The Purpose, Ground, and Nature of Biblical Preaching

By Dr. Douglas Groothuis
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a bible is open on a pulpit in front of an empty church
Preaching is both a necessity and a privilege. Godly preaching pleases God, is grounded in the cross of Christ, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. No power on earth can stop that from God’s intended purposes.

Preaching matters. Serious Christians know this, but preachers feel the weight and joy of this every week. God’s Word calls God’s preachers to expound the living truth of the living God. Preaching can be daunting, exhilarating and disappointing. But whatever else it is, it is necessary for the edification of the church and the propagation of the Gospel of God’s grace. “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel,” said Paul (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Most preachers have read much and heard much on preaching, but I offer a short exhortation and encouragement to all preachers—young and old, excited and exhausted, well-educated and not well-educated. My inspiration is largely John Piper’s book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching.

All preaching should be divinely sanctioned and purpose-driven. Words are too important, life is too short and eternity too long to waste time in the pulpit (or anywhere else). I say with sorrow that a preacher can be an entertaining and popular speaker and not be a godly preacher.

About thirty years ago, I heard several sermons by a celebrated preacher in a large church. This man was a well-known author and a terrible preacher. He preached balloon sermons. The ideas were pretty, clever, or funny, but floated away quickly and escaped through the ceiling. He bore no gravitas, since he was untethered from the biblical text. Sadly, there are many such pulpiteers. To avoid this and other homiletical ills, let us consider the nature, effects and purpose of preaching.

The nature of preaching has three elements: its purpose, its ground and its power.

The purpose of preaching is to bring glory to God by converting unbelievers and equipping the saints for glad works of kingdom service (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). God is glorified when we walk by faith, submit to His ways and live by His Spirit. A sermon should honor the God about whom it speaks. When sinners are converted, God is pleased. When believers are built up in their faith, God is pleased. However, the applause of people is irrelevant, since they may applaud for the wrong reasons (see Luke 6:26). As Paul wrote, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ?” (Galatians 1:10). The audience of God fills every pew.

The ground of preaching is nothing less and nothing more than the Cross of Jesus Christ. We preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). No sermon should be cross-shy or cross-barren. Not only do we proclaim Christ, we presuppose Christ in every message. Our preaching should be cross-shaped and cross-centered because our thinking and being should be cross-shaped and cross-centered. Join me in confessing with Paul:

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14; see also Luke 9:23-26).

Christ and His cross are the center of all Scripture. We know this on the authority of Jesus himself, after He appeared to His disciples after the resurrection:

How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

What is the power of preaching but the inspiration and guidance of God, the Holy Spirit? The flesh avails nothing. The finest words shorn of the power of God are void. After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples waited for the power of the Holy Spirit to descend (Acts 1). Today we don’t have to wait. He is here and available now.

We need to remember that without Christ we can do nothing of eternal consequence, especially preaching, since preaching makes known the living truths of Holy Scripture in ways not otherwise accessible (John 15:5). Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to be their Comforter and leader into truth. Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth itself (John 16:13; see also 1 John 4:6).

Peter says that “if anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The context of the discussion is spiritual gifts and shows that the Apostle has preaching in mind. Since the Gospel is “the power of salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16), it must be discerned, treasured and offered with scrupulous care, especially by teachers, who are held to a higher standard by the God of truth Himself (James 3:1-3; Isaiah 65:16).

The Spirit of Truth, who gives both the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, must be our all when preaching (Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11-13.) The Apostle Paul was a learned and eloquent man, but he did not rely on his natural gifts in preaching. Rather, he told the Christians at Corinth:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Preaching is both a necessity and a privilege. Godly preaching pleases God, is grounded in the cross of Christ, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. No power on earth can stop that from God’s intended purposes.

© 2019 Douglas Groothuis.

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About the Author

Dr. Douglas Groothuis

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary where he heads the Apologetics and Ethics Masters Degree program. He is the author of twelve books, including Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2011) and Walking through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament (InterVarsity Press, 2017). He has published thirty-one academic articles and dozens of …