The Intent and Content of PreachingBy Scott Hamilton
October 20, 2020
It has taken a few years for my kids to grasp a crucial point in our parent-child relationship. If I am asking to see what candy they are eating it is because I intend to eat their candy. It has proven a valuable lesson in the same way as my Dad tax (which allows me a portion of any cake that they are eating) is illustrating for them some basic economic realities. My candy-deprived kids have learned to discern that the intent behind the content of my words matters. When they grasp the intent it makes them more ready to address the content. It is true in parenting and it is true in preaching.
When we lose sight of the intent we lose our grip on how to maximize the content and when. We can have all the mechanics in place (using study materials, coming up with illustrations, outlining) but ultimately lose sight of how to make the message matter—if we are not careful. We need to regularly consider what are we preaching for because intent informs how we communicate content. When we forget to allow intent to grab hold of the content something is lost form the preaching event. When our listeners can sense our intent they (hopefully) lean in that little bit closer on the content.
It is good to get to work early on the article checklist so here is a puritan quote that I hope catalyzes your heart as to the ‘why?’ of preaching.
The Bible is an armory of heavenly weapons, a laboratory of infallible medicines, a mine of exhaustless wealth. It is a guidebook for every road, a chart for every sea, a medicine for every malady, and a balm for every wound. Rob us of our Bible and our sky has lost its sun. ~Thomas Guthrie
That is what we are preaching for. Pastor that is what you grasp in your hand and hold out to your church family every time you preach. We can confidently believe that God’s Word has something transforming to say every time we open it. It shows us who God is, who we are and how we ought to live in response to Him, and what he has done for us in Jesus. We believe in preaching that points to salvation not self-help, and heart transformation not behavior modification. Our aim in preaching is to seek to explain the meaning of the text, expose the reality of people’s hearts and exhort everyone to respond in repentant reliance upon God.
When we talk about preaching that takes God at His Word it is because we believe that preaching opens up an opportunity to go deeper in believing the promises of God, obeying the instructions of God, resting in the comforts of God and receiving our heart diagnosis as offered by God.
That is why we talk about expository preaching. We want to take God seriously by taking God at His Word. Expository preaching at its most fruitful exposes the meaning of a text so that it is unleashed to explore the reality of our lives. We believe that the book that we hold in our hands is God’s means of engaging our hearts with His. It protects us from a proud heart which would push back against God’s purifying work as He prepares us for what He has promised us. God’s Word is a gift, it guides us, grounds us, and is a means of God’s grace to us.
Hebrews 4: 12-13 helps us see that God’s design for His Word in any life is not cosmetic but rather heart surgery. So when we preach it is not merely for behavior modification or some moral improvements; it is so that God’s word would do its surgical, searching work in the shadowiest places in the hearts of those who listen to us week in and week out. By the way, these verses also explain how we might hear things in the sermon that would freak us out, as if the preacher has lived in our house all week or seen into your heart that day. God’s design for His Word is to use it to carve us open to the core of who we are in order to make us the new creation He is calling us to be.
One of the challenges of those who lay claim to the Expository Preaching badge is the diversity of views of what that is meant to look like. The result is that much expository preaching can read like an English close reading exercise that serves merely to tell us what happens in the text. The result can often be a dry and somewhat academic preaching that is more classroom than clarion call. Tell us what happened in the text by all means but please don’t stop there. Expository preaching that invests itself with intent in the glorious content we have been given helps us see not just what is happening in the text but what needs to happen in our lives.Preaching is designed to remind us that there is grace for those who learn to agree about themselves with God so that they can get the help they need from God. The most fruitful people in any church family are those who long for God’s Word to search them because they see the mercy of being utterly exposed to God’s sight by God’s Word.
Not much of this will be new to you I imagine, but that is the point of being reminded. It slips our mind or gets out of focus and we might wonder how we could ever forget. So let us preach with an intent that takes God at his Word in such a way as is soul-stirring, comfort-bringing, sin-confronting, Jesus-exalting, Gospel-investing, heart-changing, holiness-creating, eternity-altering, Bible preaching that treasures God’s Word and transforms lives like yours and mine.
Also on the subject of Bold Preaching: The Challenge of Preaching in an Infodistracted World and Preaching Through Adversity and Prosperity.