By Tony Merida
While the term anointed may not be the best word to describe preaching by the power of the Spirit, the biblical rationale for Spirit-empowered preaching is still warranted. The prophets, Jesus, Paul, and the examples in Luke-Acts provide a rich understanding of this important reality.
Before identifying some marks of Spirit-empowered preaching, it may be helpful to begin with what Spirit-empowered preaching is not. It is not the act of trying to be someone else in the pulpit. Some preachers do an “incredible Hulk” transformation, turning into an entirely different person on the platform. Lack of genuineness is no sign of the Spirit.
Another common misunderstanding is the idea that Spirit-empowered preaching is when you change your sermon right before you preach! Sure, there may be times to do just that, but the act in itself is no sign of vitality. Some also think of “screaming, yelling, and slinging sweat” as Spirit-empowered preaching. If the preacher does not lose control, in some traditions, he has “lost the Spirit.”
Further, the preacher is often tempted to push the audience’s “hot buttons” in order to elicit a response. After doing so, he is often praised as “being anointed.” We should avoid such manipulation and deceit. Getting a verbal response is no barometer for the presence of the Spirit. A final misconception is that only those who preach without notes are preaching by the power of the Spirit. If this were the case, then many of the great preachers in our history apparently preached apart from the Spirit! Sorry, Edwards.
In contrast, I believe that there are four key biblical principles for understanding true Spirit-empowered preaching.
1. Spirit-empowered preaching is, in some sense, an indescribable and indefinable aspect of preaching.
How does one know the unction of the Spirit? It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of power not your own thrilling through the whole of your being, and an indescribable sense of joy. You are a man “possessed,” you are taken hold of, and taken up. I like to put it like this—and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to this feeling— that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on at yourself in amazement as this is happening. It is not your effort; you are just an instrument, the channel, the vehicle: the Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment and astonishment.
This is an apt description of the mysterious element of biblical preaching.
Spurgeon also recognized the mystery of the Spirit. He said, “What is it? I wonder how long we might beat our brains before we could plainly put into words what is meant by preaching with unction; yet he who preaches knows its presence, and he who hears soon detects its absence.” Though we may not be able to define it completely, all who have tasted it want it more and more.
2. Spirit-empowered preaching is not simply mystery and emotion.
It seems that the Spirit works mightily when God is made much of in the pulpit. Spirit-empowered preaching will be God-centered, Christ-exalting preaching because the Spirit glorifies Christ and makes the glory of God known (John 15:26; 16:14; 1 Cor 2:9–11). While the Spirit can and does move through poor sermons, the faithful preacher must determine to exalt Christ, praying for the Spirit to come and draw the hearers’ minds to the Savior.
3. Spirit-empowered preaching will bring conviction of sin and repentance (Acts 2:37–41).
While some sermons may stir up emotion, true repentance that leads to fruitfulness and faithfulness is a work of the Spirit. Genuine converts are produced by the Spirit and the Word (1 Pet 1:23–25). Preaching is thus set apart from other modes of secular communication because of the Spirit’s presence in the preaching of the inspired text.
4. Spirit-empowered preaching will be evidenced in the character of Christ on the preacher (Gal 5:22–23) and in his boldness in preaching the gospel (Eph 6:18–20; Acts 4).
Often we look for other observable effects that are not mentioned in Scripture, such as loudness and body movement. We should pray for the fruit of the Spirit to be present in our preaching and for the Spirit to empower us to preach with a humble and courageous boldness.
Adapted from Faithful Preaching by Tony Merida (B&H Publishing Group, 2009)