Holy Spirit-less Preaching?

If you have any kind of theological library then you know that some of your books are used more than others. Some books you use every week as you prepare a sermon or lesson but other books you use only when you get in a theological or exegetical bind. Then, of course, there are those books that were given to you by well-meaning people but in your heart you know you will never crack it open and use it (and even us bibliophiles cannot bring ourselves to get rid of these books).

Preachers and pastors fall on a similar spectrum when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Some pastors consistently rely on the Holy Spirit in their sermon preparation. Other preachers only appeal to the Holy Spirit when they are in a bind like when a text is difficult or when there’s some frustration in wording a certain point. Unfortunately, there are pastors who rarely depend on the Holy Spirit for anything sermon related. Instead, they rely on rhetorical ability or are more concerned with relevance.

Preaching textbooks will of course talk of the Holy Spirit’s role in sermon preparation and delivery. They encourage readers to let the Holy Spirit illuminate the text. They encourage preachers to depend on the Holy Spirit to apply the Word of God and to work through the preacher’s sermon. These books are right. We should rely on the Holy Spirit in these matters. The problem is that you cannot stop there. The problem is when these are the only matters in which the Holy Spirit in considered in sermon preparation.

What if the Holy Spirit, who he is and how he relates to the other two members of the Trinity, played a more central role in our preaching? What if instead of the Holy Spirit only aiding our preparation we let the Holy Spirit determine the very approach to the task of preaching, how handle a text of Scripture, and how we preach a passage?

Irenaeus, The Trinity, and The Word

I have been challenged in this respect from somewhere I was not expecting. I came across the following statement while reading Irenaeus’ Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching:

For as many as carry (in them) the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son; and the Son brings them to the Father; and the Father causes them to possess incorruption. Without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word of God, nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s unpack this quote. Irenaeus states that the Spirit of God brings people to the Word of God, and by bringing people to the Word of God, they are brought to the Son of God. Notice that he states that the Spirit leads to the Word of God, “that is to the Son.” For Irenaeus, for the Holy Spirit to bring people to the Word is to bring them to the Son of God. If we were to flip that, to bring people to the Son is to bring people to the Word.

If people are not brought to the Word then they are not brought to the Son. The severity is that if people are not brought to the Son then they are not brought to the Father. Irenaeus further says that without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word (the Son), nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father for the knowledge of the Father is Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.”

The point here is that if the Holy Spirit does not bring people to the Word, that is, to the Son, then they are not brought to the Son. If they are not brought to the Son then they are not brought to the Father. Perhaps the Holy Spirit should play a more pivotal role in developing our approach to and theology of preaching.

The Holy Spirit and A Theology of Preaching

In formulating a theology of preaching we must remember the role of the Holy Spirit. We as preachers should not put obstacles between our people and the Holy Spirit. If putting an obstacle between people and the Word is to keep people from Christ, and to keep people from Christ is to keep them from the Father, then what does it mean to put obstacles between people and the Holy Spirit? What obstacles to the Holy Spirit do preachers put up, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

As it regards preaching, primarily we disregard the text of Scripture. When I speak of disregarding the text of Scripture I mean we pay little or no attention to the structure, substance, or spirit of the text. If the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then this means that the words are not only inspired but the structure and spirit of a passage are as well.

That is why expository (text-driven) preaching is vital — because it is preaching that seeks to honor the substance (words), spirit (genre and tone), and structure (linguistic structure) of the Scriptures. Our sermons are to honor and to follow the structure of the text of Scripture.

So, preachers, let us not disregard the text of Scripture. Let us honor the structure. Let the main point(s) of the text be the main point(s) of our sermons. If the text is a lament, let us lament! If the text is a psalm of praise, then let us praise! If it is a teaching passage, let us teach. Let us be men who so honor the text of Scripture!

By honoring the text of Scripture, the Holy Spirit brings the hearer to the Word, that is, to Christ, and by bringing them to Christ we help them come to the Father!

Originally posted at For the Church.

Pastor, You Labor Not in Vain

War, Not Busy Work

In high school and college, instructors often gave us what was obviously busy work. This work served no other purpose than to keep us busy until the class was over, or it was assigned so we wouldn’t have a night free from homework. Ministry is not busy work. Ministry is front line, full assault mode spiritual warfare.

Ministry is war and, because of this, good men—great men—can grow weary. War takes a toll on a man. “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers,” says José Narosky. General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “War is hell.” But ministry is war against hell, not as if to win the war, but to squash rebel skirmishes of the already-defeated foe.

Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 15. Towards the end of this consummate conspectus of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we are told that death has been “swallowed up in victory,” and Paul asks, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death is defeated. Sin has no sting. Hell has no power. Satan and his hosts are once and forever rendered defeated because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Then in v. 57 Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The costly victory achieved was a matter of life and death, the definitive act of the saving aggression of God forever winning the war.

This makes it all the more staggering that God gives us the victory. It wasn’t a cheap victory because it was won through the death of God’s only Son. And, yet, God just gives it away. God gives us the victory. It’s worth noting that the word “give” in the Greek is in the present tense. God (continually) gives us the victory! Whenever you need victory in your ministry, God gives it.

Resurrection Application for Pastors

The Apostle Paul, never one to let the indicative truths of the gospel go without some imperatives, tells us what we are to do with this victory. What are we to do in response to the victory God gives to us? “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). Notice Paul begins this verse with “therefore,” indicating Paul’s conclusion to his preceding thoughts. The indicative of God’s victory through Christ’s resurrection has real ministry application.

Be Steadfast, Immovable

Paul exhorts his beloved brothers to stand firm, being immovable, like the blacksmith’s anvil. Think of what an anvil endures—fluorescent metal, rhythmic hammers, and creative violence—and the anvil stands firm. It takes the beating, endures the pressure, and survives the heat. It gladly accepts each stroke. The blacksmith molds the other metals, but the anvil remains unchanged, steadfast and immovable.

We have enough pastors and ministers who are like the metal the blacksmith fashions. A little heat and a little pressure and they change, becoming something more suitable to the whims of another. We don’t need more soda can pastors. We need anvil men. Anvil men do not bow to whims or winds. They do not fold under a beating.

It’s not that anvil men are stubborn or refuse to admit they are wrong. It’s that they endure. They are steadfast and immovable because of what Christ has done through this death, life and resurrection. Would you commit to be an anvil man, not swerving from God’s truth and the gospel? Will you endure? I pray you do.

What are we to do, then, if we’ve committed to being steadfast and immovable? Paul gives us two tasks to do as we remain steadfast and immovable, indicated by the two participial phrases at the end of v. 58.

First, he says to be “abounding in the work of the Lord.” This abounding actually refers more to the quality of work than quantity. The idea of abounding is that of excelling or achieving a high standard. Paul removes any ambiguity about quantity, or timing, by saying that we should be doing the work of the Lord “always” or “at all times.” In ministry it is not only about enduring but doing well and being faithful to the end. The resurrection doesn’t mean we passively endure but that we actively live out the implications of the gospel and live them well.

Secondly, Paul says we should constantly remember that our labor is not in vain. Hear Paul’s words: your labor is not in vain. Let this be an encouraging balm for your heart. The word “vain” is the same word used throughout 1 Corinthians 15. Paul means that our labors are not empty. They are not pointless and devoid of effect. Because of the resurrection, you can endure and know that your work matters, the furthest thing from busy work. The spiritual sweat has a purpose. Hear me again. No, hear the Apostle Paul again. No, hear the voice of God in inspired Scripture. Your labor is not in vain.

Be Encouraged

More than anything this encourages me and I pray it encourages you. Paul says your work is not in vain “in the Lord.” The Lord resurrects our efforts and makes them fruitful. You may labor in obscurity in the eyes of man, but the Lord sees and knows. Your labors are not in vain. The victory is yours; he gives it to you. Let the resurrection of Jesus be the foundation of your confidence. Be steadfast, immovable, excelling in the work of the Lord. You may toil in difficult circumstances, but it’s not in vain. Ministry is war and the victory is ours, therefore let us labor all the more.

Let your hearts be encouraged! Your labor is not in vain!

Originally posted at For the Church.