In The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper calls preachers to make displaying the glory and majesty of God the ultimate goal of their pulpit ministry, “The goal of preaching is the glory of God in the glad submission of his people” (44). He accomplishes this by presenting the biblical foundation for such a goal (1 Peter 4:10-11, “in order that in everything God may be glorified in Jesus Christ,”) and using Jonathan Edwards as an illustration of such preaching. The rest of the book answers how to preach the supremacy of God. First, Piper encourages preachers to recognize the gravity of preaching and to pursue joy in it. He then considers the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, encouraging pastors to follow his example in keeping God central through intimacy in worship, submitting to God through faith in His sovereignty, making God supreme through ten helpful suggestions on preaching (most impactful noted below). He concludes by looking back over three decades of ministry and considering how he’s grown in his appreciation of Edwards’ view of Christ and Calvin’s resolve to keep preaching “tethered to the Bible.” Near the end of the book, he lists thirty reasons why it is a great thing to be a pastor, a riveting and awe-inspiring list that is sure to stir the heart of anyone who is preparing for the task of shepherding God’s people.
The entire thesis of the book could be one giant takeaway- to understand the goal of preaching as displaying the supremacy of God and helping his people to rejoice in and submit to his glory. As such, I would recommend it to anyone considering taking up the task of preaching God’s Word. But on a more specific note, three things impacted me specifically regarding sermon delivery: (1) saturating sermons with Scripture, (2) employing analogies and images, and (3) pleading for a response.
First, when Piper urges preachers to “saturate with Scripture,” he provides a helpful contrast to “basing” a sermon on Scripture. The Scripture-saturated sermon does not jump off the diving board of Scripture only to swim in the pool of a preacher’s thoughts or interests, but rather “oozes” Scripture from beginning to end. Piper’s advice is to quote the text over and over again to show the audience that the ideas of the sermon are coming from the Word, because listeners likely do not see the connections between the preacher’s words and the words of the text unless he shows clearly shows them. Preachers may also show connections with other biblical themes or references by actually quoting the verse, as opposed to paraphrasing or referencing the general idea. According to Edwards, this comes as the preacher saturates himself with the Scriptures, being “well acquainted with the written word of God and mighty in the Scriptures,” (92). Resolved to make sure I base my sermon’s points on the text, quote the text in explaining my points, and quoting other Scriptures as they shed light on the passage at hand.
Second, Piper encourages preachers to entertain the mind with vivid images of amazing reality in order to powerfully teach and touch the heart. This is one of my favorite things about Edward’s preaching. I will never forget the first time I heard his analogy regarding our good works having no more ability to earn righteousness with God than a spider web has to catch a falling boulder. Piper gives a few more: an analogy of a surgeon with a scalpel to explain some kinds of preaching, a pure heart with remaining impurities as a vat of fermenting liquor trying to get clean of all sediment, holiness in the soul as a garden of God with all manner of pleasant flowers. These vivid images, analogies, and illustrations connect abstract truths with reality by explaining them via concrete experiences of the world. Resolved to labor with Edwards to find images and analogies that produce impressions in people comparable to reality but are also faithful to the truth it is presenting. I can do this by making time to contemplate potential images and analogies in sermon preparation, as well as noting how other preachers, teachers, and authors illustrate biblical truths and emulating where they do it well.
Finally, Piper encourages preachers to plead for a response to God in their preaching. Surely, it is God who gives the growth and effects change, but that does not rule out earnest appeals for people to respond to Him and His Word. In fact, God has ordained the two to work in conjunction with one another. Therefore, preachers must plead for people to respond to what they have heard from God’s Word, which may include issuing loving threats of judgment and hell or giving heartfelt appeals to believe incomparable promises of grace. The goal is to call people to respond to God and be doers, not just hearers, of the Word. Resolved to plan for appeals for response in my sermon preparation and earnestly plead with people to respond to God Himself.
Piper’s book is a gift to the church that offers her preachers a challenge and an ambition that will never be exhausted or fully attained in their ministry, nor will it fail to deliver the highest possible reward: glorifying God by making Him supreme in their preaching.