Preaching Articles

I’m no gambler, but gambling provides a good analogy. When a gambler has a good hand he may decide to go all-in with his chips. If he is truly confident in his hand and believes that the odds are in his favor of winning he may slide his entire stack of chips to the center of the card table, thereby raising the stakes of his bet to every penny he has in the game. 

Similarly, when a preacher is confident in his message, knowing that it is from the Lord and entirely consistent with Scripture, he throws himself into the sermon. He goes all-in (as he should). But this can create a problem if this week he is all-in with a sermon on grace and next week he is all-in with a sermon on accountability. Someone in his congregation may become confused. “How can both of these ideas be true?”

Of course, the Bible is filled with ideas and principles which when compared side by side (especially apart from their overall context) seem contradictory. For preachers to deal with this inherent challenge we need to adopt what I have come to call "the law of non-mutual exclusivity" in preaching. Here are a few ways to do it:

Teach an intelligent Christianity

Remind the people to whom you preach that Christian discipleship is more than merely answering an altar call or committing to a few basic concepts of the Christian life. A message on justification by faith alone and a message on the importance of a living faith are not mutually exclusive. It isn’t an either/or concept; it’s a both/and lifestyle. (James 2:14-26)

Plan your preaching

By intentionally not contrasting two ideas back to back that are seemingly contradictory, you may avoid causing confusion in people.

Preach your plan

Make a preaching plan and be intentional about what you preach back-to-back. You may decide it is a good idea to preach on grace one week and then on the Law the following week. It may be very helpful to your people to hear the two biblical concepts contrasted, in order to see each more clearly. Allow the Holy Spirit to move you as you preach, but also seek His guidance as to a plan for what (and when) to preach. It is not stifling the Spirit to ask His direction and guidance ahead of time to allow for a greater degree of cohesion in preaching.

Think of your sermons as a series of lectures (in a sense)

Great sermons have a lot not in common with professorial lectures. A sermon more often goes through the mind to change the heart, whereas many great lectures merely feed the mind. But great lectures are small pieces of a big picture. In order to offer a clear picture of a biblical idea, book of the Bible or doctrinal teaching from the Bible, consider preaching and teaching through sermon series or through liturgical cycles and seasons in a coherent, thematic way.

Teach your people about “the law of non-mutual exclusivity”

Of course, I would love it if this pet phrase of mine took off in circles of preaching and swept through the church like wildfire, but I doubt it will. You may want to use different language, but remind people, as I mentioned above, that Christian discipleship, though simple in essence (all focused on becoming like Christ) is multifaceted

The same God who punishes sin also brings redemption through the blood of Christ. The same God who loves sinners makes one way through the Cross. Go all-in every time you preach. Deliver the content of every sermon as though it were the most important idea or passage of Scripture in the Bible. Then do the same thing the next time, and the next time still.

All of God’s truth deserves our passionate presentation. It is all part of the mosaic of the beauty of God’s revelation to us for salvation and eternal life.

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

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