PREACHING Lesson Five MAKING PREACHING RELEVANT by Given O. Blakely
Preaching is not a form of entertainment. Its purpose is not to provide some respite from the boredom of everyday life. Neither, indeed, is it intended to address life from an earthly point of view. True preaching is a channel through which the thinking of your audience is brought into alignment with heaven. It sets before men a spiritual perspective and urges their involvement in it. If you will listen carefully to the preaching of our day, you will find that it falls far short of this. Too much of it is designed to entertain men, giving them a little laughter, and rounding it out with some tear-jerking emotion. Such preaching is not recognized in heaven, and it must not be honored by you.
REMEMBER WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
Keep in mind what we have said thus far about preaching. First, God has spoken on the subject. He has revealed this is His ordained way of saving those that believe. The announcement of amnesty, proclamation of propitiation, and report of reconciliation are the means He uses to touch the hearts of people. The substance of preaching is the Gospel. That is the hub upon which all valid proclamation turns--the Person and accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son (Acts 8:5; 9:20; 1 Cor 1:23). Second, Preaching has a focus--a central theme that makes it powerful. From the standpoint of a Person, that focus is Jesus Christ. From the standpoint of a message, it is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the standpoint of provision, it is the "salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:10).
Third, Preach what you can see, or understand. Do not theorize or speculate in your preaching! Do not preach dictionaries, history, and lexicons! Preach what you have "seen and heard" (Acts 4:20; 22:15; 1 John 1:3). Remember, "The husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits" (2 Tim 2:6). When the Word of God makes sense to you, and you have yourself grasped it, you can preach with power. Fourth, Consider your audience. View them as God would view them. Do not think of them in terms of fleshly distinctions--something that is not allowed by the Lord. You are NOT to judge "according to appearance" (John 7:24), and life in Christ does not provide for knowing men "according to the flesh," or "From a human point of view" (2 Cor 5:16). You do not one a favor, and you neutralize your preaching, by seeing them as a member of the X-generation, left brained people, men or women, or some other psychological distinction. They may be "not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34), "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1-2), "strangers and pilgrims in the world" (1 Pet 2:11), "overtaken in a trespass" (Gal 6:1), or even "lukewarm," "hot,", or "cold" (Rev 3:15-16) but see them from God's perspective! Preach with that perspective in mind!
DEFINITION OF TERMS
What do we mean by "making preaching relevant"? Relevant means (1) bearing on, or connected with the subject at issue, (2) crucial to the case before us, or (3) of current interest--a live issue. Making preaching relevant is NOT laying it along side the issues of the day. It is NOT an attempt to provide answers for questions raised by the contemporary generation. In the Kingdom, relevance is always perceived from God's perspective. If it does not have something to do with what God is doing, it is NOT relevant. If preaching does not have Jesus at its heart, it is NOT relevant. If it does not have to do with getting people ready to face God and enter into eternity, it is NOT relevant. Preaching is not simply the conveyance of information. It is the appointed means of bringing Divine influence to bear upon the hearts and consciences of men.
By "making preaching relevant," I mean you extend yourself to be a vessel of honor, suitable for God to use in bringing the people to Himself through His Son. Your role is not to find out what men consider to be "live" topics, or to assess what people want to hear. Your preaching must fit into the Divine agenda, or it is pointless. When your preaching is truly relevant, it will enable men to make progress toward the Lord. Alien sinners, if they will hear, will be provoked to call upon the name of the Lord. Believers that are in stressful times will derive comfort and consolation. Those that have lapsed into slothfulness will be jarred from their complacency. Those that are energetically fighting the good fight of faith will be energized by your preaching to press the battle and cast down imaginations!
As a preacher, your role is to impact men for eternity to bring them to a position where they can become involved in the grand and glorious purpose of God. This is an "eternal purpose," that will extend beyond time and this present evil world. When that remains dominant in your thinking, your preaching will be undergirded by the Lord Himself!
A SPIRITUAL VIEW OF RELEVANCE
If you do not make serving and pleasing the Lord your objective, you will be confused by the word "relevance." People who are living at a distance from God will try and set your preaching agenda. Even though they are living in spiritual darkness, they suppose they know what they need, and will want you to supply it. To them, "relevance" means meeting their perceived needs and desires. Remember, "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Gal 1:10, NASB). As a servant of God, no provision is made for you to depart the Divine agenda, or preach for purposes other than those God has ordained.
This does not reduce your preaching to insignificance. Rather, it provides access to Divine power and blessing. When you are on God's side and are perceptive of what He is doing in Christ, your preaching becomes truly relevant. It is at that point that it becomes practical, beneficial, and a blessing to those that receive it. I want to ever keep before you the centrality of God's "eternal purpose" (Eph 3:11). This is a term that represents what God has determined to do, and what He is doing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here, in God's "eternal purpose," we find the reason for the creation of man and the universe in which he resides. The reason for the Law, the prophets, and the sending of His only begotten Son are found here. His "eternal purpose" dictated both the reason and content of the Scriptures. God has never acted out of harmony with this purpose, and He ever seeks to draw mankind into it. Jesus Christ functions as our Representative in strict accord with this purpose. We were called according to this purpose (Rom 8:28). This is the "good and acceptable, and perfect will of God" that is to be appropriated by the people of God (Rom 12:2). God has "saved us and called us" according to this purpose (2 Tim 1:9).
This "eternal purpose" is revealed from several different perspectives in Scripture. In a consummate sense, it is stated this way. "And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ" (Eph 1:9-10, NIV). From the standpoint of progression, it is states succinctly in Romans 8:29-30. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (NASB). In summary, this purpose involves God receiving glory for His wisdom and grace. He has determined to bring men into intimate association with Himself through Jesus Christ. That relationship begins in this world in the new birth. It will continue throughout the ages to come with the redeemed being "like" the Son (1 John 3:1-3), reigning with Him (Rom 8:17), and being "joint heirs" of all things with Christ (2 Tim 2:13; Rom 8:l7b; Rev 22:5). Everything in Scripture contributes to this purpose, preparing those that believe for personal involvement in God's grand objective.
When rebuke, correction, and instruction in righteousness are employed, they are never ends of themselves. They are always designed to bring men within the circumference of hearing, so they can be involved in the purpose of God. Correctness of life is not an end of itself, but a preparation for eternity. If men cannot live unto God in this world, how can they ever expect to live with Him eternally? When you preach, you are not doing so to merely get things to run smoothly, or remove dissension, or develop a pleasant environment. There certainly is nothing wrong with these things, but they are not large enough to occupy the principle place in preaching. Our country may need to repent, homes may need to be in harmony, and immorality in the country may need to be subdued. Such issues, however, are not large enough to support the burden of preaching. They are PART of the whole, and not the whole itself. They are important, but not all important. These issues are not large enough to provoke God to send a Redeemer, Author the Scriptures, and marshal the resources of heaven.
When your preaching majors on God's objective, it will include peripheral matters. National, domestic, and personal issues will be addressed with the "mind of Christ." You must be willing to trust God in your preaching, believing that the Gospel is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom 1:16). Leave your people sensing their need to involvement in the will of the Lord. Lay upon their conscience what God is doing in Christ Jesus! Do not allow yourself to drift into the agenda of the people. The chart that follows provides my own perspective of preaching that is relevant. In summary, the further we get from an emphasis on the purpose of God, the more irrelevant our preaching becomes. If, for example, you allow yourself to become an institutional man, your preaching will become irrelevant. By "institutional man," I mean one that primarily serves the religious organization. The purpose becomes to build the institution and guarantee its longevity.
In preparing to preach, fill your mind the Word of God. Cultivate your soul with prayer and meditation. Get yourself unplugged from the "fashion of this world" (1 Cor 7:31). Determine to view the Word of God from the standpoint of God's purpose. I cannot overemphasize this. I have become acutely aware of the corruption that can enter into preaching when it is prompted by the wrong motivation. Allow me to give you an example.
Example 1:Because of the dramatic decline in family values, some have taken upon themselves to make the restoration of the family their primary objective. No one, of course, in possession of a sound mind, does not long for godly families. However, if you make that your objective, it will impact upon your preaching. You probably have heard sermons that were reflected this emphasis. Those delivering them read the Bible with the family in mind, and they came up with rather strange conclusions. Such men have no compunctions about speaking derogatorily of great saints of God--men that have received God's approval and commendation. But this Divine approval is not seen when the Word of God is read through the template of domestic concerns. Thus, men will speak about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David being bad fathers. They hold them up to ridicule, telling us how they were neglectful of their families, setting a terrible example for us all. For carnal people, their reasoning sounds good enough--but that is only because they are carnal.
When God spoke about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, He did not so represent them. He identified Himself as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and declared David to be a man "after His own heart" and the "sweet psalmist of Israel." Why the difference in God's assessment of these men? He certainly knew of their failings, yet did not represent them as failing people. The reason is simply this: they are represented within the context of God's "eternal purpose." They are pivotal men in the Divine economy for that reason. As soon and do not miss this as soon as they are represented within the context of family life, they become irrelevant. They no longer are longer viewed in relation to what God is doing. As a consequence, such preaching is no longer relevant to the work of God. Their record loses its edifying power to the listener, and they can actually be held in contempt, though approved by God.
I am quick to say that the family is not neglected by maintaining a godly emphasis. When the husband and wife relationship, for example, is seen as a mirror of Christ and the church, it will have a calculated effect upon the way husband and wife live.
Example 2: The rise of religious institutions to supremacy has produced a crop of evil fruit. Not the least of this corrupt harvest is the distortion of the Word of God. Take, for example, the nearly universal emphasis on what is called "the great commission." Although extremely sensitive ground, I am constrained to speak to this matter. If it were possible for a person to know only the language and terminology of Scripture, he would be confused by the term "great commission." Firstly, it is not found in Scripture. Secondly, the text to which this phrase is ascribed is never declared to be the center-post of preaching. Nor, indeed, is it set forth as the heart of spirituality and godly living. Those are simply the facts in the case. No church of Scriptural record was ever reminded of the words of Matthew 28:18-20 or Mark 16:15-16. Peter referred to what was said on the Mount of transfiguration (2 Pet 1:17-18). Paul mentioned what Jesus told Him about the table of the Lord (1 Cor 11:23-24). Again, Paul recalled the words of our Lord, that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). But there as no reference to, what men call, "the great commission." Mind you, they DID what the Lord declared, but it was not the center of their proclamation.
Men today have read the Bible through the template of this "great commission." It has caused such distortions that some have even derided an emphasis upon feeding the church of God (Acts 20:28) and nourishing the people of God. Some have been bold enough to say "No one should hear the Gospel twice until every one has heard it once." Many assemblies have been tailored for the express purpose of reaching the lost--even though this contradicts everything that is said about saints assembling together.
If God's purpose is to "win the lost," then what will be done in the ages to come? Such is not an eternal purpose, and thus cannot accomplish the will of the Lord. But if a person will give themselves to the purpose of God, sinners will be converted, and men will turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. Such wonderful realities are part of His purpose, but they do not occupy the chief position! I am going to wax bold at this point. Preaching that makes reaching the lost the preeminent matter is irrelevant. Such is in sharp conflict with what God has declared, and thus cannot accomplish His purpose. When Jesus ascended on high, He gave gifts to men. Those gifts were given to accomplish the purpose of God. How marvelous that purpose! From the standpoint of communication and ministry, it was "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph 4:12-16, NRSV). If preaching to believers does not have this objective, it is irrelevant.
From the standpoint of preaching to those that are alienated, the purpose is stated in Christ's commission to Paul. " . . . to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18, NASB). The objective is not simply to make people "Christians," so to speak. It is to bring them to the eternal inheritance which is reserved in heaven for those in the Son. If that is not the objective behind the preaching, it becomes irrelevant. Make preaching a serious matter, and God will bless your efforts!