Many years ago Basil Overton grabbed me by the ears with this statement about preaching (in the middle of a sermon): “The reason I love what I’m doing is because a I never know what I’m doing.” The apostle Paul loved preaching Christ’s gospel. After rising from the waters of baptism, “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:18-20). He had unbounded confidence that Christ’s gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). This statement comes on the heels of verse 15 where he declared his eagerness and readiness to preach Jesus – “So, as much as is in me, I am ready (English Standard Version ‘eager’) to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” And yet, the great apostle hints at the idea he never knew for sure what he was doing when he preached! That thought is clearly seen in 1 Corinthians 1:18 where he wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Paul viewed the gospel message and preaching it as a divine drama. He knew God was reaching for people’s souls through the gospel message as he proclaimed it – but he never knew while doing so if the gospel was having a saving influence on those hearing it, or if it was taking hearers further along in the process of perishing as they rejected appeals to trust and obey Christ! All this reminds us the preacher’s task is a rather daunting one. He faces multiple challenges every time he rises to preach. He is expected to be well trained, accurate, and interesting as he retells the two-thousand-year-old story of Jesus, sometimes to people who have already heard it told 100’s if not thousands of times. On Sundays the preacher faces a diverse crowd. People sitting in the pews are all over the map spiritually, socially, financially, philosophically, politically, and educationally. Interest in the sermon and moral / spiritual truth ranges from almost non-existent to intense. Some are wide-awake with anticipation as the preacher cracks open his Bible, while others yawn, watch the clock, go online via their smart phone, play with the baby, or otherwise tune the preacher out. Some want the sermon loaded with stories and illustrations; others are sure such things have no place in the pulpit, lest the preacher “entertain” listeners. Some agree and silently say “Amen” to the sermon; some disagree and not so silently say so, if not to the preacher’s face, then behind his back. We could go on but you get the picture.
What should the preacher do in view of these challenges and uncertainties? W. A. Criswell once said, “When a man comes to church what he is actually saying to you is this – ‘Preacher, I know what the TV commentator has to say: I hear him every day. I know what the editorial writer has to say: I read it every day. I know what the magazines have to say: I read them every week. Preacher, what I want to know is, does God have anything to say? If God has anything to say, tell us what it is.” Consider the apostle Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 – “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Let us pray that God will give us preachers who will be determined to preach Christ and tell us what God has to say – even though they never know what they are doing.