Preaching and Corporate Edification
“What exactly do you do during the week?” On several occasions over 17 years of pastoring I have heard this question. Sometimes it is genuine, other times it is a veiled insult, but the answer is always the same: among other tasks, I give priority of time to preparing to preach and teach God’s Word.
The value of God’s Word and the significance of preaching necessitates that preachers spend adequate time dealing with each text of Scripture, praying through that text, and preparing to present it faithfully to the gathered people of God. We strive to present ourselves as approved workers, those who are “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15) so that the church as a whole is edified.
Faithful handling of the Word means that we carefully study and prepare privately so that publicly we can preach with an end in mind. Every sermon should aim to see Jesus Christ exalted, God glorified, and the church edified. We exalt Jesus because God has exalted him (Php 2:5–11). We glorify God because he is holy and worthy of all glory. In John 12.28 we hear a conversation between the Father and the Son, where Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name. The answer from the Father is “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The term “glorify” means to have “splendid greatness”. Our preaching declares the unique and splendid greatness of God the Father to those gathered.
It is only when Jesus is exalted and God the Father is glorified that we see the church edified. Edification means giving instruction that is beneficial to those who are receiving it. God has called Christians to live holy lives and has caused His Spirit to dwell within every believer. Because of these truths it is to a local church’s benefit to consistently receive instruction as to how they are to live.
Preaching should have a place of prominence within a local church’s worship service, being the “main course” of a fine dinner because it powerfully proclaims the Bread of Life to those gathered. Colossians 3:16 explains how a church should bless one another during their gatherings by stating that “the word of Christ” was to dwell richly among the gathered church. The phrase “word of Christ” addresses a very specific word that focuses on Christ Jesus, that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter O’Brien states that “this rich indwelling would occur when they came together, listened to the Word of Christ as it was preached and expounded to them and bowed to its authority”.Peter T. O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 207.
The dwelling of the word of Christ took place through teaching and admonition. Teaching is instruction in a formal setting, while admonition is counsel about the cessation of an improper course of conduct. Found in context we understand that there is an expected formal setting in which the people of God are to join together to receive instruction for righteous living before the Lord God.
We also must preach purposefully, which means that when we apply the meaning of the text to those gathered we know the context in which they are living and can make direct applications to their lives. It is impossible to know the needs of the people if we fail to pastor, to be among them, and know them in a personal way. We must constantly respond to the rhythm between preaching and pastoring, for the lack of one weakens the other.
The application of a passage of Scripture must not be in singling out certain individuals within the congregation whom you know are living in sin. Rather, we must cast a broad enough application to cover the entire church while trusting that God’s Spirit will be faithful to fulfill his role of convicting people of sin (John 16:8–11). A pastor once said that there were times he hurt 80% of the congregation because he was aiming for 20% with his sermon. Whether there is a dispute to resolve, a sin to correct, or a criticism to respond to does not matter. We preach to a gathered congregation, a living body with purpose and desires. Let us always strive to invite the congregation as a whole to live in obedience to the Word which is being proclaimed.
Salvation and sanctification are two necessary components of every sermon. Charles Spurgeon taught his students “…first and above all things, keep to plain evangelical doctrines; whatever else you do or do not preach, be sure incessantly to bring forth the soul-saving truth of Christ and him crucified.”Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 65. Strive to persuasively preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that one man died for all so that all may be saved.
We also preach sanctification, that God is creating for himself a people who are his own and eager to do that which honoring to him (Titus 2:14). The local church must hear on a regular basis that they have been saved, gathered, and commissioned for a Kingdom work that has eternal consequences. Our holy lives declare to our communities and beyond the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Preacher, God has given you to the local church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). The church needs preaching which faithfully delivers God’s Words while exalting Jesus, glorifying God, and edifying the church. There are times where we invite one to join us in repentance and obedience before God, but every Sunday we are blessed to invite the multitudes. Make the most of every opportunity to preach God’s Word and bless the entire congregation.
Zachary Tunnell is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Hawkins, Texas.