We don’t understand God. What is it about Him that so often leads Him to mute His power, to hide behind the weak and lame? It’s not as though He doesn’t understand His own power. His Word created the whole of the universe. His Spirit gave life to us when we were dead. That Word never returns void. That Spirit is omnipotent. But He has chosen to not only work on us, but to work through us. The Word reaches the apex of its power not when it stands alone, but when it is preached. God is pleased to use the foolishness of preaching to give life, to change the world. He works through us.
Such presents us with a peculiar temptation. On the one hand we want to affirm the power of preaching. On the other hand, we don’t want to fall into “power preaching.” That is, we don’t want to embrace the foolishness of the world, thinking this showy gift and that precision technique is how we tap into that power. A man in a power tie, making power gestures, using PowerPoint has likely missed the power. Instead, just as God has chosen the foolish things of the world to change the world, just as He shows strength in our weakness, so we must embrace weakness if we would see the power.
Potent preaching then is not marked ultimately by the application of brilliant minds. Neither is it the fruit of brilliant techniques. Instead the power comes when the preacher is willing to be shown to be weak. We are changed by preaching when the Word shows us our need, exposing our sin. We are changed when the Word shows us the solution, the finished work of Christ. We are changed when preaching agrees with the Word, that we must repent and believe. What we need is not clearer commentaries. What we need is not more homiletics classes. What we need in the pulpit is courage.
I know that I cannot see into the hearts of others. I do not see the sins of the sheep in the pews. I can, at least to a degree, see my own sin. And it is rather safe to assume that my sin and my neighbors’ sins are not so distant. If I would preach to the sins of the congregation, I must preach to my own sins. In days of cultural decline such as our own, it is rather easy for preachers to thunder against the sins of the broader culture. This too, however, is a form of ear-tickling. “Aren’t they awful” as a common message will ultimately translate soon enough into “But we’re okay.” Our calling, however, is to feed our sheep. Which means we must preach to their sins. Which means we must preach to our own.
Courage then is what we need in our pulpits, the courage to look honestly to our own sins. And that is driven by gospel confidence. I can face my sin because it is already dealt with. I can speak to it because God has already declared it to be forgiven. If we will humble ourselves, He will come in both grace and power. And that changes everything.