Our subject tonight is preaching. Each year on holiday I try to re-read J.C.Ryle's Christian Leaders of the 18th Century. That is simply to follow the example of someone else earlier this century. It's a great book. Although written some time ago and so slightly dated, it is still very readable. It tells the 18th century life stories of men like Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw, Berridge, Venn and a number of others. Britain was just as decadent then as now. Crime, immorality and godlessness were everywhere. But these men, under God, spiritually changed the face of the nation. What was their main weapon for change? Answer: preaching. As Ryle says, they preached "everywhere, simply, fervently and directly". And what did they preach? Again to use Ryle's own words: "the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture; the total corruption of human nature; Christ's death upon the cross as the only satisfaction for man's sin; justification by faith; the universal necessity of heart conversion and a new creation by the Holy Spirit; the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness; and God's eternal hatred towards sin, [but his] love towards sinners." Tonight, however, I don't want us to focus on the 18th century and those great Evangelical Leaders. I want us to focus on the 1st century and St Paul and the way he saw preaching as a weapon for change. And I want us to look at Ephesians 3.1-13. I want us to look especially at verse 8 of Ephesians 3. In that verse Paul says this:

Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

I want us to learn from that verse what Paul teaches about preaching. And my headings tonight are: first, THE GOAL; secondly, THE METHOD; and thirdly, THE ATTITUDE. First, THE GOAL Some of you are going to be starting new jobs in the very near future. Now-a-days many firms and companies have "mission statements". They are supposed to summarize key distinctives and objectives in the organization. At this Church we have a "mission statement". It is "Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain". Well, Paul has a mission statement. It is his goal; and it is there in verse 8. He tells us he wants to share with "the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." What did Paul understand by that goal? Answer: four things. First, he understood that the gospel is for everyone. He understood that his job was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This epistle to the Ephesians is about how not only the Jews but also non-Jews (the Gentiles) are included in God's great plan of salvation. The gospel is therefore for everyone. It is for all. Do you believe that? No one is too bad for God that they can't be saved. Perhaps you think that some things you've done or been involved in mean that you have no hope with God. That is nonsense. Jesus Christ said that he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. No one is too bad for God. And no one is too good not to need saving. Behind some conventionally looking faces and apparently decent lives, there is corruption, foolishness and sadness. There was that public schoolgirl reported in the papers last week. Many would have said she was fine. She came from a rich, educated family. But she was, and is, mixed up. She has now dropped out of her expensive school to live with her lover who is a busker and lives in a tent. All need saving. And Paul's goal is to make the gospel message as widely known as possible because it is for everyone. Secondly, Paul understood that the gospel is "unsearchable". Literally that means you can't find it out for yourself. You can't get to it yourself. Romans 11.33 has the same word:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

The gospel is not something you can work out for yourself. You may be clever. You may be creative and artistic. You may be imaginative. But you will never discover the gospel. Sadly so many think that is the way you get to God. People talk these days about an "exploration"; they talk about "their spiritual journey"; they talk about "discovering their own theology". This is so misleading. Yes, if you seek, you will find. But what you find is not something you work out. No! God in his mercy comes to you in your search. There was a TV series on the religions of the world. It was called the Long Search. That is what so many do. They spend life searching for God. But Paul knew that the gospel is unsearchable. It depends on God himself making it known to men and women. There is the need of divine revelation. Verse 5 says that the gospel has "now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets." That revelation is in the bible. That is where you read what was revealed to the apostles and prophets. That is why the bible is so important. The gospel is unsearchable. Thirdly, Paul understood that the gospel was like "riches". It was like wealth. It was good. When you accept Christ, you discover that is so true. But that is not natural to believe. Naturally people believe that being a Christian means not riches but rags and not wealth but poverty in so many ways. The devil is the father of lies. He misrepresents the truth in many areas of life. There was a report on James Fox, the film star. A journalist was interviewing him and discussing his Christian convictions. It was said people could cope and tolerate it when these mega-stars drop out, join a new age cult, follow some exotic eastern religion, or get on drugs. What they can't cope with is someone being a "born again Christian". People will say "yes" to anything - to any perversion, deviancy, or abnormality. But they will say "no" to the gospel and to God's law. They do not understand that the gospel is good! God's ways are good. His will is "good, pleasing and perfect." Following Christ is the way to the good life. Oh! It won't always be easy. Sometimes God in his goodness and for your long-term good will allow you to go through difficult times. But he is no man's debtor. What Paul had to offer the Gentiles was "riches." And fourthly, they are the riches not of money but "of Christ." The gospel is not about religious experience, although that is involved. It is not about religious feelings, although they are involved. It is about Jesus Christ - a person - the one who was dead but is now alive. The gospel is about his life, death, resurrection, present reign and future return. And people want to hear about Jesus. They are turned off by talk about the church, but not about Jesus. And the riches of Christ are enjoyed not just by knowing about him, but by relating to him. His Holy Spirit, the third person of the divine Trinity, makes Jesus real today in such a way that you can relate to him. This is "unsearchable". But that doesn't mean it is not true. As you trust Christ, that he died for you and wants to save you; that on the cross he bore your sins and will forgive you; and that he wants to give you his Holy Spirit to give you new life and new birth, so you know it is true. It is not all imagination. Christ is alive. Who needs to trust Christ tonight - perhaps for the first time? It may be your last chance to do that. You are soon going to leave Newcastle. You may never hear the gospel put like this again. So Paul's goal was to share with "the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." He knew that the gospel is for all; it needs to be revealed; it is good; and it is about Jesus Christ. If that was his goal, what was his method? So secondly, THE METHOD His method was "preaching". His goal was, in fact, (verse 8) "to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." So what does this tell us? Two things. First, that the gospel is the communication of facts or truths. The bible calls it "news". The word in the original that we translate as the "gospel" means the "good news". The original word is "euaggelion" (the Greek word for "good news". "Gospel" is a contraction from the old English "goodspell". And the word here for preaching is from this root word for the "gospel" or "good news". The point is this. What has to be shared is "news". It is facts. Yes, the heart of the gospel is Jesus Christ. But the heart of our relationship with him is not just having "numinous" feelings about him. No! It is knowing who he is; what he has done; what he says; what he will do; and then relating to him in trust and obedience. Now, don't get me wrong. Being a Christian is not just knowing facts. You can know the facts and the truth about Christ, but still reject him. But knowing the truth about Christ is essential before you can turn to him. You need to know that he says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Mat 11.28).

You need to know that he says:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3.20).

And how do you know that? Answer: by someone preaching or communicating it verbally. Words are vital. Messages are vital. Truth is vital. What people need are not wonderful religious feelings but the truth. And for this you need preaching. Listen to Romans 10 verses 14 and 17:

How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? ... {17} Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

So first, preaching is communicating good news - the truth about Jesus. It is communicating "the word of Christ." But secondly preaching is to make this truth clear. In verse 9 of Ephesians 3 Paul expands what he says is involved in preaching. It is

to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

The essence of preaching is to make things plain. Now "this mystery" is not something dark and secret like the pagan mysteries. No! The Christian mysteries are truths that are beyond human finding out but that God has now revealed. In Old Testament times they were not fully understood. But now, Paul says, they have been fully revealed and so belong to the whole church. A Christian mystery is a truth that was hidden but is now revealed. And Paul has been explaining the wonderful plan or "administration" of God in this mystery in chapters 1 and 2 of Ephesians 3. And preaching is to make that mystery clear. Isn't that what the world needs to today - to hear God's reality made clear? The reality is that God "chose us [in Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Eph 1.4). The reality is that one day God will "bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ" (Eph 1.10). The reality is that "by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not of works, so that no-one can boast" (Eph 2.8-9). The reality is that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph 2.10). And all that needs to be made clear. And that is done by preaching. You say, "that excuses me. I'm not called to be a preacher." Nonsense! If you are a Christian you are called to "announce the gospel". True, not all are called to authoritative leadership in the Church - senior leadership that requires public pulpit preaching. But Paul taught not only publicly but also "from house to house." Acts 20.20:

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.

And in Acts you have a woman as well as a man (Priscilla and Aquila) "explaining to Apollos the way of God more adequately" in their house. The New Testament implies that senior leadership in the church is to be male and that leadership is by the word of God - hence pulpit preaching. But that doesn't mean that the majority of men who are not senior leaders, or women, are excused from understanding and, when they have opportunity, "making plain the administration of God's mystery." We all need to be involved in the ministry of the word - 1 Pet 3.15:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Preaching is not all pulpit preaching. That is for relatively few. No! The ministry of the word takes various forms. There is dialogue, when you discuss. There is the bible study format, where you let the bible speak and you help in the discussion to make it plain. There is talking. There is writing. Today there is Radio, TV, the Internet, newspapers, the cinema, the theatre, education, counselling and so on. "By all means win some". Paul and the apostles were unique. Today only some are called to be senior ministers of the word. But all Christians are called to speak out and make plain the gospel to some degree. That is why you need to learn and grow in your understanding. So preaching is conveying good news. In essence, it is making that good news "plain". Finally, THE ATTITUDE I must be brief. The attitude as you preach and try to make plain "the unsearchable riches of Christ" is to be one of humility. Look at what Paul says in verse 8:

I am less than the least of all God's people.

In preaching and sharing the faith, there must be no "holier than thou". It is all by grace. Paul says, "Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me - to preach." It is like two beggars with one showing the other where to find bread. It is realising that you haven't discovered these humanly undiscoverable riches. It is God alone who has revealed it. You must realise that you are privileged. If you are a Christian, God has privileged you. He has chosen you, in ways he has not chosen millions of others. That means you have a huge responsibility. The world is in desperate need. Millions are without God and without hope. The challenge of these verses is simply this: "what are you doing with the unsearchable riches of Christ that you have received?" If you are a scientist and you discover penicillin, you tell the world. Why do so many Christians keep silent when God discovers for them something far more important than penicillin? I must conclude and summarize. The goal is to share the unsearchable riches of Christ far and wide. The gospel is for all; it is beyond finding out, it needs to be revealed; it is good; and it is about Jesus Christ. The method of sharing that is through preaching. That means the message and the truth are important. But it also means that the message and that truth have to be made plain and clear. And preaching isn't only publicly in the pulpit. It is to be "from house to house". It can involve not just declaration, but dialogue and discussion bible studies. So all are to be involved in ministry of the word in some measure. And the attitude is to be one of humility - not "holier than thou" but "here are two beggars and one of them shows another where to find bread."

Back to top