In the contemporary evangelical movement, we are seeing all sorts of attacks on the doctrine of God. From neglect of teaching on this particular doctrine to weird ideas as it relates to the Trinity and more, over the past century, we’ve seen this doctrine under attack. Understanding the Doctrine of God is critical to have a right view of a whole host of topics such as salvation, the Bible, the church, and ministry. God opens His Word with the declaration He is there, and He is not silent, but active and sovereign over it. In this article we will look at how God is a preacher, God calls preachers, God indwells preachers through the Holy Spirit, God equips preachers, and God sends preachers. We will then turn in the last part of the article to look at two practical ways to preach the doctrine of God, and then conclude with a suggested sermon series on the doctrine of God.
God is a Preacher
Within the first three verses of Genesis 1, we see God opening His Word with the opening sermon. The very first words of God recorded in the Bible are, “And God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). God continued to speak, and creation came into existence. Dr. Jason Meyer is right when he notes, “Many miss the theological saturation here because few people think of speaking as an essential and exciting theological term. This attitude is a mistake. We should not minimize the jaw-dropping fact that God is a speaking God. The implications are enormous. The author of the Pentateuch also seems to be fixated on God’s speech. Forms of the word “say” occur nine times in rhythmic repetition (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 26, 28,-29). God is the subject of all of them.”[i]
All of creation is God’s servant. As John Calvin said, creation is a theater for the display of the glory of God. The greatest demonstration of God as a preacher outside of creation itself is Jesus- the God-Man. Jesus lived thirty-three and a half years. The last three and a half years of His life until His death was spent preaching, teaching, performing miracles, and training His disciples.
God Calls Preachers
Every Christian is called to minister. Every Christian is to serve the Body of Christ for that is part and parcel of the Christian life. The New Testament makes this clear in multiple passages. 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Romans 12 show how God gifts every believer to function in the Body of Christ. As each believer fulfills his or her God-assigned role, the church is strengthened, and the believer increases in fruitfulness. In Ephesians 4, Paul explains that pastors, ministers, and evangelists are given for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. All saints- regardless of their vocation—are to be active in building up the Body.
The other component to this is someone might be called to ministry. They may have a job with a direct ministerial component to it. You do not have to meet 1 Timothy 3 qualifications or be ordained for this role, but you have consciously chosen to walk through a door of ministerial service—for example, as a children’s ministry coordinator, a teacher at a Christian school, or Christian camp counselor.
Called to the ministry is defined in the New Testament in places like Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:6-9. As we read the Bible, we see God setting aside men for the specific task of preaching. In the Old Testament, the primary preachers are the Priests and the Prophets; although the prophets are more prominent. The Priests would declare the Word of God already spoken. The Prophets would tell forth the Word of God. In the New Testament, we see God calling men to preach the Word. From Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, the Disciples, the early Church Fathers, the Reformers, on up to the present with Pastors and Teachers of God’s Word. The qualification for a man called to be an Elder is he will be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).
In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul says, “11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” In the main, the church has long understood the office of apostle and prophet as reserved for the first century, ceasing to exist with the death of the apostles and the completion of the New Testament. In this article, we will only then consider the office of pastor, evangelist, and teacher.
Whatever their distinctions, these offices all share one common charge: minister the Word. The same charge falls upon overseers. This is why, in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul lists only one skill “able to teach” alongside the many character qualities an overseer must have. A call to ministry is a call to the Word of God. A call to preach or teach the Word is the distinguishing mark of a call to ministry.
This is not to suggest that only those with a formal preaching position are truly called to the ministry but that those called to the ministry are called first to teach or preach the Word, and should undertake their ministry accordingly. The ministry of the Word can show up in many different venues, including worship leadership, counseling sessions, college ministries, classroom lectures, and the like.
Whether you are called to minister, called to ministry, or called to the ministry, your service matters. Every Christian has a holy duty to do his or her work unto the Lord. God calls and commissions. John Newton, the infamous slave trader who became a gospel minister and penned the immortal hymn “Amazing Grace” observed, “None but he who made the world can make a minister of the gospel.” It is indeed a holy summons; ministers are set apart by a holy God for a holy work.
God Indwells Preachers Through the Holy Spirit
Charles Spurgeon’s understanding of the connection between the Holy Spirit, prayer and preaching is paradigm shifting. His understanding of the connection between preaching and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not new, but it does need to be brought to the forefront for the modern reader. John Broadus in On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons stated that “The ultimate requisite for the effective preacher is complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.”[ii] Dr. Bryan Chapell teaches that the biblical description of the Spirit’s work challenges “All preachers to approach their task with a deep sense of dependence upon the Spirit of God.”[iii]
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson notes that “Little attention has been given in recent literature to the role of the Spirit in relationship to preaching.”[iv] Dr. Eswine explains that “Spurgeon’s intentional explicitness regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching offers reasonable explorations into deeper caverns of intricacy, which may enable an infant theology on the Holy Spirit to take more steps.”[v]
Charles Spurgeon believed that “the Spirit of God was precious to the people of God, and therefore sought to make the person and work of Christ the main focal point of his preaching and instruction to other preachers.”[vi] Dr. Heisler gets to the heart of what happens when the preacher understands the relationship between the Word and the Holy Spirit when he teaches that “When the Word and the Holy Spirit combine, combustion happens and power results.” He continues explaining that “Spirit-led preaching thrives on the powerful and inseparable tandem of the Word and Spirit.”[vii]
The biblical foundations for understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preaching comes from John 14:16-17. Jesus, in this passage, identifies the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth.” The Spirit of Truth is sent by the Father at the request of the Son and indwells believers as a resident minister who guides believers into all truth. Jesus elaborates on the Spirit as the guide into all truth when he said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Jesus identified the Spirit’s ministry as a continuation of His own ministry; in fact, John 14:16-18 makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is of the same kind (Deity) as Jesus. The Spirit reveals and glorifies Christ by magnifying Christ’s teaching, Christ’s gospel, and Christ’s work as the grand fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.[viii] The Bible is united in its testimony to Jesus Christ, and the Spirit’s joy is giving witness to this testimony to the people of God. Spirit-led preaching comes into alignment with the Spirit’s ministry of glorifying Jesus Christ by proclaiming the written Word in order to glorify the living Word.[ix]
Dr. Greg Heisler notes that “Spirit-led preaching is the biblically defined ministry combined with the theological relationship between the Word and the Spirit. This combination demands Christ-centered preaching.” “The biblical and theological foundation, he explains, for the Word and Spirit in preaching is seen in the fact that the Scriptures are Christ-centered, the Spirit is Christ-centered, and the preacher is to be Christ-centered.[x]
The Scriptures are Christ-Centered: John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” John 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[xi]
The Spirit is Christ-Centered: John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 15:26, “”But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 16:13-14, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”[xii]
The preacher is to be Christ-Centered: 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Acts 28:31, “Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” 1 Corinthians 1:23, “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”[xiii] These three categories form according to Dr. Heisler “the foundation for Spirit-led preaching.”[xiv]
Spurgeon understood the importance of preaching the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit which is why he notes that:
The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise, men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were a mysterious power going with it the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. Oh, Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the Word to give it power to convert the soul.[xv]
Dr. John Stott notes that “preachers must be humble in mind (submissive to the written Word of God), have a humble ambition (desiring an encounter to take place between Christ and His people), and a humble dependence (relying on the power of the Holy Spirit).”[xvi] Preachers must aim to be faithful to God’s Word by lifting up the glory of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The confidence the preacher has must come from heartfelt knowledge of the Word of God by dwelling richly upon the Word, which is truth. Only in this way will the preacher know the Truth they profess and be able to bear testimony about the Cross demonstration of Word and Spirit.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:12 gets to the heart of why preachers and teachers of the Word of God must be surrendered wholly to the Lord when he says, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” The challenge of preaching is to grow in the task while giving it away, being willing to die for people so that they may live.[xvii] Death-to-self is demanding, but necessary so that the preacher may become like Christ, who died so that His people may live. Furthermore, if preachers will not die to self, the people they minister to will not live. The pulpit is a place to present a translucent soul laid over the vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus, modeling His sacrifice.[xviii]
Robert Murray M’Cheyne in a letter to his friend Andrew Bonar taught his friend to the following: “Remember you are God’s sword—His instrument—I trust a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and reflections of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God.[xix]
Spurgeon’s spirituality emerged from the Word of God. As Raymond Brown expressed it, “His spirituality was essentially a Biblical spirituality.”[xx] Spurgeon was a man deeply influenced by the Puritans and as such believed that the Gospel was for all of life. Spurgeon “believed in a disciplined spirituality which to him meant diligent, meditative study of the Scriptures.”[xxi]
Understanding the theology of the Holy Spirit in the life and thought of Spurgeon is important, but it is equally vital for preachers today to know how seriously Spurgeon took his own spiritual growth. Spurgeon’s ministry was grounded in the Word of God and prayer and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Spurgeon was a man of God, set ablaze with a passion for declaring the majesty of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
God Equips Preachers
Not only does the apostle Paul want those of us in the church to know that we are the same—and that is a good thing; he also requires us to understand that we are all different—and that is a good thing, too. The emphasis on our sameness encourages equal regard for one another despite our differences. The emphasis upon the legitimacy of our differences encourages equal respect for our differences.
How are we different? One way we are different is that we have differing gifts. Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). In this passage, Paul clearly establishes that God has gifted the leaders of the church in different ways (Eph. 4:11) and in different proportions (Eph. 4:7)—and that this is all right. Also, we should understand that if there are such differences in the church’s leaders, then surely there are differences among the church’s people as well. These differences are often an irritation to us. It seems as though the world and the church would be so much better if everyone were more alike. What’s wrong with wanting most persons to be the same … just like us? The apostle deals with this question before he ever begins to describe the differing gifts (Eph. 4:7–10).
How should we regard our differences? Paul says that we should recognize that the differing gifts are derived from Christ’s authority (Eph. 4:7–10). Our different personalities, abilities, and experiences are gifts that God provides us so that we will bring many different talents and perspectives for building and extending Christ’s church. No one has all the gifts needed for every challenge the church will face. The Holy Spirit gives us different gifts for different purposes in the church. The sweet side of this reality is that we have complementary strengths, weaknesses, interests, and personalities. The distasteful side is that these differences cause us to get on each other’s nerves. Too often we end up singing our personal versions of the song from Cinderella, “Why can’t she be more like me?” The simple answer is that God did not make that person like you. Christ apportioned the gifts differently among us (Eph. 4:7), and he has the authority to do so (Eph. 4:8–10).
Paul also says that we should recognize the differing gifts are reflective of Christ’s generosity (Eph. 4:8). We also respect these differences because we have Christ’s gifts through his generosity. Christ does not ask us to respect the gifts he grants merely because they reflect his authority, but also because they reflect his generosity. In his death, resurrection, and ascension Christ imprisoned the power of sin over us. Our bondage to Satan, sin, and death is itself made captive to the power of Christ so that it has no hold over us (Eph. 4:8). Rather, we have been captivated by Christ’s love and are pictured as trailing in his victory parade as he ascends to heaven. The further implication of the apostle’s words (indicating that the gifts we now possess are connected to Christ’s victory and the defeat of sin) is that the gifts he dispenses to us are his means of restraining the power of sin now. In this sense, our gifts reflect the most essential and precious aspects of our Savior’s being. The gifts are not merely material objects or personality traits but rather are Christ’s sharing of himself. The gifts given to you and me—we who are the body of Christ—are the extension of Christ’s very heart and being to his people. He is offering himself in all the manifold riches of his glory in the various ways that he is gifting his church.
We gain fresh and tender appreciation of the Savior and those about us when we see that the variety of the gifts is an expression of the great generosity of Jesus. In this variety, he is sharing more of himself than can be contained in any one of us. Not any one of us has to do all the work of the kingdom because Christ has not given all of his gifts to any one person. You will feel the generosity of this when you realize that the entire work of the church does not depend on you. God has been generous to us in taking from us the need to feel that we can or must do everything by ourselves for the church to survive.
Finally, Paul says that we should recognize the differing gifts are intended for Christ’s purposes (Eph. 4:12–15). The reasons for the Lord’s authority and generosity in dispensing his gifts become evident in the purposes of the gifts. Paul says that Christ gives the gifts so that leaders may be able to equip others for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12a).
Christ does not want us to spend his gifts upon ourselves, nor let them lie dormant; we are to use them to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12b). Our lives are purchased with Christ’s blood and are not our own (Rev. 5:9). Already in verse 11, the leaders themselves have been identified as gifts to the church. The leaders receive from the Lord the gift of the capacity to do their roles, and thus these Spirit-gifted leaders are themselves equipped to embody God’s gifts to the church.
Leaders are expected to use their gifts to equip God’s people for works of service, and these works of service build up the body. Paul builds this understanding with a key distinction in the three prepositional phrases (v. 12) of this sentence. The sentence literally says Christ gave some to be pastors and teachers “to the equipping of the saints unto works of service, unto the building up of the body of Christ”). The first phrase states the purpose of God’s giving the leaders; the second phrase indicates the consequence of the leaders equipping the saints, and the last phrase gives the overall result of the leaders and (other) saints working together in the body. This idea of leaders equipping others so that all are involved in works of service is consistent with Ephesians 4:16. There the focus on leaders combines with the body metaphor in requiring “each part” (not just the leaders) to work for the upbuilding of Christ’s church (cf. 4:7). Each gift has triple ownership: ours, the church’s, and God’s. But the last owner is the most significant and worthy, and so it is most important that we steward these gifts for his purposes.
Those purposes are also spelled out. The first is unity. The body is to be built up for unity in faith and knowledge (Eph. 4:13a) so that we will not be blown about by every wind of doctrine and by deceptive teaching (Eph. 4:14). As the thoughts of verses 13a and 14 are connected, we understand that Christ’s intention is that the church be of one mind in the truth it believes.
The second purpose is maturity. The body is also to be built up so that it will “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13b). The “fullness” of Christ is his transforming influence over the world through the church which is his body (Eph. 1:23; 3:19–20). As the thoughts of verses 13b and 15 are connected, we understand that Christ’s intention is that the church would express the truth in love so that all are growing up in (i.e., fulfilling) the purposes of him who is the head—not just of the church, but of everything (Eph. 1:22). We are to be united in mind so that we can be maturing in ministry for the expression of faith that brings all things under the headship of Christ.
In summary, we have different gifts authorized by Christ to be used to build us up in unity of mind regarding his commitment to truth and to build us up in maturity of ministry for world-transforming expression of his truth, so that all will be under the headship of Christ. When we begin to understand how great is the vision that Paul has for Christ’s use of the gifts that God has given us, we should be sobered and newly inspired to offer the prayer of Francis de Sales, champion of the ministry of ordinary people: “Lord, give me the grace to be wholly yours.” When we pray in this way, we are asking that we would make a gift to him of the gifts he has given to us, and recognize that he has dispensed these various gifts to ordinary people with authority and generosity for the purposes of kingdom building that he alone knows, but that are more vast than we can imagine.
Paul also urges us not to despise our own gifts. Not only must we respect God’s authority by not despising others’ gifts, but we must also diligently avoid the trap of disregarding or disdaining the value of our own gifts (1 Cor. 12:14–20). We may never fulfill the purposes that God has for our lives if we constantly want to be something God has not designed us to be.
Why do Christians fail to make good use of the gifts Christ has given them?
- Some Christians do not understand that we are obligated to use the gifts that God gives for the building of his church (Rom. 12:4–8). Western mindsets of self-fulfillment may cause us not even to consider our obligation to steward what God has given us for the purposes of the One who purchased us with his own blood and gives us to fellow believers in the church. Failure to steward Christ’s gifts is simply sinful neglect of our calling.
- Sometimes we do not want the obligation of our gifts. They may be in an area that requires sacrifice or does not bring worldly acclaim.
- Neglect of our gifts can also be a result of our wanting others’ gifts. Instead of living for the Lord’s approval and purposes, we want the regard of other people in our particular setting. We may be gifted in business, but are envious of preachers because their life seems simpler, and the church offers them greater respect. We may be gifted in being a pastor, but want to be a professor, which seems to be a simpler life. We may be gifted in relationships but want to excel in academics because we would prefer to be known as smart rather than caring. We may be gifted in prayer but give it no time because the rewards are private and not public. There is nothing wrong with wanting to excel, but there is everything wrong with not approving the way that God made you and driving yourself to excel in ways he has not gifted you. Happiest are those who discover Christ’s gift and give themselves to excel in what God has made them to do—whether that is preaching or teaching or evangelizing or writing or making music or making money or giving counsel or showing hospitality or creating art—according to the gift that the Lord God has given.
In light of God’s gifting us for his purposes, we must ask ourselves these important questions: “Am I doing what God has made me to do or am I neglecting my gift? Am I delighting to be what God has made me to be, or am I despising my gifts?” The Christians that I know who have made the greatest shipwreck of their lives (for reasons other than blatant sin) are those who have not been satisfied with fulfilling the calling of their specific gifts. They always wanted to be someone else. If you despise what God has made you to be, you will never find the satisfaction that he intends for you. Love what God has made you to be and believe that he is using you even in difficult places. Such confidence that he is giving himself to the church through you will be the source of the deepest satisfaction of your life.
Finally, Paul urges us not to neglect others’ gifts. Mature leadership seeks to equip others to use their gifts for the work of ministry and to build up the body (Eph. 4:12). The work of ministry is not dependent on any one of us, even those who are leaders. Our task is to equip others for their ministry of service and building up of the church. Here is the message: if you try to do it all, you will die and the ministry will, too. There is simply too much to be done: Bible studies, youth groups, diaconal ministries, educational ministries, mercy ministries, campus ministries, singles ministries, outreach to the workplace and on the campus, Right to Life, political advocacy, art ministries, public school board meetings, Christian school meetings, homeschool meetings—the list is endless.
We who are leaders have the important job of making ourselves nonessential for the doing of all the church’s ministries because we are to be so equipping others that their efforts will not be dependent on us. Our essential task is to equip others for the ministry of the church. This is an important educational concept for the church that often will expect the minister or paid staff to do everything (and we can feed that expectation by trying to do everything). Yet if we make ourselves essential to every project and activity, then the church can never do more than the leadership can stretch itself to do. Christ’s goal is that the church leaders would prepare others for ministry by equipping every person to do his or her part.
Mr. Holland’s Opus is a movie about a dedicated music teacher who dreams of becoming a famous composer. He does not have those gifts and, instead, makes an impact he does not fully appreciate in the lives of a generation of students in his high school music program. Mr. Holland never writes the musical opus that will make him famous but pours himself into the young people before him: a redheaded girl with pigtails who struggles to play the clarinet, a football player who cannot keep rhythm but needs a band credit to keep his game eligibility, a street kid who is mad at the world but who discovers the beauty of his own soul in music.
As the movie concludes, Mr. Holland is fighting budget cuts for the survival of the high school’s music program. He loses. And he retires. The last day of school he cleans out his desk and, with shoulders slumped down, walks the school hall for the last time. He is a picture of dejection, reminding us of a life spent without a dream fulfilled. But as Mr. Holland walks, he hears noise in the auditorium. He goes in to see what is happening and faces a packed auditorium of students and alumni thundering an ovation and chanting his name. The little girl with pigtails is now the governor of the state, and she addresses Mr. Holland from the podium. “Mr. Holland, we know that you never became the famous composer you dreamed of being. But don’t you see it today? Your great composition is what you did with us, your students. Mr. Holland, look around you. We are your great opus. We are the music of your life.”
Each of us is the music—the great opus—of those who have used their gifts to equip us. And I pray that we will know the joy and fulfillment that comes from knowing that we have used our gifts for the equipping of others for their works of service in the kingdom of God. We may not become famous before men, but we fulfill the purposes of heaven when we use what God has given us for the purposes he has designed for us in equipping others for the work of ministry and the building up of the church. A couple whose marriage is healed, a young man in a distant nation brought to faith, a grieving mother next to an empty cradle brought comfort, a preacher boldly proclaiming the word—all these are the works of service that we are equipping others to fulfill as we minister with the gifts that Christ has given. Together we are the transforming power of the church, Christ’s great opus.
God Sends Preachers
Romans 10 14-15, “14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
The words “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” are a quotation from Isaiah 52 and the seventh verse. You see the picture of swift-footed messengers coming over the mountains to the people of God, and they have the most thrilling news. Their captivity in Babylonian exile, prisoners of war for 70 years, is ending, the days of exile have passed, and restoration is at hand. “How delightful is the approach of such fleet-footed men! See them running towards us so fast because their news is great!” That is what Isaiah says, and he is telling the people that this will one day happen to them. They were going to rejoice on tip toe seeing men in the distance racing with all their might towards them!
But Isaiah has something more wonderful in mind than the restoration from Babylonian captivity because he prophesies later in the chapter that “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10). Deliverance of the Jews from captivity in Babylon is a mere picture of Christians in the nations of the whole world throughout the following centuries being delivered from their bondage to sin. Good news for all the nations and this is why Paul interprets the prophecy as referring to every preacher of the gospel. Preachers are the one’s who bring better news of a greater deliverance from worse captivity to a grander freedom.
This is the perspective that we should have of our congregations in our word-centered worship with its climax the preaching of the great Deliverer, Jesus Christ. We gather each Sunday with a spirit of thanksgiving, and amazement, and exhilaration. How beautiful is the approach of our pastors going up and up the steps from the minister’s room into the pulpit with the elders accompanying him into the meeting! Beautiful feet because they come to declare to us a beautiful message.
What authority, then, has the preacher? Earlier in the verse Paul puts it like this: “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” He’s implying that preachers are sent by God himself. One of the marks of false prophets in the Old Testament was that God had not sent them. “I did not send the prophets,” he said, “yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied” (Jer. 23:21). The word ‘apostle’ comes from this verb ‘to send, ’ and although Christ’s preachers today are not apostles in the original sense, they are still truly men sent by God. Without a divine sending, there can be no true preachers.
The verb ‘to preach’ (“How are they to preach?”) reinforces the idea of authority, for it refers to a herald, and a key point about the herald was that his message was not his own. It was entrusted to him by supreme authority, by the king, the emperor, the general. He was the bearer of an official message from a higher power. In ancient times, the person of the herald was inviolate. No matter how bitter the enmity between two nations might be, no matter how fierce the battle that was raging, one herald approaching the enemy must not be harmed, for he was simply the message-bearer of his master. So the preacher is the herald of Almighty God, and we are bringing our master’s words to humans. This is our authority.
Even the main verb in the text — “preach the good news” — supports this idea. Although it is the word from which ‘evangelize’ comes and refers more to the content of the message as ‘good news,’ we cannot evacuate it entirely of the idea of authority. For the Greek word ‘evangel’ was a known secular word, used of an official announcement about some change in the affairs of the state, such as the birth of a son to the emperor, or a change of governor in a province. A new situation was arising, and an official proclamation — an ‘evangel’ — would be made announcing this new situation and its implications. So when the early Christians used this word, they were taking it not only from the Old Testament but also from contemporary society, and with a meaning relevant for the culture in which they found themselves. It was fitting that the four documents at the beginning of the New Testament came to be known as ‘evangels,’ ‘gospels’ — official announcements of a major new state of affairs in the world. That is the word used here.
What is this good news? Quite simply, it is salvation. Paul loves to use that word over and over again. In verses 9, 10, and 13 he has emphasized it repeatedly: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . . With the mouth, one confesses and is saved . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is the good news — ‘saved’ — saved from sin, from wrath, from death, from the devil, from hell. The good news is that we may be saved in our bodies and in our souls, saved for joy, for holiness, for fulfillment, for God. We may be saved for an endless, abundant life in heaven. God has done something by which we may be saved. The Lord Jesus Christ was sent into the world by the Father to seek and to save that which is lost. If he has come for us, and found us, and died for us, and lives in heaven interceding for us then how can we be lost? He has saved us. Great news! We are safe because of what the Son of God has done for us.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.” All Christian preaching is connected with this salvation. The whole Bible tells us how to work out this salvation, how to experience it more fully, how to become more like the Lord Jesus, how to bring him glory — good news from beginning to end!
Christians are people who call on the name of the Lord. Such was the testimony of the psalmist: “The snares of death encompassed me… I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful . . . When I was brought low, he saved me” (Ps. 116:3-6). The same phrase occurs often in the New Testament, in the opening verses of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, for example. Paul is writing to the church of God in Corinth, yet he wants to send the letter to all other Christians as well. Note how he describes them: “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we stand up to open the Word, we have the thrilling assurance that we have a message appropriate for everyone who may hear us. We have something to say to every type, every condition, and every circumstance. What other message in the world is universal? What other message applies to everyone? None. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
What then shall we say to these things? Surely, those of us who are ministers should give ourselves to preaching, should specialize in it, devoting our minds, hearts, and lives to being the best we can be as proclaimers of the Word of God. We should disregard the contempt of the world and the hardships of our calling. It is tragic to hear preachers, when they meet together, feeling sorry for themselves, complaining of the difficulties they face. Paul said, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). We have the greatest privilege given to mortal men on this earth. Should we pity ourselves? Should we talk about sacrifice or giving up things? Never.
John Calvin comments on this text: ‘We learn from this how much the preaching of the Gospel is to be desired by all good men . . . God bestows the highest praise on the incomparable value of this treasure to awaken the minds of all men to desire it eagerly.” What a great glory it is to be a preacher of the gospel! May the Lord provide for us more and more preachers who love to proclaim the fame of God to the nations.
Preaching the Doctrine of God Means Proclaiming the Glory of God.
As we’ve considered in this article, God calls preachers, indwells preachers through the Holy Spirit, equips preachers, and sends preachers. He does all this and more to display His glory. We don’t proclaim our own glory through building a brand to suit our own ends. Instead, we proclaim the glory of God. It wasn’t by our own might or strength that we are saved. Instead, we are saved by God through the finished work of Jesus.
It’s tempting to think that if we get a certain amount of followers to our social media, blog, podcast, magazine, or some other platform that we might have that we might then be able to do some “significant” ministry. The truth is that the significant ministry is already here. If you have any sort of influence at all whether small or great God has given you, you should rejoice. Ministry is not about a book deal or traveling the preaching or conference circuit. Ministry is about getting into the trenches with hurting people and ministering to them there with the gospel. Ministry is about first loving the Lord and one’s spouse (if married).
True significant ministry is all around us. Homeless shelters are always in need of Bible teachers. Our college and seminaries need qualified godly preachers. Our true significance and lasting impact will not raise above our leadership of our homes. Just last night my wife and I were having a conversation before I wrote this portion of this article. The conversation revolved around my future in ministry. Right now I’m pursuing applying for pastoral positions and seeking a call from a local church. I told my wife that I desire to be a good pastor. She smiled and nodded, I continued. I said I don’t desire just to be a good preacher. Again she smiled and nodded. I said what I desire is to be a great pastor. And she smiled. Then I said but above that all I want to love God supremely and you and for that to be the order because my leadership of our home is ultimately more important and gives rise to my ability to lead outside of this home.
Often and I’ve seen this growing up in the Church so many times where pastors and ministry leaders care more about what’s going on in the church or in their ministry than they do in their homes. On both sides of my family, I have two great grandfathers who were pastors. They sacrificed their families on the altar of ministry. If we are truly about the glory of God and spreading a passion for the fame of God among the nations, we will not sacrifice our families. Instead, we will seek to be men who are first shaped profoundly and deeply in our characters by the gospel. We will understand that using worldly means to promote ourselves at the end of the day doesn’t bring God glory. Instead, it robs Him of glory. We can use the vehicles of modern technology to spread the gospel, but we must not be mastered by them. We have one Master and one Lord, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to be about His glory. Either we are about His glory or we are glorying in something else.
We must be about proclaiming the glory of God. We must practice what we preach. We must take seriously the message we’ve been given and consistently seek to use the means the Lord has given to us to accomplish eternal ends to the glory of God. This means first having our lives in alignment with His glory and then proclaiming the glory of God’s grace to the nations through whatever means He has given us.
There are many great tools that God has given to us today. There is a desperate need for preachers to be saturated in the glory of God. We need preachers like the Prophet Isaiah who said woe is me. We need preachers who have been wrecked by their own sin and who are continually astonished at the marvelous grace of God. We need mighty men of valor and courage who will stand against the tide of a moral and spiritual wasteland that is our contemporary culture and proclaim the glory of God fearlessly. Steady yourself preachers before the greatness and majesty of our God. There you will find and know the true meaning of not just proclaiming the glory of God but the story and substance to sustain you through difficult days and blessed seasons of ministry.
Preaching the Doctrine of God Means Growing in the Ways of God
As I tried to make clear in point number one of this section, it’s not enough to just subscribe to a belief in the glory of God. It’s one thing to say you are all about the glory but if your life doesn’t align with God’s glory you aren’t living for the glory of God. Instead, you are living for the glory of yourself. As we continue to grow in our understanding of God and His ways, we will kill our need for self-glory. We will kill the desire to make a name for ourselves knowing that through Christ we are already as loved, accepted, and valued by God as we can be.
Preaching the doctrine of God means we will desire to grow in understanding of and experience of the ways of God. God has outlined in His Word the way that we must go. Through the Psalms, for example, the way of the righteous is contrasted with the way of the fool. Those who walk with God not perfectly but uprightly are called blameless. They have committed to walking in such a way as to bring God glory. Those who seek to live for their own glory are the fools. They would rather live life on their own terms and for their own pleasure than for what Psalm 16:11 calls pleasures forevermore. Pleasures forevermore are reserved for those who walk uprightly who know God and desire to delight in Him. Only those who are born again truly desire to walk with God. Those who walk in their own way desire only to build their own kingdom and live for self.
Each of us has times in our own lives where we struggle to live for the glory of God. We all stumble in many ways in our walk with God. If we are truly born again, we will not stay down. Instead, we will repent. We will desire to repent because we have been captivated by a vision of the glory of God. We understand that the glory of another, Jesus has come to die in our place and for our sin and rise again. We are not about our own glory. Instead, we understand that Jesus desires to kill our desire to live for our own glory so that we might shine for His glory.
We must understand that we live not on our terms or for ourselves. Instead, we live for the glory of God. The more we understand this, the more we will desire to grow in understanding the ways of God. And the more we understand the ways of God, the more we will desire to experience and apply His Word to our lives. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
We must be like Isaiah and become humble and broken men knowing that it is not about us but God. We must become captivated like Isaiah by the glory of God and know that our mission is not our own. Instead, our mission is God’s mission. We commit ourselves to the mission of God because of the glory of God. We are broken sinful men in need of Jesus. We must taste and know of His grace and drink from the deep, deep well of God’s grace if we truly want to be effective in ministry. Our characters must be deeply formed by the glory of God so that we can stand fast in the midst of a moral and cultural revolution.
As preachers and teachers of the Word of God, we have a message to proclaim that challenges the very heart of our culture. We go forth at this cultural moment to proclaim the glory of God. We know this God is mighty to save but is also coming to judge the living and the dead. Let us go with a great sense of urgency and with passion girded by the truth and speak the truth in love seasoned with grace. It’s not just our words that matter. As Paul said we must watch our doctrine and our lives. We must watch both because our doctrine drives our lives. When we get this wrong we will live by our feelings and proclaim what we “feel” is right. We must be steadied by sound biblical doctrine that honors and glorifies God. Only then will we proclaim the glory of God without fear and regret. No longer will we fear man. Instead, we will stand before men and proclaim the glory of God even as we grow in knowledge and experience of walking in the power of our great God and King through the work of His Holy Spirit.
Preach a Sermon Series on Topics Related to the Doctrine of God.
As this article comes to a close if you are a Pastor I encourage you to plan a series on the doctrine of God. As you’ve read this issue, hopefully, you’ve gotten a better understanding of the Trinity, the attributes of God, creation, God’s providence, miracles, prayer, angels, and on Satan and demons.
One way among many to take what you’ve learned or discovered in this issue is to perhaps after you’ve gone through a book of the Bible to tackle one aspect of the doctrine of God. You could talk about prayer and spiritual warfare walking people through this topic or how understanding God’s providence helps their Christian life. Or perhaps another series on the Trinity, or creation looking at Genesis 1-2.
Throughout the Bible, God has clearly spoken and fully revealed Himself. God’s people need to know and understand the ways of the Lord. This is critical in our fulfilling the charge that Paul gave the elders at Miletus in Acts 20 to preach the whole counsel of God. It is also vital in our ministry of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. God’s people need to know the Lord and part and parcel of knowing God is being knowledgeable about His ways and walking in His ways. As you plan your sermon series for the next year, consider tackling one aspect of the doctrine of God covered in this issue. Not only will God’s people be strengthened and further equipped but by God’s grace, but perhaps you will grow yourself as you teach this precious doctrine to the Beloved of the Lord.
Preaching the doctrine of God is vital. Growing in our understanding of God’s way is for a lifetime as Christians. Wherever you are at in your Christian life today, God knows and sees. He hasn’t left His people stranded on an island. Instead, He is with them. He walks alongside and goes before them. He is present with them. Preach the whole counsel of God. As you do, you’ll end up touching on topics related to the Trinity, the attributes of God, creation, God’s providence, miracles, prayer, angels, and Satan and demons.
This article first appeared in Theology for Life Winter 2016-2017 Issue. To download the rest of the issue click here.
[i] Jason Meyer, Preaching A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2013), 76.
[ii] John Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 4th Edition, revised by Vernon L. Stanfield (Harper San Francisco, 1979), 16.
[iii] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), 24.
[iv] Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 996), 277.
[v] Zachary W. Eswine, The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Preaching Theory and Practice of Charles Haddon Spurgeon PhD diss. Regent University, 2003, 228.
[vi] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville, B & H Publishing, 2007), 54.
[vii] Ibid., 54.
[viii] Ibid., 55.
[ix] Ibid., 55.
[x] Ibid, 63-64.
[xi] Ibid., 62-63.
[xii] Ibid., 65.
[xiii] Ibid, 65.
[xiv] Ibid., 64.
[xv] Ibid., 126.
[xvi] John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), 335.
[xvii] Steven W. Smith, Dying to Preach Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2009), 18
[xviii] Ibid., 19.
[xix] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne Minister of St. Peter Dundee (Hamilton, Adams, & Co., J. Nisbett & Co., And J. Johnstone & Co., London, 1844). 243.
[xx] Lecture given by Raymond Brown at the Celebration of Spurgeon’s 150th anniversary of his birth at William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.
[xxi] Lewis Drummond, Spuregon Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1992), 573.