On Preachers and Sermons Versus Communicators and Messages

January 11, 2019
By Elaine Friedrich

In partnership with Seedbed, Mt. Bethel brings you the Seedbed Daily Text: a study on 1 John.

1 John 1:8–10 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.

 CONSIDER THIS

Rather than a letter, 1 John is actually a sermon. What is the purpose of a sermon? A sermon is a very distinctive and unique form of communication; at least it should be. It’s not a lecture or a motivational speech or a keynote address or a good old-fashioned scolding. And while a sermon often offers teaching, this is not its primary purpose.

The purpose of a sermon is to bring hearers into an experiential encounter with the living God. A sermon, properly prepared and proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, aspires to lift its hearers into the realm of divine revelation.

Good preaching does not aim to get us to sit up straight and take notes as though we were in a classroom. No, true preaching causes us to lean forward in humble expectation of hearing a word from God. A real sermon brings us into a keen awareness of the already-present presence of God through an encounter with the Word of God proclaimed in the power of the Spirit of God.

Note, this is not about the preacher. When what I have described actually happens, people will approach the preacher after a sermon and tell him or her things they heard from God, causing that preacher to go away scratching his or her head because he or she didn’t actually say those things. People will say things like, “It felt like you were talking directly to me,” when the preacher had no idea you were even there.

True preaching is an event like none other. The outcome of this kind of preaching is that people, the broken image bearers of God, will be reconciled to the Father, progressively restored to the image of Jesus Christ, and constrained by the Holy Spirit– empowered love of God to fully participate in the mission of God in the world. That, my friends, is what the supernatural speech we call a sermon is designed to do.

So, what does this have to do with today’s text? Thanks for asking. Remember, 1 John is a sermon. Recall the text we have been living with the past few days:

 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us. (kj21)

These days I think we hear far more “messages” delivered by “communicators” than we hear “sermons” proclaimed by “preachers.” What’s the difference? Most “messages” (and I’ve “preached” my fair share of them) either inform us, entertain us, shame us, or worst of all, bore us. A “message” may lead us to make “admissions” about ourselves or increase our resolve. “Sermons” can compel us to authentic confession that will cause us to be changed from one degree of glory to the next. (See 1 Corinthians 3.)

That last little phrase may capture it best. A sermon has the mysterious capacity to impart God’s Word to us in a way that gets God’s Word in us. John skips the introductory niceties and funny stories, and by the time he gets to the seventh sentence, he’s into the gospel. In the document we call 1 John is a sermon on the Word of God that itself is the Word of God. It’s awe-inspiring.

Let’s lean forward together and see where this goes.

THE PRAYER

Father, thank you for inspiring this ancient sermon from John and for preserving it through every generation since. Because of your inspiration, it speaks as clearly and pointedly as it did from its first speaking. Open my ears and my eyes and cause me to lean into it, not as an ancient letter but as the living and active Word of God for us today. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

THE QUESTION

How do you see the difference between a sermon and a lecture and between a preacher and teacher?

P.S. The Daily Text is written by John David “J.D.” Walt, who is the Sower in Chief of Seedbed, a twenty first century publishing, media, and movement platform. Learn more at Seedbed.com.