Preaching might be regarded as an unpopular activity these days. The Bible idea of preaching is making known true-truth in an authoritative way. This truth comes to people in an old book, a book that needs to be read and studied and thought through with care and attention. This truth needs to be declared with authority. Again, the truth that is to be preached concerns the Lord Jesus Christ; how he has acted to bring us back to our creator God, to the God we have offended by our sin, to the God who will judge all people according to their deeds, to the God who loved the world in a particular way. God’s love comes to people only through the life, death and rising of Jesus Christ. These truths only come to us from the Bible, and they must be shown to be true from the Bible.
Many people today don’t like to be told. We are all wise enough for ourselves. We prefer stories with ambiguous endings. We like to keep our options open. We don’t like to engage in hard thinking.
As preaching is unpopular with people, so too are preachers tempted to shy away from it. To encourage people to gather at church, ministers think their churches must provide something attractive, something to compete with the wide, varying and shiny alternatives – something other than preaching.
It is interesting how the Lord Jesus fits, or doesn’t fit, into these thoughts. He was followed by large crowds, often because he showed love with extraordinary power – it seems to me that in the three years of Jesus’ ministry, more wonders were performed by him than are recorded in all the Old Testament. But Jesus, we are told in the Gospels, was focused on preaching and teaching the word with a particular emphasis on the good news. Jesus didn’t come in order to gain popularity, but to speak Bible truth about himself and his work of saving people from their sin. He spoke with great authority and purpose. Whenever his disciples got carried away by the popularity that Jesus seemed to enjoy, Jesus reminded them that he would be betrayed, rejected and crucified by these people and their leaders. It was only sometime after Jesus’ resurrection that these men got the idea.
In brief, the apostles were focused upon the teaching (doctrine) of the word, that written word we know as the Bible. This word reveals Christ Jesus, who is both Lord and Saviour. These men passed this emphasis on preaching to others who would continue this gospel work after the apostles died. Paul told Timothy to preach the word, when people like it and when they don’t. The preaching was for conviction, rebuke and consolation with all patience and doctrine (2 Tim 4:2). Again the aim is to make the good news of Jesus known from every and any part of the Bible. This requires teaching things about who God is, his purpose in creating us and the universe, the origin of our bad attitudes, what his relationship with Israel was like, but all these things are to be taught and preached so that we understand who Jesus is, what he has done, and what it all means for people like us.
Gospel preaching will only be popular when people come under conviction of sin and of God’s mercy to sinners in Jesus Christ. This conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. We need, as members of Christ, to be in prayer for this convicting work amongst ourselves and the wider community. Preaching is a vital, a central, part of worship because of its focus on content (the Bible) and its application. Worship without content is mute, meaningless ritual.