Thursday, February 06, 2014

"Commandments" on preaching commandments

The Lord being my helper, this Sunday I will be preaching on Ephesians 6:1-4. And then next week I am giving the sermon again to a small group of pastors at a Proclamation Trust conference who will then give helpful feedback! So I've been musing on how to preach ethical instructions. Feel free to put me right and to pitch in with other considerations:

Ethical instruction should come in the context of the gospel. We are saved in Christ, by grace, through faith for good works. Some of your hearers will assume that being a Christian is primarily about being good, even about trying to earn Brownie points with God. You don't want to implicitly confirm a merit theology. Soak your sermon in the grace of the gospel of God. Repeat.

The commandments of God are to be proclaimed authoritatively: speak as one speaking the very oracles of God, as his appointed spokesman. There's no need to apologise for the Word of God. Be sensitive to how people might hear what is said but remember that God is right! His word is true and good even if its not always comfortable or obvious to me and you.

But speak humbly. As ever you must preach to yourself first. You speak as a sinner to sinners. You don't want to go on too much about yourself or parade all your family's dirty laundry in public, but it helps your congregation to know that you're in this together: like them you have your issues and struggles and you are a work in progress. You don't have it all sorted.

As ever you should also preach theologically. How do these words of God flow from who God is? Join the dots for people. Preach reasons as well as bald commands.

And as ever speak to the whole person. Appeal to heart, mind, will. Seek to inform and motivate action. You should seek to preach these commandments winsomely. Show the attractiveness of life lived God's way. Make people want to be more like Jesus.

Don't just beat up your congregation all the time. Do you have a tendency to tell them off? Perhaps that's therapeutic for you but is it what they need? We may need the word of God to break up our hard hearts, but we also need them bound up again. Where the surgery of the gospel should be followed by its salve. And, of course, you only want to make them wear the caps that fit. They may not all be guilty of every sin mentioned in every passage all the time, perhaps?

 Preach the "uses" of these laws. You should be influenced by the thrust of the passage here, if you can discern one (I've been on PT things before! :) ), but it will usually helpful to ask such questions as: How does it reveal God and the Lord Jesus Christ to us? How does it expose our sin and our need of a Saviour? How does it educate us to live as children of God and to imitate our Lord Jesus? The law will almost always lead us to confess our sins, to depend with thankfulness on the Lord Jesus Christ and his grace as our only hope and to pray for God's help that by his Holy Spirit we might live for him. 

There's a place for practical suggestions and tips. But be careful to distinguish the Word of God from your (possibly) helpful ideas. Distinguish aims and methods. By all means give people something they might like to try doing, but make sure you get the principles clear. It's not for you to add to the laws of God.  

And remember, there are always bonus points for Christian preachers who mention Jesus! He is Lord, example, Saviour.

Is that 9 commandments? So we need another one, please....

No comments: