O preachers, it is written that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
That is, do not think yourself wise if you think that the beginning of wisdom is within you. Do you hold the Sacred Scriptures in the highest regard? Do you really believe them to be God’s Word? That all matters of faith and confession are to be answered by the Scriptures? Is Sola Scriptura your motto? And your preaching Bible-based and Christ-centered?
Then do not say that the Word of God needs to be made relevant. Do not they think of yourself as the filter through which the Word of God becomes relevant, something that the people can relate to, something they can take home with them. Do not think the sermon becomes the making relevant of the Word of God, putting it into terms we already understand. Do not make the preparation of a sermon an exercise in taking something from Scripture and using it to launch into something else, something you find easy to hear. So, for instance, a sermon on the multiplication of loaves and fish for the four thousand, ought to be more than a discourse on how able Jesus is to provide for our needs. The details are not to be omitted or ignored, or deemed insignificant. Take notice of the fact that the loaves and fish were brought by a boy who seems to have more faith than the disciples do. Consider how Jesus says to make the men recline where there was much grass, a link to the Twenty-third psalm. In short, do not preach something you find in the shrine of your heart to preach. Rather, preach something you have found in the words of the Gospel themselves.
If men would become true preachers of the Gospel, whose preaching they expect others to hold sacred and gladly hear and learn, they must learn how it is that their preaching will be in truth the very Word of God. It will not be if it is only something they themselves have dreamed up and hoped would be relevant. Rather, it must be something to which their hearts are held captive, which they have learned upon a musing on the sacred words themselves. For in this musing the Holy Ghost is present, as Luther also said.
But this will never happen among those who presume to know better than the words upon with they preach. Who for instance might find it too dangerous a thing simply to say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you,” for they worry that someone might take them literally. What? They don’t think Jesus thought of that? They know better than He about what might be an ill-advised thing to say? Or again, they might find it too immodest to preach those texts which happen to refer to the breasts of a mother. That might be too embarrassing. Or they might think it too violent to preach about the bloody texts of murder or its vindications. What would the children think? Or—here it gets really dangerous—they might think themselves too loving to preach the imprecatory psalms. So what do they do with them? They simply ignore them, ignore those words of the Holy Ghost. For they know better, they are wiser than that, they know their people, and they know what might be offensive to them. So they say. And thus, beginning in ever so innocent a way, they listen to the shrines of their hearts over the written revelation of God.
O preachers, rather, be captive to that Word, not only in a general sense, but in very specific ways. If Scripture rebukes, you must rebuke; where Scripture becomes graphic you must be graphic; when Scripture is frank you must be frank.
Yet on the other hand, do not be more so than Scripture. Do not speak openly about shameful things which are done in secret; do not attempt a shock treatment on their hearers with a load of terms and descriptions Scripture does not use, especially when dealing with matters pertaining to sexual conduct and thought. Here, Scripture uses circumlocution very consistently. Thus, so must you. Though Scripture may be graphic about the battlefield, it is never graphic about the bedroom. You must follow suit.
You must, in a word, follow Scripture. You must not employ Scripture—Scripture must employ you. You must muse on the Scripture you are preaching, search it, rather than simply musing on what you might be able to say about it from your own resources. You must hear the Scriptures preaching to you first, and only then will you be ready to preach the Scriptures. You must regard especially the words of Christ as His sermons to you, and then when you yourselves preach, you will be preaching His sermons, His Word.
Simply, submit to His Word and fear it with a holy respect and reverence; that is the beginning of wisdom for preachers.
Adapted from a 1999 article.