It helps to pick the right church in the first place. In one move, it took several months to find it. We tried to be discerning rather than fussy and eventually found one where the Bible was preached and the congregation was paying attention.
We always hoped for skill in the pulpit. Preaching is important. I’ve heard plagiarized sermons, sermons that were read, and sermons that had no basis in Scripture at all. I’ve heard poor preaching that impacted my heart, and good preaching that seemed empty. Sometimes a complex sermon offers a great challenge, but the challenge can also come from a simple message. Preaching is a mystery.
For all this, I’ve concluded that hearing a good sermon is not about the messenger or style of preaching. It is more about the message, but even a well-written message falls flat if the power of the Holy Spirit is not in it.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18)The word “preach” often means “to proclaim with authority.” The message is important, but the authority behind it makes the difference between a powerful sermon and one that falls flat. Jonathan Edwards used to read his sermons without a great deal of speaking ability, yet the power of the Holy Spirit used what he said to bring sinners to their knees in a great revival.
Paul, as the verse indicates, knew that even a selfishly motivated preacher can still be used of God. God can also use those who fumble with their words, and those whose speaking is weak. This is possible because the truth, and the authority behind the truth, is more powerful than the package it comes in.
I remember sharing the gospel with a woman in California. I felt as if I’d bungled the message and was amazed that this woman received Christ and was saved. Later, I asked her what had been said that touched her heart. From her response, I realized that it was not my presentation that got through to her, but the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul didn’t care who received the credit, but that the gospel was preached. Most Christians think that way too. When we hear that the cause of Christ is being furthered and His name is proclaimed, we rejoice. Yet far too often, we critique the preacher instead of being thankful that Christ is proclaimed.
Sometimes I’d like to give someone a good sermon, but I know that my zeal to “set them straight” has nothing to do with the power of God. Preaching is vital, but anyone can preach. As Ephesians 3:21 says, God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”
I know that the power the Bible is talking about is not in my ability or in the ability of any preacher. Oratory or debating skills do not matter. For the message to get through to the human heart, the sermon must be infused by and delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit.