A few weeks ago I preached at a Christian High School chapel. In one sense speaking to teens is different than speaking to adults. The audience was made up of people young enough to be my own children. People that are growing up in a culture very different than the one I grew up in. Young people who are into things I haven't yet heard of. What do I have to give the young ones?
I’ve been preaching for 20 years, and over the past two decades I have come to see that my words accomplish nothing. My most persuasive arguments, my most passionate pleas, and my earnest articulation is powerless to change the human heart. My words cannot heal the soul or help the weary, and they certainly cannot raise the spiritually dead to new life. Yet, I believe expository preaching is the means the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish such impossible work. God uses his word, the Holy Scripture, to do what my words cannot.
By expository preaching I mean the plain but forceful explanation and application of Scripture. This is what we mean when we say that a healthy church is one in which the word of God is “rightly administered.” Preaching is not the mere telling of stories, the sharing of experiences, or urging people to action. It is a heralding of God and the good news given in his holy word. It alone has the power needed to do what true preaching aims at—renewing the heart to beat with love for God.
Psalm 19 gives us this perspective of the word of God when it says it alone has the power to:
- Give Life
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;” (Ps. 19:7a)
My words are fallible, but God’s word is always true and it has the power to give life, to revive the soul from both death and weakness. God uses the word preached to cause us to be born again (1 Pet. 1:23) and to be sanctified in holiness (Jn. 17:17, 2 Thess. 2:13). Motivational speeches and spiritual pep-talks can make people feel something, but not become something. God has always created, and recreated, by the power of his word.
- Give Wisdom
“the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;” (Ps. 19:7b)
Preaching doesn’t aim at mere education, but transformation. True preaching seeks to impart wisdom—the knowledge of God that leads his people in righteousness. Such wisdom only comes from the word of God, and it surely comes from the word of God. Eyes are “enlightened” (Ps. 19:8b) by the word to see what we are otherwise blind to.
- Give Joy
“the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;” (Ps. 19:8a)
Those who mourn the frailty of life, the discouragement of sin, and the pain of affliction find hope from the preacher who gives them God’s precepts. In them we see that God’s purpose of grace runs through the darkest and hardest of times (Rom. 8:18-39), and that our communion with Jesus is often sweetest when life is bitter. There is joy, deep and abiding pleasure and satisfaction, to be found in God who speaks in his word. But without the word itself preached and received by faith joy remains elusive.
This is why expository preaching matters. Unless preachers are giving the people of God the word God they will not experience the work of God. This is why the David says God’s word is more desirable “than gold, even much fine gold,” and is “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Ps. 19:10).
Wherever, and to whomever I preach, I give them God’s word. There is nothing better to give. It is all I have to give, and it is all God’s people need for life.
Joe Thorn is Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL and blogs at joethorn.net. His book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself,was released through Crossway/ReLit. You can follow him on Twitter @joethorn.