“…our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
If you went to church yesterday, how was the preaching? Hopefully, you heard sound (i.e. healthy) doctrine taught by someone who knows how to correctly handle God’s word. Sound preaching, however, is not enough. I’ve heard a number of biblically orthodox messages that have left me feeling totally unmoved. No doubt I’ve preached a few messages like that too. At times, I’ve even heard a preacher communicate with great passion and enthusiasm. And yet somehow the message has seemed cold and clinical, lacking a certain something.
But why does some preaching fail to make an impact or “cut to the heart” like Peter’s Pentecost sermon? (Acts 2:37) There may be all sorts of reasons, of course, including our own spiritual condition. If I’m not keeping in step with the Spirit by living a godly life, or if I’m not listening to preaching with a humble, prayerful attitude, then I’m unlikely to help my receptivity to God’s word.
My heart is not necessarily the issue, however. No, the problem might lie elsewhere, albeit never with the Word of God itself. No, we can be sure that his word is consistently “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
So could it be, perhaps, that sometimes the preacher is lacking something? Well, Paul certainly seems to imply that there are two types of gospel teaching. The first comes “only in word” and the second comes “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” And he’s at pains to remind the Thessalonian Christians that the gospel they received was of the second kind.
Paul highlights three characteristics of the way the gospel came to them. It came first in power, secondly in the Holy Spirit and thirdly with full conviction. Clearly this is what gave the gospel message real bite and resulted in the Thessalonians receiving “the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (verse 6) and in them radically turning “to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (verse 9).
So when we hear preaching that’s powerless, not in the Holy Spirit and lacking conviction, it may well be because the preacher is not walking with the Spirit and is failing to humbly listen to and obey God’s word. Or because the preacher is perhaps relying on human wisdom and strength to preach rather than on the wisdom and power of the Spirit.
But it would be wrong, surely, to lay all the blame at the preacher’s feet. We, as hearers, bear responsibility to regularly pray for those entrusted with the enormous responsibility of preaching and teaching God’s word to others. So could it be that if I committed myself to pray more for my pastor, elder or vicar that their preaching would then come with greater Holy Spirit power and full conviction? Why not try praying for them every day this week and see if perhaps that makes some difference to their preaching this coming Sunday.