I just recently went to visit a church (which will remain unnamed) where I heard a sermon preached on the importance of the having a firm grip on the Bible. The preacher talked about how the Bible is our road map through life. At first, I was in agreement. Yes, we need to be listening, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word which combined helps us apply it to our lives. But, then the preacher said, “…and Jesus is our compass.” Why this concept of Jesus is disconcerting to me is that Jesus is not a tool that we use to give us direction, but a Person with whom we are in relationship. Sure, I get the point he wanted to make (Jesus gives us direction), but reducing Jesus to a compass? I know that Jesus Himself, referred to Himself as living bread (John 6:51), as the light of the world (John 8:12), as the door (John 10:9), as the resurrection (John 11:25), as the true vine (15:1), and as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). But, in today’s mindset where efficiency reigns supreme, preacher’s need to be careful that they don’t indirectly convey that Jesus is a tool at our disposal.
Afterwards, what further struck me was that there was no mention of the Holy Spirit’s role. Now, hear me on this, I believe that God desires worshippers of Spirit and Truth (John 4:23, 24). So, He has given us both a road map (the Bible = Truth) and a tour guide (the Holy Spirit = Spirit). If all that is taught is the road map, then what this indirectly teaches is that people can find their own way through understanding the Bible which is misleading. Sure, we may be able to intellectually and morally grasp some truth. But, to be transformed by God’s Word, this comes only from the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). He is the One who brings conviction about sin and the need for repentance (v.9). He is the One who reveals the way of salvation through Jesus (v.10). He is the One who demonstrates Jesus’ victory over satan (v.11) because greater is the One who lives in a believer than the evil one of the world (1 John 4:4). I believe it is also the Holy Spirit who cultivates the soil of a person’s heart into the good soil that hears and accepts God’s Word, so that they bear abundant good fruit to the Father’s glory (Mark 4:20). Bottom line, the Holy Spirit is the One who makes the things of Jesus known to us (John 16:14): without Him how can we truly know Jesus?
As a preacher, I am further convinced that I need to be sharing the Gospel in a way that makes room for the Holy Spirit to move in power. There needs to be both the proclamation of the Gospel (preaching God’s Word) and the demonstration of the Gospel (releasing the anointing of the Holy Spirit). (This means of course I will need to wrestle with my own fears on this which is a topic is for another day, but it looks like I’d be in good company with Paul.) In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul tells the Corinth church that he didn’t come to dazzle them with his amazing intellect, but he came to them in his brokenness. He says, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” What strikes my heart hardest is the last part of Paul’s plea: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Paul’s words challenge me all the more to lean into God’s anointing, rather than my skills as a preacher. When I preach, am I helping people put their faith in my explanation of the Scriptures or in a direct encounter with the living God? To put it another way, am I preaching for transformation where people are opened up towards an encounter with the living God (through the proclamation of the Gospel) and where the Kingdom of God comes near to people (through the releasing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit)? I need to take to heart Paul’s words that say, “…knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3 NLT). Love is more important than knowledge. Too often, knowledge can produce arrogance and an overly inflated sense of importance, but love listens because love is a relational concept. For love to be fully realized and expressed in fullness, there must be a relationship in place. The way to truly know God and gain knowledge of Him is through loving Him. The more I live out the Christian faith, the more I am convinced that it is through an encounter with the love of the Father that changes everything. Preaching needs to be towards an encounter with the living God where people experience more of the Kingdom of God and where the Father’s love breaks through in greater measure in a person’s life.
Jesus is pivotal in this. Jesus is the Gospel. Without Jesus, the Gospel is emptied of its purpose and power. Jesus meant it when He said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But, we must always remember that Jesus walks with us as He shows us the Way, that Truth is a Person, Jesus, whom we can love and get to know through a relationship and that we gain Life because Jesus actually lives His life in and through us. He is more than just a compass. Jesus also made it a point to make sure we understood that He was sending us a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who is more than a spiritual force, but who is also a Person (John 14:15-31; 16:5-16). Too often, preachers forget to remind us that we are not alone in this, that we have a real live tour guide (Holy Spirit) to help us understand the road map (God’s Word), even to actively guide, lead and empower us on this journey of faith through the varying terrain and storms we will be confronted with in this life. I don’t know about you but that’s Good News.