One of the scariest moments of a preacher’s life is when that preacher stands, walks behind the pulpit, and opens the Bible. It’s scary not because public speaking is hard. That’s the last of the preacher’s worries. It’s scary because that preacher has been charged in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus with one job: preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). So much rides on the preacher’s faithfulness to that task.
When I walk up to the pulpit, I try to imagine that I’m tethered to the text. My job in that moment is not to give my opinions on any subject matter. My job at that moment is to expose the message of that text and connect it with the life of the listener as I point to Jesus. The stakes are high. I will give account to God one day for how faithfully I accomplish this task.
The Oracles of God
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God…” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
When we speak, Peter says, we have only one thing to speak about: the oracles of God. I’ve always puzzled over that phrase. It means that “those who teach about Christ and offer counsel in his name must understand themselves to be representing God’s words to the community,” writes Karen Jobes. “Therefore, those who speak must understand that they are engaged in serious business that restrains them from positing merely their own human speculation. Instead, they must speak in accordance with the revelation that God has given in the OT and through the apostles of Christ.”
I like to imagine my finger in the text the entire time I preach. Everything that I say should be connected to the text. I can explain it, prove it, and apply it, but nothing else. “How easy it is to think that we can assist others with our own wisdom,” observes Thomas Schreiner, “but those who are entrusted with the ministry of speaking should be careful to speak God’s words, to be faithful to the gospel.”
When we preach, we’d better be sure that we’re representing what God has said to the church. Nothing else. That’s our only job.
No Place for Opinions
I have opinions. You’d better believe I do. And I’m quite eager to share them. But my opinions have no place in the pulpit, or in my role as a pastor. Any authority I have is a derived authority. In other words, the authority comes from Scripture, not from me. My role is to preach God’s Word and point to Christ and get out of the way.
Yes, we need to reflect Scripturally on all kinds of ethical decisions, and bring God’s Words to bear on what’s happening in the world today. But every preacher should feel a little scared when standing at the pulpit. We have a charge. The charge is to speak God’s Word, not our own. Nothing else matters.
May it be said of us that we handled God’s Word well, that we stayed tethered to the text, and left all of our personal opinions at home, for God’s glory and for the good of God’s people.