The world has no respect for God, His authority, and His Word. Paul wrote, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18, ESV). The apostle expressed that view in the first century to the church in Rome within the culture of the expanding Roman empire, but it could easily apply to our own world. In fact, it is, tragically, not only a loss of a fear of God, but a rejection of authority as a whole. Richard Stennet, a NYU sociologist, commented, “We have come to fear the influence of authority as a threat to our liberties, in the family and in society at large.” So then, such an outlook offers nothing to which one might give honor, respect, and reverence.
Out of this fear and inept worldview there has arisen a rejection of authority in preaching and the result is a loss of divine reverence in preaching. When absolute authority is rejected—all authority in heaven and earth belongs to the Lord (Matt. 28:18)—then the goal of biblical preaching is altered to something more socially palatable. Lost is the recognition of God and the divine authority that lies behind all preaching. Fred Craddock lamented, “But where have all the absolutes gone? The old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minister tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities.”
While the world demands cautious neutrality to anything authoritative, Christianity expects courageous submission to the inescapable authority of God. Yet, “the old thunderbolts” continue to rust in far too many pulpits. Our pews are filled with hearts deadened to the authoritative truth of God’s Word because the Lord is not approached with a desire to be in His presence with reverence.
The Preaching Task
Biblical preaching is an awesome privilege and a serious task, never to be taken lightly for it is centered on the Lord. Tom Holland wrote, “Preaching Christ involves three necessary things: one, preaching a message from Christ; two, preaching a message about Christ; and three, preaching for the purpose of leading men to Christ for salvation.” More than just making a speech or having something to say, preaching, when it is done properly and responsibly, is done as a messenger (Isa. 52:7). Paul alluded to this in Romans 10:15, too often seen only as a general reference to the act of preaching when it is actually a reminder that as a messenger of God’s Word the preacher brings into the pulpit something that originates with and authorized by God. “The man who is a herald for Jesus Christ,” wrote Holland, “or one who serves as an evangelist, does not proclaim his own message. He preaches the message from the King. The evangelist proclaims the good news from the King.”
So then, preachers are given what belongs only to God. Albert Mohler wrote, “The preacher dares to speak in behalf of God, standing in the pulpit as a steward of the mysteries of God.” “This is how one should regard us,” said Paul, “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). The preacher as a steward of what belongs only to God is an intriguing thought. As the stewards of the mysteries of God, preachers are caretakers of the biblical story, seeking to present it to all who will hear it and will respond to God’s authority.
The preaching to which I refer has been associated with expository preaching, which when opened for discussion would elicit a number of responses and definitions. Peter Adam wrote, “Expository sermons help us let God set the agenda for our lives.” Put simply, expository preaching involves the exposition, or comprehensive explanation, of the Scripture; that is, expository preaching presents the meaning and intent of a biblical text, providing commentary and examples to make the passage clear and understandable. The expository preacher’s goal is simply to expose the meaning of the Bible, verse by verse. Mohler commented, “Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people.”
Mohler’s statement, “Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people,” evokes a powerful challenge to the dynamic of biblical preaching. An elder I knew years ago stated that “anybody can preach.” I insist that while many and perhaps most can stand before the congregation and have something to say, to preach as the Bible expects and demands is something far beyond anything casual. If the preacher will perform his task biblically, and so properly, he will realize that the sermon is not the task of the preacher alone, but of the audience as well, for it is a shared experience. That the Word of God has been engaged together must be a goal of preaching. When that is desired by both the preacher and the congregation, a sense of “reverent expectation” forms a foundational element in the preaching event.
Preaching With Reverence
The word “reverence” is translated from two Hebrew words: yare’, “fear, so then respect” (Ps. 89:7; Lev. 19:30; 26:2) and shachah, “falling down, prostrate” (1 Kgs. 1:31; 2 Sam. 9:6; Esther 3:2, 5). In the New Testament “reverence” is rendered from deos, “awe, Godly fear, profound respect” (Heb. 12:28), phobeo, “to be frightened, alarmed; deep respect” (Eph. 5:33), and entrepo, “inferiority & superiority, submission to a higher level” (Matt. 21:37; Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13; Heb. 12:9). So then, “reverence” implies a respectful attitude of submission leading to a sense of honor and esteem of the word of God. This is a very biblical thing for we are to reverence the name of God (Matt. 6:9) and His house (1 Tim. 3:15), His attributes (Mal. 3:6; Eze. 18:25; Is. 45:21-22; 1 John 4:8; Titus 1:2), His commands (Jn. 12:50), and, therefore, His word (Ps. 119:160; John 17:17). This reverence represents our desire for and the privilege of worship (John 4:24).
To preach with reverence begins and ends with one profound truth: what is proclaimed is the very Word of God. The preacher has been entrusted with what belongs only to God and that is a staggering realization for any man who takes the task of preaching seriously. The English preacher and scholar, William Gouge (1575-1653), wrote that preachers preach the Word of God in four respects: (1) the preacher realizes and embraces that the author of the text proclaimed is God (e.g. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21); (2) the subject matter of the biblical text is the will of God (e.g. Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:17); (3) the Word is to exalt the glory of God (e.g. John 1:14; 1 or. 10:31); and (4) the effect and power of preaching the Word of God is salvation (e.g. Ps. 3:8; Rom. 1:16; Col. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). We can see then that biblical preaching requires recognition of reverence toward what is being presented. The speaker and hearers together must enter into the preaching event with a reverence toward what is being said and done. In so doing the congregation expresses a true sense of reverence for biblical preaching, understanding that the sermon brings the word of Christ into the worship of the assembly.
Preaching the Word of God is an awesome, but serious task, one never to be taken lightly. To understand and embrace the Bible’s authority to guide (2 Tim. 3:16), its power for salvation (Rom. 1:16), and its timelessness (Is. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25) will lead any responsible and faithful preacher to embrace his task with reverence. By the essence of its vitality the preaching event becomes the task of the man who acts as a steward of the very words of God, for he proclaims from the depths of his heart the good news of eternal salvation.
Knowing and embracing this demands that the preacher enters the act of preaching with reverence to all that belongs to God.
Robert has preached for forty years and presently preaches for the church of Christ in Sidney, MT. He is a published author, former adjunct professor, and teacher in the mission field.
- https://www.albertmohler.com/2013/09/06/preaching-with-authority-three characteristics-of-expository-preaching/
- Fred B. Craddock, As One Without Authority (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), 13.
- Tom Holland, Preaching: Principles and Practice, Vol. 1, Homiletic Handbook (Henderson, TN: Holland Publications, 1974), pgs. 53, 39.
- Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Expository Preaching (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 128.