Preaching Is Pure Restraint... Of Myself

1 Corinthians 2:4-5 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

The above scripture is my heart’s desire for my preaching.

Some people who aren't in ministry might be tempted to the think that pastoring would be neat because you get to get up in front of people and say what you think about things. They might also think pastors do that in counseling. I likely thought this myself at some point in my life. It seems like a common misconception.

The first, and more trite response to those is simply, no, pastors should instead be saying what God thinks about things. That's the obligatory, spiritual-sounding truth that is obvious enough that it really shouldn't bear mentioning. Yet, I mentioned it.

If we're honest though, it’s not that simple. We realize that we often make applications to people's lives using what God thinks about things. In other words, there does come a point after interpretation (what God thinks/says) is then practically applied to specific people that we spiritually triage (what we think/say).

I personally think that if at all possible, most of the messages I preach should mostly be interpreting what God has said according to proper rules of interpretation, and that application should happen organically from that, in that order - interpretation, then application. 80/20 respectively? 90/10? I don't know, but it should be most weighted like that, in my opinion. Why? Because I am keenly aware that when preaching is mostly application instead of interpretation, I have to use more restraint.

Let me explain. It is rather easy to take Bible truths while preaching and begin to “file” them into the appropriate places in the “character-flaw files” of the people you pastor. Pastors think a lot of things. They observe a lot of things. We just really want everyone to be better off. It becomes difficult to then not take the words of God and nail literally everything you observe and think about in the people in front of you. There is often a strong desire to correct every flaw.

If you read that and are wondering, "Why not? Isn't that my job?" You might need to rethink your calling. You might try to defend such a style inferring that you're like Paul and the listeners are like the Corinthians, but the comparison just doesn't hold up as a prescription, and you're taking yourself too seriously.

But then we have 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” This does mean that we sometimes have to get very specific with people’s problems. But does that mean all of them, all at once, and all in the same manner? No, I think it’s more involved than that. The execution of that verse in the real world is not simplistic.

I am also not suggesting that you never apply character-challenging things in preaching. There should be some Biblical thing that is actionable for the listeners, otherwise, what are we even doing? So, how much do I "nail" things from the pulpit? Well, I'm afraid that "nailing" things is based on the presumptions that people don't get it, the Holy Spirit is incapable of telling them, and they can't come to the right conclusion without me telling them exactly what they need to do practically. Those seem like arrogant and uninformed presumptions. Some men just get enjoyment from straightening other people out. I get it. But for me, the more I restrain myself from doing that, the better the mind and heart of people engage with the truths they do hear. And, what’s more, the Lord actually gives them the practical conclusion! I just feel like I’m doing people a great disservice when I try to do their thinking for them. So, I must restrain myself often.

What's more impactful than a preacher telling you what you need to change? Simple, a preacher showing you what a passage means and you then having a lightbulb go on over your head, and conviction swell up in your heart. This has been the kind of preaching that has always helped me the most when I hear it. It leaves something for me to do with the content while I'm listening. If I'm just being told what to change about myself, I can have a lazy mind and just check the boxes the preacher says to check.

I once had a man tell me that he needed to leave his job because his job was not holy and not something a Christian should do. I had never talked with him directly about that. That is a practical application the Holy Spirit made in his heart. I suppose I could have just told him, “You need to get a different job!” but I would have robbed him of a work of God done in his own heart. I had someone else tell me, “We’ve stopped drinking alcohol.” I could have told them, “Pour that stuff down the drain!”, but again, they now know that the Lord worked in their heart, not me.

For me personally, as I hear what a passage means, it seems the Holy Spirit takes care of filing it into my character flaws in all the right places, especially when guided along by a preacher who cares about my spiritual maturity more than whether or not I tick all the boxes. I just don't think that this inward application of scripture is something that any preacher can do with the same level of accuracy that the Spirit of God can.