After preaching several times a week for almost forty years, I am not sure I could honestly say that very many of those thousands of messages were completely pure in motive. Far too many times, (especially, although not exclusively, as a young man) my motive was to impress the listeners with my eloquence, humor, or knowledge. And if the motive was not to impress, I am afraid it was occasionally to “let some guy have a piece of my mind.” In the first case it was all about me, in the second it was all about the person I was trying to correct, when all along it should have been all about God!
As the years have gone by, I now have the advantage of hindsight; and I am beginning to understand how important it is to seek to preach with pure motives. We cannot ignore this task because it is difficult, especially when our Lord has commanded us to do it. Preaching is the greatest thing that a preacher does. We are told to “preach the word” in 2 Timothy 4:2. We are exhorted to, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).
The “preach the Word” part and the “cry aloud” part are of vital importance, but we must not forget that we are also told to do everything we do without murmuring and disputing. In the same chapter, Paul told the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).
God’s work should never be done to seek vainglory. There is only One who deserves glory—the Lord Jesus Himself. This is why the great Apostle Paul did not consider himself the great Apostle Paul. He considered himself the chief of sinners! His glory was in the cross, not in himself. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14).
So how may we as God’s servants preach His wonderful Word with pure motives? Let me give some suggestions as we seek to learn how to bring our impure hearts under the control of the pure Holy Spirit in the matter of preaching.
Approach God’s Word with Reverence and Awe
“The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:28–29).
I thank God that He allows us to have dreams and visions of what we want to see accomplished for His glory. I am at the age that I take great comfort in Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 that, “Your old men shall dream dreams.” But, I am not so foolish as to think that God called me to preach my dreams. He called me to preach His Word, and my dreams mean nothing except as they are the product of spending time at the feet of Jesus, with an open Bible and a yielded heart.
We must approach the Bible with a deep respect and realize that it alone contains the words our people need. In my early years of ministry, I followed the counsel of an older preacher that I wish now I had not followed. His advice was to never preach through a book of the Bible on either Sunday morning or Sunday evening. He said that we were to find out what our people needed and then craft sermons designed to meet those needs. I am sure that was good advice for many, but it was not for this young preacher. What I did not realize was that what my people needed was God’s Holy Word, the Bible! Don’t come to the Bible looking for a text for your message. Come to God’s Word with the realization that you are holding in your hands the very words of life that your people desperately need to hear.
Ask the Lord to Remove Any Impure Motives from Your Heart Before You Preach
It is impossible to be a shepherd without sometimes being hurt by the people you are trying to help. I have the privilege of being the pastor of the church I have served for over twenty years. I love the people who give me the privilege of speaking to them each Sunday, and I know they love me as well. Despite this love, we occasionally hurt each other. I ask the Lord to never allow me to take the hurt to the pulpit and say something that I should not. Yet I am ashamed of how many times I have allowed my hurt or frustration to spill out into the sermon. It might be easy to excuse ourselves because of someone else’s actions, but it is never right to retaliate.
If God Convicts You of Preaching or Writing in the Flesh, Go to the Person and Make it Right
In the early years of my ministry, we had a good amount of conflict. The church had gone through several disappointments, and it did not take long for some of those negative feelings and criticisms to be redirected my way. In retrospect, I realize that some of the criticism was deserved and some was not. But whether I deserved the unkind letters and critical words was not the issue; the issue was whether or not I was willing to yield to the Holy Spirit and respond in a Christ-like way.
During one particular Sunday night, I lost the battle and allowed my preaching to be fueled by the flesh and not the Spirit. The ride home that night was especially quiet and lonely as the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin. After a couple of days, I knew what I had to do: I had to go to the pulpit and apologize to my people. I can tell you by personal experience that you do not want to do that too many times. It hurts too much! The old saying “no pain, no gain” applies in the spiritual realm as well as the physical. Jesus put it this way, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23–24).
God takes it very seriously when we use our sacred calling as an excuse to verbally abuse His children. It does not take too many times of eating crow to cause us to think twice about what we say or write.
Having our motives completely pure will be something we struggle with as long as we are in these fleshly bodies, but it is something that is worthy of our intense effort. If we hope to someday hear God say “well done” to us as preachers, we must take heed to the prayer of David in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 edition of The Baptist Voice.