Gospel Preaching 19

Romans 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,

I Corinthians 2:2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

A preacher who is not simple in his preaching preaches [not Christ, but] himself. And any one preaching himself preaches people into perdition, even when they say of his preaching: “Ah, but that was beautiful! That man is an orator!” Even a true, honest preacher is visited by thoughts of vanity that spring from his sinful flesh. But as soon as he notices this, he casts these cursed thoughts of vanity from him and cries to God to rid him of them. He enters his pulpit a humble man. People can tell whether his preaching comes from the heart or not. (Martin Luther)

The very nature of Gospel Preaching in some ways will be determined by whether it comes from a man who is preaching based on a formula that is built on public speaking principles or is built to bring attention to a preacher or something or someone else. A man can bring great praise on himself in our day if his preaching can make some people to say about him that he is “Christ-centered” in his preaching. Others can bring great attention to himself by preaching in such a way to get people to pray prayers or to walk aisles. I would argue that the greatest preacher among men must preach in such a way as for people to virtually forget the preacher and be lost with the greatness and glory of the Savior.

Luther notes that anything but simple preaching is a type of preaching that points to the man himself and not Christ. Now of course most if not virtually all preachers would deny that they are preaching in a way that points to themselves. They would point to the content of the sermon as proof, but Luther wants more than that. He wants the preacher to be simple and also to be one who fights this wicked vanity that is in the heart. It is no use denying that preachers preach themselves, that is part of being a fallen human being. What is needed is for preachers to see this wicked attitude of their own heart and to seek humility from the Lord so that they can preach in a simple way that points to Christ and Christ alone.

In this Luther is pointing to a vital principle of Gospel preaching. It is that of a humble preacher instead of one that is proud of his hard preaching, of his gentle preaching, or even of his humble preaching. It takes a humble man who is fighting that pride of his heart to preach a humble Savior. A proud man can preach about a humble Savior, but a proud man cannot preach a humble Savior with a humbled heart that is full of Christ. Instead a proud man will preach about a humble Savior from a proud heart full of self and pride. A man can know a lot about Christ and a lot about humility and yet be a preacher full of self and pride. One cannot really be a preacher of Gospel preaching when he only knows about Christ and knows about humility, but instead a true Gospel preacher is one who knows Christ and is humble. Knowing about humility does not make one humble and it can even make one prouder of knowing about it and deceiving himself that he has what he knows about.

Knowledge puffs up or “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (I Cor 8:1). We must be taught this of the Spirit, yet it is vital for Gospel preachers to learn this. Learning a lot about the Bible can make us quite arrogant. Learning about preaching can make us very arrogant. A man who is arrogant about what he knows and his preaching is a man that is not preaching Christ in truth regardless of what the content of his sermons are. The picture of this, or at least this is how I conceive it to be, is that a man is in his study during the week puffing himself up with knowledge if he is not truly humble. He then stands in the pulpit on Sunday and delivers a “sermon” about what puffed him up which just puffs him up even more. This man is not preaching Christ but is growing in pride in both his knowledge and his preaching each week. In order to preach Christ, however, which is what a Gospel preacher must do, one must humble study during the week seeking to know Christ. One must also seek humility that one may preach Christ humbly. This is to say that preachers will preach what fills their heart and what their greatest love is regardless of the content. Either self or Christ fills the heart and is the greatest love.

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