Preaching Christ

Paul’s message to the Corinthians was that "we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus Lord, and ourselves your bondmen for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor. 4: 5). This spirit stood in marked contrast with the cult of personality so prominent in that assembly. Indeed, the apostle had not baptised many there in order that "no one may say that I have baptised unto my own name" (1 Cor. 1: 15). Now the problem is not merely an historical one but is equally prevalent today, if not more so. In many a case, the name of the preacher is made the attraction rather than the name of the One of whom he has professedly come to speak about. Paul, with all his gifts, could have presented himself in a similar ostentatious manner, but instead he comes before his audience as their slave. A slave is of no interest to those whom he is serving, except as the means by which the service is carried out. In Paul’s world, the sole focus was to be on "Christ Jesus Lord" (2 Cor. 4: 5). "Lord" brings out the importance of the one preached, and is in stark contrast to the "bondmen" who are preaching. Again, Paul announced the glad tidings, "not as pleasing men, but God, who proves our hearts" (1 Thess. 2: 4) for "do I now seek to satisfy men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, I were not Christ’s bondman" (Gal. 1: 10). Those who preach simply what their audience wants to hear are not worthy of being called God’s servants—they are performers not preachers. However, this danger can be more subtle than might be at first apparent. In his farewell message to the Ephesian elders, Paul declared that he had "not shrunk" from announcing to them "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20: 27). He had kept nothing back, and he had hidden nothing from them, because it was all about the message and nothing about the messenger. This openness had cost him—later he speaks of how "on account of the hope of Israel I have this chain about me" (Acts 28: 20). His was no watered–down message, skirting around the sensitivities of his audience. To the Corinthians he declares that he preached "Christ crucified, to Jews an offence, and to nations foolishness" (1 Cor. 1: 23)—indeed, he "did not judge [it well] to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2: 2). A preacher who thinks that it is better to leave out some parts of the message, to gloss over them, or to present them in an altered light, is effectively saying that he knows better than God. When the king entrusts his messenger with a message, the business of the servant is merely to deliver the message. Hence: "then spoke Haggai, Jehovah’s messenger, in Jehovah’s message unto the people" (Hag. 1: 13). Adapting and altering the message is tantamount to rebellion and treachery. The Gospel is about a person and if we misrepresent the message, then we misrepresent that person.

Furthermore, we can only present the message according to the measure in which we know the Person. What do I mean? I mean that with some preachers, it seems to be more of what they know about the Lord rather than the Lord Himself. When Paul spoke of how God "was pleased to reveal his Son in me, that I may announce him as glad tidings among the nations" (Gal. 1: 16), that announcement flowed from a deeply personal relationship with the Lord. He had not merely ‘come to faith’ (a somewhat meaningless expression), but lived by faith, "the [faith] of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me" (Gal. 2: 20, my emphasis). It is not enough to speak well of the Lord (although God is gracious and can use that for blessing)—but the preacher must speak of One that is known, and of One out of whose presence he has come with his message. Often our speech shows where we are. To habitually speak of ‘Jesus Christ’ for example, is quite impersonal, but to speak of ‘the Lord’ brings the relationship between the preacher and His Saviour into the message. It is not merely a message of salvation, but a message about a personal Saviour, and this reality ought to be bubbling beneath the surface of what is said. There is nothing more distressing than sitting under preachers who seem to regard the preaching as only a slot in the calendar to be filled with so many words, however good and proper they may be in themselves. To the converted demoniac, the Lord’s word was "Go to thine home to thine own people, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for thee, and has had mercy on thee" (Mark 5: 19, my emphasis). If there was more of that, then there might be more fruit in the Gospel preaching.