I thought I was being humble. Actually, I was being timid.
I had just turned twenty-four, just started seminary, and I was preaching my first-ever Sunday sermon to a congregation where the majority of the saints were older than me. “What can I say,” I wondered, “to ensure that they don’t disregard me because of my age and lack of life experience?” And so, before I started preaching, I apologized. I apologized for being young, and I apologized that they had to listen to me.
Judging from the feedback I received, the sermon itself was fine. But that week the pastor in charge of evaluating my sermon referred to the pre-exposition apology: “Don’t ever do that again,” he said straight-faced. “Just preach.”
It was a rookie mistake on my end. “Rookie,” because it’s young preachers who tend to do it. “Mistake,” because you shouldn’t do it. For the man of God, the biblical commission from the Lord Jesus Christ to preach His Word with authority and boldness is both commanded and consequential. God commands it in His Word (e.g., 2 Tim 4:2), and it is consequential for the people of God. And no one wants to disobey God’s Word or tamper with God’s people.
Confident Preaching in a Post-Modern Age
The postmodern relativism of our culture makes it difficult for Christians to preach authoritatively and confidently. Truth, the culture says, is relative to the individual or group. How dare any man get behind a pulpit and preach as if what he is saying is absolute truth!
Generally speaking, at least in our nation, people don’t like to be corrected or confronted. Most people don’t want to be told that what they believe is wrong and how they’re living is wrong. They especially don’t want such correction to come from a pulpit. It’s not just that people don’t want to hear a man preach truth in a way that corrects and rebukes: they don’t want to hear a man preach, period. Preaching is deemed by many in our culture as an out-dated mode of expression. The sage from the stage is a massive brontosaurus in a land of springing gazelles and migrating wildebeest according to most so-called pedagogical experts. People today are seeking motivational speakers who are either conversationalists who replace the pulpit with a coffee table or story-tellers who can convert the message into a movie.
But the fact that the authoritative proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is no longer palatable to the culture does not change the fact that God commands it, and the man of God must do it. You can’t be a servant of God while concurrently trying to please people (Gal 1:10). The call to preach Christ from the Scriptures—His person, His work, His commandments, His promises, His return—is no mere suggestion. It is a heavenly mandate from the Lord Jesus Himself (2 Tim 4:2). And God commands for the man of God not only to be biblical in His preaching, but to be confident in it. Paul tells Titus: “…and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently” (Titus 3:8).
The Call to Preach Confidently
The English phrase “to speak confidently” is a translation of the Greek word which means “to state something with certainty and with confidence” or “to insist.” In other words, the character—not just the content—of a man’s preaching matters. These things—the call to good works and the doctrine of justification by faith and regeneration upon which these good works are founded—ought to be stated with certainty.
Speak, in other words, as if what you are saying is right because it is right. Speak as a man who doesn’t question whether he’s the right person to preach. Speak with no apologies and leave no room for negotiation, because of the certainty of truth in your preaching. Exhort and rebuke them with all authority, allowing no one to disregard you (Titus 2:15). Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t allow others to second guess you, because God Himself commissioned you. Speak as someone who knows that God has called you to speak these exact words to these people. Speak with authority because the Bible is authoritative. Preach the Bible as if it is the truth because it is the truth. Proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior, because He alone is Lord of the earth and Savior to those who believe. Speak as a herald because Christ gave Himself up for us to purify for Himself a people of His own possession who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).
The Fruit of Preaching Confidently
The man of God must speak confidently not only because it is commanded by God, but because of the consequences it will have upon God’s people. Paul’s command to speak confidently the sound doctrine of the gospel and the living water that necessarily flows from it is followed by the purpose for the command: “…so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8).
The word “careful” in this verse is a translation of the Greek word that literally means “to give serious consideration to something.” Authoritative, biblical, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting preaching produces saints who are serious about Christian living. The opposite is also true. Timid preaching produces timid Christians. Negotiable preaching produces compromising Christians. Story-telling produces a church filled with Peter Pan’s lost boys. Shrink into this kind of preaching, and your people won’t be serious. Not only will they not take you seriously; they won’t take their own lives seriously. Wishy-washy speaking produces wishy-washy saints.
The reason why the man of God is called to speak confidently is because there is an inextricable link between the confidence with which he speaks of the Lord and the seriousness by which his people live for the Lord. Confident, biblical preaching produces saints who are serious about their faith and serious about their evangelistic function as salt and light in the world that so desperately needs Jesus Christ. You can observe it yourself: Christians who are fervent and zealous about Christ, His gospel, and His ministry usually belong to a church whose pastor preaches the Bible like he means it.
So, before you grow frustrated and discouraged that your people are not as committed to the work of God and ministry of the gospel as you’d hope, examine first your own preaching and teaching. For they’ll only live seriously if you preach confidently.