Updated: Sep 22, 2021
In a previous post, we discussed the pressing need for good, healthy, Biblical preaching. In this post, we want to outline some of the marks of healthy preaching.
Why is it important to know what healthy preaching sounds like? Because unhealthy preaching is not only wrong, but is spiritually damaging and eternally consequential.
Preaching comes in all different shapes and sizes, styles, and more. Preaching styles vary from one culture to another. You will find significant differences in preaching style among cultures like Asian, Latino, Black, White, and more. There is no one specified preaching style in the Bible. There are, however, certain things that make preaching good or bad.
-Marks of Healthy Preaching.
1 - A Firm commitment to the Word.
When a man rises to preach, he must hold in his spirit a firm and unwavering commitment to the Word of God alone. He is not there to preach his opinions, and neither is he there to scratch the ears of his listeners (2 Tim. 4:3). He is there to teach the trustworthy Word as taught throughout the generations of the Church (Titus 1:9).
2 - Humility and Submission before the Word.
The Preacher’s commitment to God’s Word will show itself in how he conducts himself before it. Is he placing himself beneath its authority? Is he making much of the Word itself, or is he using the Word as a springboard to get to what he wants to talk about? Healthy preaching will assume a posture of submission to what God is saying in His Word. Healthy preaching lets God do His Own talking.
3 - Gospel-Centeredness.
A clear mark of healthy preaching is a focus on the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the central message of the Bible. It is first declared in Genesis 3:15, traces itself to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and follows on into our future hope of heaven. The gospel message is not one part of the biblical story. It is THE biblical story from start to finish. Healthy preaching holds a right focus on Jesus Christ. The great Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I do, I will make one...” When preaching departs from the true gospel of Jesus Christ, it has to find some other form of salvation, whether it be in self-righteous works, health and wealth, politics, etc. Healthy preaching keeps Jesus front and center.
4 - Respect for Context.
Here, we are getting a bit more technical. Healthy preaching will respect the context of the sermon passage. That means that a good preacher will understand the place of the Bible he is preaching from—the book, the historical setting, who is speaking, who he is speaking to, and what he is saying to his original audience—and he will explain that first before going on to make the point for today’s hearers.
For example, the way a good preacher handles a New Testament letter like 1 Corinthians will differ from how he handles an Old Testament story like 1 Samuel. The gospel message does not change, but the way each book is explained and taught will differ based on its context. Healthy preaching will explain a book of the Bible on its own terms before it seeks to apply it.
5 - Text-centered Application.
Because healthy preaching treats a book of the Bible on its own terms first, the application of healthy preaching will come from the Bible itself. As the Preacher does the hard work of studying, understanding, and explaining the Bible, the application of the biblical text will come as a natural fruit of his study. For some texts of Scripture, like Genesis 1, the main application is going to understanding Who God is. For other texts, like Ephesians 5, the application is going to be more specific to my own life. Healthy preaching applies the Bible according to what the Bible itself is saying. Healthy preaching concerns itself with what God Himself is saying.
6 - Exposition.
Biblical exposition is the process of studying the Bible on its own terms first (historical context, author’s intent, place in Scripture, etc), and then explaining it. Here is a helpful definition of exposition from Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Expository preaching is [biblical] text driven preaching that honors the truth of Scripture as it was given by the Holy Spirit. Its goal is to discover the God-inspired meaning through historical-grammatical-theological investigation and interpretation. By means of engaging and compelling proclamation, the preacher explains, illustrates and applies the meaning of the Biblical text in submission to the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching Christ for a [goal] of changed lives.”
In other words, exposition is taking the Bible as it is, as the Holy Spirit has put it together. It treats the Bible with respect by assuming that what is said has meaning where it is said. For example, Colossians 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you…” has a distinct meaning inside of Colossians 3, in the larger book itself, in the New Testament, and ultimately the whole Bible. Exposition does the work of revealing and explaining that meaning.
7 - Difficult Things.
Another mark of healthy preaching is that it does not shy away from the difficult things in the Bible As a preacher moves through the Bible expositionally, he will inevitably encounter difficult topics: Theological topics, issues of sin, prophetic images that remain unfulfilled and thus unclear. Because healthy preaching has a right submission to the Word of God, healthy preaching will deal with these topics as they arise. Healthy preaching does not shy away from difficult things.
8 - Willingness to Hear Criticism.
A willingness to hear criticism after a sermon is a mark of healthy preaching. Any preacher who is unwilling to hear helpful criticism is putting himself in a dangerous position. No one man is competent and qualified to teach the Word perfectly. Thus, it is good and right for a Church to ensure the Word is taught well, and when a preacher departs from the Word, or gets something wrong, the preacher ought to have men around him to help. An unwillingness to hear feedback is an unhealthy sign.
9 - A Qualified Preacher.
The Bible locates the authority to preach the Word of God (that is, teaching with biblical authority) with the Church Elders (1 Timothy 2-3; Titus 1:5-9). This is because God guards the teaching of His Word by making sure those who do it are faithful, godly men. We are living in a world where the message is often more the focus than the messenger. And sometimes, that’s okay. But in the Church, when it comes to the preaching of the Bible, God marks demands about the character of the man who ascends the pulpit. If he is not Scripturally qualified, he ought not preach...no matter how skilled he might be.
10 - The Preacher’s Personal Life.
A final note for this post is that healthy preaching will be an outworking of the preacher's personal life. This is a biblical connection made in the pastoral letters of 1-2 Timothy and Titus. One of the qualifications for the office of Overseer is the personal life of the man: How is his home, his wife, his children? Is he walking with Jesus in his own life?
The reason for this is important. It is, unfortunately, easy to proclaim a message that you either do not believe, or that you are not obeying. And because this is true, God has made it clear that before a man can rise to preach the Word of God, his personal life must be in order...that is, in order with the things of God. His personal life cannot contradict what he says from the pulpit.
-Some Final Thoughts.
Preaching matters. Healthy preaching is not perfect preaching, but healthy preaching will have such a respect for and submission to the Word of God, that it will treat the Word as the authority. No preacher gets it perfectly right every time. But unhealthy preaching will lack many, if not all of these qualities.
That’s why it is so important for Churches and Christians to make sure that we are listening to healthy preaching. Content is far more important than style. God is not concerned that we like the preacher’s style or that we are entertained by his sermon. There will be many people in hell who thoroughly enjoyed entertaining sermons that woefully lacked the actual truth of God’s Word (Matthew 7:21-23).
God is concerned that His people are fed the pure Word as He has put it together. It is only through the Word of God that man hears the message of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
-Let’s make sure we are hearing the Word of Christ.