What is preaching? This is a question you've probably never asked. The reason that you've probably never asked this question is because, well, the answer seems self evident. We've all been to church and heard the preacher man preach. So, what kind of question is the question "what is preaching"? Answer: a good one. It's a question you really should be asking. But, more importantly it is one that you need to search in scripture to find the answer to. When you do that you are likely to discover that the Biblical answer to this question isn't exactly what you've experienced in your church — and that should bother you, greatly.
Preach the Word
In Paul's second pastoral letter to Timothy he forcefully and strongly states, “I 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” (2 Timothy 4:1–2)
These are three simple words but they are packed with deep and important meaning. Often times, scripture doesn't give us long drawn out directions but instead gives us highly compressed sentences that anchor us into the mind and will of God. This is one of those kinds of statements and a knowledge of the original languages is critical in rightly understanding these three words.
The Greek phrase reads: κήρυξον τὸν λόγον - pronounced "kerukson ton logon"
κήρυξον is the 2nd Person Singular Aorist Active Imperative of the verb κηρύσσω (kerusso) and its primary meaning is "to make an official announcement, announce, make known, by an official herald or one who functions as such"
Heralds were a well known feature of the ancient world. These were men who were sent out on official business by a king, a governor, or the emperor himself to herald or proclaim an official message and make the message known to the people. Heralds were not given any power to change, alter or modify the message that they'd been given (to do so would be treasonous). A herald (κῆρυξ) is the one who preached or proclaimed (κηρύσσω) a GIVEN/OFFICIAL message.
New Testament scholar, R.C.H. Lenski explained κηρύσσω by saying,
When we translate this word “preaching,” the original meaning...must be held fast. Preaching in the Biblical sense is merely to announce clearly and distinctly exactly what God in his Word orders us to announce. We dare not change the message by alteration, by omission, or by addition. The preacher is not to utter his own eloquent wisdom but is to confine himself to the foolishness and the skandalon of the gospel.1
According to the words chosen by God the Holy Spirit, pastors are likened to the ancient heralds. This means they've been given an official message to proclaim. What is the official message they've been given to proclaim and herald? The answer is found in the three words we've been looking at, κήρυξον τὸν λόγον, preach the word. Preachers, heralds of King Jesus are to herald and preach the Word of God AND ONLY the Word of God. Let's go back examine the immediate context of 2 Tim 4:2 by adding a portion from chapter 3 and the remaining portion of that text from chapter 4. Here is what it says:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:4)
It is clear from the context that Paul's strong admonition to young pastor Timothy is that he preach the written word of God and only the written word of God. For, the sacred writings alone are God-breathed (θεόπνευστος), NOT his dreams, visions, life stories or life experiences.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit warns us through the Apostle Paul in this same text that a time would come when people would not endure listening to and learning God's Word. But, they would cast Christ's heralds from the church and replace them with teachers who would not herald the word of God but would tell people what they wanted to hear.
There are many ways to tell people what they want hear. It is done by editing the official message (God's Word) via addition or subtraction, or distracting people by preaching yourself rather than Christ, or preaching your dreams, visions, aspirations, ambitions or anecdotal life experiences. But, there is only one right way to be a herald and that is to faithfully deliver the message that you've been given to herald without adding to it or subtracting from it.
Here are some other passages of scripture for you to consider:
“He [a pastor or elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.” (Titus 1:9–14)
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7–11)
“We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:2–5)
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach (κηρύσσω) to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach (κηρύσσω) Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
And I, when I came to you, brothers,did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–2:2)
“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose...And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:1–8)
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20)
Now that you know what preaching is, its time to ask yourself if your pastor is truly being a preacher on Sunday mornings in the truest Biblical sense of that word?
χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη σοι,
1. Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (28). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House. p. 28