What Should We Preach?

These things were preached.

They were proclaimed. ~ Mark 1:14; Luke 8:1, 9:60; Acts 4:2, 5:42, 8:5, 25, 13:5, 38, 17:3, 23, 20:27, 10:8, 15:16-19, 1 Corinthians 2:1, Colossians 1:23-28, 4:3-4; 2 TImothy 4:17; 1 John 1:1-3.

All these things are really one. (It’s obvious, isn’t it?)

This one message was shared in the context of history and prophecy fulfilled (Acts 2, 3:11-26, 4:1-21, 7). It was explained in the context of current and local beliefs (Acts 17:16-34). Before great crowds and small gatherings, kings and governors, stadiums of angry protesters and fellow prisoners in jail cells, by rivers and in synagogues and in homes, this is what was preached and what the bearers of the gospel encouraged others to preach.

In all of scripture, I am unable to find instruction, encouragement or example to preach anything but this. No sermons arguing about how bad sin is, how stupid unbelievers are, how wrong other faiths and beliefs are, how right and good we are to have figured everything out, how new binding but silent law compels the follower in Christ to perfect obedience, how to discern what is binding from what isn’t, how much our works of obedience must complete our salvation, how eschatological theology affects ecclesiology in an epistemological context, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pinhead.

I did, however, find warnings about the sanctity of the gospel:

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:2

“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” ~ 2 Corinthians 11:4

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” ~ Galatians 1:8-9

And I found one bit of good, solid preaching philosophy:

“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:2

So here’s my two cents’ worth on the matter. You’ve heard or read me say it before:

People who don’t know about Jesus need to.

The rest of us never tire of hearing more about Him.

11 thoughts on “What Should We Preach?

  1. Excellent post. If we are living by a standard of sola scriptura, then I struggle to find scriptural permission to preach anything other than Christ crucified. You closing comments are awesome and I will be using those in my life. It is sad to think that someone seeking Christ could come to a Church today and leave without hearing about the atonement that Christ provides for our sins. Thanks for this post.

  2. The epistle writers covered wide ranging topics. John covered loving one another and keys for identifying false prophets. Peter warned of false prophets, persecution, marital relations, and eschatology. Paul wrote quite a great deal on eschatology, election, the law of Moses, sex, how to properly conduct the Lord’s Supper, how to exercise church discipline, selecting elders and deacons, etc. (on and on Paul’s list goes).


    (1) Do these writers and their various topics not serve as examples of other things we should preach?

    (2) Or were these writers doing something other than ‘preaching’ when they wrote on these subjects?

    (3) Or are these topics included under ‘preaching Christ’?

    (i don’t see what other options there could be.)

  3. reborn, this is just the way I look at it: They wrote epistles about these other topics. They taught these topics. But I think if you look very carefully at each and every one of them, Christ is at the center of the teaching.

    All I’m saying is that what scripture connects with the word “preach” and “proclaim” (in a positive way) is the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, crucified and risen. It does, also, say that “the word” was preached/proclaimed … and if you see “the word” as “the Bible,” you have a whole lot of latitude there. If you see “the Word” as “that which was from the beginning,” then you see the Bible from the perspective of the Jesus hermeneutic: that scripture points to Jesus.

    Short answer: My sense is that every preaching or proclamation in Christ’s name should center on Christ. It should lift Him up, so that people are drawn to Him. No other “gospel” saves.

    And if we ever get to the point where we think we’ve mastered the Master … well, we’re fooling ourselves.

  4. Keith,

    If i understand you correctly, then the topics about which the authors wrote are included under the headings of “preaching Christ” (or the various other headings you mentioned). [Whether the “word” referred directly to the person, Jesus–i think this is true in John’s gospel, but i’m not sure it’s necessarily true of Paul or Luke.] i think this is the most plausible option.

    i understand that as Christianity goes, these various topics are not stand alone topics, not bite-sized tenets or takeaways that could just as easily be tacked on to any other ‘system of belief.’ Rather, each topic and its content is a branch of a tree the trunk of which is Christ and the root of which is God’s eternal redemptive purpose. Thus, all these teachings are not pot-pourri or laundry list ideas, but in some sense are made up of the same substance. Or put another way, it’s not that Paul just thinks its a fair idea for people not to divorce; but there’s something uniquely and essentially *Christ*ian about that idea. There’s some sort of indispensible foundationalist structure to these teachings. That’s my best understanding anyway.

    But what i don’t understand is your critical list of items–ones you mean to exclude–perhaps i don’t understand exactly what you mean by those phrases, but some of them don’t seem so obviously excluded to me.

    ‘How bad sin is’–isn’t that exactly what’s going on in Ezek 16? Or Jesus talking about cutting off extremities? Or Jude talking about gangrene?

    ‘How wrong other faiths and beliefs are’–isn’t John doing precisely that with gnosticism in his epistles? Or how to you preach that Christ is the sole way to the Father w/o implicitly claiming that Meditation/Yoga/Enlightenment is *not* or that Allah is *not*?

  5. ‘How to discern what is binding from what isn’t’ — isn’t that precisely what Paul was preaching about for Gentile converts who were being confused by Judaizers? And further, i mean really, isn’t it a terribly useful question? Aren’t you concerned about figuring out precisely what God expects of you? i know i am.

    ‘How much our works complete our salvation’ — obviously there’s an inestimably crucial sense in which none of my works complete my salvation. But there’s a very practical sense in which they do, is there not? i mean, if my behavior has *nothing* to do with my being saved, then why the countless NT instruction about how to live and behave? ‘None of my works completing my salvation’ certainly doesn’t mean i can set fire to orphanages or swindle a blind man if the mood takes me. In other words, if i did such things, you’d question whether or not i was saved, wouldn’t you? Now arson is an easy one, but there are more difficult questions, aren’t there? Questions like, can i really do X or keep doing X and still consider myself a Christian in a practically meaningful sense? (Consider something like social drinking being a contemporary toughy here; or consider Gentile submission to Judaistic practices being a first century toughy.)

    ‘How eschatological theology affects ecclesiology in an epistemological context’ — i don’t know what you’re particular dig is here. And on the surface i can sympathize that we can get too complicated for our own good. And i wouldn’t even have brought up this item on your list if it hadn’t been for recently reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. That book deals pretty much exactly this item, and it really changed the way i look at the church’s mission altogether. i used to think it didn’t matter one bit what a person believed about the end of the world, because it would just all happen somehow anyway regardless. But Wright points out that (especially) Paul makes just this sort of move in his preaching all the time. One’s beliefs about the end matter because they determine our mission now. i highly recommend the book (which seems to me to ‘preach’ exactly what Paul ‘preached.’)

    Anyway, i know you’re after an obvious contrast between first century preaching and some contemporary preaching, but i’m not seeing how these particular items you’ve mentioned are obviously excluded from these first century headings and examples.


  6. Okay, Guy … try to look at the post through the lens of the words in boldface:

    “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

    That’s all I’m trying to say. If what we know or think or do is more important in what’s preached/proclaimed than Jesus Christ, we’re wasting time, breath, ink, pixels and the attention span of people we’re trying to engage.

    Pretty much everything else falls into place when Christ is preached – He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. None of the kind of teachings dealt with in the epistles make any kind of sense or carry any kind of weight apart from the gospel.

    I don’t believe it is wise to assume the gospel is already in place when teaching those other topics.

  7. Right, i’d agree quite heartily with that. There are those who preach on these various topics w/o maintaining the proper priority of ideas, right? There are people whose preaching on these topics does not reflect branches held up by a ‘Christ-trunk.’

    But what do you think makes the difference? Like what should a preacher do? In other words, how can you tell if a sermon regarding marriage or the afterlife or sanctification is or is not honoring things of “first importance”? Surely it’s not their mere mention is it? (Those things will likely get brief mention at the ‘invitation,’ yeah?) Is it an amount of time? Is it something else or an array of things?

    (i promise i’m not trying to nit-pick. You’ve raised something quite interesting here. And i’m not sure i’d know how to spot the different in every case.)

  8. But look at how, for instance, Paul speaks of:

    1. Marriage – “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” ~ Ephesians 5:22-27

    2. Afterlife – “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

    3. Sanctification – “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

    All of those teachings are centered on Christ.

    I am not a preacher. I am pretty much a used-up hack copywriter and would-be author. So I’m glad to open up the forum: How do you answer Guy’s questions? What makes the difference?

  9. I know this is an old topic, but to me the discussion you and the other commenter are having is one based around being able to tell the difference between law & gospel. Yes as preachers/teachers the law is there to be used to convict others of their sins/shortcomings. However, the message of Christianity is one that tells the good news that despite our multiple sins, Christ died for us to atone for those sins. Sadly, too often in American Christianity today people are walking out of churches convicted but left unaware or not reminded of how Christ can atone for those sins.

  10. Pingback: What Not to Preach, Reconsidered « Blog In My Own Eye

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