The Power and Primacy of Preaching
by Harry Reeder
I have the extraordinary privilege to pastor Briarwood Presbyterian Church. That statement evokes within me a torrent of various emotions because my life apart from Christ was one of unmentionable blasphemy and rebellion manifested in multiple ways, not the least of which was profane, vulgar, and utterly despicable language in every possible situation, with no thought as to who was listening or the effect it might have upon them. Amazingly, not only am I forgiven by God’s grace as a believer in Jesus Christ, but victories of grace have been given to me in the choice of vocabulary and tone, as well as an authentic concern for those who hear what I have to say. Astoundingly, to the wonderment of my heart, the same mouth that uttered destructive blasphemy before the throne of God and also assaulted the ears and hearts of men and women is, by God’s grace, now called, allowed, and enabled to preach the Word of God and the excellencies of Christ.
I believe that expository preaching and pastoral leadership in our Lord’s church are the highest callings possible on this side of eternity. Obviously, the reason that the Lord allows and even directs His tithe to support those who are called as elders to serve as ministers of God’s Word and in prayer is not because they are superior or because they are deserving of such a gracious and benevolent provision. It is because of the primacy and importance of the preaching of God’s Word.
This is why the Apostle Paul declares to the Corinthians: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17a). Paul is not demeaning baptism. He knows its importance as a sign and seal of the new covenant that is commanded by the Lord through the Great Commission. But he also knows that the effectiveness of baptism is dependent upon the true preaching of the Word for its usefulness in our Lord’s church. He knows that the blessing of baptism is downstream from the faithful preaching of God’s Word.
Paul recognizes that God’s Word was designed to be preached. Therefore, he informs us in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 that Scripture came to man from the Holy Spirit. That same Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction in righteousness, and it equips the believer for every good work. By revealing the design of Scripture, he also profiles the definition of preaching. The sacred text is taught faithfully and applied with reproof, correction, and training to equip the hearer to know and follow Christ. Gospel-saturated, biblical exposition and application of God’s Word is designed by God for Christ to speak to the hearts of His people.
The primacy of God’s Word preached and the priority of prayer kept the early church on track, moving the Apostles to establish the office of deacon so the Apostles would not “neglect the ministry of prayer and the Word” (Acts 6:1–6). As important as the mercy ministry, stewardship, and administration of the church were, they realized all of it was contingent upon the faithful preaching of God’s Word wrapped in fervent, effective prayer. When they said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (v. 2), they were not demeaning the diaconal ministry. They were affirming the necessity and priority of prayer and the Word. If prayer and the Word had been neglected, there would have been no heart for mercy ministry.
One of the most affirming statements in the Pauline epistles concerning the unalterable priority of the proclamation of God’s Word is found in his last epistle as he commands Timothy with his life’s closing words: “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). On the verge of his martyrdom under the tyranny of Nero, Paul gives Timothy a life-concluding and life-changing perspective as a preacher of God’s Word. He charges Timothy to preach the Word of God “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom” (v. 1). In other words, every time Timothy mounts the pulpit to preach the Word, he is to feel “the eyelash of God” upon him. The eye of God is upon those who handle His Word, and God is pleased when they proclaim His Word truthfully.
Not only are preachers to feel the brush of God’s eyelash, they are also to hear the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who is coming again soon. Every sermon a preacher delivers may be the last sermon he preaches before Christ comes for His people. The Savior is coming for His bride, and she needs to be ready. Preachers must wash her with the water of His Word with the preaching of the Word.