I have always loved Luke’s description of the Berean believers that Paul encountered in Acts 17:11: “These Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.“
While on his missionary journeys, Paul’s practice was to enter the synagogue of whatever town he visited and preach Jesus as Messiah, using Scripture to make his case. When he visited Thessalonica, he was run out of town because of the jealousy and unbelief of the local Jewish religious leaders. When he escaped to Berea, however, he encountered people with a mindset the exact opposite of what he dealt with in Thessalonica.
Luke describes the Bereans as noble-minded. Their minds were open to receive the truth. They were not blinded by prejudice or preconceived notions. They received the Scriptures with a ready mind, attentively and authentically listening to Paul as he expounded the Word. They didn’t roll out the Old Testament scrolls just on the Sabbath, but earnestly investigated and examined the Scripture daily to understand if Paul’s teaching was in harmony with what the Lord had said in sacred Writ. In other words, Paul’s preaching was judged based not on his dynamism or dogmatism but on his devotedness to the Scriptures.
What is “Good Preaching”?
I travel all around the country preaching to congregations of many different stripes. One regular frustration and discouragement that I experience is preaching to people who have been “trained” from their earliest memories to judge preaching based primarily on the preacher’s style.
If he has a forceful personality, if he freely spouts dogmatic opinions about hot-button topics, if he demonstrates a degree of dynamism in his delivery, pounds the pulpit, or paces back and forth across the platform, then “he has the anointing — he is a ‘great preacher.’”
He could be wrenching Scripture out of context the entire sermon; however, that goes virtually unnoticed. They like his style. What he says is secondary!
Sometimes I show up to preach and people begin telling me about their favorite preachers (many of whom I know and some whom I have heard), and I immediately know I will not get a fair hearing from many in that congregation. Why? Because they have been taught that “good preaching” has more to do with style than substance.
Carefully handling Scripture must take absolute priority over the style of delivery.
This is not to disparage my preacher brethren who have a dynamic delivery. Certainly God’s enabling presence in the preacher can at times be detected through the fervent nature of his pulpit presentation. But carefully handling Scripture must take absolute priority over the style of delivery (2 Tim. 2:15).
“Good Preaching” as Defined by Paul
The church in Corinth was enamored with the sensational. It was a “happening” place to worship. Energy, excitement and emotion seemed to ripple through their gatherings. Yet Paul begins by chiding them for dividing themselves into cliques. One group said, “I really like Peter.” Others said, “No, for our money, Apollos is the best.” Some said, “Paul, Paul, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, nobody can!” Could it be that the division in Corinth came down to the likability of the man or his particular style of preaching?
“Apollos is so eloquent, he lifts me into the heavens. What an orator!”
“Peter just tells it like it is. He shucks it down to the cob. He is so real.”
“Paul speaks to us like a father, he is so tender and compelling.”
This sort of attitude is what Paul is addressing in Chapter 2 when he says to the Corinthian believers “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4).
We are not told anything specific about this demonstration, except that it exhibited proof that Paul’s message was true. But we do know what it was not. This power and demonstration was not the result of an emotionally charged, theatrical oratory display. We know this because, in the preceding three verses, Paul gives us clear clues as to how he came across when he first preached Christ to the congregation at Corinth:
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1–5)
His personal presentation, if anything, was marked by “weakness and trembling,” not by worldly confidence and human panache. Listen to the apostle in 1 Corinthians 1:17 where he says that Christ sent him to preach the gospel: “not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Paul’s preaching was potent because it was consistently faithful to Scripture and always Christ-exalting.
Yet the Spirit’s power working in Paul as he preached was eternally effective in producing spiritual fruit in the hearts of his hearers. Paul’s preaching was potent because it was consistently faithful to Scripture and always Christ-exalting. Thus Paul could be assured of true effectiveness and anointing in preaching.
May God grant us preachers who will be so devoted to handling Scripture accurately that, in so doing, they will teach their congregations the true definition of good preaching.