Faithful Bible preaching is not always easy to find. In some churches the Bible is barely opened, much less preached. And even when it is preached, how do we know that what is happening is faithful and helpful by God’s standards? Things like our feelings or filled pews, for example, are not good barometers.
The following will make a few suggestions on where to start. This is not all that constitutes biblically faithful preaching, but a few things which we should observe as the Bible is opened and preached:
1. A total submission to the Bible.
What the Apostle commanded Timothy, and, all who would stand in a pulpit thereafter, is pretty simple: “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). The “word” is that God-given body of Scripture.
The biblical idea of “preach,” comes from the role of a keryx, or “herald.” The job of the keryx was simple: in subjection to their sending superior and by the authority of their master, deliver the message, which did not originate with them, and do so authoritatively, without altering it in any way. He was merely an executive instrument and mouthpiece of his master, entrusted to deliver the message exactly as received (TDNT, 3:687). The herald/preacher demonstrated his subjection to his master by proclaiming the message.
So it is to be with preaching the Bible.
Being a subject of God, the preacher understands that he is a subject of every word of God. He is a servant of the text.
The content of the sermon, then, should demonstrate subjection to the text of Scripture. It should be clear that things like outlines, explanation, illustrations, and applications are derived from the text. Any stories and illustrations, while not taking center stage, purposely serve the text, and not the opposite.
Helpful preaching will have content which also fits into the larger context of the Bible. It will be consistent with major, redemptive theological threads (e.g. God’s sovereignty, sovereign grace, depravity of man, the glory and supremacy of God, the Person and finished work of Christ).
Finally, faithful preaching will demonstrate a spiritual submission to the text. At times, the preacher demonstrates personal conviction of his own sin consequent of subjection to the text.
2. An avoidance of aimless meandering.
Biblical preaching is like taking a group of hikers on a tour of a majestic mountain landscape. As far as the hike goes, the tour guide knows the route well. He has walked it himself, slowly, carefully, and observantly. He has wrestled with various cruxes. He may have gotten lost a few times, but eventually found his way. And he is not interested in creating new landmarks and geographical features on the route, but simply and enthusiastically pointing out the already-existing features. He may move faster in some areas and slower in others, while observing a clearly-marked beginning and end to the hike.
So it is in preaching. As the preacher opens the word, he identifies the features of the text. Things like outline points in the sermon are akin to those significant junctures and landmarks in a hike. The preacher does not create them, but merely identifies the beauty of what is in the text, while bringing things to a close, transitioning, and moving to the next, and so on. All the while, the hearers, like those being led on the hike, have some idea of where they are going.
And like any good mountain landscape, we could continue on and on in the biblical text. It’s inexhaustible. But, the whole is traveled in smaller, more manageable chunks in order to miss as little as possible and profit as much as possible.