May 4, 2013

Your Sermon Text Is Not Just a Text

What is your sermon text for tomorrow?

Of course, when we hear the words “sermon text” we immediately think of some passage of Scripture. That’s all well and good. But have we stopped to think about what our text actually is? Not just the verse numbers or paragraph unit. But its essential nature and character.

John Frame reminds us in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that

When we go to Scripture . . ., it is important for us to remember that it is not only a text, an object of academic study. . . . It is the presence of God among us and therefore a book that cannot be tamed. It will never leave us the same. (145, emphasis mine)

The presence of God! Recognition of that fact alone would change a lot about the way we approach and preach any given passage of Scripture. For one thing it would remind us that the text we are preaching from is not dead. It is not some cold, lifeless object for dissection. No. It is alive!

In fact, the Scripture refers to itself in those terms: it is “living” and “active.”

However, it also true that the preached word is living and active.

Remember Acts 6? Seven men were selected to serve as deacons so the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and to “the ministry of the word.” It was then that

The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. (v. 7)

The “word of God” here is clearly pointing to the preached word.

Bock remarks in his commentary on Acts:

The word is described in personified terms here, as the word directs its own growth. This depicts God sending forth the word through the apostolic preaching, with the word much like seed growing into fruit or a harvest. (264, emphasis mine; cf. also Polhill, 183)

Someone may say, “But that was then. This is now. Times have changed.” Sure, but has God’s fundamental strategy for church growth in these changing times changed? The simple answer is “no.”

It is no accident that the church was originally born and unleashed into the first-century world chiefly through preaching. In fact, almost every time Luke made note of growth patterns in the early church, he expressed it in terms like this: “The word of God kept on spreading” (Acts 6:7; cf. 12:4 and 19:20). Clearly, preaching—specifically biblical preaching—is the main strategy God Himself ordained for church growth and for leading and feeding His flock. (Al Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 12, emphasis mine)

But why is that? Why is the preached word so vital for church growth and spiritual formation? Because the word preached is not merely a text or compilation of texts. It is the living and active word of God. It is “the presence of God among us and therefore a book that cannot be tamed.”