I gave not one word of application to the lives of the people. Application is essential in the normal course of preaching, but I felt led that day to make a test: Would the passionate portrayal of the greatness of God in and of itself meet the needs of the people?
A few years ago John Piper preached on the sovereignty of God. Jason Meyer highlighted the need to care for orphans and widows in the announcements.
John has never met a woman in my small group who attends Bethlehem. A year before while on home leave with their 8 children (two adopted), her husband died suddenly without warning. Her life was changed in an instant. That Sunday would have been her 23rd wedding anniversary.
And so again, a sermon with little application and an announcement on widows and orphans turned the service into a message directly from the heart of God for this dear saint who sat in my house that Sunday night marveling at God’s goodness to her.
Brothers – consider how the Lord may apply your sermon and announcements in ways you can not even fathom.
Jesus once said, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up inhis heart. For out of the
overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." The heart is a wellspring
of life. What infects the heart, influences the rest of the person.
There is a way of teaching that
is actually teaching and there is a way of teaching that is nothing more than
information dumping. Similarly, there is a way I should talk to my wife
that actually engages her and there is way where I only state facts and stay
disconnected. I've done both in case you are wondering. In the first option I have a dynamic understanding of what
is being discussed, while in the second I am reading I teleprompter or
transcript and will forget it when I am done reading.
I am afraid that many teachers
and preachers are not teaching or preaching at all. They are just dumping
information on people. I have seen it happen in the business world when
someone gives a presentation that someone else was meant to do. I have
seen it in parenting when after you read the latest parenting technique you
follow the script without a broader understanding. And I have certainly seen it
in the church! If you find yourself in the role of teacher for the
Church, here are some caution flags.
You are not teaching if you are second-handing your
teaching material. If you regurgitate sermons, commentaries and lecture
notes and don’t teach from your own
material. it's not teaching.
You are not teaching if you are content to teach the same things from
the same notes over and over again. Of
course you often teach the same things, but if you never adjust, make changes or
add new insights you are not teaching.
If you are preacher and your sermon prep started and ended on saturday you are probably not preaching. You are not allowing anytime for
the text to marinate in you heart. You
read a few commentaries, take what they say, get an illustration from a book or
internet article and the sermon is completed.
You haven’t preached it to yourself or applied it all week. You are just passing information from a book
to a person. You may get angry people
don’t remember what you preached on, but in all honestly, you won’t either.
You are not teaching if as a professor at a school, you teach from the
same lecture notes you did 10 years ago.
There is no update, no interaction with new (helpful or not)
scholarship. You don’t think about how
your students have changed or how they are receiving what you are teaching. You are just dumping information.
You are not teaching if you don’t adjust your teaching style according
to culture. We see this in TLI A LOT,
and is something I have had to learn (the hard way if I am honest). Again, you don’t have a dynamic relationship
with those you teach.
What causes information dumping? Laziness. As a pastor or teacher or both, you have been tasked to study and feed the people of God. You have not been tasked to feast for a few years in school and then fast for the rest of your ministry. Feed yourself. Feed the sheep. Jesus said that somewhere too.
When I was in seminary a man I knew came up to me in the
library asking me how to pronounce some Greek words out of Revelation 2. I did my best without thinking twice. Later I realized he wanted to say the Greek
correctly in a sermon. He didn’t know
It’s a situation I hope never to be a part of again and it still makes my stomach turn thinking about it.
"But in the Greek it says…” I
am sure you have heard it before or possibly even said it. You know the pastor (or you!) is getting
serious when they do.
It is here where I want to throw a whole lot of
caution. It’s a dangerous thing to utter
such a phrase in a sermon. So what follows are five cautions to think about
if you dare venture to use this phrase.
If you have to say, “But in the Greek…” a lot,
you probably are preaching from a bad translation. I have a friend who teaches Greek at an Evangelical seminary who, when he hears anyone say, “But in the Greek…” he says
to himself, “Then why didn’t the translators say that.” You are not using a good translation if you
feel the urge to go this way often.
You probably only know enough Greek to be
dangerous. Of course, it’s
hard to know when you know enough!
Reading Exegetical Fallacies
is a good start, but that is just the tip
of the iceberg! You are most likely getting insight from a commentary, which you probably do not understand fully. Be slow to think you understand Greek.
Knowing the original languages is a gift from
God, but it is also elite knowledge. 99%
of Christians don’t know it and when you quote the Greek you undermine the
translation in their hands, which is their only access to Scripture. It sets you a part and can turn you into, at least in the eyes of your church, a professional.
If you really feel there is such an egregious
error in the translation, maybe it would be best to say, “I am really helped by
another translation here that translates this passage…” There is no reference
to Greek and it still allows a thoughtful Christian to think and appreciate the
text you are talking about more deeply.
Consider your audience. If you have a bunch of farmers, you might
want to steer clear. If you have a bunch
of academics, you might dare mention “Greek.” You just need to be careful. Not mentioning Greek does not mean your preaching is shallow. Academic does not mean more godly. Deep preaching does not mean more intellectually stimulating.
These are not excuses to be lazy. Seminaries don’t teach Greek and Hebrew so
their students can forget and discard what they have learned. Knowing
the original languages for most of us is a life-long process which takes a lot
of discipline and hard work. We are average
linguists at best, but are afforded the benefit and joy of reading the Word of
God in it’s original. That is
AMAZING. Just be careful how you wield
On August 15, 1999, Kent Hughes, the pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL had been preaching through the Pastoral Epistles for over a year. On that Sunday he came to 2 Timothy 4:1-5, the very day his son was leaving the church to assume the role of Senior Pastor in Washington State.
This is a wonderful sermon to consume as a father and pastor charges his son to fulfill the role of a minister of the gospel.
The Puritan, John
Owen, argued that preachers must have “experience of the power of the
truth which they preach in and upon their own souls.... A man
preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in
his own soul.”
So his resolution was: “I hold myself bound in conscience and in
honour, not even to imagine that I have attained a proper knowledge of
any one article of truth, much less to publish it, unless through the
Holy Spirit I have had such a taste of it, in its spiritual sense,
that I may be able, from the heart, to say with the psalmist, ‘I have
believed, and therefore I have spoken.’”
Would that the Holy
Spirit raise up more preachers who would resolve never to preach a
text unless they have already tasted its majestic sweetness and