The Role the Holy Spirit Plays In Preaching

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The moment arrives. Whispering a prayer for grace, the preacher stands and moves toward the front. He assumes a designated preaching spot—on a platform, behind a pulpit, adjacent to a table—it hardly matters. What matters is that he is not alone. The Holy Spirit is there.

But in what way? For what purpose? How does God’s Spirit work during a sermon? What should the preacher and people expect from the Spirit?

He Gifts the Preacher

Preacher, you are gifted. If that swells your head, you’ve missed the point. Gifts magnify the Giver, which in this case is the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7, 11):

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God. (1 Pet. 4:10)

And the Bible says your gift comes with instructions, two in particular:

1. Use it only to serve one another.

Preaching serves others when God is exalted and the listener receives grace—not when the gift is exalted and the preacher receives praise. This makes you a “good steward of God’s varied grace.”

2. Preach “as one who speaks the oracles of God.”

God’s Spirit has graced some to proclaim God’s Word. When they open the Bible to preach, their delivery should reflect the trembling wonder of one who re-speaks the very words of God.

If you’re cataloguing the ways the Holy Spirit works during a sermon, start with why it’s even you walking to the front. You deliver sermons because the Spirit delivers gifts. In this case, it’s to preach “as one who speaks oracles of God.”

He Inspires Unction

Ah yes, unction. An old-school word easier to experience than define. It conjures images of a preacher-in-polyester, confounding his hearers with impassioned irrationality. Lots of bellow with little Bible, great heat with flickering light. Unction seems to a preacher what a young lady is to a love-besotted lad—a phenomenon too mystifying to explain.

Or is it?

Unction happens when God’s Spirit kindles preachers to proclaim God’s Word with power (Acts 4:8). When unction comes, a bolt of lightning strikes the preacher’s affections and acumen for the truths being preached. Power is conveyed through the preached word (1 Thess. 1:5). The “unction” bolt hits both the preacher and the people.

The apostle Paul felt it. He told the Corinthians:

My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:4–5)

Paul’s talking unction here—that discernable combustion when the preacher’s soul and speech are divinely kindled. And when the Spirit arrives, the preacher ignites, and we all smell the smoke. “Preaching,” exclaimed Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”

Unction is when God sets preachers ablaze. I’ll illustrate why I’m deeply grateful for it.

After traveling three days with little sleep, I arrived to a conference on the other side of the world. Exhausted, I stepped into the meeting room only to discover I was preaching in a few minutes. I walked nervously to the platform, wondering who was more vulnerable to sermon-napping—me, or the pastors gathered to listen. Visions of Eutychus—the dude who fell asleep as Paul preached and tumbled out the window (Acts 20:9)—danced in my head. Fortunately, the window sills were vacant. Unfortunately, so was my brain.

The next 45 minutes were a blur. All I know is another preacher arrived and spoke through my mouth. I mean, this guy was so much clearer, more passionate, and infinitely more interesting. It couldn’t be me. But it was me. Or maybe a better version of me. I don’t know; all I know is the Spirit arrived and sprinkled some unction.

I wish it happened more often.

How about you? Preachers should want unction. Spurgeon thought so, too. As Iain Murray observed, “Spurgeon had little sympathy for men who held an orthodox system which was devoid of the living unction of the Spirit.”

Sure, none of us is Spurgeon. But a step in his direction would include anticipating and celebrating the unction of the Spirit.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
Dave Harvey