I recently ran across a post by Albert Mohler entitled The Urgency of Peaching that I found helpful. I found it helpful because it speaks to a concern that I have had for a while about what is considered acceptable in many churches with regard to preaching.
Those of us who run in reformed circles claim to believe that each of us carries the ongoing effect of the sin of our first parents. We are not as bad as we might be, but sin taints everything we do, think and say.
Furthermore, we know that we are often blind to our own need of transformation. Preachers should keep this in mind as we think about selecting a Bible passage for our sermon.
I am suspicious of those who think of topics which they would like to address and then go in search of a portion of the Bible that they can use as a springboard for their opinion on the subject.
There is value in taking a passage of Scripture and exploring what it says. There is danger is determining what we would like to say and finding Scripture to support it. I find that there is way too much of the latter coming from pulpits in American churches.
The difference between these two types of preaching is this. In the former, the preacher subjects himself to the text. He then seeks to understand and proclaim what the passage says. The preacher allows Scripture to be the judge of what is to be heard.
In the latter, the preacher (knowingly or unknowingly) places himself above the text and proclaims what he wants the congregation to hear or what he thinks they should hear. The preacher then makes himself out to be the judge of what is to be heard.
We can find many stories which illustrate this difference in the Old Testament. One of my favorites is that of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. There we see the prophet Micaiah, who spoke the truth to Ahab, compared to the prophet Zedekiah, who spoke what Ahab wanted to hear.
If we really believe that the Bible is God’s verbal revelation to men and women, then we should take seriously the call to be subject to it through the ministry of preaching. This is as true for the person in the pulpit as for the person in the pew.
As a result of this thought process, I feel strongly that the best approach is to take a book of the Bible and preach through it line by line, and word by word. The beauty of this approach is that the preacher is not picking what he wants to say, but saying what the text demands him to say.
When you go to the doctor do you want him to tell you what you want to hear, or do you want him to tell you the truth? If your goal is to be healthy, you need to hear the truth even if it is disturbing so that corrective action can be taken if needed.
In the same way, we should expect our preacher to communicate to himself and to us the diagnosis that God makes upon our condition and the corrective action that God prescribes. We don’t need or want the preacher to interfere with this process by filtering out the inconvenient or disturbing bits.
Our spiritual health depends on this.