To continue this series on worship and unction, I would really like to explore the idea of unction. It’s an old word that has lost its use in most churches. That’s unfortunate, because in a day when we desperately need real, Holy Spirit powered preaching, it has become difficult for the layperson to articulate to others and themselves what is either present or missing in a sermon. It is also sad that the people of God are blamed in pulpits constantly for the moral decline of our culture and the decreasing attendance of churches. I would agree with the great Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones when he says it is mostly the preaching which is to blame. The people want tickling of the ears, sure. The people also want reality. The people of God are starving for real preaching and they recognize the facade built in many pulpits each Sunday by some holier than thou narcissists, as fake!
I truly believe that although the child of God listening to preaching already knows whether the sermon being preached is or is not by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is often difficult for them to bridge the recognition of the voice of God and the explicit understanding of it’s presence. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it this way in his lecture on The Act of Preaching, “Preaching is something that one recognizes when one hears it. So the best we can do is to say certain things about it. We cannot get nearer to it than that.” How does the layperson recognize either real preaching or a substitute and begin to understand it in such a way to judge his own responsibility to listen to it or not? In other words, how do laypeople discern unction in preaching?
Before we can go down that road, we must answer a few questions, and they must be answered in logical order. Before one can understand how to recognize unction, one must know what unction is, and before one can know what unction is, one must know what preaching is. We’ll take them in that necessary order, beginning with “what is preaching”.
What is preaching? What is it when a person stands in a pulpit speaking and there are people sitting in front of him listening? It is difficult to define preaching in a sentence but there are some things we can say about preaching that help us understand what preaching is. These are some principles of the definition of preaching from Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers.
- The preacher is to deliver the message of God to the people of God. (It is not the preacher’s message, it is God’s message and it has already been revealed in God’s Word. The preacher is to expose it to the people.)
- The preacher is a commissioned person, sent by God to deliver His message. (Not all people are preachers and not all people who claim to be preachers are preachers. Only those who have been sent by God are God’s mouthpieces.)
- Preaching is to change people wholly, really, and vitally. (God’s message will change a whole person in a way that will last and is vital to their soul.)
Let’s look at these three qualifications of preaching briefly.
The preacher is to deliver the message of God to the people of God. There is no other message that is sufficient or efficient when it comes to preaching. There is a sickness in pulpits today and it is called topical preaching. It is not as if topical preaching is wrong in and of itself. There are definitely times when topical preaching may be called for, when there is an untimely death or maybe a public or cultural tragedy, but even then the effort should be made to preach out of the Word rather than ones opinion. The bulk of all preaching should be purely expository though. A preacher should be systematically preaching through passages of the Word of God to expose it to the people of God. The bulk of any single message should be the same. It should not be constant illustrations or stories. It should not be designed around a presupposition of the preacher. It need not be opinionated. It should be centrally and wholly the message of God. This message can be found in sixty-six books bound up into what we call the Bible. Preacher, it is not about you! It is about Christ! No matter what passage, it is about Christ! The preacher is merely the tool, the instrument used to deliver Christ! That takes us to the next qualification.
The preacher is a commissioned person, sent by God to deliver His message. There are many people who assume that they can preach. The Bible is clear, not all are called to preach. A preacher is someone who is called and his message is anointed. Someone who speaks to a congregation but is not called is merely a speaker. Someone who does this but has no anointing is merely a lecturer. It is not the person who is called that is important, it is the calling. It is not his calling that gives him power, it is the anointing of it. To be without one of these is to be without preaching. To be under both of these is to be under the power of the Holy Spirit. If you find yourself listening to preaching that is of course from someone who is called and is obviously anointed or empowered in the delivery of God’s message, you will be changed by it. Place yourself under this authority. It is God’s authority. This is God’s man. If either this calling or anointing is missing, well, we will discuss that in another post.
Preaching is to change a person wholly, really, and vitally. The purpose of preaching is not to manipulate emotionally. It is not to cause an effect that is temporal. Preaching is not to bear upon a person in a superficial manner. The purpose of preaching is to change all of a person, their mind, soul, and will. It is to affect that whole person for the rest of their life, and it is to affect them in a way that is important. There is no room for legalism here. Preaching God’s Word changes people for the glory of God. It causes the blind to see and the deaf to hear. It gives life to the dead. It breaks the chains of the bondage of sin. It does not place blinders on eyes, cotton in ears, or shackles on consciences. The message of God is to be delivered with this in mind and is to be given heed by its listeners with this expectation. A preacher should not be thinking about how he can manipulate certain people into believing the message and the people should be in anxious anticipation for the life-changing event of his preaching. The preacher should preach as a servant and the people should willfully and deliberately place themselves under his preaching.
Preaching comes from a man, chosen and anointed to deliver a life-changing message from God to His people. It is, as Dr. Lloyd-Jones said in his book Preaching and Preachers, a “transaction between the preacher and the congregation. Real, Holy Spirit powered preaching changes people because Christ changes people. Preaching is Christ delivered as God’s Word, in God’s Word, by God’s Word. It does not return to Him void. Expect it to change you. Expect Christ to change you. Do not accept anything less. The preacher’s job is to deliver Christ! It is not to bore people with their self-aggrandizing statements of knowledge or self-righteousness. Preach the whole council of the Word! If you do, you will deliver Christ! And Christ is all that there is which can change people wholly, really, and vitally.
“Whatever subject I preach, I do not stop until I reach the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, for in Him are all things.”
Charles Spurgeon (the prince of preachers)