by Paul Smithson
While living in Florida I had the wonderful privilege of getting to know brother Robert F. Turner. Robert had a unique way of explaining things to make you think and remember. Besides the excellent bible teaching I received from him, I particularly enjoyed just talking with him and going to various gospel meetings together. Once he and I went to hear a man preach who was well known among the brotherhood, though it was the first time I had heard him speak. The speaker was very eloquent, yet there was not much Scripture used in the “lesson.” I was somewhat disappointed as I had anticipated a message with more substance. When in the car on the way back home it was unusually quite. Finally I asked, “brother Turner, what did you think about the lesson?” Robert, paused for a moment and said, “Well it was sort of like my grandpa describe a fellow’s preaching once, ‘Like the creek in the summertime…shaller, mighty shaller.’” He then went on to encourage a young man who was beginning to preach, to “never just get up a lesson to entertain the people” but to “work to prepare a sermon to teach a lesson from the Scriptures.”
The writings of Christian teachers living in the first four centuries were filled with quotations from the New Testament. Biblical scholars tell us that if the New Testament was somehow lost or destroyed, we could reconstruct the entire New Testament from the writings of these early Christians. In fact, it is stated that no less than 36,000 Scripture quotations are found in these works! The reason there were such a large number of Bible quotations in those men’s writings is because they were teaching the Word! They were not proclaiming the thoughts of men, nor were they just telling stories, they were teaching the word of God to people.
There are many today, some whose names may frequent the gospel meeting flyers, who may be entertaining to hear but whose message is wanting of Scripture. And there are plenty of listeners who desire this kind of message who will wring the hand of the preacher and tell him what a good “lesson” that was. The Lord said the Holy Spirit would “convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (Joh 16:8). The way He accomplishes this is through His powerful word He has revealed (Eph 6:17). This is what must be taught. This must be the substance of our preaching, for it is the “faithful word” to which we must be holding fast and which enables one to “both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9). “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:13-14).
Paul said, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Ti 4:2). Preaching that is filled with illustrations and funny stories but lacking in “the word” cannot accomplish what the Lord’s apostle commanded. The word “illustration” comes from the Latin, illūstrō, which means to brighten, or to light up. An illustration is like a window that sheds light on the subject. It’s good to have a well placed illustration in a sermon, but it’s not good to have a glass house. There must be substance– and the substance of our teaching must be the Scriptures.
May those who preach strive to prepare sermons that teach lessons from the Scriptures. And may those who listen desire to hear such lessons and not a message which is like the creek in the summertime.