It has been said of preaching, “Preaching is that unique procedure by which God, through His chosen messenger, reaches down into the human family and brings a person face to face with Himself. Without such confrontation, it is not true preaching” (Koller 13). We must go to the Bible to remember the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose. Looking at the role of the watchman recorded in Ezekiel and Paul’s charge to Timothy, we will notice the design of preaching, the despair of preaching, and the desired result of preaching.
The Design of Preaching
When remembering the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose, we must first remember that preaching is designed to fulfill a purpose. The design of preaching can be seen in Ezekiel’s account of the watchman, and is then mirrored in Paul’s charge to Timothy. God informed Ezekiel in the long ago that He had appointed him to be a watchman unto the house of Israel (Ezek. 3:17). The watchman was to deliver the message from God to the children of Israel so the people could repent of sin and come back into a right relationship with God (Ezek. 3:17-21).
From the language used to inform Ezekiel of the watchman’s task, we know that there is a responsibility of the hearer to take action. We understand that the role of the watchman is to deliver the message from God to inform the hearer of his responsibility to either change or continue his heavenward course. The hearer of the Word of God has a responsibility to react to the Word of God. The New Testament wisdom writer corroborates the responsibility of the hearer (Jas. 1:23-25). The design of preaching is seen, not in the account of the watchman in Ezekiel, but also in Paul’s instruction to Timothy who was charged to preach (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
The role of the watchman mirrors perfectly the foundational task of preaching with which young Timothy, and every Christian, was charged in the New Testament. All Christians are instructed to preach in that we all have an obligation to the Great Commission, and we are commanded to restore those who are overtaken in a fault (Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 6:1). More specifically, Paul instructed Timothy, a preacher, to commit that which he had heard of Paul to faithful men who would be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). Later in that same letter, Paul brings Timothy into the very presence of God and charges him to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). As we can see from the Old Testament example of the watchman in Ezekiel and in the New Testament example of Paul’s charge to Timothy, the design of preaching is to strengthen the resolve to continue a heavenward course (exhort), to warn the people of their sinful state (reprove), and to encourage change for the better (rebuke), which leads us to the despair of preaching.
The Despair of Preaching
Looking further into the role of the watchman, we learn that the hearers of the message may go into a state of despair. Later in the book of Ezekiel, God tells Ezekiel to explain the role of the watchman to the children of Israel (Ezek. 33:1-9). Although the reason behind the information being conveyed to the children of Israel is conjecture, we may surmise that knowing the role of the watchman may alleviate some burden for the watchman, as well as for those who hear the message from the watchman. Assuredly, the hearers were in a deep state of despair and could not fathom how they could live up to the standard that God was setting through His message. They were being convicted of sin and, instead of repenting and turning to God, they were pining away in their sins (v. 10). Also, the children of Israel were asking a question that is only asked from a place of extreme hopelessness and despair: “How should we then live?” (v. 10b). If the watchman brings his audience to this despairing state of mind with no offer of hope, then he has failed in the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose because he has not considered God’s desired result of the hearing of the message. He has brought people low and made them aware of their sinful condition and has left them hopeless. Thankfully, God hears the despairing remarks by the hearers and answers them with mercy and grace. God replies, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (v. 11).
When we preach today, many in the audience are in this same mindset. As mentioned, preachers are to reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). When brought face to face with the sin that is in our lives through preaching, we may be so overwhelmed that we ask the same question asked by the children of Israel in the long ago, “How should we then live?” The mindset behind this question is fundamentally one of despair. I can not do what God wants me to do, God wants too much from me, and God is set against me are all accusations against God from a mindset of despair. However, if a preacher remembers the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose, then the preaching will, in fact, produce God’s desired result.
The Desired Result of Preaching
God revealed His desired result of the watchman’s preaching to Israel. God instructed the watchman to “say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11)
It is like this with the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose. When preaching brings a person to the pit of despair and they cannot fathom how they can live with the censures and mandates God has placed upon them, the preacher’s role is to remind them of God’s desired result of the preaching. Through the watchman, God is reassuring the hearer of the message that He does not want the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). He further charges the wicked to change and live by responding “Why will ye die?”, implying they have the ability to change.
From the time preaching of the cross began until now, man has been plunged into pit of despair saying, “How can we live?” God has answered back from across the expanse of time to ask, “Why do you die?” God has sent His Son so that we might have life, and that more abundantly (John 10:10). “How should we live?” God has sent His Son, grace personified, to teach us how to live and it is the preaching of the cross which conveys that message (Tit. 2:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:21).
The foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose is detailed by Ezekiel’s watchman and again by Paul’s charge to Timothy. God designed preaching to be the foundational task for informing His children of their spiritual condition with the understanding that His desire would be communicated through the despair that comes from being convinced of being in a sinful state. Consequently, the desired result is the restoration of the convicted soul. Preaching either bolsters the righteous and strengthens them in their resolve to keep on the right path, or it convicts the wicked while showing them the love of God and the way back into His good favor. Now the we have remembered the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose, let us be watchmen and go forward with Paul’s charge to Timothy to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).
Tony is the gospel preacher for the Bay Church of Christ in Bay, AR. He is a 2015 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching. He also does extensive social media evangelism and Bible teaching.