Have you ever heard a good sermon? What about a bad sermon?
Just by answering that question you revealed you have a value system regarding preaching. But where did you get your value system? Is your value system based on Scripture, what people have told you, or your personal preferences?
The bigger questions we need to ask are: What is the point of preaching? Who is preaching primarily for, Christians or non-Christians? Is there a preaching style that the Bible indicates we should follow?
In Titus 2, Paul unpacks a philosophy of preaching and teaching to pastor Titus. He addresses the content of teaching (v.1), specific application of that teaching (vv.2-10), and the aim of teaching (vv.11-12).
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
The content of our teaching is sound doctrine. We want to be faithful to the Bible, making sure we are theologically accurate in how we handle a text.
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
Notice in vv.2-10 how practical Paul is. He wants Titus to teach in order to give specific help and instruction for his people.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age...
In vv.11-12 Paul says the fuel of teaching is marked by grace—grace that saves and trains us to say no to sin and follow Jesus. Emphasizing grace in our teaching empowers us over time to be a people who are marked by godliness. This means:
1. Preaching grace does not make sin safe, it makes makes sinners safe.
The author of Pilgrims Progress, John Bunyan, was in prison for preaching the gospel of God’s unmerited grace toward sinners. His opponents argued that when the fear of punishment was removed, people would do whatever they wanted. Bunyan replied, “If people really see that Christ has removed the fear of punishment from them by taking it into himself, they won’t do whatever they want, they’ll do whatever He wants.”
Grace trains and fuels us to holiness which means we bring up Jesus often. The English pastor Charles Spurgeon once said:
“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.”
So in preaching grace, we talk about Christ.
Now this is the theme of sound preaching, not necessarily every single sermon. You can fail to teach the Bible by neglecting to preach Christ crucified but you can also fail to teach the Bible by not being practical and calling people to obedience. All of that depends entirely on the passage of Scripture we’re teaching.
...waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
So while grace saves and trains us, according to v.13, grace also helps us persevere. This means by God’s grace, we’re trying to help people make it to heaven. All of our sound doctrine and correct teaching is a means to an end. The end is that Jesus has a people for himself who are zealous for good works.
2. Preaching is a means to an end.
So if the effect over time is not a people who belong to Jesus eager for good works, then the preaching is not “what accords with sound doctrine.” It’s not good preaching. Preaching is not an end in itself. The goal is to have people eager for good works not pastors with good sermons. If we don’t, then something is wrong.
Look back at Titus 2:
...training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
“Training” means we are playing the long game and people do not get trained overnight. It’s a long slow process. One sermon is probably not going to shape your life, but a few hundred sermons will.
We aren’t worried about one sermon being amazing. We are worried about hundreds of sermons having a slow, shaping effect on peoples’ lives
At the same time, many tend to think “good sermons” are defined by gaining new information and insight but the Bible tends to highlight our need for remembering what we already know. Peter echoes this in 2 Peter 1:
2 Peter 1:12
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.
Peter reminds them, (even though they already know), of the truth they have in Jesus. But in our consumerist Western mindset it’s too easy to equate new “deep” information as what’s most important in preaching and teaching. In another New Testament letter, Paul expresses the same idea to pastor Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:16
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.
He says Scripture is profitable—it’s useful and helpful. Our aim in preaching is to be helpful—to help us love God and love our neighbor and to help us become complete, or mature, equipped for every good work. It’s a means to an end.
Scripture and God’s Spirit working through Scripture are what provides the help. We don’t just give motivational speeches and opinions when we teach. We teach the Bible because that is what empowers us to live godly lives.
This leads us to the question, do we do expository preaching? Yes, depending on how you define it. Expository technically means to explain and interpret. If it just means unpacking Scripture, drawing out what its meaning, and then how we can live it out, then yes. That’s our game plan. But if by expository you mean preaching should only be line-by-line, verse-by-verse through the Bible...then that’s a preference. Nowhere does the Bible say that’s the rule. Now, is that our preference in preaching? Yes. But it’s a preference.
We use Scripture to actually teach, reprove, correct and train. This means information and insight alone is insufficient.
God commands us to be as plain as we can, that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we are able, that we may melt and change their hardened hearts. But pride stands by and contradicts all, and produces its toys and silly trifles. It pollutes rather than polishes; and, under pretense of praiseworthy ornaments, dishonors our sermons with childish gauds: as if a prince were to be decked in the habit of a stage-player, or a painted fool. It persuades us to paint the window that it may dim the light of Scripture: and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand...Cannot you ministers speak soberly and moderately?
We want for our words to be understandable. We don’t primarily come up with content for non-Christians, we are mostly talking to Christians because they are who make up the church. We aren’t called to do Sunday evangelism rallies every week. We are called to equip the saints for good works. But we do want for our language to be common and understandable so that it can be helpful for both old and new people at our church.
3. The aim of preaching is dictated by Scripture but the style is not.
Style is not dictated by Scripture. Some prefer going straight through books of the Bible (and that’s our preference too!) but the Bible doesn't tell us to only teach that way. There is no example in Scripture of a time of teaching where someone did this and/or tells us to teach like this.
Other teachers prefer picking topics and really digging in on what the Bible has to say about that particular topic.
Both are helpful in accomplishing the goal of having a people who belong to Jesus and are zealous for good works. We find that going through books of the Bible helps people learn to read the Bible for themselves and brings up issues we wouldn’t have picked to discuss. We find that picking topics allows us to drill in on specific issues in a way that we would not be able to do if we were also trying to make our way through a book of the Bible that brings up many different issues.
We try to balance both because we preach with the end in mind: a people zealous for good works.
It’s fine to have preferences so long as you don’t moralize yours and try to claim people are wrong for failing to do it your way. The Bible says what the aim is, but it does not say what the style should be.
Lastly, Paul tells Timothy how he is to teach -
1 Timothy 4:1
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.
He says the same thing to pastor Titus -
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
4. Preaching comes with authority
Preaching from the Bible should come with an authority. It is a delegated authority from God anchored to Scripture, but it is an authority. So we call people to repent. We correct. We rebuke. We encourage. We confront misunderstandings. We proclaim the good news as fact because Scripture has inherent power and authority within it.
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition and settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.
So we don’t teach around issues, we speak with confidence. God has spoken so everyone needs to listen. God has spoken so it doesn’t matter what we think. God has spoken so your feelings are not ultimate. We speak with authority as we teach Scripture.
Our philosophy here also includes how we hear and respond.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
When we hear God’s word taught and inserted into our lives, we respond. We don’t argue, we don’t dismiss, we don’t defend. Instead we worship, we confess, we repent, we obey. Afterall, God’s love language is obedience (John 14:15).
Pastor and author, Richard Baxter, uses the term “sermon tasters” to describe people who critique the quality of a sermon. Sermon tasters have no eye for their own application and obedience, like people who taste wine but spit it out. Now do we want to grow in our preaching and get feedback? Of course. Do we want to hear from others if they have questions about our teaching that may have not been clear? Absolutely. But our goal is to submit to the authority of God’s word as it’s taught. We’re not here to critique presentation style or nitpick word choices. We’re here to listen from God as He speaks through His word and then do it.