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Preaching involves a lot of skill. One must know how to exegete a text, and to understand it in light of the Biblical storyline. The preacher must know how to theologize, speaking accurately of God and the truths he’s revealed. And then the preacher must be able to preach and apply that message to today, beginning with the preacher’s own life, and then to the congregation. The message must be preached with clarity and power.

That’s all.

But that’s not even the hardest part. Two parts of the preacher’s task demand special attention. No matter how often one preaches, neither can ever become routine.

The Preacher’s Submission

First, the preacher must submit to God.

Submission begins with the text. God has spoken; our job is to speak God’s Word. I often feel like sermon preparation is a wrestling match. We as preachers start trying to tame the text so that we can understand it and communicate it. As we get in the ring with the text, the text has its own ideas. It’s alive. It refuses to be pinned down. In fact, the preacher’s job isn’t done until the text pins us down, forcing us into submission yet again to hear its message on its own terms, and obey.

The submission continues throughout the entire process of preparation and delivery. We preach under authority; our task is not just to communicate a text but to help people encounter the living God.

When he retired, Martyn Lloyd-Jones listened to a lot of preaching, and he found much of it disappointing. One quality elevated good preaching above the rest, he found. “I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him.”

That kind of preaching can only come from the life of a preacher who’s submitted to God.

The Preacher’s Love

A second essential to the preacher’s task is love for people.

I’m amazed at how often Paul spoke of this. Paul ministered with affectionate desire, comparing himself to a nursing mother and a father with children. His affection is evident for them: he longed to see them again, calling them his glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2).

That’s how good preachers see people: not as an audience, but as people to love and nurture as a caring parent loves and nurtures children. That love sometimes comes naturally, but it must also be cultivated like a fire. We must not let our affections wane for the people who will hear our sermons.

Our family sometimes jokes about baking that doesn’t turn out as well as hoped. “Did you forget to add the love?” my children ask. That’s a good question for us as preachers as we prepare. Our sermon, no matter how biblical, is not yet ready to preach until it’s full of love.

We Need God’s Help

Preaching can never be mechanized. No matter how skillful we become at preparing and delivering sermons, the task will always involve submission and love.

The whole task of preaching is hard, the hardest part is the part that only God can do: to lead the heart of the preacher into submission and reverence before God, and then to fill that heart with love for people. When that happens, as well as all the study and other preparation, then the sermon is ready to be preached.

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