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Repent Before You Call for Repentance

If a preacher is not willing to bend his will to the text, then it will never live in the pulpit.

This may be the hardest part of the process of preaching. When we arrive at a text of Scripture and it calls us to change something about our character, confess a sin, or right a wrong, we must do so immediately. What is at stake of course is our own sanctification. However, what is also at stake is the sanctification of others. This does not mean a heavy-handed personal lashing; a self-loathing from which one cannot recover. Rather this is a glad submission to the will of God for your life as revealed in Scripture. Your integrity is at stake. How can I call someone to repent of a sin when I am unwilling to repent?

There are multiple reasons for this, but two are important. First it’s a matter of integrity. It is not unrealistic for our people to expect that we live what we preach. No church is looking for perfection, and that is the point. They want to know the answer to this question, “Pastor, how do you, with your struggles and imperfections plan on doing this?”

If a preacher is not willing to bend his will to the text, then it will never live in the pulpit.

So, for example, when a preacher comes to Matthew 5:3, he must understand personally what it means to be poor in spirit, to be broken over one’s sins. Whatever that means, it at least means humility; contrition over sin that rejects pride, arrogance, and a dismissive attitude about sin. It is the necessary quality for everything else in the Sermon on the Mount of Matt. 5–7. No one can honor Jesus’ words on forgiveness, or dealing with offense, or prayer, or all the rest, unless they are humble. So unless they can “feel” what being poor in spirit is, they cannot understand the lengthiest address Christ ever preached!

This is why it is also a matter of communication. If we do not model, we cannot communicate. We can preach without modeling the message, but we cannot communicate without modeling the message. Preaching without modeling suggests that the power of the preaching is in the words alone. The power of preaching is in an embodied word. An incarnate word. A model for living the word.

Your integrity is at stake. How can I call someone to repent of a sin when I am unwilling to repent?

Perhaps this is why the qualification texts for the pastor (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:1-9, 1 Peter 5:1-5) have so much more to do with character than giftedness. If a person cannot embody what they profess then they simply stop communicating. They may have a pulpit, but they don’t have an audience. Maybe the only thing worse than people not being at church is people who are there but wishing they weren’t—the great absent present.

There is another small matter, namely efficiency. I think one of the reasons sermons take me long to prepare is that I am daunted by the first blush of what the text demands of me, am unwilling to repent, and thus the rest of the sermon prep time is forced and difficult. It’s like a date with your wife when you are mad at each other. Where you go and what you eat is irrelevant if you don’t want to be there.

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Steven Smith

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