In recent years, expository preaching has experienced a resurgence. In reaction to topical sermons driven by the personality and whims of the preacher or the felt needs of the congregation, many have returned to the practice of verse by verse exposition. I believe this trend has helped address the crisis of biblical illiteracy and the evangelical disconnect between the authority of Scripture and its sufficiency. Overall, the recovery of expositional preaching is a sign of health and cause for celebration. However, this return to text-driven preaching has exposed a hermeneutical deficiency—what do we do with the Old Testament?Read More
From my youth, growing up in the church, preaching has always had a sort of glamour to me—the man of God ascends to the pulpit holding the congregation captive by the word of God. That image is riveting. However, the idealized picture of my youth has been tainted by much of what is considered to be preaching today.Read More
Recently I preached through book of Job in just four weeks. If you are interested you can listen to those four sermons here. Job is the sort of book that is often neglected in our Bible, and due to its difficulty many preachers skip over it. When I first planned on preaching through Job, I had reservations. It’s a lengthy book with a difficult topic. Yet, convinced with its relevance to the lives of my church, I pressed on in my preparation.
A few weeks into the series a woman, who I respect dearly, express her initial timidity about my taking on this particular book in just four weeks, but shared with me the positive feedback she’s heard from many of our members through the Job series. I’ve been pleasantly caught off guard how this little book has impacted so many in our congregation, but I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the Spirit of God works the the preaching of the word, even difficult books like Job.
Getting Past Glibness
Now I say all this not to laud my own preaching accomplishments. In fact, I believe the impact of the book of Job had little to do with the preacher at all—neither in the crafting of the sermon nor the delivery. No, I believe the impact of the book of Job on my congregation came from the neglect of teaching on suffering in the church today. People just don't hear message much on how to suffer well. In our consumeristic culture constantly trying to attract seekers, a topic like suffering wouldn't appear to draw much of a crowd.
If we let lost people dictate what is preached in the pulpit we end up with pragmatic, moralistic sermons devoid of the Bible and the Gospel. When we preach to people’s felt needs, our worship become superficial and glib. In order to convince people to be Christian, we plaster on our smiles and talk about how happy Jesus makes us. As a result, many Christians appear robotic and disconnected from the harsh realities in which we live. Sadly, that happiness promoted merely reflects the consumeristic culture, which is how the despicable prosperity gospel teaching infiltrates so many American churches. Lamenting Christians don’t make good billboards for our marketing efforts.
Expository preaching forces congregations to go through tough texts and encounter biblical themes that we might not ordinarily choose. Even still, expository preachers tend to neglect the Old Testament. A pervasive genre in the Old Testament is lament. From Job to Jeremiah to the Psalter, the Old Testament wrestles with depression and sorrow. I believe these sections of Scripture provide an significant comfort to Christians who have grown tired of pretending to be happy all the time.
Proclaim Hope to Sufferers
As an Christian could tell you, following Jesus is difficult. Suffering is a recurring facet of human existence in this fallen, sinful world. Pastors and teachers need to expose our people to these neglected gems, like Job, and teach them to suffer well. As I preached through the book of Job, I knew I was preaching to many who were suffering. Because I know my people, I know that there are suffers present: a man ever-weakening with ALS, women struggling with recurring bouts of depression, the widow who doesn’t know how to move on from her husband’s death, the mother who had to burry her own child, and the fathers laid off and struggling to find work.
If pastors are to be faithful in their task of shepherding they must proclaim the hope of the Gospel even in the difficult afflictions of the present age. We must help our congregation set their hope on Christ, in the midst of the depression and questions.
Worship in Tears of Joy and Sorrow
Thankfully, God has given us a wonderful resource to assist suffers: a savior who suffers with us and for us. Jesus identifies us in the frailty of our flesh and endures the cross of Christ to redeem us and to mend this broken world. Hope is here and is coming. the Bible in not a monolithic book, but is contoured with various writers and genres, styles and themes. This diversity allows us to voice the prayers and concerns of the Biblical writers to God, including those who may be going through the must anguished suffering like Job. We ought not to neglect tough books of the Bible, because they help provide balance to the full range of dynamics within the Christian life. We must learn how to follow Christ when the goodness of God’s providence shines brightly on us, but also when that providence darkens and turns bitter. When our hope is grounded securely in Christ, we can worship God both in tears of joy and of sorrow.
Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:5–11, ESV)
I came across a story recently that a PA woman kept exotic animals and one of the animals she had was a black bear. She went into to clean the cage while feeding it some food only to turn to attack her and kill her. On the one hand, it is a tragedy. But on the other hand, its a bear! What do you expect? Its a dangerous animal!
Though most of us don’t realize it, many of us act just like this woman. Though we don’t have pet bears, we do have pet sins. Sins in our life that we nurture, love, and we convince we have everything under control. As Christians, we must put to death our sins and our old self.
1. Who we used to be: The Old Self
Who did we used to be before Christ? It is important for us to remember that the Christianity is not just a new set of behaviors but it is God making us into a new person. It is a fundamental, bedrock shift of our nature. As we by faith enter into our union in Christ, there is a change of who we are. Paul is going to give us a command to put to death the old self, but it is helpful for us to see just who this old self was, who did we used to be?
One important caveat. If you are not a Christian the old self I’m about to describe is who you are right now at the present. The old self Paul describes for us is everyone who has not been saved by Jesus, those who are not Christians. So what does this passage teach us about the old self? 4 things:
a. The Old Self is Earthly
b. The Old Self Deserves God’s Wrath
c. The Old Self is Who We Used to Be if we are in Christ
d. The Old Self Must be Put to Death
2. Who we are in Christ: The New Self
God is creating for himself a new humanity, a redeemed humanity. He does this through Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the new man, the perfect man. By Grace, God is breaking our headship from Adam and moving us into the head of a new humanity, Jesus Christ.
So now, if we are in Christ and if we have both died and have been raise in him, we are being renewed into the image of the Creator (Jesus Christ).
As a Christian we should be progressing in holiness over time. As we have put our faith in Jesus, the Spirit should be conforming us more and more to Jesus’ image. This means we should have a trajectory, a trend of increasing personal holiness.
3. How to Put to Death the Old Self
John Owen in his great work on the subject “The Mortification of Sin” says that we must be busy “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” So how do we put to death the old self? Let me give us 8 ways.
1. You Must First Be a Christian
If you hope to kill your sin, you cannot do it if you have not been born again by the Spirit of God. If we want to have any hope of killing our sin and putting it to death, we must rely on the indwelling Spirit of God. We must be made into a new kind of person, by Jesus himself.
Any hope of killing sin within our own might will fail. The only way we can really kill sin in our life is as a Christian operating in the Spirit’s power.
2. Rely only the Spirit’s Power
- The Indwelling Spirit
- The Spirit Sanctifies
- The Spirit Convicts
- The Spirit applies the new humanity (Changes our affections)
3. Think about the Holiness of God
I’m convinced the reason so many of us think so little of our sin is that we think so little of the holiness of God and the blood bought holiness God purchased for us in the crushing of his son.
As we think about the transcendence and holiness of God our sin becomes painfully contrasted with perfection. In light of holiness of God our sin becomes increasingly repugnant to us. The more it becomes repugnant to us, the more we will grieve it and the more we will hate it.
4. Grieve Over Your Sin and Long to Be Rid of It
When we see God’s holiness like this, our new heart given to us by God should mourn over our sin. We should loath it and long to get rid of it. We get to the point where we just can’t stand it anymore. You are sick and tired of it and you get to the point where you are ready to do anything to rid it of your life.
I have a great fear there are many professed Christians who do not feel this way about their sin. Rather than grieve over it, they kind of like it. They enjoy it.
5. Have a Zealous Hatred for your sin and Act to Kill It
We tend to have pet sins in our life. Sins that we think are cute and we just kind of encourage in our lives.
- I’m not prideful, I’m just confident and I like being confident in my abilities and letting others know it.
- or I don’t have an anger issue, I’m just a passionate person and my emotions are right on the surface. Its just who I am.
- or I just like to enjoy the female form - There’s nothing wrong with window shopping - looking and not touching.
Those little sins we tolerate and allow to fester grow into our destruction. Sin wants to enslave you and control you. Its not cute, its an enemy to be destroyed. Wage war against.
We must be universally devoted to eradicating sin from our life, all the while knowing we will never be able to do it completely in this life. Yet, we must be sincere in turning over every nook and turn over every rock to discover even the trace of sin in our lives.
When you have a zealous spirit-fueled hatred of your sins you are desperate enough to do whatever it takes.
- You are willing to seek out accountability
- You are willing to confess your sins to others
- You are willing to cut things out of your life that cause temptation
- You are willing to seek the Lord, study the Word, and devote yourself to prayer.
- Like a dog backed into the corner, you are willing to do whatever it takes to come out with your life. You are vicious, violent, and ruthless in destroying your enemy sin.
Men? Do you want a war to fight? Do you want a battle to be one? Do you want an enemy to kill? Kill the old man inside yourself. Put him to death.
6. Focus on the Heart
One of the mistakes as we kill or sin is to focus on the behavior and not the heart. If we hope to kill our sin, we must get to the root of our behavior. This requires great self reflection, and a prayerful dependence on the Spirit to help root out your issues. Often a good Christian friend or counselor can help. Often the same behavior can result from various different heart issues and motives. If we really want to put our sin to death we must set our attention going to the heart of the issue.
7. Preach the Gospel to Yourself
As Christians we must become experts of applying the Gospel to our lives to address the sinful foots of our hearts. If we hope to kill sin in our lives we must learn to apply these Gospel truths to our own heart and also to the heart of others.
8. Have Faith in the Work of Christ
Killing sin is an act of faith. The only power for defeating sin comes from the victors sin-crushing death of Jesus Christ. We must continually trust in Christ and in his Spirit to make us holy.
Are you a Christian? You can’t hope to kill sin in your life if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ. It’s like going to a gunfight with a butter knife. You have no chance. You need the Holy Spirit to kill sin, and you only have the Spirit of God if you are a Christian.
What aspects of the old Man still reign in your heart?
What sin do you need to put to death?
What is the motives of your heart that leads to your sinful behavior?
I grew up hearing preachers. I’ve heard so many sermons in my life that I’ve completely lost count of how many I've heard. Not only have I heard many preachers over my life, now I am one myself. Yet, I believe that the greatest need for the true is the recovery of true and biblical preaching. Much of what is being called preaching today is weak. Simply put preaching is a man standing before the people who proclaims and applies the truth of God’s word. Yet, much of what is being considered preaching looks more like a TED talk than anything we see in the book of Acts. Much of preaching is but as a guru on the stage espousing his own wisdom. This is not preaching, at least not in any biblical sense. Although I still have a long ways to go in my own personal growth as a preacher (My church would tell you that's an understatement), I have begun to identify four concerns I see with preaching today.
1. The Emphasis on the Preacher not the Message
The American obsession with celebrities has been imported into the church. Although, it is not a bad thing to have men of great reputation with great fame even in the church, the danger is when the focus is on the man and not the message. In many circles or churches the preacher becomes more of a cult leader as the people blindly follow unquestioningly whatever the preacher says. The emphasis in the preaching is on the man – his humor, his eloquence, his vocal dynamics, and his intelligence. Although all those things are important, we must be careful not to create idols out of the preacher.
Rather than combating this idolatrous celebrity culture that can develop, many foster this culture unknowingly in their preaching. When every illustration revolves around the preacher and when he is the hero of all his stories, the preacher may be reinforcing himself as the focus. The task of the preacher is not to draw attention to himself, but to stand before the people pointing always to God. The preacher should stand as an arrow pointing to heaven not an arrow pointing to his own ego. People should not be leaving the service impressed with the preacher, yet apathetic towards God. The goal of true preaching is for the man himself to fade into the background as he joyfully celebrates the truth of God’s word, pointing the people to the Jesus.
2. The Emphasis on Application without Exposition
Another concern I see is the separation of application and exposition. In today's age of short attention spans and 140 character tweets, people want preaching to be less like a 4-course dinner and more like a McDonald’s drive through. There is no patience for the careful exposition of God’s word. Knowing this. many preachers just simply apply while neglecting the teaching of the Bible.
Now most preachers use the Bible at some point in the sermon, but how is the preacher using it? Is he just using a verse to jump into whatever topic he wishes? Is the Bible just a diving board into the preachers own wisdom and opinions? Or, is the content of the preaching demonstrated from the Bible? Better yet, is the content of the preaching derived from the Bible? Is the preacher pointing to an authority outside of himself in the revealed word of God?
Sure people may ask for sermons that are immediately helpful apart from the Bible. They may want to hear your sermon called “5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Obey You”, but doing so on a consistent and regular basis is like giving your toddler candy for every meal. Sure, they will love you for it, but you’ll rot their teeth and spoil their stomach. As preaching strays away from the central focus of the teaching of the Bible, we will continue to propagate a generation of Christians who are biblically illiterate and spiritually anemic.
3. The Emphasis on Illustration without Purpose
Often in replace of Biblical exposition, illustration begins to take a a central focus in the sermon. The best preachers become the best story tellers. They are engaging, humorous, and easy to follow. Illustrations are incredibly important in preaching. Illustrations help people connect to the teaching of the Bible in a practical and experiential way. Yet, I’ve heard too many preachers use illustrations without purpose. I’ll hear a preacher tell a funny story about his children ridding a bike or something, and I stop, wondering what in the world did that story have to do with the text? Illustrations are great tools in a preachers tool chest. Some of the greatest preachers have been the greatest illustrators (i.e. Charles Spurgeon), but a sermon filled with illustrations with no teaching is simply all flash with no substance.
4. The Emphasis on Exposition while Ignoring Application
On the flip side some preachers concerned with the lack of bible teaching react so strongly to the wide-spread weak preaching of the day that they ignore applying the text at all. The pendulum swings to far the other direction. They get up and give an academic lecture, but never call people to repentance and obedience. Although preaching is centered on the Bible and the teaching of the Bible, preaching is not complete if we don’t help people see the relevance of God’s revealed world. We cannot simply teach them about the Grand Canyon without inviting them to go and experience the beauty of it themselves. In the same way, if we instruct people about God, but don't invite them to experience the glory of the Lord, its not preaching.
In addition, preaching should not be boring, dry, and dull. There is nothing more exciting than the redemptive love God displayed in Jesus Christ! The Gospel is anything but boring, to make it so is sinful.
A Recovery of Biblical Preaching
Preaching is an ordained means, given to us by God to help save the lost and build up the church. Perhaps the reason the church in America appears so frail is because pastors and preachers have been refusing to give people the whole counsel of God. The preacher stands before his people as the mouth piece of God. That is a huge weight and responsibility that should lead every preacher in holy terror every Sunday morning. It’s a weight I feel each week. More than ever, I believe we need a revival of true preaching. We need more pastors who shepherd their churches with the rod of God’s Word and who understand the glorious weight and responsibility of expositing and exulting over God’s glorious truth. If your not a preacher, pray for your pastor and for the weight and responsibility he carries each week, not only in caring for the flock of God but proclaiming the Word of God each week.
Do you agree with these concerns about preaching today? Are their concerns that I missed? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments.