Powerful Expository Preaching, Part 1
The Glory of Preaching
By Ray Stedman, Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, CA. Delivered at the first Congress on the Bible, San Diego, 1982
I want you this morning to zero in on the power and the glory of preaching. And this will be more or less a lecture presentation this morning. The size of this group precludes any reaction from you, though I never like to exclude that and I always welcome any questions that you might want to ask. So if you have something you would like to present in the line as we go on in this, feel perfectly free to raise your hand. I will recognize it, and weíll see if we canít deal at least briefly with that. But do understand a group of this size makes that difficult. But at tomorrowís session like this I want to take you into what would be a kind of a practical workshop on preparing to preach, expositorily. That is, how to do exposition. What happens in the study. How long it takes, and what steps you go through. And I want to make this as practical as I can. And of course you understand that I must of necessity share a good deal of my own practice in this regard, because that is where I am most aware. In the third session, I would like to address to the accountability of a preacher. This morning the responsibility, the next hour the methods, and then finally the accountability of preachers. And I would like to do this primarily working out of a passage that has been a great help to me in my own ministry.
I now -- as you were just reminded -- have been 32 years in the church that I have been serving in the San Francisco Bay area, Peninsula Bible Church. And I came fresh out of Dallas Seminary to that congregation, it wasnít even a congregation when I came. It was just a Sunday evening fellowship time. But it rapidly grew into a church, and through the course of the years I have been trying to learn how to preach. And all I want to try to do with you is share some of the things I did learn and some of the things Iíve picked up from others, and some of the deep convictions of my heart that have come about in the process. Having come to a congregation without any previous experience myself as a pastor I have had to try to learn the business of preaching from observation of other men, from reading their ministry and learning from that, and from the study of the Scriptures themselves about the themes of preaching. And it is that that I would like to share with you as much as possible today.
One of the passages that has meant very much to me as a guideline along this line is found in Paulís letter to the Corinthians, 1st Corinthians chapter 2 and then chapter 4. I would like to begin with chapter 4, where the apostle is summing up his own ministry as a preacher. As you know -- Iím sure many of you are familiar with these letters -- they are very relevant to our own time. I just not long ago finished preaching through the two Corinthian letters, and I have frequently referred to them in my own congregation as first and second Californians, because I believe that we live in Corinthian conditions here in California. Corinth was not quite as degraded as California is, but almost. And what they had to face we have to face. And therefore these are most up to date and relevant passages. And I found therefore the words of the apostle to the Corinthians were most helpful in dealing with the conditions that we have to face today.
Now in these first three chapters the apostle is dealing with the divisions in the church at Corinth, and with their view of Christian ministers. And as you know they were divided up as many people are today following after certain pet preachers. Some liked Paul -- he was the founder of the church, and they held to him, and were loyal to him as a preacher of the truth; some liked Peter, who had evidently come through, and a certain segment found him to be tremendously significant in their lives, probably because he was one of the original twelve apostles whom the Lord himself had chosen. Paul could not claim to have associated with the Lord in the days of his flesh, so Peter in their eyes had a bit of an edge over Paul. And then there were those who loved the eloquence of Apollos, and they gathered about him, appreciating the rhetoric with which he spoke, the ease and the oratory that he exhibited. So there were stylists in that day, and there were loyalists, and there were purists; there was the group that said, "We like Christ! A plague on all these others! We go back to the Lord himself, and we only take his words!" And so the church was divided over this.
You find the same kind of divisions today. In almost every congregation there are those who have their pets; they only listen to certain men, their tapes, their books are what they read. And you can hear people talk like they did in Corinth in almost every church today. Now Paul says this is all wrong. This is evidence of carnality, of immaturity, and he sets in contrast to it his own view of the ministry. That is why this passage has been very meaningful to me.
In chapter 4 he begins with these words: "This is how one should regard us: as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover," he says, "it is required of stewards that they be found faithful." Now I have been greatly strengthened in that, especially in taking the two words the apostle uses of Christian ministers, and trying to understand fully what he means by the words. The word "servant" is an unusual word, it is not the ordinary word doulos or douloi that is frequently employed. It is a word rather infrequently employed, it is huperetes, the under rower. They are the servants of Christ. And then the word for "stewards" is an interesting word; oikonomos, the "housekeepers," the ones in charge of a household.
Now I think in these two terms the apostle has gathered up the word that describes, first, the accountability of a pastor or a preacher. He is a servant, an underrower of Christ; I want to look at that fully on Friday morning. And then the second word which I would like to zero in on today is the word "steward:" a steward of the mysteries of God. I find that to be one of the most challenging statements in the New Testament. And it is a theme that is developed more fully in many of the other books of the New Testament. Our Lord spoke of it; "A good steward," he said, "is one who takes things out of his treasury, both new and old." And the apostle speaks of this very frequently. A steward, of course, is one who has been entrusted with certain commodities which he is responsible to dispense to others. When I flew down here yesterday on the plane (as I am sure many of you experienced as well) there were stewardesses -- or as in the case of many airlines today since men are demanding equal rights with women, there were stewards on many airplanes. Now an airline steward is almost exactly fulfilling the role that is expressed here in this word from the New Testament. An airline steward is responsible to dispense both information and certain commodities to the passengers: They tell you where to sit, how to buckle your belt, where the restrooms are, where to smoke, where not to smoke, and so on, they give you arrival information and so forth; and furthermore they have trays of food and of beverages which they dispense to those who are passengers on the plane.
Now that is exactly the idea that is here. A minister of Christ, a preacher of the word, is a steward, he has been entrusted with something. You remember how the apostle in writing to Timothy speaks in several of his letters, he says, "Guard the deposit that has been entrusted to you." And he speaks in other places of the necessity to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, the treasure that is given into our care. Peter speaks about the exceeding great and precious promises which have been entrusted to us -- not for our own enjoyment, but to give out to others. And all through the New Testament this theme is enlarged upon. Peter calls it the "oracles of God." And you remember in that amazing 13th chapter of Matthew, our Lord spoke to the disciples in rather startling terms, and said that they were chosen of God to be made stewards (he doesnít use this term there, but the idea is there), stewards of the things which have been kept secret since the foundation of the world.
Now I think all these phrases should challenge us to view our ministry as preachers of the word of God at a very high level indeed. And it is one that I have taken very seriously in my own ministry. I find nothing is more challenging to me than the thought of dispensing these amazing concepts from Scripture to my congregation. I count it the highest honor of my life that I was ever privileged to be put by God into such a ministry. And rather than reflecting many of the ideas that are around today about the irrelevance of the church, and the uselessness of the church, I find that these concepts and these phrases highlight for me the extreme relevance of the church.
It would be interesting if we had time this morning to know what flashes into your mind when you hear the term, "a minister," or perhaps more purposefully what flashes into the minds of the people in your congregation when they hear the word, "a minister;" or even more to the point, what crosses the minds of the people out here in the streets of San Diego when they hear the term, "a minister of Christ." I was talking with Os Guinness not long ago. I was in England and visited with him at Oxford University where he is doing some doctoral work right now (this week he is up in our area, in the Bay Area, doing some ministry) -- but I was asking Os what is the attitude of the students there at Oxford about Christian things. "Well it is interesting, you know" he said. "I asked one of my professors the other day who is not a Christian. I asked him, ĎWhat do thinking non-Christians think about Christian thinking?í And his answer was, ĎNot very much.í" And I think that is the standard approach of many today with regard to the church; it is not regarded as an influential body at all in our country any more; its opinions are not asked for, its declarations are not listened to; when it raises its voice it is either ridiculed or ignored.
I read a recent contemporary description of the church put in rhyme by a contemporary secular writer, who put it this way:
Outwardly splendid as of old,
Inwardly sparkless, void, and cold;
Her force and fire all spent and gone
Like the dead moon she still shines on.
Well, that is the way a lot of people are thinking about the church. And the reason is because they really havenít heard Christian thinking, even in church. What they often get, as Jim Boice said so well this morning, is a kind of a watered down, bland, pabulum. A glazed-over Christian philosophy and words of secular thought, rather than the word of the living God. Now it has challenged me in my own ministry to understand what this tremendous deposit is that I am responsible to dispense to others.
And if you turn to the 2nd chapter of 1 Corinthians, you will find that the apostle Paul has put this in very striking terms. Here he is defining again his own experience when he came to Corinth in the opening words: "When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God," or as some versions have it the "mystery of God." Marturion is "testimony," musterion is "mystery," They are very close together and some texts have one, and some the other. And if it is "the mystery of God" which he originally wrote, then it is right in line with what we have just seen in the fourth chapter. He says, "This is how I want you to think of me: I am a steward of the mysteries of God." Then he describes how he felt when he came to Corinth. He wasnít full of a sense of power. He felt weak and trembling, and his speech and his message were not in high flown rhetoric or beautiful phrasing, but they were in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Then beginning in verse 6 -- if any of you have a New Testament, I would invite you to turn with me to this -- he begins to describe what is the content and nature of this amazing stewardship with which we have been entrusted. Yet among the mature, he says, we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. You know throughout this first chapter the apostle has been contrasting what he calls the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. The world by wisdom -- that is its own wisdom -- does not know God. And he sets these in sharp contrast.
I think it is very important for us as ministers and teachers of the word of truth, to understand that the Bible nowhere ever puts down human knowledge. We are not against the accumulation of knowledge. I preach under the shadow of one of the great universities of our day, Stanford University. And as I go over there I am impressed by the tremendous knowledge that has been gathered together in that great university -- tremendous libraries, great research laboratories, the largest atom smasher in the world, two miles long, the linear accelerator, running back into the hills back of Stanford, a great law school, business school, and so on -- a vast accumulation of human knowledge. It is always wrong for Christians to put down that in its importance, or in its contribution to human life. It is wrong to do so. The Bible everywhere encourages us to search out the mysteries of God around us in the universe, to explore the design of God, and to seek to find the answers -- and thatís all that human knowledge does.
But what the Bible stands against is human wisdom. Now wisdom is the use of knowledge. Now see thatís where the secular world goes astray. It takes all the wonderful knowledge that has been accumulated in most impressive array and doesnít know what to do with it -- uses it in abysmally wrong ways, and creates more problems than it cures. I have here in my hand -- I donít have time to read it -- a listing I took out of a secular magazine not long ago, in which the writer is pointing out nine inventions and discoveries of men, which when they were first introduced into human life were received with great enthusiasm and acclaim as solving many of the problems of our day, and making life much easier, modern achievements of technology and so on. Then in a parallel column he lists all the results of the use of these in human society and documents down the list how these have in turn become the basis for dehumanization, the creation of widespread despair among peoples, separating and polarizing groups from one another, giving rise to disproportionate distribution of the economic goods of earth, and creating far more problems than they ever solved. That which was hailed as wonderful achievements of technology have now been seen to be the cause of many of our problems.
Take the automobile, for instance. I can remember as a boy some of the early automobiles - I remember riding around in a Model T Ford -- thatís the way I first went to high school. And it was regarded as a tremendous achievement. Now the automobile gluts our streets, pollutes our air, disturbs our calm. Every time we go out Iím convinced now that God has designed the automobile as a test of an individualís spirituality. And how many of us flunk it when we get behind the wheel? And it has created tremendous problems in our day. Now that is the wisdom of man versus the wisdom of God.
Now here is what the apostle says about that. He says first, the wisdom of this age is doomed to pass away. In other words, it is only temporary. It is impressive only for a while, and then it disappears.. While the wisdom which weíre going to talk about -- which he goes on to describe in very impressive terms -- which has been given to us to dispense to others, is the wisdom that never passes away. Here he is emphasizing the relevance of the word of God for our times. I hardly have to detail for you what he means by the fact that human wisdom passes away. I think the example Iíve just employed sets that out in a most remarkable way. But listen to what he calls the wisdom of God. He calls in verse 7 a secret and hidden wisdom. In verse 10 he calls it the depths of God, the deep things of God. In verse 11 he calls it the thoughts of God. A little red book that contains not the thoughts of Mao, but the thoughts of God. In verse 12 it is the gifts bestowed on us by God. In verse 13 it is spiritual truth. And in verse 16 a startling word: it is the very mind of Christ.
Now that is what we are called to dispense to our congregations. Not our own opinions, but to reveal these hidden secrets which will never be irrelevant. There are 3 good reasons for that. First, because God always remains the same. The 139th Psalm is a wonderful exposition to establish that for us. God never changes, he never varies in any way, from age to age he remains the same. Second, man never changes. This is one of the most remarkable things that we need to recall today -- that all of our technology has made no difference in the men and women who employ them. They are still the same people they were hundreds of years ago, thousands of years ago. And you can read literature to see that people in the days of ancient Greece three or four hundred years before Christ were struggling with the same basic problems we face today: excessive taxation, the intrusion of government into the affairs of the individual, international warfare and conflict, widespread famines because of poor distribution of goods, racial tensions rising on every hand: same problems. Where is the progress that we want so? You see, man never changes -- thatís why the gospel is always relevant. And third, the word of God never changes. Not only God himself but the revelation he gives of himself never changes. Thatís why a congress such as this is of such great importance.
I had this highlighted for me by a story someone told me about going to see an old friend of his who was a retired music teacher. And when he knocked on the door, he greeted this friend with a rather flippant, modern saying: he said, "Well, whatís the good news today?" The old man didnít say a word. He just walked across the room, picked up a rubber hammer, and struck a gong there. And the note A sounded out through the room. The old man said, "That is A. That was A a thousand years ago. It will be A a thousand years from now. The tenor across the hall flats on his high notes. The lady who plays the piano next door strikes disharmonies. And the man who lives downstairs tries to sing in the bathroom and canít carry a tune. But" -- and he hit the gong again -- "that is A, and that is the good news for today."
Now that is what the New Testament is saying. God never changes. We are declaring something that is always up to date, because it is dealing with humanity as it always is -- and we ought to understand that. Second, says the apostle, the nature and purpose, in what I regard as one of the most amazing verses in all the New Testament, is right here. "But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages" -- now listen to this -- "for our glorification." I grew up in the Presbyterian church and on the Westminster Covenant. I was taught very early the aim of man, the reason for manís existence, is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever. The purpose of man is to live for the glory of God. But this passage declares that God lives for the glory of man. Isnít that amazing? "For our glorification." Now eventually of course that is what glorifies God.
And here we have to think very briefly about what glory is. Iíve discovered that glory, true glory as the New Testament uses it, is a manifestation outwardly of the inward possibilities of a thing or person. The hidden virtues brought out into openness. We look at the sun and say that it is a glorious body: why? Because itís taking that with which it is made and manifesting it in brilliant light. That makes for glory. And when a person does that, when that which is hidden inside, all his abilities and possibilities become demonstrated in activity, we say he has done something glorious, he has achieved a glory. Now this is what God has in mind. And what this is saying, brothers and sisters, is that the message that we are to declare from our pulpits is designed to complete our humanity, to bring it to wholeness. I love that word -- itís a much better word than the word translated in our New Testament "holiness" -- they come from the same root. Holiness, Wholeness. And what God is after is a whole person: balanced, capable, able to cope with life, well-adjusted, not subject to panic. That is what he is talking about. And the business of preaching is to produce that kind of people in a congregation. And it has the possibility of doing that very thing. Here we have this stressed so strongly.
Now what I am seeking to convey to you is what I regard as the supreme and paramount value of preaching. There is nothing like it. The preacher or teacher has no rivals, either in the scientific laboratory, on the psychiatristís couch, or in the philosopherís study. Thatís why Paul goes on to say in an expression of the uniqueness of this, none of the rulers of this age understood this. If they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. That is amazing. When he says "the rulers of this age" he means more than just Pilate, and Caesar, the governmental leaders. He means the leaders of thought, the mindbenders, the shapers of public opinion, the philosophers, the teachers of any generation. You wonít find this kind of truth, he says, in any secular body of knowledge. And that is a great encouragement to me as a preacher.
I know that when I stand up on a Sunday morning in Palo Alto under the shadow of Stanford University, and I open the book of God, and speak to my congregation, in which are found not only a whole lot of what many would call plain vanilla Christians -- I donít think there are any such things -- but there are also many that the world highly regards: physicists, scientists, philosophers, psychiatrists, doctors and lawyers, and captains of industry and so on; and I know that when I open the book of God and preach to them, I am giving them essential knowledge that they do not have from any secular source or any secular writer. I am giving them basic facts about life and about human nature which they never learned in their secular college or graduate school. I am giving to them understanding about themselves which is not available from any other source -- so that they can fulfill their humanity and be whole persons in a broken, fallen world. Now thatís the glory of preaching. And it is something we ought never to forget. It is the business of the preacher to change the total viewpoint about life of every member of his congregation, and to challenge the secular illusions of our day, and strip them of their deceitfulness, and show people how human wisdom fails, though human knowledge is quite acceptable, and point out to them what that failure is doing to them if they follow it. The instrument is the exposition and proclamation of these mysteries of God.
Now in the remaining time I want to look with you briefly, but more particularly, at some of these mysteries Paul says are our deposit, entrusted to us, with a responsibility to give it out to our congregation. How many of you have ever gone through the New Testament and the Old and preached on the mysteries of God, the specific areas on which these mysteries are detailed for us? Now they are not merely subjects of interest in the Bible -- they are themes that run throughout the whole Bible from beginning to end. They appear under various terms -- and it would be a mistake to limit yourself only to those places where the word "mystery" appears. For instance, take the most frequently mentioned mystery in the Bible: it is called the mystery of the kingdom of God. It appears also for instance in Paulís 11th chapter of the letter to the Romans, where he speaks of the mystery of the blindness of Israel. This is part of the mystery of the kingdom of God. Or the mystery of Babylon the Great in the book of Revelation; that is part of the mystery of the kingdom of God. What do we mean by that? Well, the kingdom of God, of course, is Godís control of history. It is the business of the preacher to help the congregation to understand that the events that they read about in their daily newspaper is an accounting from a secular point of view of what God is doing, and to explain from the Bible what He is doing, and what he hopes to achieve in these affairs. Thatís preaching the mystery of the kingdom of God. It is not just a spiritual matter which they enter into only by faith in Christ -- thatís part of it, and that ought to be very much a part of our preaching. But we must help them to see that God is charge of daily life. And the events they read about in their papers are simply accountings of how God goes about what He is doing.
How many of you in the days of the Vietnamese war preached on what God was doing in Vietnam? Thatís a proper subject -- to take from a passage of Scripture to show how God uses war to judge all the nations involved in it. What I heard during that period of time -- if it was mentioned at all in evangelical pulpits, it was to chose sides and join the polarization of American society which almost destroyed us during that period, and take either the side of the hawks or the doves, and say one of these is right and the other is wrong. Now the Bibleís approach is never that way. If weíre preaching biblically and thinking Christianly, we must deal with what the Old Testament and the New Testament alike says what God uses war for in human history. There is ample evidence in both testaments to deal with that in extended ways, to open the eyes of people to see that God can close a nation down, shut it down, to accomplish a purpose that can never be accomplished by leaving it open to the gospel.
I remember in the 50ís when the missionaries were kicked out of China, everybody was heartbroken. We all were beating our breasts and wringing our hands and saying, "Oh, what a terrible thing has happened in China! God has allowed the communists to kick the missionaries out, and the gospel is excluded. China is closed." Now 30 years later we know that wasnít true. And the amazing thing is that we go back into China and discover that the church has increased -- has increased sevenfold during those thirty years. How many of us preached that as a possibility in the days when the missionaries were kicked out of China? It is because we donít understand the secret wisdom of God, and how God works. Thatís why I find the church so weak today, because weíre not teaching it biblically. Weíre not opening the Scriptures and letting them speak to help us understand the events of our own day.
Take another mystery: the mystery of lawlessness. This is the mystery of the perpetuation of evil. Everybody in your congregation -- including the young people, especially the young people -- are asking every day, at least in the secret of their own hearts, why is this world such a mess? I watched Phil Donahue interview a couple of punk rockers the other day. They were dressed very bizarrely. They had on strange clothes. They were wearing make-up that made their face look like it was dead. They had black lipstick on -- the boy and the girl wore black lipstick. And they had this strange, bizarre dress. And Phil Donahue was asking, "Why do you do this? Why do you live like this? Why do you dress like this? Why in your gathering together do you often resort to violence and even shed blood deliberately? You even puncture your own skin. Why do you do this?" These were ordinary kids. It was obvious from listening to them that they were like everybody elseís kids. But what emerged from that was the revelation that they believed that life was not worth living, that there was no use going on. And they sunk into these bizarre reactions to express a hopelessness about their day and age.
Now you see it is the business of Christians to explain why the world seems hopeless, why evil perpetuates itself over and over, and seems to be triumphant all the time. And thereís no doing that apart from the revelation of Scripture that we are up against the mystery of lawlessness. That panoply of evil beings headed by the devil who as Paul describes them are called the rulers of the darkness of this world -- spiritual wickedness in high places -- who are master manipulators, and who have access to the inner thoughts of mankind, to guide them in ways of which they are totally unconscious, but which make men do what the devil wants -- to mangle and twist and destroy and obliterate all Godís goodness among mankind. Now if weíre not preaching that, weíre not explaining life to the people of our congregation.
And more than that we need to explain the tactics of the devil, how he seeks to bring about discouragement, and despair, hostility, and fear, and the manifestations of these in our day. We donít live in a different world from the New Testament world; the first century and the twentieth century worlds are very much alike. And if we believe that, we can help our people detect the same struggles and problems and intrusions into human life that was visible and present in the first century as well. We need to understand this. Psychiatrists canít help here; psychologists canít. Only the Bible gives that answer.
Let me share with you a quotation I ran across some time ago, by Carl Jung, the great noted Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist. He says, "We stand perplexed and stupefied before the phenomenon of Nazism and Bolshevism because we know nothing about man." Isnít that an amazing statement from a leading psychologist of our day? We know nothing about man. "Or, at any rate," he said, "have only a lopsided and distorted picture of him. If we had self-knowledge that would not be the case. But we stand face to face with the terrible question of evil and do not even know what is before us let alone know what to pit against it." And even if we did know we still could not understand how it could happen here.
You watch the newspapers and the magazines -- Time magazine and others -- I was so glad Jim Boice is reading Time magazine -- every now and then tremendous admissions on the part of secular leaders of their almost complete ignorance about world affairs -- that they donít know the answers. Listen to this: When U Thant, the Burmese statesman, was secretary-general of the United Nations, before a distinguished panel of some 60 world leaders, and before an audience of some 500 people gathered in the United Nations to explore the ways to international peace, he said these amazing words: "What element is lacking so that with all our skill and with all our knowledge we still find ourselves in the dark valley of discord and enmity? What is it that inhibits us from going forward together to enjoy the fruits of human endeavor and to reap the harvest of human experience? Why is it that for all our professed ideals, our hopes, and our skills, peace on earth is still a distant objective, seen only dimly through the storms and turmoils of our present day?" What a poignant cry from an honest heart, crying out, "What is missing? Why canít we make progress? Why is every generation doomed to deal with the same problems over and over again?" And I want to say to you that is only the preacher of the word of God that can answer those questions. He has the answer. This is why Paul concludes the paragraph by saying, "He that is spiritual judges all things." And he has even as he said the mind of Christ. Now that isnít just any Christian, thatís those who understand the word of God -- who deal with it, and work with it, and think it through, and come to begin to reflect Godís thoughts after him. They can deliver that.
Take the answer to the mystery of lawlessness-- probably the greatest secret revealed in the Scriptures -- what Paul calls in 1 Timothy "the mystery of godliness." That remarkable revelation which is the secret of vitality in the Christian life, which Paul says in his briefest description in Collosians, is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." In you, dwelling there, imparting to you his own life, his own power, in righteousness. And itís the business of preachers to help people understand that they are to confront their daily struggles in the light of that revelation. Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Thereís the mystery of the church -- Godís new society, what God is doing in the world today, how the facades and scaffolding of the old creation are breaking down and tumbling all around us. And in the very midst of it, unseen by the world, is rising a new structure which is a holy temple for the dwelling place of God and the Spirit, which one day the curtain will be opened and the world will see, standing in its midst, absolutely mindboggling in its glory. Thatís what weíre involved in. This is the business of preaching. It is what we call in our congregation the big burner concept-- that fire underneath everything else that keeps peopleís minds aflame, and young peopleís hearts challenged and eager to grasp life with these concepts as weapons to handle whatís coming. If you want to turn on the young people in your congregation you begin to set forth in vivid language the mysteries of God, and youíll see them come to life.
I sat at a dinner table not long ago and we got to talking about some of these things. There were present around the table a number of young people in their teens and early twenties, as well as several older people in their fifties and sixties. And as we discussed some of these things I observed the reactions of the people around the table. And you know what I saw? Those who were over 50 were obviously bored by what we were talking about. Those who were under were stirred and alive and their eyes were shining, and they couldnít wait -- they couldnít get enough of what we were talking about. Because the older people were hearing it in terms of familiar words that they had never thought through in terms of the context, while the younger ones were grasping the exciting ideas behind them, and capturing the glory of the secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God has designed for human glorification -- to make us whole beings, which every young person longs for.
Then there is the mystery of resurrection -- that most remarkable power that is quietly at work in every congregation, which has power to raise things from the dead. Thatís its most remarkable attribute. When everything is dull and dead and listless, and apathy has set in, itís like a cemetery -- thatís where resurrection power works best.
They took a survey at Stanford University not long ago -- they discovered that 90% of the student body is neither for nor against apathy. Thatís what happened to our campuses. All the violence, all the commitment, all the fiery-eyed zeal that was there 20 years ago or 10 years ago has faded. Theyíve settled back into the old ruts again. But resurrection power takes no note of either of those qualities. It doesnít need anything to make it effective. This is what the New Testament tells us over and over again is the power committed to the people of God. "Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask or think, according" -- to what? -- "according to the power that is at work within us." Paul says, "In him we proclaim warning and teaching with all wisdom that I might present every person mature in Christ" -- grown-up, able to handle life -- "for this I toil with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me."
Now how many Christian congregation know this? How many are given access to these vital truths, and compelling words backed with the passion and power of a convinced heart to go out and begin to be different kinds of people in the ordinary affairs of life? Thatís the business of preaching -- that we might be stewards of these mysteries of God, faithfully dispensing them to our congregations that we might like Paul have a burning fire to declare the whole counsel of God, and not to leave this earth until we have fully stated before the ears of all who will hear the amazing secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. I tell you when you faithfully preach as a steward of the mysteries of God you will find your people alive, excited; you will find your place packed out all the time, because this is the most compelling truth in the world, it explains humanity, it explains as much as we can understand of the majesty and mercy and might of our God. It begins to set things in perspective so people can have guidelines to life -- and to know what are the absolutes, and what are not. Thatís what weíre called to, brethren -- "This is how we would have men regard us -- as stewards of the mysteries of God."
Now tomorrow I want to start there and work through with you as much as possible how do you get ready to do this. How do you find this kind of truth in the Bible, and how do you go about proclaiming it. You understand that in an hourís time we can do no more than survey the subject. But I want it to be very practical, and I want to use the overhead projector so youíll have some help in this.
Can we close with just a word of prayer?
Thank you, our Father, for calling us back again to a look at an amazing calling that has been given to us. You have placed us, Lord, right where you want us to be, among the people you want us to labor with, amidst the problems that you want us to be engaged with. Now grant to us now, Lord, a new conviction of the glory of our calling, a new sense of the possibilities and potentials that lie in the preaching ministry. And may we be found, Lord, as faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. We ask in Jesusí name, Amen.
Listen to this talk in RealAudio (from the PBC Web site).
(return to Expository Preaching and Worship Resources page)