Preaching, I have learned over the last few months, is a labor of love. It is so in many senses. Preachers preach because God loves them and because they love God. Preachers preach because they love the Scriptures and their congregation. But the labor of love I am thinking about is a bit more, how might you say it, high schoolish?
Jessie, my wife, is notorious for trying to spark relationships. We have one particular friend who she has diligently poked and prodded for years, trying to see if he has any crushes or love interests. Our friend is a good sport and usually entertains Jessie’s attempts to find him a partner. I know that many people would find Jessie’s prodding obnoxious or even inappropriate. (I assure you, she only pesters people she knows and loves.) But I think she has a good reason for doing it: Jessie loves to see other people in love.
If you can shake off all the memories you have from your teenage years when all of your friends pestered you about “getting a girlfriend” or “impressing the boy,” then maybe you can see what I’m getting at. Jessie pokes and prods her friends because she wants others to experience love. Preaching, we might say, is the pastor’s way of poking and prodding the congregation into a loving relationship with Scripture and, more importantly, with the God about whom Scripture testifies.
Good biblical preaching should stir the congregants toward a heightened interest in the story of Scripture. Ellen Davis recounts a bit of wisdom she inherited from Krister Stendahl about good preaching, saying, “Your goal should be the next time [the congregation] turns to that part of the Bible, it will say a little more to them. The purpose of preaching is to give the text a little more room to shine” (Preaching the Luminous Word, xxiii). Doesn’t that sound like introducing your friend to this really great girl or guy, so that the next time they meet there is a connection?
And good biblical preaching should arouse the congregants’ desire to know the God about whom Scripture testifies. Though preaching starts with the groundwork of exegesis, it should never stay there. Here, I’m using exegesis in the historical-critical sense, where we expend much energy asking “what did this passage mean?” Preaching must move from that kind of labor of love into a gripping description or profession of how amazing the God of Israel really is. You must get there. Otherwise the congregants will leave having learned something but not knowing someone. And how does a relationship get anywhere if you never get to know the person?
Preaching is a labor of love. But sometimes it’s the (potentially obnoxious) labor of giving others the chance to fall in love.