One of my favorite quotes about preaching comes from Richard Baxter, the 17th century English Puritan pastor and writer. He described his mode of preaching like this:
I preached as if never to preach again; as a dying man to dying men.
That quote conveys the sense of weight and urgency that a Christian sermon must have. This sense of weight and urgency can be seen in the preaching of the prophets, of Jesus himself, and in the preaching of the Apostles, recorded in the Book of Acts.
“Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others“
In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul is writing about the incredible hope that we have because of the gospel. It is a hope that enables us to live free from the fear of death, because we know that eternal life awaits us as a result of what Jesus accomplished for us.
And then, in 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul declares: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”
To persuade means to convince someone to accept or adopt a certain point of view, belief, opinion, or course of action. It involves presenting arguments, evidence, or appeals that are designed to change someone’s mind or motivate them to take a particular action.
What is it then, that we are called to persuade people to do? In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says that it is as if God is appealing to people through us: “We implore you, on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God!”
“I have written these things so that you may believe”
At the end of the Gospel of John, the Apostle John lays his cards on the table and says,
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.John 20:30-31
In other words, John was trying to do something more than just convey true information. He was seeking to convey true information in a way that would compel and persuade people to believe.
Persuasion Versus Manipulation
There’s a difference between persuasion and manipulation.
Paul the Apostle, in 1 Corinthians 1-2, says that when he came to Corinth, he did not seek to manipulate the Corinthians in any way by use of rhetorical techniques. Rather, he preached Christ, and Him crucified, and he did so with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
So, while we do seek to persuade, we must never be manipulative. How does that work out practically?
The Power of Expository Preaching
John Scott explains the power of expository preaching in this way:
The skillful expositor allows the text to open itself up before our eyes, like a rose unfolding to the morning sun and displaying its previously hidden beauty.John Scott, Between Two Worlds
So, the job of a faithful Bible teacher is to help people to see what the Bible is saying in a way that is clear, and in a way that helps them see that it is not only true, but why it matters for them.
It is not our job to make the Bible “seem” compelling, rather it is our job to help people understand why it is compelling, by helping them understand and even feel the importance and urgency of what the text is saying and how it pertains to their lives.
Our goal is to help people understand the badness of sin, the hopelessness of the curse — and the greatness of Jesus, and the goodness of the gospel, in a way that compels them to believe and to act.
Augustine’s Preaching Manual
Augustine of Hippo, the famed church father, wrote a manual, to instruct other preachers how to preach.
In that manual, Augustine said that the duty of a preacher is not only to instruct and teach, but also to “rivet and delight” – and to “stir and move people to action.”
The goal of preaching, therefore, is not only to pass on true information about the Bible, but to affect the beliefs, actions, and even emotions of those who are listening.
Ultimately, we want to be used by God to reshape the foundations of our listeners’ hearts; to change what they most fundamentally love, desire, hope in, and trust in — so that by seeing what God’s Word says they are compelled to love, desire, hope and trust in Him, rather than in idols of this world.
Compelling Preaching is Born Out of Two Loves
Compelling preaching is born out of two loves: love for God, and love for people.
Because we want to honor God by rightly dividing His Word, and because we care about the fate and destiny of people, we don’t just want our sermons to be informative lectures, but we desire to bring the “words of life,” the Holy Scriptures, to bear on people’s lives in such a way that they are compelled to respond by trusting in and worshiping Jesus.