Readers of this blog will not likely need any convincing that biblical preaching is important. Perhaps fewer of us have ever considered what makes the preaching of the Word uniquely powerful in the Christian’s life, even more than private Bible reading.
Perhaps you have experienced this for yourself. You’ve read a particular passage of Scripture during your quiet time, then gone to church and heard the same passage preached. Why is it that the latter experience (assuming the preacher was faithful with the Word!) inevitably carries greater spiritual force? It’s not just that the preacher may have brought out some exegetical insights that you missed; he may well have proclaimed precisely the same insights you discovered on your own. There is something in the fact that he stood and declared while you sat and received that bore a spiritual power that your private reading experience somehow lacked. Why is that?
Martin Luther is one theologian who thought deeply about this phenomenon, and Carl Trueman addresses his view in Martin Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015). I highly recommend his chapter, “The Theology of the Word Preached,” to all who proclaim the Word regularly. Of the many profound truths Trueman shares in this chapter, one that stands out is Luther’s understanding of the uniqueness of the preached Word over other forms of biblical intake. Consider this quote:
“. . . the external Word—the Word mediated to me via another from outside and this not immediately filtered through my own sinful mind—confronts me in a way that my own Bible reading can never do. The external Word preached is thus, for Luther, one of the major means of personal transformation (90).”
Yes, it seems that God has ordained the preached Word to carry a uniquely confrontational power. To use Luther’s chosen terms, the preached Word confronts me with both the Law and the Gospel. The preached Law confronts me with the holiness of God and the perfection he demands of me; it exposes my sinfulness, crushes my self-righteousness, and drives me to the end of myself. The preached gospel shows me Jesus Christ in the perfection of his life, death, and resurrection in my place. The supernatural confrontation of preaching leads me to repentance, faith, and a renewed commitment to following Christ. Incredible!
For weak little preachers like me, this supplies tremendous confidence in the power God has vested in the preaching of his Word. For all Christians, it reminds us how much we need to regularly be under the preaching of the Word. As Trueman writes, “in the Word, each person is confronted not simply by an idea but by God himself (97).”
Eric Smith is the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee. He and his wife, Candace, have three children: Coleman, Crockett, and Clarabelle. Eric is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.