Preaching the Word
THE BIG IDEA: The church in Acts continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine – in the Word. God’s desire for His church is that we would devote ourselves faithfully to the preaching of the Word of God.
“How little of Scripture there is in modern sermons compared with the sermons of those masters of theology, the Puritan divines! Almost every sentence of theirs seems to cast side lights upon a text of Scripture; not only the one they are preaching about, but many others as well are set in a new light as the discourse proceeds. I would to God that we ministers kept more closely to the great book.” (Charles Spurgeon, How to Read the Bible).[i]
One of the earmarks of the early church was their faithfulness to preaching the Word of God. Over thirty times in the Book of Acts, Luke tells us that the church preached the Word. Here is just a sampling of some of the many examples of this:
- Acts 4:31: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
- Acts 6:7: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly inJerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
- Acts 13:49: “And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.”
- Acts 15:35: “Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.”
- Acts 19:20: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
Why did the early church see such incredible growth? Was it because of the entertainment programs that they ran? No, the church grew because they preached the Word.
What’s Wrong in the Church Today?
Over five hundred years ago, a man named Martin Luther saw many practices in the church that were not supported by the Word of God. This motivated him to write the now-famous 95-theses which he nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Church. He raised his voice in loud protest against the corrupt church in his day, and boldly declared, “Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!”[ii] He called the church to return to the teachings of the Scriptures, and to lay aside any doctrines of man that would contradict the Bible. His translation of the Word of God into the common language of the people had a transformational effect on the world. His actions sparked the Protestant Reformation, and there were many other blazing torches, called by God to bring about change in the church. The Lord is calling for another reformation in the church today.
It’s time to return to the Bible. It’s time to get back to doing God’s things God’s way. There are too many churches today that have strayed away from preaching the timeless truths of God’s Word. My heart is grieved by the ever-increasing number of so-called Christian churches that have departed from the true preaching of the eternal, living and powerful Word of God. Instead, they proclaim the faulty ideas of man. My spirit is agitated with a righteous indignation about the modern church’s downgrade, its decline toward an inferior state or position. One hundred and twenty years ago, the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, addressed this issue in the churches of his day with these words:
“A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching… If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence, and entreat them to keep out of it. When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight. Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly.”[iii]
One only needs to take a cursory glance through the New Testament to discover that the preaching and teaching of God’s Word was the first priority in the early church. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, came to teach and preach (Mark 1:14). Jesus sent His twelve disciples out to preach the Word (Mark 3:14), and then commissioned all of His followers to preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Paul told the Corinthian church that his primary calling was to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). When he commissioned a young pastor named Timothy, Paul wrote:
“And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus – who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:1-3, nlt).
I wonder if we are living in the age that Paul spoke of, when people no longer listen to right teaching. Many today are following their own desires and flocking to teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. I challenge all of God’s true ministers to continue to faithfully preach the Word! Consider these inspirational quotes on the primacy of preaching in the church of Jesus Christ:
J. W. Alexander:
“I fear none of us apprehend as we ought to do the value of the preacher’s office… The pulpit will still remain the grand means of effecting the mass of men. It is God’s own method, and He will honor it.”[iv]
“Preaching is indispensable to Christianity… It stands to reason that every recovery of confidence in the Word of God, and so in a living God who spoke and speaks, however this truth may be defined, is bound to result in a recovery of preaching.”[v]
Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones:
“To me, the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can be called. I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching.”[vi]
“Every Sunday morning we observe a strange phenomenon. Millions of people leave their homes, take respite from their jobs and recreation, and gather in church buildings for services of worship. People sit quietly and listen while one person stands before them and gives a speech. What’s going on here? The power of preaching is found in the Spirit working with the Word of God and through the Word of God. God promises that His Word will not return to Him void. Its power is located not in the eloquence or enlightenment of the preacher but in the power of the Spirit. Preaching is a tool in the hands of the Spirit of God.”[vii]
“Fine sermons never win souls; you may blaze away, young man, at a terrific rate with your brilliant oratory and your fine pieces of poetry and quotations from eminent authors! And your lengthy sermon may be like the set piece at a display of fireworks, or the final burst of brightness with which it all ends; but all that will not save souls! What does save souls, then? Why, the Word of the Lord, the Truth of God as it is in Jesus!”[viii]
In the contemporary North American church, where countless pastors are abandoning true preaching of the Word of God, they are forced to turn to other worldly means to grow their churches. Entertainment in every form imaginable – from fashion shows and rock concerts to Mixed Martial Arts events – are used to draw crowds of people into their churches. Archibald G. Brown, a student and contemporary of Charles Spurgeon, wrote an article that is a prophetic trumpet call to the church today:
“Providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in Holy Scripture as one of the functions of the church. Now, surely, if our Lord had intended His church to be the caterer of entertainment, He would hardly have left so important a branch of service unmentioned. If it is Christian work, why did not Christ at least hint it? “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature,” is clear enough. So would it have been, if He had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not like the Gospel.” No such addendum, however, is to be found, in any one of our Lord’s utterances.
If “providing recreation” is a part of the Church’s work, surely we may look for some promise to encourage her in the toilsome task. Where is it? There is a promise that, “My Word shall not return unto Me void.” There is the heart-rejoicing declaration concerning the Gospel, “it is the power of God unto salvation.” There is the sweet assurance for the preacher of Christ that, whether he is successful or not as the world judges success, that he is “sweet savor unto God.” There is the glorious benediction for those whose testimony, so far from amusing the world, rouses its wrath: “Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven! For so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.” Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people—or because they refused to?
Now let the appeal be made to those who, rejecting every other method, have staked everything on the preaching of the Gospel. Let them be challenged to produce results. There is no need. Blazing sacrifices on every hand attest the answer. Ten thousand times ten thousand voices are ready to declare that the plain preaching of the Word was, first and last – the cause of their salvation!”[ix]
I have made a commitment that my church will always proclaim the Word of God. I will never compromise or depart from the preaching of the Bible, even though countless preachers have done so. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).
Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). There are more hurting and broken people bound by addictions and compulsions than ever before in history. People need the power of God’s Word to transform their lives. Too many preachers are watering down the truth in an effort to draw huge crowds. Even if they manage to fill their churches, what good is it if they are not giving their people the Word of God that can set them free? Our story in Acts chapter eight illustrates the importance of preaching the Word:
“Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:1-4).
When Jesus started His church, He gave this blueprint to His disciples, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me inJerusalem, and in all Judea andSamaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Instead of being obedient to the call of Jesus to go into the world and preach the Gospel, they set up camp inJerusalem. They were content to have little church services, but they had forgotten their mission. They had become comfortable. Jesus had a bigger vision for his church than one little body of believers in one little town. Then a great persecution arose against the church. Surely many believers jumped to the conclusion, “This is an attack from the devil. The devil’s persecuting the church!” I’m not so sure that this persecution was brought on by the devil. Why? Because the fruit of the persecution was that the disciples went out preaching the Word.
Sometimes we get so comfortable in our lives that God has to stir things up a little bit. We forget that we are blessed to be a blessing. God has placed us in our communities to be bright shining lights, to share the Good News about Jesus. Do you need to get out of your comfort zone, dear reader? Have you been a little too comfortable for too long? Then you’d better get busy doing the work of the ministry, before God has to come along and shake you out of that lukewarm, apathetic state!
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samariaand preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:5-8).
One of the disciples driven from Jerusalem was Philip. He wasn’t an apostle or a pastor; he was one of the seven men chosen to wait on tables. Philip was a regular Christian, just like Stephen, who responded to the call of Jesus to go and do the stuff. Thank God for the examples of Stephen and Philip, two ordinary guys who were used in an extraordinary way. Some people say, “I could never do anything great for God. I’ve never been toBibleCollege. I’m not a pastor or a missionary.” Don’t let that hinder you from stepping out in faith to be used by the Lord. When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, God will give you power to be a witness for Him.
When Philip went toSamariato evangelize the people, he didn’t set up an entertainment center, host a bingo night, or hold a potluck dinner. He preached Jesus to the people. He told the people that Jesus came to give them life, an abundant, blessed life. As he preached Jesus, people were saved, delivered and healed, and the end result was great joy in that city. The church today needs to get back to the basics and start preaching Jesus again.
“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” (Acts 8:12).
Philip was preaching about the Kingdom of God. Jesus had also preached, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” When theKingdomofGodis present, people will experience the benefits of the kingdom – forgiveness of sins, life, joy, peace, signs, wonders, healings and miracles. He also preached the powerful, life-transforming name of Jesus. He preached that Jesus is the Savior, Healer, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and the Soon Coming King – that’s the Gospel!
Charles Spurgeon on Preaching Jesus:
You remember the story I told you of the Welshman who heard a young man preach a very fine sermon-a grand sermon, a highfaluting, spread-eagle sermon; and when he had done, he asked the Welshman what he thought of it. The man replied that he did not think anything of it.
“And why not?”
“Because there was no Jesus Christ in it.”
“Well,” said he, “but my text did not seem to run that way.”
“Never mind,” said the Welshman, “your sermon ought to run that way.”
“I do not see that, however,” said the young man.
“No,” said the other, “you do not see how to preach yet. This is the way to preach. From every little village inEngland- it does not matter where it is – there is sure to be a road toLondon. Now, from every text in the Bible there is a road to Jesus Christ, and the way to preach is just to say, `How can I get from this text to Jesus Christ?’ and then go preaching all the way along it.”
“Well,” said the young man, “suppose I find a text that does not have a road to Jesus.”
“I have preached for forty years,” said the old man, “and I have never found such a Scripture, but if I ever do find one I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get to him, for I will never finish without bringing in my Master.”[x]
I hope the church you attend preaches Jesus and the Bible. God’s Word has the power to change your life. Look at the end of the story of Philip’s revival in Samaria: “So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.” (Acts 8:25). The church in Acts continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). That word steadfastly means to give unremitting care to a thing; to persevere and not to faint; unwavering; firmly established; loyal or constant.[xi] That means they were continually in the Word.
Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). The Word of God is food for our spirits. If the only Bible you get into your heart is from your pastor’s sermon once a week at church, then you are starving your spirit-man. Read the Bible, it is life to your spirit. It strengthens your faith. God wants you to continue steadfastly in the Word – to read it every day.
Pastor Chris Jordan
[ii] Martin Luther, 95 Theses.
[iv] J. W. Alexander, Thoughts on Preaching. (Banner of Truth reprint, 1998).
[v] John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996).
[vi] Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching.