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[…] the exercise of preaching is spiritual rather than vocal. For, although it be practiced by means of outward words, its power and efficacy reside not in these but in the inward spirit. Wherefore, however lofty be the doctrine that is preached, and however choice the rhetoric and sublime the style wherein it is clothed, it brings as a rule no more benefit than is present in the spirit of the preacher.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 45 (Page 332)

Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Time for another #shorts post.

Today, for the third time in a row, I have a post about the Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross. But this is my final blog post about AscentI am done with this book. On top of that, I believe I’m done with medieval writers in general. At least I am for now, anyway. There’s too much of a disconnect between us and them, their lives and ours.

But this final topic I have to write about is an interesting one. It’s about the act of preaching, and some things to have in mind before attempting that task. Since every Christian is a minister of sorts, we may all be called to preach somewhere, sometime. Some choose to pursue a preaching career, while others may fall into it almost accidentally. But whatever the case, we all could be called at any time into a preaching role.

With that in mind, what John of the Cross has to say about preaching isn’t only meant for preachers. It’s for every Christian. So let’s take a look at what John of the Cross says about the act of preaching.

It’s not about the Words

John of the Cross starts by explaining the act of preaching is Spiritual rather than vocal. Preaching is not a public speaking gig. It’s a Spiritual labor of love; exhorting the community and guiding them in the Faith. Because of this, the power of preaching comes from the Spirit of the preacher and not from the words chosen. Those words are the exterior adornments, the window dressing.

[…] the exercise of preaching is spiritual rather than vocal. For, although it be practiced by means of outward words, its power and efficacy reside not in these but in the inward spirit. Wherefore, however lofty be the doctrine that is preached, and however choice the rhetoric and sublime the style wherein it is clothed, it brings as a rule no more benefit than is present in the spirit of the preacher.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 45 (Page 332)

Preparation is also important. If a preacher hasn’t done enough study, prayer, and meditation on the Word of God, then how will he speak a Spiritually nutritious message to the people?? If a preacher hasn’t put in enough prep work of talking to and interacting with God through the ways we have available (prayer, Bible, etc.), the sermon will suffer.

[…] as a rule the benefit derived from a sermon depends upon the preparation of the teacher. For this reason it is said that, as is the master, so is wont to be the disciple.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 45 (Page 332)

I’ve never heard this saying: ‘as is the master, so will be the disciple.’ But it makes sense. If people have bad teachers (preachers) with the wrong Spiritual ideas, then they’ll leave church and go live their lives with the wrong Spiritual ideas. So it’s very important a preacher puts enough time into preparing to preach, and this prep time must include study. The preacher needs to be sure of what Spiritual message they preach.

Practice what You Preach!!

Not all preachers standing at the pulpit** on Sunday mornings should be there. **I understand most churches don’t have an actual pulpit anymore. My church doesn’t have one either. It’s only an expression.

And why should a preacher not deserve to be there at the pulpit?? That would depend on what their life is like, outside of church. What kind of person are they when it’s not Sunday morning?? What kind of person are they the rest of the week??

Many Christians, preachers included, live a sort of double life. They extol the Gospel on the one hand but do whatever they want on the other. Adultery, gluttony, drunkenness … when it’s not time for church they do whatever they feel like. They chase after whatever their flesh craves like any regular person of the world.

God is angry at false teachers, those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. I’m angry with them too. I’ve written a few posts here and there about them. Here’s one in particular that angers me even now. Do Not Fear the End Times Part 113: Snakes in the Pulpit. Check out that post if you like.

No one likes a hypocrite of any kind. But if hypocrites are in a position of leadership in the church, God is angry. Preachers must walk the walk as they talk the talk.

Since preaching is a Spiritual exercise, if a preacher lives a secret life of sin they’re going to be Spiritually messed up. It takes a mental, emotional, and Spiritual toll on a person to live a life of sin six days a week, then preach the Gospel on Sunday. As for that preacher’s congregation, if the preacher walks in sin they won’t be on fire with the Spirit of God. They’ll be Spiritually weak, and preaching a watered-down message of lukewarmness and error. This will happen whether the preacher means to or not. You can’t walk in sin and expect to preach Spiritually healthy messages.

John of the Cross refers to Romans 2:21 here. God says, through Paul, “You who preach men shouldn’t steal, steal.”

But He [God] is angry with those who, though teaching the law of God, keep it not, and, while preaching spirituality, possess it not. For this reason God says, through S. Paul: Thou teach others and teach not thyself. Thou who preach that men should not steal, steal. [Romans 2:21]

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 45 (Page 332)

Here’s some Good News

But there’s a positive flipside to this. The better, more Spiritual life a preacher lives, the greater fruit he will produce in his congregation. His style doesn’t matter; he can be a novice public speaker. But again that’s not what’s important here. Preaching is a Spiritual activity so what matters is the preacher’s Spiritual condition. The Spirit will be conveyed even if the preacher isn’t skilled at writing sermons, word choice, or speaking, etc.

It’s better to be a Spiritually healthy preacher than a slick, charismatic teacher of no substance. The slick guy can deliver a nice-sounding sermon but it has no long-term effect on the people. It does nothing helpful for their Spirit.

[…] the better is the life of the preacher, the greater is the fruit that he produces, however undistinguished his style may be, however small his rhetoric and however ordinary his instruction. For warmth that comes from the living spirit clings; whereas the other kind of preacher will produce very little profit, however sublime be his style and his instruction.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 45 (Page 333)

Does this sound familiar?? Think back to what Jesus said about the inside vs. the outside. He rebuked the Pharisees for polishing the outside of the cup when the inside (the soul, the character) was dirty. This is in Luke 11.

(39) The Lord said to him, “Now, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and platter, but your insides are stuffed with greed and wickedness. (40) Foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside also make the inside? (41) Therefore, give to those in need from the core of who you are and you will be clean all over.

Luke 11:39-41 (CEB)

So the good news is that if a preacher polishes the inside of their soul, as in, if they live a good life following God while putting in the Spiritual prep work (prayer/Bible/etc.) they need to preach, then they will do a great job of Spiritually building up their congregation no matter how skilled they are (or not) at writing and public speaking. That’s good news for sure!!

Focus on Content, not Presentation

It’s true that a good presentation (the outside) can make a message even more powerful. It can certainly make it more impactful. But what’s on the inside is what matters the most when it comes to preaching. The ‘inside’ means the Spirit of a sermon, and the Spiritual health of the preacher. What kind of life does that preacher live??

For, although it is true that a good style and gestures and sublime instruction and eloquent language influence men and produce much effect when accompanied by true spirituality, yet without this [true Spirituality], although a sermon give pleasure and delight to the sense and the understanding, very little or nothing of its sweetness remains in the will. As a rule, in this case, the will remains as weak and remiss with regard to good works as it was before. […]

Little does it matter that one kind of music should sound better than another if the better kind move me not more than the other to do good works.

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, BOOK 3 CHAPTER 45 (Page 333)

So if we would preach, we’d better attend to our ‘insides.’ Our Spiritual insides, that is. What’s our life like?? How’s our relationship with God?? And are we doing the Spiritual prep work we need to be doing?? Are we studying and meditating on the Word of God, and praying like we need to??

We need to attend to our own Spiritual health before we try to teach, help, and guide others. Preaching is an important Spiritual duty. We must prepare well for it and take it seriously.

Because it doesn’t matter how good a message sounds if it doesn’t Spiritually build up the people listening. And if the Spirit behind that message is unhealthy, that message will be a useless dud at best. At worst, it will lead people astray into sins and more.

That’s it for #shorts Part 44.

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Until next time, be strong and do good!!

Your new best friend in Christ,

99:9

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