In a previous post, I talked about how I have been personally impacted by expository preaching. Though I do have some experience in preaching, I think it's best for me to limit the amount of insight that I offer even here as I still have much to learn. I'm not going to get too in the weeds about the practice of preaching though I do have some thoughts on original language usage which you can read about here. That being said, I would like to talk about the theology of preaching as the Word of God.
That sounds really weird at first, I have to admit. Am I saying that every time a pastor steps up to the pulpit his words are "thus saith the Lord" no matter what comes out of his mouth? Is the New Testament canon so incredibly open that more is added to our Scriptures with every sermon that is preached throughout the world on Sunday? No and no. However, we can authentically say that the faithful (expository) preaching of the Word of God is in fact the Word of God itself. The Protestant reformer Heinrich Bullinger spoke of this in the Second Helvetic Confession saying,
The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very word of God is preached, and received by the faithful
Reformed theologians have often summarized this point with phrases like, "Insofar as the sermon attests to the written Word, it is the Word." Though I prefer the phrase used by James Anderson, "What Scripture implies, Scripture teaches" (refer to WCF 1.6 and note the "good and necessary consequence" language). But not only is this concept attested to by Reformed theologians but by the Apostle Paul himself. Two areas where we see this take place are 1 Thess 2:13 and Eph 2:17.
Preaching Is Not Merely The Words Of Men
In 1 Thess 2, Paul is reminiscing on his initial ministry to the Thessalonians. He recalls the boldness that they had by the grace of God to proclaim the Gospel to them (1 Thess 2:2-4). Simply put, Paul and his co-laborers had an evangelistic preaching ministry in Thessalonica empowered by God himself. Paul goes on to discuss the general nature of their ministry in Thessalonica in all of its friendliness (1 Thess 2:8), hard labor (1 Thess 2:9-10), and concern for sanctification (1 Thess 2:11-12). And yet these descriptors, as necessary as they are to fully understand how Paul views Gospel ministry, stem from the main thing which is the preaching of the Gospel.
This is made so incredibly evident as Paul moves into verse 13 which reads, "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers". Paul is thus saying that their Gospel preaching, their proclaiming of Christ, was not the words of mere men but the words of God himself; a fulfillment of the promise in Luke 12:12.
Christ Proclaims Through Preachers
I recently encountered the beauty of Eph 2:17 while listening to an episode of the TGC podcast, You're Not Crazy. Sam Allberry has written a fantastic article on TGC focused on this one verse that I would encourage you to read. I don't have much to say other than what he already says in that article. However, I want to show you a bit from that article that beautifully demonstrates this text. Sam writes,
Paul is talking about how the message of the gospel first came to his readers in Ephesus. “You who were far off” is Paul’s way of talking about Gentiles, while “those who were near” are Jews. The gospel of peace wonderfully came to both groups. Indeed, Paul’s wider point here is that this very gospel has made these two distinct groups one new humanity. Jesus has created a new kind of community.
What struck me, though, was who came and did the preaching: “He came and preached peace to you.” Christ came and preached to the Ephesians. So the big question is: when did this happen? Was there a moment in Jesus’s earthly ministry, unrecorded in the four Gospels, when he popped across the Mediterranean for a quick preaching visit to Asia Minor?
No. Christ came and preached when the gospel first came to Ephesus. When Paul and his colleagues started proclaiming the Christian message, Christ himself came and preached. He was preaching peace to these Ephesians.
What a thought! Paul's preaching ministry was a means by which Christ himself ministered to his people. As Ray Ortlund says of Christ-centered preaching, an objective for the preacher is to, "reach out and take the hand of the listener and gently acceptably, putting that person’s hand into the hand of Christ Himself in preaching".
This Is Good News
This is good news for me and for you. By this we can know that when our pastor stands up to the pulpit to proclaim God's Word, Christ himself is ministering to us. When our pastor offers comfort, conviction, and exhortation, Christ himself is comforting, convicting, and exhorting us. Go to church this Sunday and encounter Christ with one another!