The Priority of Preaching
Then Paul makes the point in verse 25 that the central purpose of ministry is the preaching of the Word. In the end, everything comes down to this. “Of this church, I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God” (emphasis added). The words “the preaching of” are not in the original language, but are inserted in some translations, and I believe that is a legitimate insertion. It is clear that what Paul means is that the ministry of the Word of God is achieved by the proclamation, the teaching, and the preaching of the Word of God.
Paul speaks in very strong language. He speaks of the fact that he was made a minister. He did not make himself a minister anymore than he saved himself or appeared to himself on the Damascus Road. He was claimed, and as he was claimed, he was made a minister of the Word. In fact, he was made an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he understood his situation clearly. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, he explains that Christ appeared to him as “one untimely born.” He called himself the “least of the apostles” in verse 9, because he had persecuted the church. But God’s great triumphant sign was His choice of the chief persecutor of the church to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul goes on to say that he received this ministry according to the stewardship from God bestowed on him for the benefit of the Colossian church. I think this is critical to the pastor’s understanding of his calling and stewardship. We have a stewardship from God that is bestowed on us, not for our benefit but for the benefit of the church. It is as if we have been drafted, called out, assigned, and granted a stewardship that we do not deserve and are not capable of fulfilling. Nonetheless, God chooses such instruments. In 1 Corinthians 1:20, 27–28, Paul wrote:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are.
Why has God done these things? So that there may be no boasting except in God. “We are stewards of the mysteries of God,” Paul says, according to the stewardship God bestowed on him “for the benefit of the church.” Why? What is the bottom line? What is the essential point? The point, as you can see in the purpose clause of Colossians 1:25, is, “so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God.” Paul’s intention was not to dabble a little bit in preaching; nor was it his intention merely to add preaching to his ministerial resume or itinerary in order that he might complete himself as a well-rounded minister of the gospel. Neither was it that he would eventually get around to preaching in the midst of other pastoral responsibilities. No, he said, “All of this, in the end, is fulfilled, and is only fulfilled, in fully carrying out my responsibility of preaching the Word.”
When the minister of the gospel faces the Lord God as judge, there will be many questions addressed to him. There will be many standards of accountability. There will be many criteria of judgment. But in the end, the most essential criterion of judgment for the minister of God is, “Did you preach the Word? Did you fully carry out the ministry of the Word? In season and out of season, was the priority of your ministry the preaching of the Word?
This is not to say that there are not other responsibilities or that there are not even other priorities for a pastor. However, there is one central, non-negotiable, immovable, essential priority, and that is the preaching of the Word of God. And Paul speaks to this so clearly when he states his purpose: “That I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God.”
Contrast the absolute priority of preaching in Paul’s ministry with the frequent confusion in today’s congregations. What we see is the marginalization of the pulpit. Some would tell us, “Preaching has its place, but let’s not let preaching get in the way of music, which is, after all, what draws people, and what establishes fellowship.” Perhaps many of us could testify of going to a church service where something was said or even printed in the bulletin to the effect that “first we are going to have a time of worship and then we are going to turn to preaching.” What do we think preaching is? It is the central act of Christian worship! As a matter of fact, everything else ought to build to the preaching of the Word, for that is when the God of whom we have been speaking and singing speaks to us from His eternal and perfect Word.
When we look at manuals, books, magazines, seminars, and conferences addressed to pastors, we notice that preaching, if included at all, is most often not the priority. When we hear people speak about how to grow a church and build a great congregation, few and far between are those who say it comes essentially by the preaching of the Word. We know why this is so. It is because growth comes by the preaching of the Word slowly, immeasurably, sometimes even invisibly. Hence we are back to the problem mentioned above. If you want to see quick results, the preaching of the Word just might not be the way to go. If you are going to define results in terms of statistics, numbers, and visible response, it just might be that there are other mechanisms, other programs, and other means that will produce that faster. The question is whether other methods produce Christians.
Indeed, such techniques will not produce maturing and faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only the preaching of the Word yields that sort of fruit. Preaching is not a mechanism for communication that was developed by preachers who needed something to do on Sunday. It was not some kind of sociological or technological adaptation by the church in the first century in an effort to come up with something to fill the time between the invocation and benediction. It was the central task of preaching that framed not only their understanding of worship, but also their understanding of the church. And so it ought to be today.
This excerpt is adapted from Albert Mohler’s contribution to Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching.