I often use mnemonic devices to help me with vocabulary. One I’m particularly proud of is the image I used to remember the Greek word for “I am preaching”, ke̅russo̅. I imagined the stranded Robinson Crusoe, preaching to his flock of goats. I read the book—probably an abridged version—when I was a kid, so I can’t remember if this was an actual scene in the book or something that my brain came up with to help me memorize the definition of the word. Either way, it seems fitting because I can just about guarantee that, were I stranded on a desert island and isolated from other humans, sooner or later the goats would be hearing expositions and exhortations from Scripture. I love preaching God’s word that much.
Admittedly, I’ve not always thought about this love in the right way. At times I’ve loved preaching because it gave me opportunities to demonstrate what little intelligence or wit I have. At others I’ve loved the exhilaration that comes from receiving affirmation from those who heard me. But I think preaching to goats, who are neither enamored by the preacher’s intelligence nor able stroke his ego with affirming words, would surely test this love. This experience would probably clarify something essential to biblical preaching: Who am I preaching for?
The commendable preachers of Scripture weren’t preaching for themselves, to be seen as wise or intelligent, to receive money or fame. They preached for the glory and fame and worship of the Lord Jesus. They preached when the likely outcome was bodily injury, social ostracization, imprisonment, or death. When their audience was goats, (in the Matthew 25 sense), those who listened patiently but refused to allow the message to have any true impact on their lives and loves. And they did it gladly.
“After calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40–42, NASB)
Ultimately, this willingness to preach regardless of the outcome reflects the biblical understanding of the calling to preach, summed up beautifully by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:8—“To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” The preacher knows that it is a grace, a gift, to proclaim the truth about Christ. He knows that it does not rest on him, a dirty castaway, but on the God who first saved him, and now enables him to declare his truth.
I love preaching because it brings me joy to share with others the unfathomable love of Christ that has captured me and compells me to preach. To study Scripture and search its depths in prayer and with help from God’s Spirit Himself. To wrestle with texts, to organize thoughts, and write line by line explanations and applications. To lift Jesus up, set Him forth, and hold Him out for careful, prayerful, worshipful reflection. It is God’s grace to me that I get to do that.
So like Crusoe in my mnemonic device, were there no one around to hear it I couldn’t keep it in, nor would I try. I’d sound like a madman preaching to goats and trees and the ocean itself. With the Psalmist I’d say, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:11–13).