September 13, 2007

Preaching as Duet, Part 2

Last week we considered preaching as a duet. True preaching, we said, is not simply God speaking to man; it is also God speaking through a man. And, by the same token, true preaching is not merely a man speaking about God; it is also a man speaking from God. In preaching, there are parts that only God can sing. But there are also parts that only the preacher can sing. And if either part is missing, it will be poor preaching. Having considered the part of the preacher a week ago, let’s now think (from 1 Thessalonians 1.5) about the part that God, the lead vocalist in the preaching duet, must sing. Again, here is the text of 1 Thessalonians 1.5:

Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy
Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to
be among you for your sake.

So, what parts of the preaching duet can only be sung by God?
If the preacher is singing a solo, the people will go away unmoved. His unaided voice is simply not strong enough to stir the heart. What we need is for the strong voice of God to fill the room…so that the preacher seems almost to be singing only background vocals.

First, we need Him to open our hearts. In 1 Thessalonians 1.4, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of God’s “choice” of them. As was the case with Lydia (Acts 16.14), we need the Lord to open our hearts to the things spoken by the preacher! If He does not do so…the preaching will fall on deaf spiritual ears…and only serve as a witness against us at the judgment seat. But if the word is to benefit us, we need God’s help in hearing! Every Sunday, we need Him, as it were, to place a spiritual hearing aid in our ears that would isolate and magnify His voice amid the din of worldly distractions.

Beyond that, the preacher needs God’s help, too! He needs to preach “in power and in the Holy Spirit”—and only God can make that happen! The preacher cannot control the moving of the Spirit any more than the weather man can control the wind! So God the Spirit must choose to join the duet! And we (preacher and congregation) must plead with Him that He would!

But what does it mean to preach “in power and in the Holy Spirit”? Is all preaching done that way? If so, Paul would have had no need to call attention to the fact that his preaching held these characteristics. So it is possible to preach without the Spirit and without power. So, rather than assuming that because we have a Bible preacher, he must be preaching with power…let’s ask (with an intent to pray): What does Paul really mean when he says he preached “in power and in the Holy Spirit”?

Here is what I believe Paul means. Preaching “in power and in the Holy Spirit” seems to refer to God’s granting of an unusual weight, force, or power in preaching that is not present in even the best merely human oratory. There is preaching where the mind is informed (and that is important!). But then there is preaching where the mind is informed and the soul, the will, the emotions are stirred…and lasting fruits result. That is when God has added His rich baritone to the song! That is when we have heard true preaching. And that is what we need to pray for!

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