The Supremacy of God in Preaching
The Supremacy of God in Preaching
Topic: How we can express the proper respect for the Author of the universe.
Big Idea: Make God supreme in all your preaching.
One of the great advantages of remaining at the same church for 17 years is that your personal mission statement and your church's mission statement become one. Our mission statement says, " We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. " My personal passion to make God supreme took a tremendous leap forward several years ago when I read an excerpt from a journal called " First Things " . The excerpt came from a specialist in general relativity theory named Charles Meisner, a man who shared Albert Einstein's attitude toward organized religion about 50 years ago.
Here's the quote:
" I do see the design of the universe as essentially a religious question. That is, one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. It's very magnificent and shouldn't be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he had run across did not have a proper respect for the Author of the universe. "
I was cut so deeply by this that I pledged to redouble my efforts so that no one would be able to say this about me. Likewise, I desire to cut preachers today so deeply that we all would want this never to be said of us. The quote is still a fair statement concerning much preaching in the American pulpit. Though my sampling is limited, Einstein's concern is still valid.
The famous scientist said four things. First, preachers haven't seen as much of the majesty of God as he had, staring through a telescope or studying physics. Second, he said preachers just don't seem to be talking about the real thing. Third, he observed, there doesn't seem to be a proper respect for the Author of the universe. And fourth, he said preachers seem to be blaspheming.
The charge of blasphemy is meant to carry a wallop. Preachers claim to be talking about the eternal, infinite, unchanging Creator of the universe, but it doesn't feel like it. For those who are stunned by the indescribable magnitude of the universe, not to mention the infinitely greater Author of the universe, a steady diet of psychological soothing and practical " how-tos " somehow seems inauthentic. It gives the impression that we preachers aren't talking about the real thing.
You may remember from high school physics that light travels about 5.87 trillion miles a year. The Milky Way galaxy, of which our solar system is a part, is about a hundred thousand light years across. That means our galaxy is about 587 thousand trillion miles in diameter. It is just one of a million such galaxies within optical range of our stronger telescopes.
In our galaxy there are about 100 billion stars. The sun is a modest-sized star with a temperature around the edges of 6,000 degrees centigrade. It travels at about 155 miles per second and therefore will make its first orbit around the galaxy in roughly 200,000 years.
Scientists are awed by these things. They instinctively conclude that if there is a personal God who spoke this into being and, as Hebrews 1:3 says, " [who] upholds it by the word of his power, " there ought to be a certain respect for and fear of such a God. The manifold greatness and glory of this God should be ever present in the life of his people. They should be stunned by the limitless things they could say about his magnificence.
Isaiah 40 concurs, " To whom, then, will you compare me?' says the Lord, 'that I should be like him?' says the Holy One. 'Lift up on your eyes on high and see. Who created these stars? He who brings out their host by number calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might. Because He is strong in power, not one of them is missing. "
Einstein felt some of this, and his response was that preachers were not talking about the real thing. If the God of the Bible exists, then what's wrong with our preaching? Surely the theme, spirit, and atmosphere of our preaching should be the majesty and supremacy of God. Everything else we talk about should be brought into relationship to this passion of our preaching and our lives. This raises two great questions.
The first one is this: Why should the supremacy of God be the passion and theme of our preaching?
I was once asked by a preaching journal, " Why do you make so much of the supremacy of God being the theme of preaching? " I replied, " Because the supremacy of God is the theme of redemptive history. In fact, the supremacy of God is the theme of God. " God is ultimately what's supreme to God. If God is supreme in his own affections, then God should be supreme in our sermon planning.
A few years ago I was preaching at my alma mater. As I stood and looked over 2,000 students, the first words out of my mouth were, " The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. " My friends in the balcony did a collective double-take. They told me afterwards, " We thought you misquoted the Westminster Catechism, which says, " The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. " But having listened to the entire message, they knew it was no mistake. I meant it with all my heart. I believe it's the main point of the Bible. The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.
Jonathan Edwards is a hero of mine. He made this life-changing point of which I speak in his book called Dissertation Concerning The End for Which God Created The World. The thesis is as follows: " The great end of God's works which is so variously expressed in Scripture is indeed but one, and this one end is most properly and comprehensively called the glory of God. "
Now let me read you one passage of Scripture so that you get the flavor of why I say God's supremacy is the main heartbeat of God, and therefore should be the main heartbeat of preaching about God. In Isaiah 48:9-11, God says, " For my name's sake I defer my anger. For the sake of my praise I restrain it for you that I might not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you but not like silver. I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake I do it. For how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. " I think those three verses are the most densely concentrated, God-centered verses in the Bible. Six times he expresses the concept... " For my name's sake " and " for my glory. "
God's glory is his passion. He created the world to go public with His glory. He created human minds to understand his glory. He created human hearts to delight in his glory. All my theology is summed up in this statement: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This is the good news, that God's quest to be glorified and your quest to be satisfied are not at odds. They are one in worship.
So why do we make God supreme in preaching? Because God is supreme in the heart of God, in redemptive history, in salvation, in the Bible, in missions and in prayer.
Now to the second great question. How then shall we preach?
The answer is highlighted in the most God-centered sermon in the Bible, found in Acts 13. Paul arrives at Antioch of Pisidia, and goes into the synagogue. He's invited to address the people, so he preaches a survey of redemptive history. However, he does it in a manner that is foreign to us today.
I ask you, preachers-do you preach like that? I ask you, lay people-do you talk like that? When you talk about the world, do you say, " God did this " and " God did that " , " God raised up this President " and " God put this President down " ? Do you say, " God ordained this sinful strategy " and " God cut that thing when its purposes was done " ? Do you talk like that? Do you make him supreme?
We live in an unbelievably naive and superficial age, though that is the last way most people would describe it. A.W. Tozer, however, thought to describe it this way. Something is superficial when the treatment of it involves everything except the main things. As a scholar you can say much intelligently about a great many things. Yet if you leave out the main connections, you're treating them superficially.
Therefore, I conclude that the communication media in America is superficial. I conclude that the educational enterprises in our universities are superficial. I conclude virtually all history books are superficial, virtually all public education is superficial, and virtually all editorial news commentary is superficial for one simple reason: the incredible, unimaginable disregard for God in it all.
God is the main reality in the universe; the sustaining power of everything that is. Therefore, any time you treat anything without relation to God, you are being superficial. The fact that this sounds odd to us shows how infected American evangelicals are in this God-neglecting, God-belittling and increasingly God-despising age.
Therefore pastors, I plead with you to make him supreme in your preaching. I pray for my sons and my daughter: " O God, in all of their learning grant that they would see you. May they see you in geometry, history, philosophy and English. May they see you in spelling. " I can hear the cynics. " RightChristian spelling. Give me a break, Pastor John! " But that's the way a superficial, God-neglecting cynic responds to talk about God-centered spelling.
I remember the day when my non-academic, dyslexic son said to me, " Why should I care about spelling the way everybody else spells? " I countered, " Well, you won't be able to communicate as well if you don't learn how to spell the way everybody else spells. " " I don't care about communicating well, " he replied. " Why should I care about communicating well? "
The blasphemous, standard, 20 century answer to this question is, " If you don't learn how to spell and communicate, you won't succeed in business and make as much money. " What a Godless answer.
Here's another answer; the one I gave my son. " Ben, you should care about communicating and learning how to spell because you were created in the image of God. And God's a great communicator. You should want to communicate because you've got something infinitely important to communicate. You've got God to communicate. You've got salvation to communicate. You've got Jesus to communicate. You can't be indifferent, Ben, to communication. God is love, and we scorn his love when we are indifferent about communicating good news to our neighbors, when they desperately need to hear these things. You need to care about communicating because language was God's idea from the beginning. 'In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God.' It was God's idea. He is not a God of chaos and confusion. He's a God of beauty and order. He's not a God of anarchy, even spelling anarchy. "
If you don't care about the supremacy of God in spelling, then you won't get my plea tonight. If we preachers don't lift up the supremacy of God week in and week out, showing a passion for it in all things, such as spelling, voting, sex, eating, and the stock market, who's going to do it? There are no regular influences in the lives of your people calling them away from our God-belittling, God-neglecting, God-despising culture besides you. But one or two hours a week they'll listen to you. If you don't lift up the glory of God and try to wean them off the breast of God-neglecting America, who's going to do it?
Almighty God, our heart's desire is that you would be magnified in our pulpits, in our Sunday school classes, and in our living in such a way that America would awaken to your glory and supremacy-that they would see him who made the world and is redeeming the world through Jesus Christ. O Father, draw near by your Spirit and seal these things to our hearts. Apply them in our churches and in our missionary movement, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
This message is a transcript of Preaching Today audio workshop #188. To order this Preaching Today audiotape, e-mail your request to Store@ChristianityToday.com or visit www.ChristianityTodayStore.com and click on Preaching/Personal Growth.
John Piper is a theologian, pastor, and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.