Preach the Word! — Chapter 5

What is Preaching?

This article is part of a series of articles on how to preach written by Jess Hall, Jr. and originally published in The Firm Foundation.

Fundamental to any discussion of preaching is an understanding of what preaching is. Ask the Greeks and you will receive five or six words, each of which is translated “preaching.” A technical analysis of each provides the dryness of a mouthful of sawdust and the satisfaction of a plate full of lettuce. Attempting to feed the soul on such morsels undoubtedly accounts for one dictionary definition of preaching – “. . . to give moral or religious advice, esp. in a tiresome manner.”

What is preaching? “Biblical preaching is still that unique method by which God through His chosen messenger reaches down into the human family and brings persons into fellowship with Himself.” (Lloyd M. Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today’s World, Chicago: Moody Press, 1990, p. 19). Probably the most famous definition of preaching is that of Phillips Brooks, 19th century preacher and writer, who defined “preaching” with simple eloquence in his Lectures on Preaching: “Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men.”

  1. Preaching is communication. A preacher in the pulpit is no guarantee that preaching will occur. A preacher in the pulpit speaking truth is no guarantee that preaching will occur. Preaching occurs only when there is communication between the preacher and the hearer. Communication is derived from the Latin communis, meaning “common.” Thus, unless a “commonness” is established with the hearer – a sharing of information, ideas, and attitudes – preaching does not occur.

  2. Preaching is the communication of truth. Though it comes from a pulpit or from one who calls himself a preacher, if it is not truth, then it is not preaching. God’s preacher does not proclaim speculation. God’s preacher depends neither on entertainment nor on eloquence (though both may sometimes be appropriate). God’s preacher does not seek to convince men of his own cleverness. His message is grounded in and seeks to persuade based upon God’s truth, which alone can make man free.

  3. Preaching is the communication of truth by man. God could have formed his message in the clouds or framed his missive in the colors of the rainbow; he elected to spread his gospel through man. Thus, though sermons may be printed, preaching never is; though words may be spoken by one man over the air waves and heard by another, without the unfiltered impact of personality on personality, true preaching does not occur. Paul recognized that some ministries can only be accomplished in person. Indeed, even the reading of an inspired letter could not substitute. “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome” (Romans 1:15). Preaching is the communication of God’s truth through God’s man, filtered only through a genuine love and a holy life.

  4. Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. On any given Sunday most worshippers can probably pull something off the shelf and find something more sagacious and well presented than they will hear from the pulpit. Why, then, should they go to worship? Why not “meditate alone with God”? Phillips Brooks, whose definition of preaching we have used, answered well:

. . . [E]ven if preaching should grow obsolete, there would still remain reason enough why Christians should meet together for worship and for brotherhood. But even if we look at preaching only, it must still be true that nothing can ever take its place because of the personal element that is in it.

No multiplication of books can ever supersede the human voice. No newly opened channel of approach to man’s mind and heart can ever do away with man’s readiness to receive impressions through his fellow-man . . . .

Let a man be a true preacher, really uttering the truth through his own personality, and it is strange how men will gather to listen to him. (Phillips Brooks, The Joy of Preaching, Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 1989, p. 29.)

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)