Every Sunday, Christians gather in churches across the globe to worship God. That worship includes singing, praying, baptizing new believers, receiving communion, and exercising spiritual gifts. One of those spiritual gifts is preaching, to which much of the service is given over.
Why is preaching so important to Christian worship? Indeed, what is preaching? Paul, Silas, and Timothy answer both questions in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God.
What is preaching? The word of God. Why is it so important to Christian worship? Because it is the word of God. As the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) put it: “The preaching of the word of God is the word of God.”
The confession’s statement on preaching is astounding. In a lifetime of attending church, I have heard any number of sermons that don’t rise to the level of mediocre rhetoric, let alone to the lofty heights of a divine utterance. I have even preached a few of those sermons. Is the Second Helvetic Confession claiming too much for preaching? Are Paul, Silas, and Timothy?
Perhaps we can best understand the missionaries’ statement if we interpret it, first of all, as a prescriptive statement, not a descriptive one. In other words, the word of God is what preaching should be, not what it all too often is. This is the besetting sin of preachers: Our sinful proclivities, personal biases, social classes, political commitments, human traditions, self-help solutions, and intellectual hobby-horses distort God’s word rather than being clarified and judged by it. As such, our preaching is merely “a human word.”
But the missionaries’ statement indicates that preaching not merely should be but can be the word of God. They are not setting up us preachers for failure by creating an impossible ideal, in other words. Rather, they are saying both that preachers should and can, on a weekly basis, speak God’s word to others.
How does this happen? It doesn’t happen merely by quoting the Bible. The Pharisees were experts at quoting the Bible, but often missed its point.
Acts 17:1–9 recounts the founding of the Thessalonian church by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Here’s how verses 2 and 3 summarize Paul’s ministry: “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said.”
The point of Scripture is Jesus. Let me repeat that: The. Point. Of. Scripture. Is. Jesus. If preaching doesn’t present Jesus as the Messiah, the culmination of God’s promises; if it doesn’t offer him as the Savior, the solution to the world’s sin problem; if it doesn’t reveal him as Lord, the model and judge of our own feelings, thoughts, words, and actions, then whatever it is, it isn’t God’s word.
Preaching (God’s word) illuminates the ultimate meaning of the Bible (God’s word) so that people may respond to Jesus (God’s Word).