It never ceases to amaze me to see the attitudes of some people, and even some preachers, when it comes to an understanding of the purpose of preaching. There are those who seem to believe the preacher is nothing more than a “religious entertainer,” whose main purpose is to tell enough jokes from the pulpit that the people will feel jovial as they leave. Others find the preacher to be a paid storyteller, his main purpose is to tell stories that the majority of the people will relate to that they might leave content with their own lives.
Amidst all these opinions on the purpose of preaching, the Bible lays forth, very plainly, what God considers to be the true purpose of preaching. In Nehemiah 8 the people have come together upon concluding their rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. They request that the book of the Law be brought before them by Ezra and read before the congregation. It is then we read, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). This single sentence describes, in a very complete sense, the purpose of preaching as God defines it. The purpose is threefold.
Read from the law of God. The focus of preaching should come from the Word of God. If God’s Law is not read, then it is impossible for biblical preaching to have occurred. There is no adequate substitute in the pulpit for the Word of God. Some preachers use flashy thoughts, funny stories, and interesting tidbits as the center of their lessons, and then put a couple of Scriptures around those points so as to have a “spiritual application.” That may be motivational speaking, but it is not preaching. Preaching is using God’s Word as the center of any lesson presented and using the thoughts, stories, and tidbits as a means to bring understanding of what was read to the audience. The speaker must present God’s Word distinctly, meaning to declare clearly or distinguish, not cover it up so an individual cannot find God’s Word in the midst of all the other chatter.
Give the sense of it. The word translated “sense” means, “insight and understanding.” To simply read the Scriptures is not sufficient. The preacher must have a working understanding of what he is reading. Adequate time and preparation must be given to ensure, not only the reading of the appropriate Scripture, but the ability of the speaker to give the sense of it to the congregation as well. If the preacher does not know, or is unsure of the way a passage of Scripture is appropriately used, he should refrain from using it until his understanding is adequately improved. Many problems have arisen over the years by preachers speaking about passages they don’t understand, because they have not studied them properly, and then making applications that misuse the passage in question and take it out of its context. Philip’s question: “Understandest thou what thou readest” (Acts 8:30), should be a question every preacher examines in his own mind before using a Scripture in a sermon.
Cause them to understand it. The most well-prepared and ingenious sermon ever proclaimed can be found to be utterly worthless if those listening do not understand what is stated. All the education a man can obtain is useless in preaching if he cannot convey to the listeners an understanding of the Scripture under consideration. For this exact reason, Paul did not come before the Corinthians with excellent speeches, but preaching only Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:1‑2). The understanding of the hearer is just as important as the understanding of the speaker.
The purpose of preaching is very simple: read it, know it, and cause others to understand it. Preaching is the most powerful tool in spreading the Gospel, but it must be used properly. True Bible preaching will never be mistaken for a “social club” talk, but will evince itself by the preparation and communication of the speaker.