By Ben Awbrey
Thursday, January 01, 2009
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones defined unction as an access of power. To amplify his perception of unction Lloyd-Jones said it is “God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.”
A simple understanding of unction is God’s unmistakable presence attending and empowering the preaching of His Truth. Simply stated, unction is commonly referred to as the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Preaching with unction occurs because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But this simple understanding, as true as it is, might be understood in such a way to assume that the preacher bears no responsibility or liability for preaching with unction or the lack thereof. Without trying to curtail the sovereign work of God in anointing a preacher with His Spirit, there are some particular areas that a preacher must fulfill for there to be an unmistakable presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit in preaching.
Preaching that bears this presence of God is preaching that is according to His Word and is spoken through His servant who is of His choosing and under His control and, therefore, speaks on His authority, by His power, in His conviction, with His passion, from His motives, for His purposes and to His glory. Preaching with unction is accompanied by the perceptibly powerful presence of God that impacts the hearts of the hearers. Because there is preaching with unction, there will be preaching with impact. No wonder unction was described by Lloyd-Jones as “the greatest essential in connection with preaching.”
Unction is the result of careful and diligent preparation, having earnestly sought God in prayer for Him to do what He wills to do with the preparation that has gone forth. Careful and diligent preparation concerns both the messenger as well as the message to be preached. Certainly the preacher must spend time in personal reflection, prayer, confession and personal commitment regarding the truth he has discovered. Unless he has made himself the initial audience of the sermon that he will ultimately preach to others, he will not preach with unction. This is the subjective preparation needed in order to preach effectively.
The point here, however, is the objective preparation and, more specifically, the results of the objective preparation—an exposition of a biblical passage, a message that is according to His Word. Expository preaching is not solely the endeavor of preaching a sermon to God’s people on the Lord’s Day or any other time. A sermon may be true, may be insightful, encouraging and of practical value; yet that does not constitute a message according to His Word.
When, however, the appropriate work has been done to understand the passage to the point that its meaning can be communicated clearly, corroborated convincingly, applied profitably and the personal preparation of one’s soul to preach the message to others has been accomplished, then one may know that he has not been presumptuous in his efforts to preach according to His Word. As Lloyd-Jones suggests, the right way to look upon the unction of the Spirit is to think of it as that which comes upon the preparation.
An Old Testament incident that shows this relationship is the story of Elijah facing the false prophets of Israel on Mount Carmel. We are told that Elijah built an altar, cut wood and put it on the altar, and then killed a bull and cut it in pieces and put the pieces on the wood. Having done all that, he then prayed for the fire to descend; and the fire fell. That is the suggested order.
Does it make sense to pray that God would bless the preaching of His Word when His Word will be replaced by the preaching of the preacher’s sermon? If a preacher is involved in such a homiletical substitution, opting to preach a sermon rather than explain God’s Word, can He expect that God would champion this effort? The more a preacher distances himself from the exposition of His Word, the less confidence he may have that he will preach with unction.
Unction aside, such a homiletical substitute will lack appropriate sincerity for preaching, which is too common in preaching today. Any message that is understood as God’s truth rather than the preacher’s sermon will be a message that will be marked by sincerity. How could it be otherwise? If a man is preaching according to God’s Word, how could he not be in utmost sincerity in what he is saying? If, however, he is preaching his sermon, only a man of hubris could preach from utmost sincerity.
God is committed to blessing His Word, not a sermon. To the degree that a preacher’s sermon is according to His Word, there is the prospect of both the empowering of the preacher and the using of that message for the benefit of God’s people.