Preachers are not special.
They face the same temptations as every Christian. Like any of us, preachers are ruined through financial greed, sexual immorality, or alcohol abuse. However, there are some specific temptations preachers face concerning giving up on the Bible.
This topic assumes a whole theology of the preached word of God and the relationship of the word of God with the Bible. Accepting this assumption and the theology that lies behind it, I need to first clear some of the ground for what it means for preachers to give up on the Bible.
In Acts 20, Paul claimed to have omitted nothing of ‘the whole counsel of God’. But Paul wasn’t claiming to have taught every verse of the Old Testament in an expository preaching program. The whole counsel of God was ‘the Kingdom’, ‘the gospel of the grace of God’, ‘repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:20-21, 24, 25,27). This ‘word of God’ that Christian preachers proclaim is more specific than simply the Bible. The word of God Christians preach is the gospel of Jesus Christ, for that is the message of the Bible. Those who preach God’s word must have the humility to ensure their words coincide with God’s words, found in the Bible. The connection between continuing with the inspired scriptures, preaching the word, and doing the work of an evangelist is seen in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.
However, Biblical truth is truth with or without reference to the Bible. Referring to the Bible does not make falsehood true—even the devil quoted the Bible. Furthermore, the commitment to scriptural evangelism required of the Christian preacher does not equate to preaching ‘oral commentaries’. Oral commentaries are neither preaching nor God’s word.
Preaching is a complex and difficult social task that is expressed in many forms. It is insufficient to preach the word of God—we must preach it to somebody else. The preaching of the word of God must fit the situation and occasion. However, the Christian preacher must always aim to preach the word of God, regardless of the situation or occasion. Holding together preaching the truth and the listener need isn’t always easy. Thus, many of the temptations to give up on the Bible come from the preacher’s attempts to communicate with people.
The preachers’ temptations often come from the hearers’ itchy ears demanding relevance, application, persuasion, and simplicity.
The Bible’s relevance is in its truth, destroying the falsehoods of Satan—not simply answering the questions people ask, but revealing the irrelevant hypocrisy of the world’s frame of reference and interests. Answering the world’s questions is usually accepting and even preaching the philosophy of the world. Preaching the gospel will address the problems of sinfulness that the world diagnoses incorrectly. For example, Jesus didn’t die to overcome power imbalance and patriarchy but sin and God’s condemnation.
Closely associated with relevance is the demand for the sermon to be applied to everyday life. Yet the gospel transforms and renews minds rather than providing more rules and regulations to live by.
The New Testament preachers did engage in persuasion, showing to the Jews the consistency of the gospel with Old Testament expectations. However, they did not recast the gospel to show consistency with the pagan world’s religion, morality or philosophy. Just the reverse—they attacked the falsehood of the world’s views, especially of idolatry. Biblical preachers must aim to conform the world to the truth rather than being conformed by the world’s errors.
Simplification is the art of good preaching when its aim is to lift minds and understanding. But the quest of many modern listeners is to lower the level of discourse to the laziness of emotional experiences, YouTube clips and post-modern memes. Jokes and stories, anecdotes, and pithy platitudes entertain more than educate. While simplification, like aesthetics and music, aim to aid hearing the word of God, it can easily turn church into a concert.
However, it is the temptations that are inside us that finally lead us astray (James 1:14-15). The desire to be liked and successful are two deadly desires of the preacher. We want Jesus’ name to be honoured, people to be converted and the church to grow. We want people to like us so that they will listen to our message and give us opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus with them. However, both are deadly for gospel ministry.
The desire for success is not the central motivational drive or key evaluation of gospel ministry. It inevitably leads to an ungodly pragmatism, personal aggrandizement, and avoidance of preaching the offence of the gospel. While faithfulness must not be an excuse for failure, it does keep the preacher on the Bible’s message of the gospel.
Unlikability is not a virtue to pursue. The desire to be liked, however, is a burden that makes gospel preaching impossible. To avoid confrontation, to be appreciated, and to be an accepted part of the society and culture leads the preacher to choose to avoid, soften, excuse, or apologise for socially unacceptable parts of the Bible.
The devil frequently tempts us with persecution and seduction. Gospel preachers face both together; the world does not want to hear what we say, and we want to be liked and successful. By letting go of the Bible, we accommodate the gospel to the world, instead of accommodating the world to the gospel. If the agenda of our preaching is the worldview of our own message, the outcome of our preaching will not be the word of God.
Jesus told his disciples of the blessing of being persecuted for righteousness (Matthew 5:11-13, Luke 6:22-23, John 15:18-16:4). Yet in this, preachers are no different from any Christian, for we are all called upon to deny ourselves, take up our cross and unashamedly follow Jesus. This is the joyful pathway of our salvation.