Preacher, Know Your Task

Photo: Kristina Paparo, unsplash.com

Whenever I preach at another church, I’m always curious to hear how the sermon is introduced. Am I the “preacher” or the “speaker”? Will I “share the word”, “bring the word” or “preach the word”? And should the church expect to “hear from Adam” or “hear from God”?

Maybe this is much ado about nothing—a mere semantic hang-up. After all, who cares how we describe preaching as long as we actually do it?

But words matter.

Our description of the sermon might just shape our church’s expectations of it. If “today’s speaker is Adam who will explain the Bible”, what should our church expect to hear? Whose voice should they expect to hear? And how should they be expected to respond?

Our description of the sermon might just shape our church’s expectations … Whose voice should they expect to hear? And how should they be expected to respond?

Among the myriad descriptions of preaching, three in particular stand out as both widespread and yet sadly inadequate.

1. Preaching is more than “sharing the Word”

In an egalitarian culture like Australia, there are few more palatable descriptions of preaching than “sharing the Word”.

“Sharing” has none of the authoritarian baggage of “preaching”. It is a far gentler and more civilised activity that doesn’t dare declare what God is actually saying but merely suggests what he might be saying.

Instead of pontificating from on-high “thus says the LORD”, “sharing the Word” implies a friendly exchange of ideas—ideas that are free to be accepted or rejected.

But among the many words that the Bible uses to describe preaching, “sharing” cannot be found. Our task is to “preach”, “read”, “exhort” and “teach” (1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2) but preachers are never called to merely “share” the Word.

When Paul charges Timothy to “preach the Word” (kerussō), he is calling him to proclaim it with the authority of Christ Jesus “who is going to judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim 4:1-2). For Paul, the preacher is like the herald in Isaiah “who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa 52:7; Rom 10:15 CSB). To “preach the good news” (euangelizō) is to announce a message of divine salvation and victory—that Jesus is Saviour and King.

Kevin DeYoung captures the weightiness of preaching when he describes it as a “heraldic event” with divine authority.

Preacher, our task is not merely to share the Word but to proclaim it so that all who hear will “repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15).

2. Preaching is more than “explaining the Bible”

If preaching is nothing more than an act of explanation, then the Bible is nothing more than a collection of ideas, the preacher nothing more than a human teacher, and the sermon nothing more than a lecture.

If we conceive of preaching solely as explanation, we will reduce the experience of knowing God to a purely cognitive exercise.

If we conceive of preaching solely as explanation, we will reduce the experience of knowing God to a purely cognitive exercise.

But the primary purpose of the Word is not to inform our minds but transform our hearts: to give us “wisdom for salvation” and equip us for “every good work” (2 Tim 3:14–17). Far from being a mere collection of ideas, the Bible is a blessed encounter with Jesus Christ, and the experience of knowing God engages our minds, bodies and hearts (Rom 12:1–2).

Preaching then cannot be merely “explaining the Bible”. It must drive towards its transformative goal: “to present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Sermons that only explain the Bible tragically confuse the necessary means for the glorious ends: to save and sanctify.

Application therefore cannot be a mere appendage to the exposition. Nor should it simply be the practical implications of the text as if the exposition is the main game and the application an afterthought.

If anything, the application is the point.

Deuteronomy might well be considered the first expository sermon in the Bible. In it Moses exegetes the Law but not as an ends in itself. He does so with a very particular purpose: to motivate the second exodus generation to take the land, to trust and obey God’s promises, and ultimately to “choose life” (30:19).

Expository sermons must not be merely exegetical. They must both explain and apply God’s word to God’s people. They must be arrows propelled by the force of Scripture and shot into the heart of the listener.

Preacher, our task is not merely to inform minds but transform hearts—to save sinners and sanctify the church.

3. Preaching is more than “giving a Bible talk”

Describing the sermon as a “Bible talk” is widespread across Australian evangelicalism. And it’s understandable why.

Along with describing prayer as “just talking to God”, it is motivated by a godly desire to be accessible to non-Christians. After all, isn’t that what preaching is? Giving a talk about the Bible just like someone might give a TED talk about some other topic?

But this is one small crucial step removed from what preaching really is. As we preach the Word, we are not giving a talk about God so much as God himself is talking through us.

In the sermon, who is speaking: the preacher or God?

At one level, it’s obviously the preacher. And yet, at a deeper level, God himself is speaking through the preacher as his mouthpiece.

The Bible is God’s breathed-out words; they are “living and effective” (2 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:12). Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt 24:35).

As we preach the living words of Christ, we are not merely speaking about God, God is speaking through us.

Throughout Deuteronomy, the voices of Moses and Yahweh blur together to at points be almost indistinguishable (2:5,7). In his sermon, Moses is doing far more than simply speaking about Yahweh—he is speaking for him.

Yahweh may have made his covenant with the first exodus generation but he now speaks to their children as having made that covenant directly with them (4:23). From the pulpit, God’s ancient word speaks to our present reality.

John Calvin writes in his sermons on Deuteronomy, “Where there is preaching, there God’s voice rings in our ears”.[1]

In that preaching event, the divine Word which spoke the world into existence and brought the dead to life is sounding forth (Psa 33:6–9; Jn 11:43). And it is supernaturally accomplishing the purpose for which God sent it (Isa 55:10–11).

Preacher, our task is not merely to give a talk about the Bible, it is to be God’s mouthpiece as he speaks through us.

How then should we introduce the sermon?

We might unashamedly describe the sermon as “gospel proclamation” and call our churches to repent and believe. We might pray for our church to be not just informed but transformed by the Word. We might even ask our churches to “prepare to hear God speak”.

Whatever we might say, we must not diminish the supernatural significance of the preached word. Instead, we must lift our churches’ expectations of this sacred event. We need to aim higher.

For when we preach the Word with faithfulness, clarity and conviction, we are declaring Jesus’ victory over sin and death. We are transforming hearts, saving sinners and sanctifying the church. And we are acting as the mouthpiece of God who in that very moment is speaking light into the darkness.


[1] John Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1583), 1206.

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