Preaching: A Most Dangerous Business

martinluthermondays

What is preaching? Here’s our working definition that summarizes Martin Luther’s views on the subject: Preaching is God’s Spirit speaking through God’s man by God’s Word in God’s way to bring God’s results.

Last week we suggested preaching ought to begin with the Holy Spirit. Preaching should be Spirit-dominated, both in the study and in the pulpit.

Although we rarely think of preaching as a Spirit-dominated event the way Luther did, once our eyes are opened we may become susceptible to another error. Luther rightly understood that if we view the Spirit’s role in the sermon too narrowly, we may be prone to minimize or deny the role of the preacher. Luther’s understanding of preaching reminds us that the Spirit speaks through God’s man.

The Spirit’s Messenger

Luther understood that preaching begins with the Spirit, but it is not an audible manifestation of the Spirit’s voice. The Spirit speaks through God’s man. This understanding combats sinful man’s response to the Spirit’s role in preaching. Upon learning that the Spirit is essential both in the study and during the sermon, the preacher may conclude that he has nothing meaningful to contribute. However, Luther had little tolerance for such laziness in the pulpit. Luther believed the preparation and delivery of sermons was not to be approached haphazardly, but with extreme care and diligence. He writes:

“Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not study; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture . . . as if there was no need to read the Bible for this purpose. . . . They are nothing but parrots and jackdaws. . . . The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth, you cannot read too much in Scripture, and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well . . . Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent . . . this evil, shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring.” [1]

“You cannot read too much in Scripture, and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well.” –Martin Luther

Luther’s theology of the Spirit offers no convenient excuse for preachers wishing to escape the study. Just because the Spirit speaks through our sermons does not meal we get a free pass to neglect the importance of working hard at preparation and delivery.

Luther explained his own diligence in Bible study this way:

“Of the letters of the princes it has been said that they should be read three times. But the letters of God (for so St. Gregory calls Scripture) are to be read three times, seven times, yes seventy times seven times, or . . . an infinite number of times. Because they are divine wisdom which cannot be so easily comprehended at first glance. If . . . anyone reads Scripture casually, as well-known and easy material, he is deceiving himself . . . by no means imagine that you know it. In the morning read a psalm or other Scripture and study it for a while. That is what I do. When I get up in the morning I recite the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer with the children, adding any one of the Psalms. I do this only . . .  to keep myself well-acquainted with these matters and I do not want to let the mildew of the notion grow that I know them well enough. The devil is a greater rascal than you think. You do not as yet know what sort of fellow he is and what a desperate rogue you are. His definite design is to get you tired of the word  . . . draw you away from it. This is his aim.” [2]

“The devil is a greater rascal than you think. You do not as yet know what sort of fellow he is and what a desperate rogue you are.” — Martin Luther

A genuine belief that God speaks through our sermons should not lead the preacher to hardened laziness, but heavy labor. Lutheran scholar Fred Meuser once said, “When the preacher speaks, God is really present and speaking. In the sermon one actually encounters God. That makes preaching . . . a most dangerous business.”[3]

Why it Matters

Pastor, your sermon preparation matters. Do not presume on the Holy Spirit of God. Do not ask Him to bless your laziness or speak through your poor preparation. Fight to prepare well. Strive to grow as a preacher. Pray for the Spirit to speak through you.

Church member, fight for your pastor as he prepares for this Sunday’s sermon. Fight for him on your knees, praying God will strengthen him to be fruitful and faithful. Fight for him by recognizing the importance of sermon preparation, supplying the time and resources he needs to prepare well. Fight for him by loving him enough to correct him when he’s missing the mark. Fight for him by reminding him that preaching really is “a most dangerous business.”

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2016

———————————————————————————————————-

[1] Martin Luther, WA 53, 218. As quoted in Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), 40–41.

[2] Martin Luther, WA 32, 64-65. As quoted in Ibid., 43–44.

[3] Meuser, Luther the Preacher, 13.

This entry was posted in Church, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Preaching: A Most Dangerous Business

  1. Pingback: The Spirit Speaks Through the Scriptures | Poquoson Baptist Church Blog

  2. Pingback: The Bilingual Spirit: The Languages of Law & Gospel | Poquoson Baptist Church Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *