The first time that I participated in a dive was in a swimming pool with a depth of ten feet. Then came the moment off the coast of Hawaii when, as an advanced diver working at a depth of fifty feet, I checked my daughter Carmen’s air gage and discovered that like many beginners she had been using much more air than necessary and had depleted her tank. Using hand signals I found it necessary to communicate to her that she needed to change tanks with me, which she knew would involve for brief seconds being without air and then cleansing her mouth piece before she inhaled using my air. Both of her eyes got almost as big around as her mask. But she made the transition perfectly.
That is the difference between preaching and teaching. In both diving exercises we got wet. In both we learned new skills. In both what we observed beneath the surface was interesting. Both experiences called for decision and action. But in the endless waters of the matchless Pacific what I asked Carmen to do and what she had to do was a life and death matter. There was an urgency to the communication that conveyed to her both the danger of the circumstance and my quiet confidence that all would be fine even though from that depth we could not surface immediately.
Both teaching and preaching should convey knowledge. But there is an urgency generated in prophetic communication that may produce knowledge, but inevitably with the call for action on the part of the auditor. The essential facts of the gospel are conveyed, but the listeners are asked – even urged – to respond in repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. We teach principles on how to pray but then seek a response of heartfelt supplication of God. We describe holiness before God and then plead with the congregants to commit their lives to the discipline of holiness.
All good preaching should have superb didactic content; that is, great preaching always brings knowledge of God and of the text of Scripture. Preachers who do no more than shout or admonish the congregation are doing something, but they are not really preaching. As I have elsewhere defined text-driven preaching, it is “helping your people read the Bible.” Anyone who has listened to a great preacher has had this experience. As we hear him expound a familiar text, we are suddenly hearing something or seeing something in the text that is beyond all of our familiarity with the passage, which we never saw before in quite that way.
But preaching goes further and seeks to elicit the response of both the mind and the heart, the commitment of the whole of life. One can observe this in the Greek vocabulary of preaching. Didaskalia means to impart knowledge. But that may be mathematical, physical, biological, or theological. Kerusso means to proclaim truth with the objective of generating a response to God. Euaggelizo is even more explicit, meaning to preach the good news of salvation in Christ with a view toward conversion. For this reason, I openly advocate an invitation of some variety. I have heard a good many sermons lately that imparted good information, but there was no call for response. Check any one of the prophets and see if there are not multiple invitations included in their preaching.
I teach because I love knowledge, particularly the knowledge of God. But I much prefer to preach because I recognize that men are not saved through knowledge alone but though a relationship to Christ. Preaching imparts knowledge but goes much further, seeking a response to the message. The most critical response is always the call to receive Christ. But following that, there is the necessity of responding to every text of the Bible. Teaching is fun, but preaching stirs my soul. When God’s anointing is on the preacher, lives are changed for the better, and eternal life is often achieved.