In the last chapter of Scripture he would ever write, the apostle Paul left one of his pastoral protégés, Timothy, with these words: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). With these words to Timothy as a foundation, what follows are ten essential commitments that every preacher ought to have as he prepares to faithfully preach the timeless and sufficient Word of God.
1. Preaching must be biblically-centered and biblically-grounded.
A preacher does not stand in the pulpit to make his point, to ride his hobby horse, or to showcase his oratorical skills. Instead, he is a mouthpiece for God, heralding His perfect Word to the flock before him. His commitment to proclaiming the truth of God’s Word is rooted in his commitment to the inerrancy, infallibility, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture (“The sum of Your word is truth”, Ps. 119:160; “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”, Matt. 4:4 quoting Deut. 8:3; “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. . . .”, Rom. 15:4; and “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”, 2 Tim. 3:16–17). Charles Simeon had it right when he said: “My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head; never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.”
2. Preaching must be God-exalting.
Preaching is not about the man who lays the Bible atop the pulpit. Preaching is about the God whom that man is charged to proclaim. Preaching should leave its listeners in awe of the holy, majestic, regal, omnipotent, omniscient, unchanging, just, wrathful, patient, compassionate, and loving God revealed in Scripture.
Preaching should lead those who have listened to the sermon to “ascribe to the Lord
the glory due to His name” (Ps. 29:2), so that He receives “glory in the church” (Eph. 3:21)
The preacher should endeavor to bring glory to God by showcasing God and His greatness in his sermons, whether the sermon is based on a text that is explicitly about the greatness of God (Ps. 145:3; Rom. 11:33), or if it comes from a book that does not mention the name of God (Esther), that raises questions of God and His purposes (Job, Ecclesiastes), or that contains instructions on how Christians are to live in a world that is increasingly hostile to God (the Epistles).
3. Preaching must be Christward.
While we reject hyper-typological and allegorical methods which might find Jesus, say, in the sword Ehud thrust into Eglon’s belly (Judg. 3:21–22), we nevertheless take heed of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” While we would not go as far as Charles Spurgeon in saying, “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross,” those who preach should, at some point in a sermon, focus the saints’ gaze on the glorious Son of God. As the Prince of Preachers said elsewhere:
I would propose that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. . . . if I am asked to say what is my creed, I think I must reply—"It is Jesus Christ." . . . the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is . . . Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel; who is in Himself all theology, the incarnation of every previous truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.
May those who preach say amen to those beautiful words.
4. Preaching must be doctrinally and theologically accurate.
Preaching should not be driven by theological presuppositions, but instead should be, first and foremost, biblically-centered and biblically-grounded (see above). Every sermon is, to some degree, a theological endeavor, as it promotes and explains the character and Word of God. So before the sermon is preached, it should be checked against trusted theological resources to ensure the preacher is safely within the guardrails of orthodoxy. To this end, studying systematic theology, biblical theology, historical theology, and practical theology is an essential component of being a faithful and effective preacher of God’s Word. Being a student of theology not only benefits the preacher, it benefits those to whom he is preaching. As J.I. Packer once put it: “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.”
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5. Preaching must be dependent, both before and after the preaching event.
The preacher recognizes that apart from Christ he can do nothing (John 15:5), and so he is a man of prayer, both as a part of his daily walk with the Lord (1 Thess. 5:17) and in particular as he prepares his soul and mind to preach. He prays as he studies (Ps. 119:18), he prays throughout the week leading up to his preaching, he prays the night before he preaches, he prays the morning he is scheduled to preach, and he prays as he walks up to preach. He is utterly dependent upon the Lord to provide the wisdom, the grace, and the strength to deliver God’s Word that day.
While the preacher is dependent upon prayer, that is not the only way he is dependent on God in his preaching. Though he is well-prepared to preach the sermon (see below), he is nevertheless yielded to the Spirit as he delivers the sermon. He is reading the room as he preaches, noting eye contact and other non-verbal cues from the congregation, and as he does so, he is willing to go in directions that he had not planned to, as the Spirit leads, albeit all within a well-crafted and orderly presentation of what God has revealed in His Word. With his words, the preacher is to shepherd real people who sit before him with real hurts and real questions, not simply recite a memorized speech. So the preacher must depend upon the Spirit to help him to accomplish this task.
6. Preaching must be well-prepared.
Being Spirit-led (see above) is no excuse for being ill-prepared. A preacher, like any Christian, must be committed to disciplining himself “for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). He must be committed to communing with God (through the reading of Scripture and prayer), as well as with God’s people. As it relates to his preaching in particular, he must heed the words of 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” In short, he must be a disciplined man who is committed to working hard and toiling in his study. He must be committed to studying the text in its original language, applying sound principles of grammar, hermeneutics, and exegesis to extract the main point of the text, studying the Scriptures and key theological treatises for important cross-references, and developing a sound homiletical outline that unearths and shines a spotlight on the main point of the text. As time goes on, this exegetical process is likely to go faster, but the disciplined preacher must be committed to taking no shortcuts in the exegetical process. As the process goes faster, the preacher has more time to go deeper.
7. Preaching must be authoritative.
The man who has been appointed to preach is not standing up to share his opinions or suggestions. He is not giving a TED Talk. He is not a life coach or a self-help guru who happens to be holding a Bible. Instead, as did the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament, the preacher must be willing to say, with boldness, “thus saith the Lord.” He does so precisely because he knows the power rests with God and His Word, not with the preacher himself.
The preacher takes seriously his task of heralding God’s message to God’s people for God’s glory
He is not ashamed of the message he has been called to proclaim, nor does he shy away from or minimize the office and responsibility he holds. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it:
The preacher should never be apologetic, he should never give the impression that he is speaking by their leave as it were, he should not be tentatively putting forward certain suggestions and ideas. That is not to be his attitude at all. He is a man, who is there to "declare" certain things; he is a man under commission and under authority. He is an ambassador, and he should be aware of his authority. He should always know that he comes to the congregation as a sent messenger.
Sound preaching is authoritative preaching.
8. Preaching must demand something.
Preaching is not lecturing. While there is a didactic component to any sound preaching, preaching should go beyond teaching in calling on the listener to do so something with the content of the sermon. The preacher is free to suggest specific points of application for the church, but is not required to do so, since it ultimately is the Spirit of God who is going to convict hearts and move Spirit-indwelt individuals to act in response to the preacher’s wielding of the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). For believers, the Spirit will take a faithfully-prepared sermon and drive the truth of Scripture into the heart of God’s people (Heb. 4:12), convicting them of sin and fueling them to grow further in holiness and Christlikeness. For unbelievers, the Spirit will take such a sermon and convict him or her of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), which ultimately will lead to salvation for those who are among God’s elect, or just condemnation for those who remain under God’s wrath. Either way, God’s purposes in sending out His Word through the preacher will be fulfilled (Isa. 55:11).
9. Preaching must be both articulate and imaginative.
The best sermons are not merely thrown together. Rather, they are carefully crafted over the course of many hours. They have ample cross-references to Scripture, and if needed, to church history. They are edited, polished, and rolled over in the preacher’s mind, so as to work out any problems with the content or delivery before the preaching event arrives. Routinely preaching “Saturday night specials” is no way to preach! In addition, solid preaching is imaginative, meaning that, when it would be helpful, it includes illustrations, stories, and hypotheticals to draw out the meaning of the text. Since it is both “living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “perfect” (Ps. 19:7), the Word of God ultimately needs no illustrations or similar devices to bring it life. The word of Christ itself gives life (John 6:63). However, to carry us along in our fallen condition, illustrations and stories can be helpful in illuminating the meaning of Scripture, which in turn helps us to live upright and godly lives in this age (Titus 2:12). As with anything, illustrations and stories can be overused! If an illustration or a story showcases a preacher as a gifted illustrator or storyteller – rather than showcasing God and His glory – the preacher has not fulfilled his task.
10. Preaching must be passionate and engaging.
Solid preaching is not monotone or monochromatic. It goes beyond reading the Bible out loud, and it goes beyond reading dryly from a manuscript.
Preaching, as Phillips Brooks put it, is “truth through personality.”
This requires changing vocal patterns (tone of voice, volume, and pace, etc.), making eye contact, and using one’s body (facial expressions, hand gestures, maneuvering around the pulpit) as a means of communication—just as the preacher would in interactions in daily life.
Further, to be passionate in preaching requires a man to believe in what he is preaching. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it in his landmark lectures titled Preaching and Preachers, the preacher is not serving merely as an advocate, but as a witness! He is not merely reciting facts about God and His Word. Rather, he is testifying to the power of the great God revealed in the Word. Lloyd-Jones would say elsewhere in his Preaching and Preachers lectures that preaching is “theology on fire” — a useful phrase and image that speaks to the passion which must undergird and flow out of any sound preaching. Solid preaching is both passionate and engaging.
A Weighty Task
The task of preaching is no small matter. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, preaching requires great commitment, precision, and care. Pray for those men in your life (including, if applicable, yourself) who have been entrusted with this weightiest of tasks, that they would always treat Scripture as “what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13), and that in preaching the truths of the Bible, they would “make it clear in the way [we] ought to speak” (Col. 4:4).
For more on everything from hermeneutics to homiletics, see our free guide: Handling Scripture.
 David Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 12 (quoting H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon (London: Hatchard and Son, 1847), 582-83).
 Steven J. Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2013), 71 (quoting C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. VII, 169).
 J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 284-85
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 83 (quoted in Alex Montoya, Preaching with Passion (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000), 80).
 Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching: Delivered before the Divinity School of Yale College in January and February 1877 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1877), 8 (quoted in Abraham Kuruvilla, A Vision for Preaching: Understanding the Heart of Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic (2015), 34)).