"Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth" (John 17:17). "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:26-27).These two statements declare the importance of biblical preaching. We live in a church culture where we seem to have tried everything to gather a crowd. Most preaching seems to emphasize self-help messages or psychology or "how can I manipulate God to get what I want?"
R. C. Sproul, in his book Knowing Scripture says that the spirit of America has been defined as the spirit of pragmatism. Pragmatism may be defined as the approach to reality that defines truth as "that which works." Sproul points out that "the pragmatist is concerned about results and the results determine the truth. The problem with this kind of thinking, if left uninformed by the eternal perspective, is that the results tend to be judged in terms of short-range goals." As an example, one prominent pastor equated the bigness of his church to what he though was the truth. In other words, if it works, it's got to be truth!
Courageous preaching has never been popular. Declaring the truth of the Scriptures has never "won friends and influenced people." John R. W. Stott said in his classic book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, that we are called to the sacred task of biblical exposition and commissioned to proclaim what God has said, not what human beings want to hear. Many modern churchmen suffer from a malady called "itching ears," which induces them to accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings (2 Tim 4:3). "But we have no liberty to scratch their itch or pander to their likings," according to Stott.
The Bible is full of men who did not "pander" to what people wanted to hear. There were many "lone voices" that spoke with power and authority. We can also look in church history at men and women who spoke with great courage to a dark and sinful world The Word of God is our only source of inspiration, which is as it should be. When all methods have been tried, when all the latest gimmicks have been exhausted, it's the Word of God that will stand as a rock. It is the foundation of our preaching and teaching. Paul says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). The prophet Isaiah said, "The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever" (Isa 40:8). Fads come and fads go. Gimmicks are quickly forgotten. However, the Word of God stands forever.
Courageous preaching begins and ends with the Holy Scriptures. A courageous preacher by the name of Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believers; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith" (Rom 1:16-17). The power of God is in the Word of God.
Courageous preachers are people of the Book. John Wesley formulated it thus: "I am a creature of the day. . . . I want to know one thing, the way to Heaven. . . . God Himself has condescended to teach the way. . . . He has written it down in a Book. Oh, give me that Book; at any price give me the Book of God!"
Again, courageous preaching begins and ends with the Book of God. In the records of redemptive history, many stood courageously and spoke the whole council of God. Moses stood in the face of opposition and boldly declared, "Thus says the Lord." The prophet Elijah confronted an apostate nation with the Word of God. He and many true prophets after him wielded the sword of the Spirit with conviction and authority.
If there is to be a true revival of our churches, it needs to begin with a fresh view of the Word of God. Without the Bible, there is no true conversion. As David the Psalmist said, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7). In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul said to a young preacher, "From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." There is no other source of salvation, for only in the sacred writings do we see the person and work of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist was a man controlled by the Word of God. It was said of him that he was "neither a reed blown by public opinion." Stott also observed, "Jesus himself gained a reputation for fearless and uncompromising speech." Peter and Paul preached with great courage in the Book of Acts. The church age from Chrysostom to Wesley, from Whitefield to Graham is one of bold proclamation of the Word of God. Martin Luther stood against the full might of the Roman Catholic Church with just "Bible in hand." John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, said to Mary, Queen of Scots, "Without the preaching place, Madam, I think few have occasion to be offended at me, but there, Madam, I am not master of myself, but must obey Him who commands me to speak plain and to flatter no flesh upon the face of the earth."
A. W. Tozer said, "I preach to my congregation week after week. And I pray that I may be able to preach with such convicting power that my people will sweat! I do not want them to leave my services feeling good. The last thing I want to do is to give them some kind of religious tranquilizer — and let them go to hell in their relaxation."
Courageous preaching does not flatter; it confronts! It confronts men in their sin. It declares that the only way to salvation is through the bloodstained cross of Calvary. Again, the apostle Paul says, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:14).
Courageous preaching not only confronts, but it also gives hope. The hope that I speak of is the hope of grace and mercy. Psalm 51:1 says, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions." The Psalmist says also in Psalm 103:8, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love."
Courageous preaching confronts and seeks to restore. It cuts and it heals. It is the message of the cross! John Stott says, "The fact is that the authentic Gospel of the New Testament remains extremely offensive to human pride, and nobody who preaches it faithfully can expect to escape at least some degree of opposition. Paul found in his day that the message of Christ crucified was both folly to Greek intellectuals and a stumbling block to self-righteous Jews. Nobody can reach God by his own wisdom or by his own morality. Only at the cross can God be known."
God cannot be known through the latest fads of the church. God can be know through the faithful preaching by men inspired by the Holy Spirit who look to the Word of God as their only source of truth. Peter said, "if anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God." (1 Peter 4:11).