"Truth to tell, the pulpit is a perilous place for any child of Adam to occupy," wrote John Stott. Why? Because preachers are always tempted to use the pulpit for self-glorification and to draw attention to themselves rather than Christ. Indeed, as Stott went on to say, "Pride is without doubt the chief occupational hazard of the preacher." Every preacher must be aware of his temptation to seek his own glory and the praise of men rather than the glory of Christ and the approval of God.
Pride in the Pulpit
Rarely does this pride or self-glorification manifest itself in obvious forms. Seldom does the preacher directly call attention to his speaking ability or his giftedness. It is usually subtler than that. It can manifest itself in our selection of words, as we use theological terms or technical expressions in order to impress our congregation with our knowledge rather than communicate the gospel with clarity. Sure, we use the terms to communicate the gospel, but we also desire to draw attention to our education or intellectual abilities. Or it manifests itself in our illustrations, as we select stories that portray us as the hero or reveal how funny we are. Yes, we hope people see the beauty of Christ, but we also hope they notice how intelligent, humorous, and articulate we are. You want people to hear the gospel, but you also hope they notice you. Be honest: if you have preached more than a handful of sermons, you've felt the pull to give in to your pride and draw attention to yourself or to seek the applause of men. The pulpit truly is "a perilous place for any child of Adam to occupy."
So, what are we to do with our prideful tendencies? How are we to fight the urge to draw attention to ourselves or to seek the praise of man? The short and simple answer is the gospel. The key to shattering the insidious sin of pride is the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. At the personal level, the gospel reminds us of our sinfulness and drives us back to the grace of God. At the “preaching level,” it reminds us that our goal is to help people see Christ, not us. Let me unpack these two things.
The Humbling Gospel
The gospel is the antidote to human pride. It reminds us of our sinfulness and our inability to save ourselves. As we daily meditate on the gospel, we are reminded of our depravity and inadequacy. We are reminded of our spiritual bankruptcy and our desperate need for God's grace. We are reminded that Jesus had to die for our salvation because we are helpless sinners who cannot save ourselves.
So, when I start feeling arrogant or prideful, I need to look to the cross. By fixing my eyes on the blood stained cross of Calvary, I am humbled and humiliated. My sinfulness is placed before my eyes, and any pride is driven out by the thought of Christ's death on my behalf. Preachers, when you feel the subtle pull to draw attention to yourself, run to the cross and let yourself be humbled.
The Only Hope
The only hope anyone has is the gospel, which is why our preaching must be saturated with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the gospel can bring rebellious sinners into a right relationship with God, and only the gospel can empower believers to live in obedience to the commands of Christ. This is why we must lift up Jesus and not ourselves. I can't break stony hearts or open blinded eyes. I can't raise the spiritually dead or give eternal life. I can't forgive sins or make sinners righteous. I have absolutely nothing to offer…except Jesus. Why would I draw attention to myself? I need to point people to Jesus. Only Jesus saves. Only Jesus forgives. Only Jesus heals. Only Jesus.
So we must determine to preach nothing "except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). We must abandon all attempts to draw attention to ourselves and lift high the cross of Christ.
When the sons of Adam stand on Sundays, they must slay the sin of self-glory and pride by preaching the gospel, first to themselves, and then to the congregation. Only through the gospel can preachers be humbled, sinners be saved, and Christians be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. So stand up on Sunday, slay your pride, and preach the unsearchable riches of Christ!