There are so many different kinds of sermons and preachers, and those preachers have such a variety of training, backgrounds, and ecclesiastical traditions and settings.[1] How can God, the Good Shepherd, speak through such a variety of imperfect men and their messages? It is clearly a supernatural work that requires the presence of the Spirit of the risen Christ, the Good Shepherd of his sheep.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:12–16)

There once was a fiddler named John Skinner. He wanted to upstage a famous preacher. So he placed a ladder outside of the church next to an open window near the pulpit. He was quiet as the text was announced. He began to tune his violin during the Scripture reading, hoping to annoy the preacher. But the power of the preached Word so affected him that he never began to play. The gospel pierced his heart with an irresistible power. He listened to the entire sermon and became a new man. The preacher was George Whitefield.

Today preaching has reached its lowest point since the Reformation, at least in much of the Western world. Electronic media are competing for the attention of God’s people, and seducing many into thinking that preaching is an inferior form of communication. The entire Bible makes it plain that this is not true. Preaching is the main means that God has chosen to convert and edify his people. We are not here to blow our own horns. We are called to sound the trumpet of the Lord with confidence in the face of much that seeks to distract us, distort our preaching, and discourage us.

Romans 10:14–21

14 ¶ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

18 ¶ But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 ¶ But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 ¶ Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 ¶ But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”


Preachers Must Be Called and Sent by the Good Shepherd

Look at the Pauline sequence in verses 14 and 15: to call upon the Lord one must believe; to believe one must hear the voice of Jesus, the one he is called to believe; to hear this voice there must be a preacher preaching Jesus the Christ; and for there to be a preacher one must be called and sent by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to preach.

This call is often misunderstood in American evangelicalism today. Many appoint themselves preachers of the Word of God. Presbyterian and Reformed churches practice the more biblical idea of calling by distinguishing between the internal and external call. As Paul tells Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). But this inner aspiration is necessary but not sufficient to constitute a call to office. The character and gifts of ministry must be recognized by the church, especially its officers. Hence the portrait Paul paints of what an overseer ought to look like in the next six verses in 1 Timothy 3:2–6. The Good Shepherd is the divine sender.

Preachers Must Preach: The Priority of Preacher and Church

WSC 89 “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.

Preaching is central throughout Scripture, but comes into its own in the New Testament. We see Moses the preacher, then the Prophets, who look forward to the New Covenant era in which John the Baptist announces the final preacher, a greater prophet than Moses, Jesus the Christ. The prophetic ministry of the Son worked proleptically in the Old Covenant era:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1 Pet. 1:10–11)

The preaching ministry of the Apostles is a continuation of the Son’s prophetic ministry as Luke informs us in Acts 1:1 “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The Book of Acts is chock full of preaching. It ends with Paul teaching from prison, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

Based on the completed apostolic foundation, faithful preaching of the Word became the first mark of the true church. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1–2).

Notice the public and churchly nature of this task. It stands contrary to the individualistic tendency in our culture that believes that personal Bible reading is a sufficient motivation and guide to the Christian life. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).

Preachers Must Be Respected and Supported by the Elders and the People

Paul quotes Isaiah’s description of the gospel preacher: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’ ” (Isa. 52:7). What is it about the messenger’s feet that makes them beautiful? In and of themselves feet are usually not beautiful. In the ancient Middle East sandaled feet were often filthy. The beauty of the preacher’s feet is in the swift-footedness of the messenger coming to captive Israel with good news of the coming liberation of God’s people. The character of the message, not the anatomy of the messenger, is what is beautiful.

This made the feet of the apostles beautiful: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). The beautiful message of amnesty from the bondage of sin and death.

While the modern church is tempted to fashion its ministers after secular models, such as the CEO, celebrity, or psychologist, faithful churches and their leaders must free their pastors to focus on preaching, so that every other aspect of the pastors’ work flows from it. The apostles protected this central task: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. . . . we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).

This is a supernatural calling. Ministers are first of all accountable to the Good Shepherd of the sheep. This does not mean he is above criticism. The faithful preacher must always humbly seek to grow in his ministry. Constructive criticism will help him in this development. He must have the prayerful support of elders and people in order to prosper in this great work (Eph. 6:18–20).


Christ Speaks in the Ordinary Preaching of His Word

Preaching is not the same as a lecture and it certainly is not the preacher’s opinions on Bible. So then what is preaching? Two basic words are used by Paul to describe preaching. Kerux is the noun form of the verb (kērussontos κηρύσσοντος) used in Romans 10:14 to describe this activity, “someone preaching,” and in Romans 10:15 “to preach” (kēruxōsin κηρύξωσιν). This is an authoritative public proclamation by a spokesman or herald for a king like Caesar. The second word Paul uses is Evangel, the root for our English word evangelism. It is the noun form of the verb (euangelizomenōn εὐαγγελιζομένων) translated by the phrase “preach the good news” in verse 15. The noun “gospel” (euangeliō εὐαγγελίῳ) occurs in verse 16. It is a public announcement of military victory, also the work of a herald.

So we may define biblical preaching as an authoritative proclamation of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death, or as Puritan Thomas Hooker described preaching: “open publication of heavenly mysteries.” In Romans 10:17 “the word of Christ” reminds us of the nature of a herald, in contrast to the persuader desired by some in the Corinthian church.[2] A herald was a public proclaimer of the message of another with authority over the message and messenger. The preacher, then, comes with the message given by God in his Word; he “brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation” (Isa. 52:7).

Preaching is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Charismatics are not the only ones to claim that God speaks today. The difference, of course, is that the Reformed have always believed that God speaks through the reading and preaching of Scripture, not through special new extra-biblical revelations. The Second Helvetic Confession puts it this way: “preaching of the word of God IS the word of God” (emphasis added).

In most translations Romans 10:14 puts an unnecessary distance between Christ and the hearers of the gospel. Instead of “of whom” it should be “whom.” The New American Standard Version of 1995 gets it right: “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” Commentators John Calvin, John Murray, and William Hendricksen agree, “Christ speaks in the Gospel proclamation.”[3] The speaking Son is to be listened to: “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; Listen to him!’” (Luke 9:35). He told the preaching apostles: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). Christ is immediately present as the true speaker in the preaching moment. Preaching is not speaking about Christ, but Christ speaking to his people.

Preaching conceived of in this way exalts the Lord not the preacher. In as much as he preaches scripturally it is the voice of Jesus. He is not six feet above criticism. But beware of the opposite egalitarian spirit which resists authority in every form. Christ addresses his people thru the official means of gospel proclamation. This was Paul’s confidence as a preacher: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Preachers Must Be Confident in God and His Word

WLC Q. 159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

Preachers, you must trust the Spirit of Christ in the preaching moment:

praying at all times in the Spirit, . . . making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:18–20)

Preachers, you must believe that you are proclaiming God’s Word as Paul did in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:13). The “boldness” Paul asks for Ephesus is not brash or pulpit pounding; in the New Testament bold preaching is preaching with confidence in the message and the God who gave it.

Preachers, you must not give in to discouragement. There are many sources of ministerial discouragement: the moral and spiritual decay in our culture; the lack of concern for ultimate and spiritual realities, even in the church; the electronic distraction that steals attention with its many voices drowning out the preacher’s words; and the pervasive belief that preaching is an inferior form of communication. But I am here to tell you that there is nothing more important than what you do even if to only five or ten people. Eternal destinies depend upon it. We have our marching orders: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Preaching Must Be Heard and Heeded

WLC Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

People of God: we are told in this passage, Romans 10:14–21, that Israel heard but did not heed Christ’s Word. Israel refused the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ, even though it has been preached to them. As we see in Romans 10:16 the problem is Israel’s unbelief, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’” (Isa. 6:8). Romans 10:21 sums up the problem of unbelief: “But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (quoting Isa. 65:2). There is no salvation without preaching, but hearing must be mixed with faith. Both the message and the medium of proclamation are foolish according to Paul, thus the gift of faith is required. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21, my translation). Again, both message and the act of preaching are folly to the unbeliever. But, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13, quoting Joel 2:32). There have been plenty of messengers sent to Israel, so there is no excuse. Just as the creation leaves everyone without excuse, “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world” (v.18, quoting Ps. 19:4, cf. Rom. 1:20). The gospel is being preached throughout the creation, as Paul says of the apostolic preaching, “the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Col. 1:23).

In Romans 10:19–20 Paul tells us that ironically, the nations, once condemned by general revelation, now respond to the gospel, while Israel, who knew God’s plan for the nations, rejects the gospel in favor of idols. Moses warned of this, as seen in the context of Paul’s quotation of Deuteronomy 32:21 in Romans 10:19: “They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded” (Deut. 32:17). Because Israel turned from the Lord and worshiped the “no gods” of the nations, so the Lord turns to those who are “not a nation” with the gospel to make Israel jealous. He is saving those who neither sought nor asked to be saved (v.20, quoting Isa. 65:1). This is exactly the picture Paul gives of the Thessalonian reception of the gospel: “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).

So, people of God, heed the message from the messenger. True hearing is obedient hearing, hearing that changes the inner life. Don’t let personal or doctrinal differences with the preacher prevent obedient hearing. Come prepared to receive the Word, as well- rested and prayerful Bible readers, expecting to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

True hearing requires a messenger gifted and called by the head of the church. This in turn requires the visible church and its public worship. Be whole heartedly committed to the visible body of Christ and its mission. From the church the Lord sends out messengers to all nations. And don’t accept substitutes for preaching: TV, MP3, Internet—or even fellowship or private devotions. For only through the public reading and preaching of Scripture will you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.


[1] This article is based on a sermon that I preach at the end of my media ecology conferences, “Christian Living in the Electronic Age,” last delivered on February 25, 2018 at the Granite Seminar sponsored by the Granite State School of Theology and Missions at Amoskeag Presbyterian Church.

[2] See Gregory E. Reynolds, “A Medium for the Message: The Form of the Message Is Foolish, Too,” in Confident of Better Things: Essays Commemorating Seventy-Five Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, John Muether, ed., (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2011), 311–34.

[3] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 58.

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, April 2018.

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Ordained Servant: April 2018

Faithful Preaching

Also in this issue

What Is Faithful Preaching?

The Drama of Preaching by Eric B. Watkins: A Review Article

How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth by Christopher J. H. Wright

John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America by Jeffrey S. McDonald

By Night When Others Soundly Slept

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