Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that preaching is the primary activity of the church because God never changes and man’s need never changes.
“…the moment you consider man’s real need, and also the nature of salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary task of the Church is to preach and proclaim this, to show’s man’s real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it.” (Preaching and Preachers, pg. 26)
For Lloyd-Jones, the preaching of the gospel is not one task amidst a host of equal priorities, but the primary activity of the church. If this is so, we need to have a robust theology of Christian preaching. In my mind there is no better starting point to that end than Colossians 1:28-29. There we learn that Christ is the principal subject, end, and power for preaching.
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:28–29)
The antecedent of “him” is Christ in 1:27, To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Jesus Christ is the principal subject of all Christian proclamation.
The words “Him we proclaim” remind us that ministry is not about the minister. The minister is not the point of ministry and churches do not exist to make the minister’s name great. Gospel ministry is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Like the focus on a camera these words bring the priority of ministry into clear view. That priority is summarized in the brief phrase “Him we proclaim.”
Along with a principal subject, preaching also has a primary purpose, “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The maturity or perfection that Paul is speaking of here is the end of the Christian life, that final day when the the church is presented to Christ in glory. If this is the purpose, we can say that preaching does not just aim for the conversion of sinners, but the perseverance of the saints.
When this becomes our aim, we avoid the error of bringing the church into conformity to ourselves. John Calvin helpfully reminds us, ”If ministers wish to do any good, let them labour to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers.”
The motivation to adopt this end for preaching is found in Colossians 1:22,. Paul tells us that Christ, “…reconciled (us) in his body of flesh by his death, in order that he might present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” When pastors prayerfully aim to present the saints mature in Christ they are aligned with Christ’s own purposes for the church.
Christ is the end of preaching.
If this type of preaching is to be done faithfully, it must be done with necessary discipline and in the appropriate power. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he works powerfully within me.”
There is a story about the famous evangelist D.L. Moody, who on his first Sunday as pastor in Chicago recounts visiting Charles Haddon Spurgeon in London. Here is a summary of Moody’s impression of Spurgeon.
“What impressed him most was not the praise, though he thought he had never heard such grand congregational singing; it was not Mr. Spurgeon’s exposition, fine though it was, nor even his sermon; it was his prayer. He seemed to have such access to God that he could bring down the power from heaven; that was the great secret of his influence and his success.”1
I think the Pauline prayers throughout his letters support the idea that the power of God is accessed through prayer. There is not an ounce of power in and of ourselves that can accomplish preaching’s great end, but we can trust that those who depend upon God in prayer will be empowered by God in Christ. If we are going to be faithful preachers of Christ for the maturation of the church, then we must both toil and labor while depending upon the power of Christ.
Christ is the power of preaching
Fellow pastors, we will preach many sermons and in all of them it must be Him that we proclaim. Those sermons will be preached from a variety of biblical texts and from them all it must be Him that we proclaim. We will preach those sermons to a number of people (some of us more than others) and to each one it must be Him that we proclaim. As we do, may we depend on the power of God working in and through us.