Now that we know why we preach, we must determine what we preach. The only valid and sufficient basis for preaching is the Word of God. It is the Word of God that establishes and confirms the theology and ministry of the church. It alone adequately addresses the changing and often hostility culture of our world.
Because the preaching of God’s Word is incarnational, the preacher must demonstrate the truthfulness of his preaching by the character and holiness of his life. Preaching requires that our lives be consistent with what we preach. I heard Chuck Swindoll describe it similar to this on his radio program. God’s call to ministry is distinct from every other vocation a man may have. Musicians may excel in their musical talents and yet waste their lives with compromise and sinfulness. A builder may be master the skill to build beautiful and functional houses, while never learning how to build a home. The rancher may know how to develop champion herds but be unable to raise his own children. The lawyer may be gifted and successful at defending others in a court of law, while all the time living a life of lawlessness. The doctor may brilliantly operate on the human heart and yet become slave to the evil passions within his own heart. But the call to minister is a call to a distinct and unique kind of life. The preacher must live out his sermon and set the example of holiness and devotion before his people.
The Bible is God speaking to us. That God speaks is astonishing. What God speaks is unique. How God speaks is miraculous. The Word of God is the wonder of the world in its inspiration, preservation and interpretation. Its inspiration rests in the mystery of God’s theoneustos, breathing out the Word. Its preservation proves to be reality through the active intervention of God in history. Its interpretation reveals the active presence of God in the understanding of His word.
Our view of the Word of God will greatly shape how much we center our preaching on the Scripture itself. The living power of God’s Word is vividly seen in Hebrews 4:12–13. The first Greek word in verse twelve is zowontos. It is the word for that which is filled with life. It gives us our word “zoology,” the study of living things. The first word in a Greek sentence is always the focus of the sentence. Literally, the verse reads, “Living is the word of God…” It is vibrant and vitalizing.
The word of God lives because it is the word of a living God. Why does my hand live? My hand lives because it is connected to my body. The word of God lives because it is connected to a living God.
God’s word lives because it gives life. “You have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). Living things are alive because they reproduce. A tree gives life to another tree, because it is alive. From the tiniest one-celled amoeba to the largest whale, things which are alive give life. The word of God gives life because it is alive.
The Bible is alive because it has an inherent energy. The Greek word in verse 12 is the word energos. The word of God has a powerful, inherent energy. It is an energetic, compelling, boiling, flaming, radiating, overwhelming power.
The Word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to discern (judge) the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) God’s word cuts superlatively. It is more cutting, sharper than any dagger with two edges. Nothing is able to cut as the word of God can cut. The Greek word here indicates a dagger with “two mouths.” This is the famous “sword of the Spirit” mentioned by Paul in the Christians complete armor (Eph 6:17). Such short, sharp Roman daggers had edges on either side of the blade, both of which cut. God’s Word is all cutting edge! There is no blunt side!
The Word of God penetrates deeply, “It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12). The thoughts and intents of our heart refer to our entire human nature. The thoughts are our ability to think and reason. On the other hand, the heart refers to our emotions, those inward, visceral compulsions and feelings that sweep over us. We are a people who desperately need help with our hearts, our inward persons.
The word of God exposes universally: “No creature is hidden from him.” (Heb 4:13). All peoples, tribes, and cultures are under the all seeing eyes of God. The author of Hebrew expands his point. His eyes are raised to the countless hosts of angelic creatures, cherubim, seraphim, demons, power and principalities – all of the intelligent life of the universe must give account to God.
The word of God is like that. It conquers us, exposes us, and ultimately brings us to meet the eyes of God. We may avert our gaze from people whom we are ashamed to meet. But there comes a time to everyone when we meet that God from whose eyes nothing is or ever can be concealed. God’s Word is the instrument God uses to bring us to that place.
The Word of God is the light of life. It is the warmth that sustains life. It is the certainty that draws near at judgment. It is the water that quenches the fire. It is the compass that leads out of every wilderness. It is the true North Star by which we may navigate. It is the substance and source of our preaching. And in eternity, when our race is run, we shall sing praises forever to the Lord Who gave us the Word that we preach.
Jimmy Draper is President Emeritus LifeWay Christian Resources.