realize the forgiveness God has given us, feel indebted to let as many people know forgiveness is also available to them. Be willing to bring that good news to others by making sure your daily lives are packed for evangelism. We never know when the opportunity will come to engage in a Bible study with someone else!
What We Should Expect from Preaching
Few things are as misunderstood as preaching. Some view preaching as the main event in the worship service each week. Others view it as the preacher’s attempt to keep the congregation awake for thirty to forty minutes. The truth is that preaching is neither entertainment nor a spiritual pep rally where the preacher tries his best to keep the congregation interested in the things of God. Biblical preaching is not boring preaching. However, many people today often listen to preaching expecting things the Bible never promises to deliver. Others have their expectations too low when it comes to preaching. They are content to hear a few stories, several jokes and very little if any Scripture expounded at all. God chose to communicate His will through preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21; Titus 1:3). Preaching is important to God, and therefore, it should be important to us. Those who preach will be held to a higher account by God and should be sure they remember to do what pleases God (James 3:1). What should we expect from preaching? Let us be sure our expectations are God-centered and not manmade (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Expect to Hear the Truth
Preaching is supposed to communicate the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). Paul told Timothy to preach the Word, which contains the truth from God (2 Timothy 4:2). Many times, we focus on style and personal preference (which are not bad in and of themselves) to the extent that we forget to consider whether we heard the truth or not. When someone stands up to preach, those who are listening should be following along in their own Bibles and making sure that what is being said aligns with the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 1 John 4:1). This does not simply mean that the preacher’s words are found in the Bible. He may quote Scripture and refer to passages and still not preach the truth (Matthew 4:5-7).
This does not mean every preacher should be held in suspicion or that we should not give anyone the benefit of the doubt, but it does mean we should be discerning as listeners. That being said, we should expect to hear the Bible quoted and expounded. Preaching cannot be true if it is devoid of Scripture. I realize there is no divine quota of verses used in a sermon to make it scriptural, but we should not try to see how little of the Bible we can preach. It is impressive to read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 (the first recorded Gospel sermon) and notice that more than half of his words were direct quotations from the Old Testament.
The most important question at the end of a sermon is not, “Did I like what the preacher said?” or “Was he funny or interesting?” The most important question is, “Did he share the truth of God’s Word?” The truth is not always pleasant initially, but it must always be spoken. Jesus promised that continuing in the truth of His Word would make men free (John 8:31-32). It must not be made to mean “hearing what we have always heard in the way we have always heard it.” Truth is the entirety of God’s Word taught clearly, even when it involves things we have not been taught before or things we have neglected (Acts 20:26-27).
The truth must be spoken in love so that it can build up those who hear it (Ephesians 4:15). We must not use truth as a cloak for our rude or unChrist-like behavior (2 Timothy 2:24-26). People should not leave the sermon wondering what the preacher believes. Regardless of the subject of the sermon, those listening should expect to hear the truth from God’s Word proclaimed.
Expect to Be Encouraged
Preaching will not always make people feel good, but neither should it always make people feel bad. Paul did say that preaching should exhort, and exhortation involves encouragement (2 Timothy 4:2). Those who hear a steady diet of all that they are doing wrong and a God who cannot be pleased will soon become hardened or possibly give up altogether (Matthew 23:15).
A preacher is not soft or unsound because he encourages. A preacher is unsound if he never encourages; the key is to be biblically balanced.
The Gospel is good news, and we must not forget that. We should not comfort those in sin or make those who are lost feel as if they are saved. Still, those who are saved must not leave the assembly thinking that they are lost. Biblical encouragement is not to be equated with the health and wealth Gospel or a mere feel-good message. Preaching that encourages its listeners is preaching that reminds listeners of all that God has done for us in Christ, God’s longsuffering and God’s awareness of our efforts to walk in the light. Christians are supposed to encourage each other daily, and this must not be forgotten in preaching (Hebrews 3:13).
Expect to Be Challenged and Corrected
Every preacher has heard the famous post-sermon remark, “You stepped on my toes.” We should expect to be challenged in Christianity. Jesus challenged those who heard Him to take up their crosses daily (Luke 9:23). Maybe preaching today is not demanding too much from Christians but rather not enough. While encouragement is necessary, we must not expect to be coddled and told that we are doing everything right (Psalm 141:5). We should expect deep preaching that helps hearers graduate to the meat of the Word and not the same elementary things that leave congregations on the milk (Hebrews 5:11-14). First-principle lessons are good and can be preached deeply and engagingly, but we need to be sure to grow into spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1).
If we hate correction, we will not make it far in any area of life. This is true in Christianity as well (Proverbs 15:10). Timothy was to “reprove” and “rebuke” with all the patience he could because correction had to be given (2 Timothy 4:2 KJV). Those who do not want the preacher to preach on social drinking, immodest apparel, jesting, covetousness, racism, prejudice, abortion or any other topic that offends them misunderstand preaching. False teachers are often popular because they tell people what they want to hear, or they avoid saying things that people need to hear (Galatians 4:16; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). King Ahab hated Micaiah (the Lord’s prophet) because he did not tell him what he wanted to hear (1 Kings 22:8). Ahab, like many today, did not understand that preachers do not originate the truth; they simply echo the truth God has given (1 Kings 22:18).
Preaching should correct us where we are wrong, and we should welcome it as we desire to be the people God would have us to be. The preacher should be correcting himself, too, as he preaches, knowing that he is not above sin or weakness (1 John 1:8, 10). Let’s not water down preaching to the point that we are afraid to call out sin for what it is for fear of offending anyone. God intends for preaching to be challenging so that it can get to the heart of the listeners where His Word can produce necessary change (Acts 2:36-37).
Expect to Hear Christ Magnified
You cannot read the sermons recorded in the book of Acts and find sermons that fail to exalt Jesus. His death, burial and resurrection are the focus of the messages proclaimed by the apostles and preachers throughout the first-century church. Paul’s main goal in preaching was “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Preaching should point people to Jesus. This does not mean one cannot preach from the Old Testament, but remember that the Old Testament properly handled gets people to Jesus (Luke 24:44). Those who listen to sermons should leave hearing more about Jesus than about sports teams, politics, the latest controversy in the news or the preacher’s favorite movie (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Preaching that is done without Jesus being the focus is not true biblical preaching. If it is simply “do more and try harder” with little to no focus on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, it misses the heart of the New Testament. We should expect to hear a preacher lift Christ up and point people to Him (John 12:32). Christ must not merely be mentioned or tagged on to the end of the sermon for invitation purposes, but instead He should be the central theme in the message because He is the central theme of the entire Bible (John 5:39-40). Expect to hear Christ magnified, and hold those who preach to you accountable for doing so.
Preaching changed the world in the first century, and it still does the same thing today. Sometimes, we are disappointed with preaching because we want the wrong things from it. We must not desire to have our ears tickled, but instead, we ought to desire to have our hearts stirred. Preaching is God’s weapon of choice in getting the Gospel into people’s hearts. Let us expect nothing more and nothing less than God does.