As preachers of the gospel, we cannot control the movement of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of our listeners each Sunday. He blows wherever he will, after all (John 3:8). At the same time, the New Testament does hint that there is a certain type of preaching that invites the Spirit’s blessing more than any other. What is it?
The clue comes in the Spirit’s own job-description. Consider what Jesus told his disciples during his Farewell Discourse: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (John 15:26).” Further, says our Lord, the Spirit “will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it unto you (John 16:14)." The Spirit’s special mission in God’s redemptive plan is to exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ. His is a “spotlight ministry,” to use J. I. Packer’s memorable metaphor, happily and humbly pointing away from himself to the Son of God. If that is the case, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Spirit is most likely to attend with power that preaching which also aims at exalting Jesus.
This is a foundational insight that I was reminded of as I finished Tim Keller’s recent book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015). Keller writes, “When preachers do this . . . when instead of merely giving information or showing their learning they lift up Christ and show people his loveliness—then they are aligning themselves with the Spirit and they can expect him to accompany their message (194).”
The insight is not unique to Keller. I’ve run across the same principle numerous times in other preaching handbooks over the years. More importantly, it’s a New Testament truth embedded in the preaching practice of the apostles. “Him we proclaim!” (Col 1:28) insisted Paul, who elsewhere added that “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) It’s also a principle which multitudes of preachers through the ages have discovered without a homiletics course. Spurgeon’s sermons still edify today because they relentlessly direct you to the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
So then, whatever else we may do from the pulpit on Sunday, let us align ourselves with the purposes of the Holy Spirit, and show them Jesus.
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.