I’m taking a class that uses Sinclair Ferguson’s The Holy Spirit as one of its texts. Near the end of his chapter “Gifts for Ministry,” Sinclair argues that boldness is the hallmark of Spirit-effected preaching. A preacher myself, I found this selection to be instructive and encouraging.
The hallmark of the preaching which the Spirit effects is ‘boldness’ (parrhesia = pan + rhesis, Acts 4:13, 29, 31; Phil. 1:20; cf. 2 Cor. 7:2). As in the Old Testament, when the Spirit fills the servant of God he ‘clothes himself’ with that person, and aspects of the Spirit’s authority are illustrated in the courageous declaration of the word of God. This boldness appears to involve exactly what it denotes: there is freedom of speech. We catch occasional glimpses of this in the Acts of the Apostles. What was said of the early New England preacher Thomas Hooker becomes a visible reality: when he preached, those who heard him felt that he could have picked up a king and put him in his pocket! There is a sense of harmony between the message which is being proclaimed and the way the Spirit clothes himself with the messenger. Here Gordon Fee’s cutting words surely hit the mark:
“The polished oratory sometimes heard in . . . in pulpits, where the sermon itself seems to be the goal of what is said, makes one wonder whether the text has been heard at all. Paul’s own point needs a fresh hearing . . . The danger always lies in letting the form and content get in the way of what should be the single concern: the gospel proclaimed through human weakness but accompanied by the powerful work of the Spirit so that lives are changed through a divine-human encounter. That is hard to teach in a course in homiletics, but it still stands as the true need in genuinely Christian preaching.”
Preaching God’s word is the central gift of the Spirit given by Christ to the church. By it the church is built up into Christ (Eph. 4:7-16). Will it prove to be one of the enigmas of contemporary church life, when viewed from some future age, that a demise in the quality of and confidence in the exposition of Scripture, and a fascination with the immediacy of tongues, interpretations, prophecy and miracles, were coincidental?”