It seems a bit of a waste,” he said.
I nodded. I could see his point. We were talking over coffee in the university laboratory where he and I had been working as colleagues for the best part of two years. Somehow our conversation had got round to what we were going to do next. He had shown me a letter he had just received, offering him a job in a scientific instrument company. The salary mentioned had so many zeroes on the end, I thought at first it was expressed in Italian lire rather than American dollars! Then he asked me about my plans.
“Well,” I said, “I am thinking seriously about going into the Christian ministry.”
His eyes blinked. His coffee-cup froze in mid-air. For some moments he said nothing at all. Then he gulped slightly.
“It seems a bit of a waste,” he said.
I nodded. I could indeed see his point. For seven years I had been studying science, and in those pre-recession days well-qualified scientists were in demand. What is more, I enjoyed science; I was quite good at it. My parents had made considerable Sacrifices to launch me on an academic career which they were certain would end nowhere short of a Nobel prize. To think of changing direction at this late stage! Well, it seemed lunacy! To throw away so much hard-won specialist knowledge. A bit of a waste? Well, frankly, that was an understatement.
What on earth was I doing even considering such a reckless move? “Why be a preacher, Roy?” I asked myself.
During the years since that conversation, that question has sometimes come back to haunt me. And when it does I always read this passage once again, as I read it that same evening, after my colleague had gone home.
If anybody had reason to regret his decision to be a preacher, Paul did. He had a promising academic career in front of him, too: lecturer in Old Testament at the university of Jerusalem. If he had gone on as he was going, he would have inherited Gamaliel’s professorial chair for sure when the old boy died. Yet what did he do? He threw it all away in order to be a Christian missionary. His friends must have told him, “It seems like a bit of a waste, Paul.”
And what had his missionary work earned him? He tells us in 2 Corinthians 4 and again in chapter 6: worry, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, poverty, sickness — and that is only half the list. It would not have been so bad if the churches he served had expressed some gratitude for all the sacrifice he had made, but half the time, they were a worse burden to him than anything else.
Take Corinth for instance, a city where he had endured relentless hostility and scorn from his fellow countrymen the Jews for over eighteen months while he had stayed there and founded that first Christian congregation. It could only have been a few years at the most since he had left them, yet already trouble was brewing. Now, distracted by the anxiety of it all, he cannot concentrate on the evangelistic program he has scheduled in Asia; he is uncharacteristically restless and disturbed (2 Cor. 2:13).
“Why do I bother?” he must have been asking himself. “Why on earth didn’t I stay lecturing in Jerusalem? I could have been rich and famous by now. Whatever possessed me to embark on this crazy missionary adventure? It has ruined my career, it is ruining my health. If I die in my bed it will be a miracle, and all I get for it are treacherous stabs in the back from my own converts! What is the point of it all? Why be a preacher?”
In 2 Corinthians 4 we find Paul answering that question. He is explaining his reason for being passionately committed to preaching, a commitment from which, he tells us, despite countless set-backs and disappointments he refuses to be deterred. Indeed, the key word of this passage is found at the beginning in verse 1 and the end in verse 16: “We do not lose heart.” Bracketed between that repetition is an intensely personal piece of writing. You have only to scan it to note the predominance of first person pronouns. Paul is not engaging in abstract theological generalization here. He is giving us his testimony as to why he was a preacher, and why he was determined to be nothing else. And when I read this passage as a young research student asking that same question, “Why be a preacher?” I found that in some strange way Paul was speaking for me, too. And my dearest wish is that among my readers may be those who, reading these words of Paul, will find him speaking for them also.
Why be a preacher? Because, Paul tells us,
Preaching is God’s appointed method of bringing the light of Christ to men and women.
Let us go through the passage together and see how he develops it. Paul begins: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (4:1). It was always an amazement to Paul that God should have called him, of all people, to be a preacher; because, of course, in his unconverted days he had been a ruthless persecutor of the church. I imagine that is what he means when he says “through the mercy of God we have received this ministry.”
But it is remarkable how often the people who are most antagonistic before they are converted are those whom God calls to be champions in the pulpit later on. Perhaps it is only people who know from personal experience just how large the mercy of God is, that can with confidence invite other prodigals back into the Father’s arms. Certainly, there is no doubt that these opening verses of chapter 4 show the great sense of personal responsibility that Paul felt as a result of this vocation that God had placed upon him. Preaching, for him, was an immensely serious business.
“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God,” writes Paul. “On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (4:2). You will remember that Paul is consciously defending his leadership style against certain rivals in this letter. And it seems that the same group of “spiritual peddlers” (as he called them in 2:17) are on his mind as he writes this chapter. There were Christians around who, in Paul’s estimation, did pursue “secret and shameful ways. There were preachers who, in Paul’s judgment, did seek converts through “deception” and by “distorting the word of God.” Though the exact nature of this rival faction is the subject of interminable academic debate, I have argued that one of their characteristics was that they disapproved of the openness with which Paul preached in public.
They represented a more esoteric brand of Christianity. They liked to keep the Christian faith shrouded in a tantalizing aura of mystery. Like all the other occult sects that proliferated in the Hellenistic world of that time, they saw themselves as salesmen marketing a new religious product. And they knew that in the social climate of the first century, the more mysterious and magical the advertising image they created, the more customers would be attracted and the more initiation fees they would be able to obtain. So they kept their Christianity hidden under seductive wraps.
They preached, of course. But it was most likely “sales patter,” the kind of empty rhetoric that was so fashionable and admired in that society. “We can offer you secret gnosis that will lift you up to a higher level of consciousness; knowledge that will send you on a trip like no other trip you have ever experienced and will take you into the mysteries of God himself.”
Appealing, no doubt, to first-century Greeks, but it was rather short on Christian doctrine. There was nothing about sin; nothing about judgment; nothing about the cross; not even, I suspect, very much about Jesus. No doubt if you had quizzed them they would have admitted they did believe in all these things; Paul does not call them heretics. So presumably they were, at least nominally, orthodox in their creed. It was their methodology Paul objected to. It was all too crafty, too devious, too shaped by the artful marketing techniques of the world, and for Paul that would not do. He had repudiated that kind of strategy of enticement the day he received his calling to be a preacher. The ministry God had called him to simply was not like that. We renounced, he says, all that disgraceful secrecy nonsense, all that subterfuge and adulteration of the gospel message. His method — if you could call it a method at all — was to tell people the straightforward, unvarnished facts.
We keep nothing up our sleeves, he says: “We speak plainly.” We do not restrict ourselves to some inner circle of initiates, but “commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.” We do not twist our message to please our hearers; we speak “the truth.” It is impossible for him to discharge the ministry God has given him on any other basis than one of total candor and unimpeachable integrity. And if someone challenges Paul by claiming that their techniques bring more public response than his preaching does, he has his answer ready: “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:3-4).
The reference to “veils” and “glory” shows that Paul still has in mind that contrast he was drawing in chapter 3 between the old and new covenants. He claimed there that, extraordinary as it may seem, the Jewish people did net really understand their own Bible. There is a veil over their minds and hearts which spiritually blinds them: only when a person turns to Christ, does the Spirit of the Lord remove that veil (cf. 3:15-16).
Now in these verses he is generalizing that point to include all non-Christians, not just the Jews. Anybody who hears the gospel message, he says, and does not make sense of it, is like a Jew reading the Old Testament law. He has spiritual cataracts over his eyes, and they prevent him from seeing what to Christian perception is so glaring and obvious — the glory of God in the face of Jesus.
Notice the agent of this spiritual cataract, if we may so call it. The “god of this age” has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Many of the early Church Fathers interpreted that to mean “the God who rules this age,” namely the Lord God, God with a capital “G.” And that is by no means impossible, because Paul in Romans 9 is not embarrassed to attribute unbelief directly to the decree of God when he speaks about Pharaoh’s hardened heart: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9:18). But it has to be said that the phrase “the god of this age” is a rather unlikely title for God Himself. God is the king of all the ages, and it seems rather strange, almost inglorious — faint praise at best — to limit Him to one.
Most modern commentators realize that and interpret the phrase differently. They say it means “the god whom this age worships” — namely, the devil. He it is who blinds the minds of unbelievers. Again, that is far from an impossible view. Jesus Himself in the parable of the Sower speaks of the devil’s activity in stealing the word of the gospel from people’s hearts before it has time to take root. And He calls the devil on one occasion “the prince of this world.”
But I must say that I have never been fully convinced of that interpretation either. I know of nowhere else in the Bible where the word god is attributed in that way to the devil. I would be surprised if that were Paul’s intention. My own view is that this phrase is to be understood as what is technically called an “appositional genitive.” That simply means that “god of this age” means “the god who consists of this age.” In other words, people make this age their god. And that is what renders them blind.
There is another example of such an appositional genitive in verse 6: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” — light which consists of the knowledge of the glory of God.” It is quite a regular way of interpreting a genitive in Greek. And if you take it that way then Paul is saying that it is an idolatrous preoccupation with the material things of this passing world, which renders the spiritual things of the next world undetectable to men’s gaze. Later on in verse 18, Paul speaks about the way he fixes his eyes not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen. The unbeliever’s problem is they do the opposite. They fix their eyes on the things that are seen, the temporal things, and that renders them insensitive to those eternal things that are invisible except to the eye of faith.
That interpretation seems to me to be more consistent with the Bible’s assertion that though unbelieving men and women are victims of ignorance, it is a willful ignorance. Though they are spiritually blind, it is a culpable blindness. It is because they have chosen to worship that which is less than God that God has given them over to a darkened mind, and the devil finds it so easy to steal the word of God from their hearts. So while it is perfectly possible to see God’s decree and the devil’s malice behind their unbelief, we are not to be narrowly deterministic about it. People are numbered among the perishing because they turn their backs on the obvious, not because they are trapped by an inexorable fate, whether of divine or demonic origin.
Still, however you read the phrase, the central thrust of verses 3 and 4 is essentially the same. Paul is pointing out that it is not because of any deficiency in his preaching that people remain unbelievers. It is because of a spiritual barrier in their own souls. The gospel is not a mystery to them because he kept it a mystery, but because they cannot and will not understand it; as John puts it in his Gospel, the Light is there blazing away for all to see. The problem is that sinful men and women prefer to live in darkness.
If that is the case, one might respond, how does anybody ever become a Christian? Surely we are all in the same boat as far as this is concerned — including Paul, for surely we are all spiritually blind by nature. “Absolutely right,” replies Paul, “I could not agree more. The only reason my preaching has any saving effect at all in men and women is because God chooses to accompany it with something I cannot provide: His own miracle of spiritual illumination.”
“We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake,” writes Paul. “For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:5-6). That is why the believer sees it: because God has made His light shine in their heart. Paul, of course, is still talking here in the first person, so verse 6 may well be a direct reference to his own conversion experience, when he saw the light on the Damascus road in a very literal sense.
“Who are you, Lord?” he asked of that blazing vision that dazzled him. “I am Jesus,” came the reply. And it is surely significant that he left that encounter physically blind, but spiritually enlightened for the first time in his life.
For Paul such words were more than mere metaphor; they were a personal testimony to what had happened to him. That experience, he tells us here, shaped the whole tenor of his subsequent preaching ministry. “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.”
It is not Paul’s gift, rhetoric, charm, personality, advertising skills or evangelistic techniques that bring men and women to conversion. “It is face-to-face encounter with Jesus, the same Jesus who met me. So I just preach Him. I tell people who He is and what He has done, and again and again, as I do that, God by His Spirit takes the veil away from their hearts, and they see what that day on the Damascus road I saw, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus. Why,” he says, “it feels just like pulling the bedroom curtains in the morning: gloom gives way to dawn!”
The vast majority of commentators take verse 6 as a reference to the opening words of Genesis. If that is correct then it is a powerful analogy that Paul is drawing here. He is saying that conversion involves an act of divine initiative as awesomely sovereign as the act of creation itself. God says to our hearts, “Let there be light,” and there is light; and from that moment a new world begins.
However, it is worth nothing that there is another possibility. In the original language, verse 6 bears more similarity to Isaiah 9:2 than it does to Genesis 1:3. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness a light has dawned” — that very word. If Paul has Isaiah in mind rather than Genesis, then it is not so much an analogy to the Old Testament account of creation we have here as an example of the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.
But however you take it, the implication, it seems to me, is just as thrilling, though unfortunately our translation rather mars it. What Paul actually says is not “God makes the light that illumines a Christian heart” but “God is the light.” It is God Himself who has shone in our hearts. What we gain in the face of Jesus is not just the gift of spiritual insight; it is the vision of deity. Mystics down through the ages have always talked about it. “Here it is!” says Paul.
Those cheap peddlers of the gospel! They may talk about the secret gnosis that they can offer people, but Paul has some “knowledge” too: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. He quite deliberately takes up gnostic vocabulary there and throws it back in their faces. “I offer this knowledge not wrapped in mystical hocus pocus; I offer it straight, in language nobody can misunderstand. I offer it in the face of Jesus to any and all to whom God gives eyes to see him.”
You say, Why be a preacher? Well, there is no calling on earth more noble. This is surely why Spurgeon said his pulpit was more desirable to him than the throne of England. Preaching is the event in which thousands upon thousands find their Damascus road. Paul’s preaching was a real eye-opener, in more senses than one. It is God’s method of bringing the light of Christ to men and women.
Perhaps you begin to see why this passage meant so much to me when I was considering embarking on a preaching ministry. In fact it is hard for me to express in a few words all these few verses have meant to me down through the years as I have thought about them. We are told by any number of people today that preaching is doomed. It is simply not worth the effort, they say. Again and again, when people have told me things like that, I have found this passage has encouraged me. “We do not lose heart,” says Paul.
No, we do not!
Characteristics of Good Preaching
One reason preaching gets a bad press these days is because there is an incredible amount of bad preaching around. Some of it is bad simply because it is boring; it is an extraordinary thing to be able to make the glorious gospel of Christ sound monotonous, and yet there are a good many preachers who seem to be able to achieve that with remarkable regularity! I am reminded of the comment made about the notorious Reverend Frederick Morris, the nineteenth-century preacher, “Listening to him is like trying to eat pea soup with a fork!”
The result of preaching like that, of course, is that people come to church expecting to be bored. The sermon becomes the Protestant equivalent of flagellation, a painful penance to be endured for the sake of church-going respectability. The number of people who mentally switch off as soon as the sermon begins, in anticipation of boredom to come, is lamentable. And those who grow up in Christian families, where they are subjected to bad preaching from a young age, are among the worst affected.
But boring preaching, although it is a terrible crime, is not the worst crime perpetrated in the pulpit. There are far worse forms of bad preaching. There is what Paul mentions here, for instance: deception and the distortion of God’s word. It is all too easy for a preacher, in a laudable desire to get a response from hard hearts, to compromise his message in some way, to water it down and adapt it to make it more acceptable to his hearers.
He can leave out all the nasty parts — hell and all that stuff. He can leave out the demanding parts about repentance. He can leave out the difficult parts about the incarnation and atonement and so forth. He can replace them with lots of appealing carrots, by which to bribe his audience — promises of healing to the sick, promises of jobs to the unemployed, promises of rice to the hungry. He can talk about political issues. In a university town he can pad his sermon out with quotes from the philosophers. He can talk about existentialism, psychoanalysis, Adam Smith and Karl Marx, and flatter the ears of his hearers with how awfully avant garde they are to be able to listen to all this stuff.
Or if none of that will do, he can always appropriate the technique of the anecdotal preacher and lead from his announced text into a whole patter of stories — some amusing, some touching, but all entertaining and all connected in some tenuous way with a blessed thought or two that might have some link, remotely, with the text from which he began. Such preaching may not be boring in the least. It may be conducted with great oratory and skill, and lead people into thinking they are actually hearing a Christian sermon when in fact they are hearing nothing of the kind. They are being deceived; the word of God is being distorted. Such a preacher is just a peddler, a salesman looking for a popular line to hawk.
What are the characteristics of good preaching? We find them delineated here in this passage.
First, integrity. “We do not use deception.” There can be no disguising of the truth.
Second, fidelity. “We do not distort the word of God.” We tell it to people as it is, every bit of it, without jumping over the awkward verses.
Third, intelligibility. “By setting forth the truth plainly” — no woolliness in our presentation. We talk the language of the people so that they can understand it.
Fourthly, and by no means, last, humility: “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5). Of all forms of bad preaching, the worst is the kind that glorifies the preacher, and I fear that it is far from rare. Of course, up to a point preachers cannot avoid the fan club syndrome — Paul had fans, as did Peter and Apollos. But some preachers actually encourage such adulation, and design their ministry so as to foster it. Sometimes they do it by making sure a very large photograph of themselves appears as often as possible in the publicity. Some do it by filling their sermons with stories about how God has used them in this and that person’s life. And some do it, sadly, by running down other preachers from the pulpit, cultivating very subtly but very definitely the impression that theirs is the only church in the area, if not in the entire country, where the authentic gospel can be heard. And the result is always the same: the Christian personality cult.
These preachers are not preaching Christ at all but projecting themselves. No, says Paul, that is not my style. I do not expect to be treated like a celebrity everywhere I go. If I must talk about myself at all, it is as your slave (that is the word he uses) for Jesus’ sake. And it was because of that fundamental humility in Paul that the perfidy of this Corinthian church, though it upset him, did not demoralize him. It did not make him lose heart. Paul’s ego was not at stake in his preaching. He was secure enough in his divine vocation to be humble as well as candid. Good preaching always is.
The Effectiveness of Preaching
Another of the reasons that preaching is given little credibility today is much subtler and better-informed than simply the complaint that preachers are boring. Some say that even if the preaching is good, it is still not worth doing because it does not do any good. This kind of comment comes from researchers in the field of communication. They have proved by their research that monodirectional communication (which is what preaching is) can reinforce attitudes and beliefs already held but can only very rarely effect real change in people’s opinions. This is a facet, they say, of human psychology. Monologue does not change anybody; so if you want to convert people, you have to stop preaching and use small group techniques or one-to-one dialogue instead.
Of course, if this proposition is accepted, the conclusion that you are forced to draw is that Jesus and the apostles showed a singular lack of awareness of basic human psychology when they chose the word preaching (proclamation) to convey their understanding of evangelism. A preacher — kerux in the Greek — is a herald, and a herald is precisely a one-way communicator; he does not dialogue, he announces a message he has received. But if our communication experts are correct, announcements do not change anybody. Where is the flaw in their reasoning? I do not believe the flaw lies in the research, which I am sure is quite correct. It lies in the theology. For people who argue like this are assuming that Christian preaching is analogous to a marketing exercise. You have your product: the gospel. You have your consumers: the congregation. And the preacher is the salesman. It is his job to overcome consumer resistance and persuade people to buy.
According to Paul, there is one very simple but overwhelming reason why that analogy is not a good one. The preacher does not overcome consumer resistance. He cannot. Consumer resistance is far too large for any preacher to overcome. All the preacher does, Paul says, is to expose that resistance in its formidable impenetrability. If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded their minds and “they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
It is such an important point. Jesus made it in the parable of the Sower. A man went out and sowed the seed, said Jesus. Some fell on the path, some fell on the stones, some fell among the weeds, and some fell on good ground. Notice the way he structures His story: one sower, four soils. The sowing of the seed reveals differences of receptivity in the soil. But if our communication expert were to tell the parable, it would be the other way round. There would be one homogeneous soil, and four different sowers. Sower One would have a particular evangelistic technique, but it would be no good. Then Sower Two would use his method, but that would not work either. Sower Three would next use his particular evangelistic style, but unfortunately it would have very little effect, and then finally, there would be Sower Four who had his communication technique right, and he alone would obtain a harvest.
But that is not how it is. Christian conversion is not the result of human persuasion. According to Paul, it is a manifestation of divine grace. “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ.”
That, of course, is why monologue is actually the ideal communication technique. For the function of the word is to make the person, in whom God has already been secretly at work by his Spirit, self-conscious of their salvation. The preacher does not save anybody. He is an instrument whereby people who are being saved become aware of the fact. Evangelism has to be proclamation because preaching is a sacrament of the divine sovereignty. God kindles spiritual life in souls by His Spirit, and then rejoices in their free, uncoerced, spontaneous response to His word when they hear it preached.
To be honest, the trouble with much evangelism today is that it is built on the fallacious — even heretical — assumption, that anybody can and will respond to the gospel if only it is presented to them in an appropriate fashion. It is not true. It is not what Paul says in verse 3 about spiritual blindness. In the preaching event it is the quality of the soil, not the quality of the preacher that is primarily being displayed. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, said Paul; that was his experience, great preacher though he was. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. The preached word discriminates between the perishing and the saved in that way.
Do not misunderstand me. Of course the preacher uses argument, logic and appeal, because God speaks to us as rational beings. But the hard fact is that no amount of argument, or logic, or appeal will ever change a person’s receptivity to God’s word. If we find somebody receiving God’s word and understanding it, it is not a triumph of the preacher’s power of communication. It is a triumph of the Spirit, who has secretly transformed that person’s heart. God has made His light shine there; He has illumined them. Preaching reveals that transformation but it cannot produce it.
Of course we do not like this. For a start, it robs us of our best excuse for our rejection of the gospel: that “the preacher was no good.” What is more, it deflates the preacher’s pride, because it means that really he is nothing very special. It is God who gives the increase; it is God who prepares the soil; it is God who opens the eyes. But this is how it is, says Paul. Preaching will be effective, not because as an instrument of human persuasion it is the best means — it is not, as modern psychology knows — but because it is God’s chosen method whereby He opens people’s eyes and brings them to an awareness that they are His saved people.
That is why it is such a solemn thing to hear God’s word. Every time we come and hear it we are judging ourselves. That word is discriminating between us, saved or perishing. If we find the barest inkling of understanding of spiritual things being given to us as we read this letter of Paul’s, if we find the barest hint of a desire to obey what we find there — well, praise God for it. Fan that little glimmer of spiritual sensitivity in your hearts into a flame, because there is no blessing in this universe more precious than light. And God is the only one who can give it.
The Necessity for Preaching
There is a third reason people disparage preaching today, and it goes like this: “People won’t listen to preaching these days.”
If I have been told that once, I have been told it a thousand times. “It demands too much concentration in the television age. If you want to attract non-Christians to the church, you must do away with long sermons. Bring in drama; bring in music groups; bring in films. Create an atmosphere of celebration. What you have got to do is to think about the way you package the gospel. Look at the world of entertainment; see what people find enjoyable. Look at the world of advertising; see what people find persuasive. Then mold your presentation of Christianity in the same way!”
I must be frank. I am very far from being opposed to drama, or music, or celebration, or films, or anything else of that nature. They all have something to contribute to the church’s evangelistic task, and I do not deny it. But I will not have them regarded as a substitute for preaching. And I say that not because I am a preacher worried that I might lose my job! I say it because I believe it is the clear implication of what Paul is saying in these verses. “By setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
That is, Paul says, how the gospel ought to be made known to people. There is such a thing as “the truth.” The job of the evangelist is to press that truth on people’s minds and on people’s consciences in the plainest possible way. So the test of evangelistic methodology is not, “How much did the non-Christians enjoy all that?” That is irrelevant. The test is, “How much did they learn from it?” Not “How electric was the atmosphere?” but “How clear was the gospel?”
I am not saying that we must be indifferent to the quality of our evangelistic presentation. I have a great deal of sympathy with people who feel they cannot invite their non-Christian friends to this or that church because of its cliche-ridden language and old-fashioned hymns. But it is simply not true to say that people will not listen to preaching. If people are being awakened spiritually to their need of God, they will listen. If they are not being awakened to such a spiritual concern, no amount of gospel entertainment or evangelistic gimmickry will make them listen. We are not in the job of persuading people; we are in the job of watching God open blind eyes.
Do you see the difference? Drama, music, film and celebration may all complement preaching and add credibility to the Christian message. They may illustrate the joy of the Christian message and highlight its relevance. I am for all those things. But they cannot possibly communicate the Christian message as plainly and unambiguously as you can by preaching. And that is really what people need to have.
“Setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.” That is why Jesus preached; that is why Paul preached; that is why every revival the church has ever known has been led by preachers.
Maybe there are some among my readers who feel that God may be calling them to be preachers. I do not want you to jump to hasty conclusions based on the romantic ideas many people have about preaching. It is no bed of roses. Read the rest of this letter and you will know that. But I do not want you to soft-pedal that call, either. Do not let the bad preaching you have heard demoralise you. Do not let the negative comments you hear about preaching discourage you. Do not let the church’s present neglect of preaching dissuade you. If in the mercy of God you are receiving a call to preach, do not lose heart.
Yes, it may involve quite a lot of sacrifice. But at the end of the day, you will not feel it to be a waste.
From The Strength of Weakness: How God Can Use Your Flaws to Achieve His Goals by Roy Clements (Grand Rapids: Baker Books). Used by permission.
It seems a bit of a waste,” he said.