A preacher never should settle intentionally for an imperfect sermon. He is responsible to “rightly divide” – that is, exposit – the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). Yet, what preacher can say that he has ever delivered a perfect sermon? Mistaken exegesis, inaccurate illustrations, mispronounced or mistaken word choices, unrelated or neglected application, wrong verse references, not to mention preaching with pride and reliance upon human strength, personal intellect, or emotional appeals – this is a short list of possible pitfalls in preaching, but it could certainly be much longer.
It is important to maintain a high standard for “preaching the Word,” very important indeed. Yet, we must also be charitable towards other preachers and their sermons whenever they fall short of perfection itself. A survey of history will reveal that God has employed a multiplicity of instruments to convey his message to the church. Whitefield and Wesley, Edwards and Freylinghausen, Spurgeon and Moody, Lloyd-Jones and Tozer, the variations are stunning. Difference between any of these men – theologically, practically, and personally – certainly abound. Yet, Calvinist or Arminian, stoic or emotional, intellectual or uneducated, each mouthpiece finds its own unique place in God’s symphony of preaching.
The standard by which all preaching should be judged is the Word of God itself, both written and incarnate. Consider the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11), who checked the preaching they heard with the written Word. As the messenger and the message agree with scripture in content and spirit, the sermon serves God’s purpose. Rather than looking for the perfect sermon, it would be good ask “what is true?” in regard to God’s Word. If any imperfections exist, we should be careful not to disregard what is true nonetheless. With this in mind, it is possible to receive greater blessing and benefit from a broader range of God’s servants – even though there are some imperfections in their sermons – with the Word of God, written and incarnate, as our only perfect model for a perfect sermon.
Thomas Overmiller serves as a Bible professor at Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.