I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing of your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word. (Psalm 138:1-2, ESV)
Even in its broadest sense, subject matter is of first importance. For the preacher, as opposed to a presenter at the most recent TED Talks, not only takes up a subject to talk about, he must always proclaim the God who he speaks for.
He speaks with the Word of God - for the name of God.
But let's take these in turn.
Subject Matter | With The Word
A great preacher's subject and text must be the Bible. His primary concern is the Word of God in its fullest and multi-faceted glory. He is not a YouTube Teacher, a Newspaper Teacher, or even a Concordance Teacher - first and foremost, he is a Bible Teacher.
While at times sources like YouTube may be useful while preparing, they are not God's means to illuminate His Word. That job has already been taken - the Holy Spirit has more hits than any comedic duo used as a go-to illustration source.
Of course, it is possible to bellow out Bible verses and litter the lectern with scripture and still not be using the Word as your primary content. How many preachers have stood before a congregation and declared, "Thus say'th the Lord!" when, in fact, that's not what the Lord has said at all?
When God spoke, He spoke deliberately.
God's deliberate Word was channeled through the Spirit to men who were carried along by His will. However the mystery of divine inspiration worked, each author wrote with intent; he meant for his writing to mean something to his audience. So while a particular passage may be significant to us in a variety of ways, it does not have multiple meanings.
There is one Word. There is one truth. There is one means by which we are sanctified.
Preacher – preach this Word. Preach God's Word. Proclaim the wisdom of God as His plan for redemption unfolds across the generations. Don't proof text - preach text! Show your people the wonder of the Word. Exalt the Word - hold it high. Worship through the Word.
Subject Matter | For His Name
A great preacher is a herald for the King of kings.
In my introductory post to this series, I stated a number of warnings, one of which addressed the issue of whose name we preach for. Great preachers preach for the fame of God's name, not their own.
Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760), whose life and ministry is viewed as being instrumental for the advance of missionary effort over the last 200 years, was quoted as saying: "Preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten."
When the preacher takes the pulpit, he begins, in effect, by saying: "Hear ye, hear ye - a proclamation from the King.” When the preacher takes his seat, it should be that Christ remains exalted and God's name enthroned in the hearts and minds of the people.
Preacher – preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten.
There is only one who did not do this; He preached, then died, but His name will be honoured for eternity. Preach that name. Exalt Christ in your preaching. It is not only our prayers that should be uttered this way, but our preaching should end with the words. It shouldn’t be odd for preaching to end in the same way our prayers do, "...in His name we speak. Amen."
So, what makes a great preacher? His subject matter. That is, proclaiming God’s Word as His Word and for His Name alone.