FIRST-PERSON: Preaching from God & before God

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) -- As a young man, when I accepted the call to pastor a church I was both excited and terrified -- excited to begin the new season of leading and serving Christ's bride yet terrified that I may fail them.

When it came to weekly tasks, my greatest concern was whether I could be fully prepared for the Sunday morning sermon, especially considering all the other teaching, administrative and ministry-oriented duties of the pastorate.

All things considered, I felt wholly inadequate in this new calling, but I came to learn that wasn't altogether a bad thing.

"For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing," the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (CSB). "To some we are an aroma of death but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God."

Pastor, the weekly privilege of preaching God's Word to God's flock is no small task. Some would say it is the most significant, most valuable thing you do every week. After hours of studying the text and praying for the Holy Spirit's discernment, wisdom and anointing, God gives you the awesome responsibility of representing Him and presenting His Word before a group of people, who have gathered to meet with Him and to hear from Him.

The message of Christ is a matter of "life" and "death," Paul writes in verse 15. "Who is adequate for these things?" the apostle asks rhetorically in the next verse.

"No one" is the appropriate response. Apart from the calling of God in Jesus Christ, not one of us is educated enough, dynamic enough, faithful enough or eloquent enough to represent God and re-present His Word every week. Apart from Christ, the preacher brings absolutely nothing to the table. There is no room for boasting or pride in the pulpit. The gravity of our weekly task would completely devastate us apart from the call of the heavenly Father, the redemption of Christ Jesus and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

"Profit," as Paul indicates in verse 17, is a dangerous motive for preaching God's Word. If the question is "what might I gain from preaching today?" I have failed before I have begun. What is it that I hope to gain from preaching? Money? Acclaim? Admiration? Experience? The preacher is only prepared to stand in the pulpit when he seeks no such earthly reward. Our only gain is found in our humbled obedience to God. A quote most commonly attributed to Nikolaus Zinzendorf comes to mind: "Preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten."

Also in verse 17, the apostle offers a single guiding thought that may do us all good as we prepare and preach every week: "as from God and before God." Is this message a message from God? Am I preaching it today as if God Himself is in the room watching and listening?

Pastor, perhaps you struggle at times with the same feelings of inadequacy in the pulpit. But still, resting only in the call of the Father and the anointing of the Spirit, you stand in the pulpit every week proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. Be encouraged. When Paul meditates on the gravity of his preaching task, he comes to the conclusion in this passage that on our own, none of us are "adequate for these things."

But you can fill the pulpit every week in humbled, impassioned obedience to God when the message you have prepared is "from God" and is being delivered "before God." When the message is from God, He communicates it through you to those He gathers. And when the message is before God, He looks on you, preacher, with smiling eyes of approval and affirmation.

Tony Wolfe is director of pastor/church relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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