Understanding the sovereignty of God critically impacts the way a preacher prepares his message and delivers the sermon. Every proclaimer of God’s Word must be clear on where the power supply comes from, and who’s Name is to be proclaimed. Understanding these aspects serves to free the preacher from unnecessary pressure and protects him from claiming a glory that is not his. God is the greatest need of every person, and therefore, it stands to reason that the greatest thing any preacher can do is continually call his audience to look to the Lord. As John Piper writes, “It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need.” (John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching )
The first critical issue of the sovereignty of God in preaching is the authority God has over the life of the preacher. This foundational element cannot be overlooked. God has the unique authority to call, to equip and to command him. A failure to recognize God’s sovereign control is demonstrated in the tragic example of Jonah. God puts His call upon Jonah’s life, but failing to recognize God’s sovereign authority, Jonah runs. The prophet did not want to deliver God’s message to God’s chosen audience. As a result, he foolishly attempted to flee from God’s presence. If Jonah had been meditating upon the sovereignty of God, he would have realized the folly of attempting to run away from a God who is omnipresent and omnipotent. Further, he would have eagerly obeyed the call and command of God.
The second important issue for the preacher to consider is God’s sovereignty in the giving of the message: the Bible. Many preachers throughout the ages have been tempted to use Scripture only in passing or even worse; they ignore the Bible altogether. In an attempt to be culturally acceptable or popular with the masses, too many preachers have elevated headlines or personal opinions above the Word of God. Only the proclaimer who understands that God is sovereign will be protected from such a tragic mistake. If God is sovereign and He has spoken, then surely it is His message alone that is to be heralded. As James Denney says, “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.”
A third outcome in rightly understanding God’s sovereignty is the priority of study. Some have “excused” themselves from hours in the study by using God’s sovereignty as an exemption and justification. God has called men to serve as pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11), has given the instructions to work as a farmer, athlete and soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-6) and has called the man of God to be a student (2 Timothy 2:15). One must trust the work of the Holy Spirit to bring understanding to his mind from the study of the text, clarity of thought in how the text is taught, and clarity of speech in proclaiming the text. In these ways, the preacher responds appropriately to the sovereignty of God.
A final aspect of God’s sovereignty in preaching is in the repose of the preacher after the message is completed. In the end, the pastor labors in the study, agonizes in prayer, spills his heart and soul in the pulpit, and then must rest as the sovereign God does His work in the lives of the hearers. The herald must see himself as one who plants seeds and waters seeds, but never forgetting that it is God alone who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-8). When the visible results of a sermon are less than what is desired, the preacher is protected from despair. Also, the preacher is guarded against pride when fruit is manifested in his ministry. Martin Luther summarized this concept when he stated, “We should preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God’s good pleasure . . . I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. And while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.” (Martin Luther, Luther's Works)
When the desired effects of ministry are not readily apparent, many preachers will attempt to usurp the sovereignty of God by generating his own “successes.” Yet, the words of Piper again are helpful as he rightly states, “God will hide from you much of the fruit He causes in your ministry. You will see enough to be assured of His blessing, but not so much as to think you could live without it. For God aims to exalt Himself, not the preacher.”
It cannot be said strongly enough that for the preacher to be biblical, he must be God-centered in his proclamation. And, if he is to be God-centered, he must submit and bow to the sovereignty of God in his preaching. Churches must see the Lord high and lifted up. For that to happen, the men of God, who speak for God, must humble themselves under the authority of the God who is sovereign and His Word that is sufficient for every need. The admonition of Mark Dever should be heeded as he says, “The empty pulpit in many of our church buildings well displays the spiritual reality. We run around seeking life for our churches and life for ourselves through a million different methods, and the one means God has given for bringing people into a relationship with Himself stands neglected and disdained.” (Mark Dever, Preach)
May the Lord by His grace grant that preachers in the world today would return to a right belief that all true preaching is Biblical preaching and all Biblical preaching is undergirded by the sovereign call of God, Word of God, work of God and Spirit of God. As the prophet Isaiah speaks in chapter 55 and verse 11, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”