“Don’t preach at me” figures on the list of most popular comebacks, along with “Stop judging me.” In modern usage, to preach at someone is to set oneself up as superior, to condescendingly render a verdict on another’s behavior. It is the pop star Madonna pleading with her father: “Papa, don’t preach.”
Yet preaching wasn’t always devalued. There was a time when “preacher” was a term of endearment, a little less formal than “Reverend” but respectful nonetheless. As recently as 1996 in the film “The Preacher’s Wife,” Courtney Vance portrayed Reverend Henry Biggs, an African-American pastor who – while insensitive to his wife’s needs – was nevertheless committed to his work, selflessly serving the members of his inner-city flock. Being a preacher was cool.
So if the term “preacher” has lately fallen on hard times, why do the people of God continue to use it? To answer this question, let’s briefly look at what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its importance to the life of the Body of Christ, the church.
John and Jesus: the preaching cousins
A good place to begin is with the second cousins, John and Jesus. John went into the wilderness and took up a simple lifestyle, wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). People streamed to John and he baptized them with water as a sign of their abandoning their sinful ways. Yet the baptizing followed preaching. We don’t have a lot of detail about what John preached, but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. He urged people to produce good fruit, proof of their changed ways. He called religious leaders “snakes” (Matthew 3:7), demanded that tax collectors not collect more than they were required, and warned soldiers not to accuse people falsely or to extort money. Instead, he told them to be content with their salary (see Luke 3:7-14). John’s boldness in preaching knew no social boundaries, and he paid for his boldness with his head (Matthew 14:1-12).
Yet John was always a warm-up act for the main attraction. About Jesus of Nazareth, John testified: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus passed his test in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). After this testing, what did Jesus do? He immediately began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). In fact, the kingdom of heaven and the parables Jesus drew from everyday life became the staple of his magnetic preaching. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel (literally, “good news”) to all creation (Mark 16:15). We preach because it is the command of our Lord to do so.