The Ultimate Goal of Preaching: A Sovereign Smile


For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:5

When a man gets up to preach, he never does so without any goals in mind. And if he is in a proper frame of mind, those goals include seeing sinners brought from darkness to light and saints transformed from glory to glory. By proclaiming the Word of God, the preacher desires to see Christ’s church built up and nourished to do the work her bridegroom calls her to do. He yearns to see the bride of Christ equipped in the Word to carry the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. He longs to see the flock of God advance against the kingdom of darkness. These are the goals of every Bible preacher. They are fitting goals. They are goals that share in the heartbeat of God.

But even these goals must exist to serve an ultimate goal. And in some ways, they stand in the shadow of the greatest goal. In fact, the goals listed above are not always accomplished with every sermon. While anticipated and desired, people are not always born again every time we preach. And while Bible preaching will always nourish the believer at one level or another,  not every message will be “life-changing.” But there is a goal that can be achieved ten out of ten times for every God-called preacher. It is the goal of all goals: to preach for the smile of our sovereign God.

What is it that makes our preaching pleasing to Christ? Is it simply to preach a message that rightly divides the Word and gets the point of the text across? While not incorrect, this answer is incomplete. If God was only concerned with our manner of preaching, we could be content with biblical fidelity and go home. But our Lord is not only concerned with the manner of our preaching. He is very concerned with our motive.

He is not merely pleased because we did our due diligence in studying a text. He is pleased when that sermon is delivered with His glory in mind. He is not merely pleased with proper exegesis; He is pleased when it is delivered to His exaltation. Preaching for a sovereign smile is not just an issue of homiletics and hermeneutics. It is also an issue of the preacher’s heart.

What is Affirmed in the Classroom can be Forgotten in the Pulpit

Many affirm the vertical aim of preaching on paper and in theory. When we read it, we underline it. When we hear it, we “amen” it. When we say it, we expect agreement. But where the vertical aim of preaching seems to be neglected is in its motion — in its action. The vertical aim of preaching tends to be verbalized in theory yet muted in its preparation and practice.

How so?

When the preacher censors the Scriptures in order not to offend, when the preacher caters to felt needs and emotional longings in order to achieve numerical success, when a doctrine is dodged or skimmed over so that the inbox can be free of complaints, when one refrains from exhibiting passion in order not to look fanatical, when one uncharacteristically showcases passion in order to seem fanatical, when a sermon is preached for views and clicks, when a message is written to virtue signal for the acceptance of peers, or when the Scriptures are used to promulgate a personal agenda rather than the Holy Spirit’s intent of the text — this is how you know the vertical aim of preaching has been lost.

The problem is discerned in the motive more than the manner of the sermon. A sermon can be preached with theological precision yet without vertical intention. A sermon can be preached with helpful application yet without worshipful affection. A sermon can be preached with homiletical agility yet without heavenly aim. Be sure that it can be EASY to get the message right and the motive wrong.

The slide into this pitfall is subtle. It is often something only the preacher himself can address because such can be imperceptible to the spectator. The reality is that the temptation to preach for the smile of men is strong. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul doesn’t say he and his fellow ministers have fallen prey to this temptation, but he does not deny that the temptation is an existent reality.

Our flesh wants to be praised by the mouths of our peers. Our flesh does not want to pay the cost of preaching the truth. Our flesh sees other preachers achieve a level of fame, power, or prestige, and wonders if we could do the same. In these ways, the winds of temptation rage against our pulpit.

Furl up the “sails” of your pulpit and drop an anchor in the supremacy of Christ! Do not be shifted or carried away by these raging winds. Preach of Christ, preach for Christ, and die to self.

The Ultimate Goal of this Series

It goes without saying that there are preachers far more experienced and qualified to teach sermon preparation and execution than I am. Many books have been written on the subject of homiletics, and there is little that I can add to the conversation that has not already been said.

My goal in this series of articles is not to lecture. My goal is to encourage preachers to preach Christ for Christ’s sake. I aim to admonish others to preach with unmitigated passion, unwavering conviction, and unadulterated sincerity. I hope to exhort my brothers to courageously break free from the snare of man-pleasing in the pulpit and preach for the approval of the One before Whom they will stand on the last day. I want to challenge you…plead with you…to preach for a Sovereign smile.

This article will serve as our introduction to the series, and over the course of the coming months, we will expand and elaborate on the Biblical implications, ramifications, and applications of this crucial subject.

For further reading
Expository Exultation by John Piper
Between Two Worlds by John Stott
Called to Preach by Steve Lawson
Reformed Preaching by Joel Beeke
Nick White

Nick White

In the last seven years, Nick White has fulfilled the roles of a church planting pastor in Boston, Massachusetts, and a senior pastor in New Hampshire. He possesses a Bachelor of Theology degree from a small Baptist college and is also certified in Expository Preaching by The Academy for Expository Preaching in Dallas, Texas. Nick is happily married to Chelsea and is a father to two daughters, Grace and Abigail.

March 25, 2024

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