What Not to Preach, Reconsidered

A further thought on some previous posts (such as “What Is The Purpose of Preaching?”, “What Should We Preach?”, and “Preaching Jesus”) …

“Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:16

I can’t believe that in all those posts, I missed quoting this perspective from Paul. The context is his right to receive financial support from those who heard the gospel from him, and his refusal to exercise it in order to preserve his integrity as a preacher and apostle.

I find this a poignant extension of his expressed resolve:

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

A good rule of thumb.

So my answer to the question “What is the purpose of preaching?” would be phrased like this, I think:

To draw people closer to God through Jesus Christ.

There might well be a dozen better ways to phrase it, but for me this is the essence. Teaching is important, but if it doesn’t lead people closer to God through Christ, it doesn’t really qualify as good news (news, maybe) or gospel (because if it doesn’t involve Christ, it isn’t gospel), or preaching (because if it doesn’t involve gospel, it isn’t preaching).

I understand that this is a tedious and one-sided definition, and we can wheedle each other about it all we want to – but when all is said and nothing’s done, it’s what I strongly and deeply believe is the commonly understood definition of “preaching” among the believing proclaimers of century one.

What they preached and proclaimed was Christ, and Him crucified and risen – plus what I tend to think of as “the ongoing Story of Christ”: the effect of His gospel on the lives of His followers. That, too, is gospel (Acts 11; 15:12; 21:10-20).

I think they would have viewed the spending of too much proclamation and preaching time on anything else was not a worthwhile use of it. Some might well have thought time spent that way would have been too close to sharing men’s teachings, philosophy, controversy, genealogies, useless talk, and what is falsely called “knowledge.”

Heretics of that time were those who taught something other than the gospel, as nearly as I can tell.

So if I’m ever asked to preach again, I believe my rule of thumb about what not to preach will be: anything that is not – in one way or any other – the gospel.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “What Not to Preach, Reconsidered

  1. What is the gospel?

    That is a big question that is getting a lot of attention. It’s also a question I keep asking myself and that is hopefully shaping my preaching. So when I preach, I’m not just concerned with what I preach. I’m also concerned with the goal being sought in preaching. My hope is that my preaching will lead people to believe, think, live, and act more like Jesus. If that does not happen, I think I am failing in my preaching.

    Grace and Peace,


  2. Okay, Blogfather…

    I’ve been playing with these ideas for awhile…what isn’t preaching, what is the purpose of preaching, and now, what not to preach.

    I agree with you that the purpose of preaching is to draw people closer to God through Christ.

    However, I tend to lean more toward Hovater’s belief (per his comment in the first post) about the necessity of an implicit vs. an explicit Jesus.  I guess I just don’t think of preaching as being as much of an evangelistic tool as it used to be, maybe?  I may be wrong (it’s happened once before!), but I have a gut feeling that many more people come to a saving faith in Christ through seeing & experiencing Christ in the lives of other Christians, and perhaps also from teaching & personal study of the scriptures, than through a message heard in a sermon.

    However, may it never be said that I don’t believe in preaching/teaching Jesus!  I feel like it should be noted that I attend a Sunday morning Bible class that, aside from the break we took in 2010 to study the Bible as a whole, has spent the past year-and-a-half studying nothing but the life of Christ.  And it looks like we’ll have another year-and-a-half to go before we’re done.  (By the time we’re done, we’ll have spent 3 years on the material…so I guess it could be viewed as studying the ministry of Jesus in real time!) This class is filled with many people who are much older than I am…and who have walked with Christ a lot longer than I have.  So I do think you’re right, Keith, in saying that “people who know Him should never tire of hearing more about Him.”

    I’m not sure if these thoughts really answer any of your questions, brother. But before I’m done, here are a couple of questions for you, if you don’t mind.

    You’ve pointed out, per the NT, the importance of preaching the gospel, and certainly I have no argument there.  But after an all-too-brief Bible Gateway search, I couldn’t help but notice the frequency with which Jesus and His followers preach the Kingdom.  So, is the gospel enough?  Or should we be preaching how the gospel relates to God’s kingdom?  That is, not only the message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection making possible the forgiveness of our sins and making us into a new creation–but also the idea that He is at work redeeming all of His creation, and as subjects of His kingdom, children of His, and co-heirs with Christ, we are expected to join Him in His redeeming work.

    I mean, really, isn’t that what Christ spoke of one of the first times He “preached” in Luke 4?  He got up and read from Isaiah–a passage that speaks of preaching the gospel, followed immediately by freedom for captives, sight for the blind, and the favor of the Lord.  Then Jesus says (paraphrasing), “That’s Me. I’m the fulfillment of this scripture.”

    Also, as a side note, in talking about the importance of preaching the gospel, might it be helpful to revisit some of your posts and the comments about What the Gospel Is and Isn’t (Dec. 2007)???

    Just my take on these few posts…

  3. Ah…but, brother, I feel like that’s exactly what’s been done.  I feel like I’ve heard a lot about Jesus and very little about His kingdom.

    Or, at least, it seems like I’ve heard of His kingdom spoken of in theory…as though it’s something that we’re a part of if we do what He says, but it’ll really only come into play when He returns.  

    Seems like it’s only been in recent years that I’ve heard more taught about the fact that God is redeeming all of creation, and we, as His children are to join Him in ushering in that kingdom.  It no longer becomes about doing what He says for the sake of obedience (“God says it; that settles it.”) but rather, when we do what He would have us to, we become a little bit more like Him and help to make this world a little bit more like the place He intended for it to be.

      • Huh?  I didn’t necessarily mean in that class, I was just speaking in generalities.  As in, it seems like that’s what I’ve heard for most of my life, growing up,

        That’s changed now, though, perhaps because of some of the things I’ve read over the past several years…or perhaps because of some of the teachers I’ve listened to…or maybe some of both!

  4. In Matthew 3:2 Jesus said, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 9:1 “And He said to them, Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste of death, till they see the kingdom come with power.” We see this kingdom come with power in Acts 2. If its not here yet, there are some very old men still waiting. Paul new he was a part of the kingdom, in Col. 1:13 he said, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” We can understand that the kingdom Christ talked about is the church by Matthew 16: 18, “I will build my church…” 19, ” I will give you (Peter) the keys to the kingdom…..” The kingdom is here, we won’t be able to help usher it in.

    • I agree that God’s kingdom is here & now.  Perhaps “ushering it in” is the wrong phrase.  More like spreading it…because it is here, but it’s not everywhere.  God is still redeeming this world, and we’re to join Him in that work, by loving Him and by living those around us.

  5. Great post. I always preach Jesus. The Gospel. The Good News. I think it is important to think of the audience as well. I look at Sunday as a Pep Rally for believers! A time to get them pumped up. On fire. On the right track for Jesus. I want them to be able to come to church on Sunday get filled and live it the rest of the week. I often stress Christian living for the now. So many times I have been in church and it has been about where we are going…Heaven is good but we are the kingdom now. It is important not to neglect the now. Be kingdom on earth now. How we present the message is important. Jesus was story teller. Most of my preaching is story telling, jokes, humor. Is it important how long a sermon is preached? You bet. Again consider your audience. I keep my sermons between 15-22 minutes. No longer than 22. Keep attention. People, especially young professionals don’t want to come to worship and be bored.
    LOL just some late nite thoughts.

  6. The commandment is Matthew 28: “20 teaching them to observe ALL THINGS that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The apostle Paul said in Acts 20: 25-27 “25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” The apostle Paul taught using preaching “the way to communicate the message” with the purpose of teaching the gospel and also edifying the saints in the kingdom by both ways. Acts 5:42 “ And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Both methods were use by the apostles. The apostle Paul use preaching in a big audience and an small audience and the purpose was to teach “ALL THINGS” as commanded by Jesus we read that Paul was preaching in Rome waiting his appellation to Cesar until his lat day “31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:31) Paul remember to the young preacher Timothy saying, “Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching” ( 2 Tim. 4:2) The preacher must lead his hears to “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9. Paul urged Timothy to use his personal character to advantage: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” ( 1 Tim. 4:12). The relationship of a man’s life and his message is easily seen. When the minister urges faith during difficult times, his own exemplary conduct at his father’s death will lend force to his sermon. When he argues for high moral standards, his own pure and happy life will strengthen his contention. When he ask for sacrifice, his own cheerful liberality will set the proper tone for his request. When he pleads for teachers to plan their lessons carefully, his own careful study habit will reinforce his plea. In addition to the ethical appeal through with the preacher’s good character strengthens his sermon, his good qualities also set the right example for the congregation. Thus he both urges and exemplifies Christian conduct. Jesus had these two in mind when he said, “ but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 5:19). Paul urged Timothy like wise, “16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Tim. 4:16). Is it significant that in both cases example is put before teaching? While it should not be the main consideration , a preacher and his family must, of course, recognize the harm their personal lives can do to the cause of Christ. Truth becomes void of influence when it comes out of hypocrisy. Paul stresses this very point in Romans 2:21,22: “21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?. The minister, then, who contradict his preaching with his life, will void both.

  7. The whole teaching of God culminates in the gospel. That’s what it all points to. You certainly can’t teach it all and leave out the key part.

    And we all need to be living the life of Jesus as well as speaking about it, whether we’re preachers or not.

  8. Keith,
    Sure, we can not teach the conditions of salvation without the Author of our faith (Heb.12:2) in all the aspect of the Christian life. Preach is not the gospel. Preach is the action of communicate (“Kerruso”) the Gospel “euangelion” of Christ. And the gospel is composed of the first steps of the gospel (condition of salvation) that lead the unbeliever to believe in the Christ through obedience show in baptism and be born in a new life in Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Romans 6:3-11,1 Peter 2:2; Rev. 2:10). After been born again and member of the Body (church) of Christ the new convert start growing “until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” for sure we can not leave outside our head (Christ) and his teachings that he revealed through his Holy Spirit giving the whole gospel “ the New Testament”( Rom.2:16). For that reason we preach the gospel of Christ in his purity as same message that was preached by the apostles and disciples in the first century (Romans 1:16) . The other part is to live the gospel imitating Christ our Lord because he leaves us example to follow his steps (1 Peter 1:21) . Every member in the body has different functions as mention in Ephesians 4: 9-16. Always the minister has more responsibility in front of the believers as the advice given to Titus by Paul “in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility” (Titus 2:7) The members of the body of Christ if can not preach verbally they can preach with their conduct and bring persons to Christ. That is the most effective way to preach the Gospel. I remember the story told about an elderly sister who was mortified because she did not who to preach the gospel and having problems with her memory , she told the preacher that what she can do for the glory of God, so she invited a colored family from her neighborhood and the neighbors were not interested in the gospel, but they have a son and they told the sister in Christ that she can take the kid to the church service, the kid attend to the church every Sunday and he loves the bible classes, the boy grew and lost contact with this sister then years later this sister pass away and she did not know anything about that colored boy. She pass thinking did not do anything for the kingdom. Years later this African-american boy was one of the most eloquent preachers of the Colored brethrens in the churches of Christ his name was Marshall keeble.

    • Well, Guest for Truth, you and I would disagree about what the “first steps of the gospel” are in preaching. Above, you’ve said…

      And the gospel is composed of the first steps of the gospel (condition of salvation) that lead the unbeliever to believe in the Christ through obedience show in baptism and be born in a new life in Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Romans 6:3-11,1 Peter 2:2; Rev. 2:10).

      First comes the story of God and us, culminating in the story of Jesus. That’s where Peter, Stephen, Phillip and Paul began — so their listeners would know Who they were being asked to follow. Then (except in the case of Stephen, who was killed before he could get to it), the steps they could take to follow in Jesus’ steps.

      • Keith,
        We don’t have much information about his conversion to Christ, but Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit this make us think that he already walked the first steps of the Gospel, Hear, Believe, Repent, confess and baptized so he was in Christ’s Church living faithfully the Gospel ( Phil. 1:5-10; Rev. 2:10) Stephen was living the whole gospel taught by Our Lord Jesus in Mark 8:34-36 “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” The faithful servant Stephen understood the Gospel and he lived it so his soul is saved for the fate of eternal punishment. That was the plan of God for him so the Christians spread the Gospel everywhere not just in Jerusalem. He stand up in defense of the gospel and his people by blood kill him for preaching the truth about their “uncircumcised in heart and ears!” but God has a plan to get accomplished so the gospel do not stay in Jerusalem ( Luke 4:43; Isaiah 2:3;Acts 1:8;Acts 13:47 ) and a young man was there called Saul! “Paul” (Acts 7:58, Acts 8:4) by the providence of God someday this young man became a great apostle and servant of Jesus Christ ( Gal. 2:7; 2 Tim. 2:3, Gal. 2:20; Titus 1:1, 1 Tim. 6:3) . according to God’s plan for salvation Saul named Paul accomplished his ministry and was faithful servant of God Paul said “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”.( 2 Tim. 4:7)

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