Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"For the Love of Preaching"
2 Corinthians 5:9-21

by Dr. Don McCulley
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Dresden, TN

Dr. Don McCulley

R. G. Lee said, “I can say of myself what Samuel Chadwick said of himself:  ‘I would rather pay to preach than to be paid not to preach.  Preaching has its price in agony of sweat and tears.  No calling has such heartbreak, but preaching is a calling an archangel might covet.  I thank God that by His grace He called me into the ministry of preaching’.”[1]

W. A. Criswell writes, “It is still written in the Bible, ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’ (I Cor. 1:21).  There is no ministry under heaven so worthwhile, so vitally needed, so God-blessed as that of preaching the gospel . . . It is preaching the Word of God that people need.  And it is preaching that feeds the souls of Christian converts.”[2]

John R. W. Stott asserts, “If today’s pastors were to take seriously the New Testament emphasis on the priority of preaching and teaching, not only would they find it extremely fulfilling themselves, but also it would undoubtedly have a very wholesome effect on the church . . . If we were to establish ‘the ministry of the word and prayer’ as our priority, as the apostles did (Acts 6:4), it would involve for most of us a radical restructuring of our programme and timetable, including a considerable delegation of other responsibilities to lay leaders, but it would express a truly New Testament conviction about the essential nature of the pastorate.” [3]

Preachers must remember that while administration, consultation and visitation are vitally important, it is the proclamation of the word that is absolutely essential.  This very fact can be observed from our text.  Second Corinthians provides a great deal of autobiographical information concerning Paul.  Chapter 5 gives insight into the apostle’s theological heartbeat.

I.  The Preacher’s Obligation

Our obligation is to please the master.  “So we make it our goal to please him . . .” (v. 9).  The word goal has to do with aim and ambition.  Paul’s great ambition was to please Jesus.  Warren Wiersbe states, “A man-pleasing ministry is a carnal, compromising ministry; and God cannot bless it.”[4]  Vance Havner captured this idea with the following story:  “A country schoolteacher, applying for a job, was asked, ‘Do you teach that the earth is round or flat?’  ‘Which way do you want it taught?’ was the reply, ‘I can teach it either way.’  Havner concluded, ‘Something like that is the attitude in many a pulpit today.’”[5]

While this text is applicable to every believer, let’s focus on the preacher.  Surely, we are not well-pleasing to the master when we spend an ample amount of our time involved in what could and should be done by lay people and neglect the ministry of the word.  We please the master when we give ourselves to the meditation, application and proclamation of the Scriptures.  That is our calling.  Nothing dare usurp that work!

Our obligation is to persuade men.  “. . .  we try to persuade men.” (v. 11).  Paul’s aim was not only to please God, but also to persuade people.  David Garland writes, “He strives to persuade others about the seriousness of their plight without God and the abundance of God’s mercy in Christ.”[6]  In Romans 15:20, Paul states, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel . . .”[7]  He wanted to preach to as many people as possible persuading them of the truth of God’s Word.  The word persuade means to prevail upon; to win over; to bring about a change of mind by influence of reason or moral consideration.  Paul wanted to persuade as many people as he could.

R. G. Lee had the same desire.  With great skill and passion he persuaded multitudes.  He wrote, “My hope, as a boy, that when I became a man and a preacher God would see to it that I spoke to “many” (italics mine) people became not a dream, but a reality, not a hope but an actuality.”[8]  When Lee  resigned Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis it had ninety-two hundred members.

Not everyone has been placed in such a setting.  Regardless of the size of our location let us be faithful to expound the Scriptures using every opportunity to persuade people.  As Vance Havner reminds us: “the preacher who will not preach his heart out before a few people would be no good before a multitude.”[9]  He also pined, “A preacher who is too big for a little crowd would be too little for a big crowd.”[10]

Paul’s reason for pleasing God and persuading people can be found in verses 10-11.  Paul knew that one day he would stand before the Lord and give an account of his life and ministry.  We, too, must remember that fact as well.

II.  The Preacher’s Motivation

The love of Christ motivates us.  “For Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14).  Paul was not compelled by the praise of men (v. 12), nor was he deterred by the criticism of his enemies (v. 13).  What motivated Paul?  It was the “love of Christ.”  I believe this has reference to Christ’s love for Paul as seen in the cross, and Paul’s love for Christ as seen in his conversion.  By this love Paul was compelled.  On the word “compel” Garland comments, “the verb “compels” (synechein) only appears elsewhere in the New Testament in Phil. 1:23.  It can mean ‘to hold together,’ ‘to enclose,’ ‘ to hold fast,’ or ‘to constrain.’”[11]   Paul was left no choice.  Instead of dedicating his life to his own desires he spent his life for the cause of Christ and for others.  God’s love is reciprocal.  The more we comprehend his love for us the more we will love Him.  John wrote “We love Him, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

The lostness of creation motivates us.  “And He died for all . .  .” (v. 15).  Why did Christ die?  He died for a lost world.

“Man of sorrows, what a name,
for the Son of God who came,
ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”[12] 

Paul was convinced of the fact that Jesus died for all.  He became our substitute.  As our representative,  He died in order that we might live.  “Christ’s death was the death of all in the sense that they should have died; the penalty of their sins was borne by him (I Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:20); He died in their place.”[13]

This is a glorious fact, is it not?  Yet, how shall the world know of this divine truth?  Paul wrote in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone “preaching” to them?

When Paul met Christ he gained a new perspective.  His view of the Savior changed.  His view of himself changed.  And his view of society changed  (vv. 15 – 16).  He could no longer live for himself.  As long as there was breath in his body he would proclaim the finished work of Christ on the cross to a lost world.

We, too, must be motivated by the love of Christ and the lostness of creation.  We cannot force people to believe our message.  However, we must be faithful to the Scriptures and leave the results with God.

III.  The Preacher’s Proclamation

We have a ministry.  “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . .” (v. 18).  Paul’s ministry was a part of God’s work to reconcile the world.  We, also, are a part of God’s grand design to bring reconciliation.

The word reconciliation means “that two things which were separated and apart have been brought back together . . . Paul’s focus was not on reconciliation between man and man but on reconciliation between man and God.” [14]   God was reconciled to man through the work of Calvary.  It is man who needs to be reconciled.  It is Christ that reconciles us.  How he is able to do that is answered in verse 21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We have a message.  “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (v. 19).  Paul stated that “we are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us”  (v. 20).  We are God’s spokesmen.  We are authorized to proclaim the good news.  We carry forth His message.  It is His message that is able to transform.  Leith Anderson states, “The sermon itself is a powerful agent of change.”[15]

Preaching not only seeks to confront the lost with the claims of Christ, it also seeks to feed the saved that they might grow to be more like Christ.  Indeed, Paul is making his appeal to those who are already Christians.  Garland cites C. K. Barrett who said, “The Corinthians had indeed been reconciled to God, but it was for them to receive the reconciliation more effectively.”[16]

Whether preaching to the lost or saved, we need to take great care in how we package the message. Consider these  reminders:

Remember the Theme.

                        Jesus is our theme.  R. G. Lee said, “Hundreds of subjects I have used, but in all sermons,   Jesus was the Person presented and proclaimed.  To take Jesus out of a sermon is like taking heat out of fire, melody out of music, numbers out of mathematics, facts out of history, fiction out of literature, brains out of the skull and expecting intelligence, and blood out of the body and expecting health.”[17]

Remember the Text.

                        “Pity the preacher who uses a text only as a launching platform from which to blast off into space, departing therefrom and never returning thereto.  There is power in the direct preaching of the Bible that attends no other pulpit exercise.”[18]

Remember the Title.

                        Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Church suggests that we give careful attention to the titles of our sermons.  Create a title that will catch the listener’s attention.

Remember the Theology.

                        We must dig deep and long into the Bible.  This calls for study.  This is a must if we are to communicate and connect with our hearers.  We must expound and not just pound.

 C. H.  Spurgeon writes, “The minister who recommended the old lady to take snuff in order to keep from dozing was very properly rebuked by her reply, - that if he would put more snuff into the sermon she would be awake enough.  We must plentifully cast snuff into the sermon, or something yet more awakening.”[19]  Whether it’s snuff or stuff, just make sure it’s enough!

Remember the Time.

                        We preachers get accused of working only one day a week and then we work too long.  A young preacher once asked a deacon what he should preach about and the deacon said “about twenty minutes.”  Again Spurgeon commented, “If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better.  Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit.  We are generally longest when we have least to say.”[20]

Remember the Transformation.

                        We preach the Word in order that God might bring about a transformation.  Let us not      misuse the scriptures nor abuse our listeners.  May we preach with reverence and relevance.  May we preach the word with love.  “An awful lot of preaching misses the mark because it proceeds from the love of preaching, not the love of people.”[21]

Leith Anderson comments, “I really don’t think that great churches are built on great preaching alone.  I think that day is past.”  But then he concluded, “I don’t think you can build a great church ‘without’ great preaching . . .”[22]

Tony Campolo, in his book Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God relates a line from the movie Oh, God!  John Denver plays a character who gets messages from God.  On one occasion he confronts a preacher in the middle of his discourse with this message, “God wants you to shut up because you’re embarrassing Him!”[23]  May we never embarrass God by our preaching but may we ever seek to exalt Him.  Let us give Him our best in digesting, developing and delivering “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

“A farmer attended his first church convention.  After the convention closed, his pastor asked him how he enjoyed it.  The farmer responded something like this – “Oh, it was alright and I liked it, but there was one thing I didn’t understand, all that discussion about how to get people to come to church.  When I go to a farmer’s convention, I never hear them discussing how to get the animals to come up to the trough.  They seem to know that if they put good food in there, the creatures will come up and get it.”[24]  Enough said!

Written by Dr. Don McCulley
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Dresden, Tennessee

[1] R. G. Lee, “The Realization of a Dream,” Payday Everyday.  (Broadman Press, Nashville, TN  1974), p. 143.

[2] W. A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors, (Broadman Press, Nashville, TN, 1980), p. 27.

[3] John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds:  The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982), p. 124-25.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, Be Encouraged:  2 Corinthians, (Victor Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1988) p. 59.

[5] Vance Havner, The Vance Havner Quote Book, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987), p. 169.

[6] David E. Garland, The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians, (Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1999), p. 270.

[7] Romans 15:20, scripture quotations are from the NIV.

[8] Lee, p. 145.

[9] Havner, p. 168.

[10] Ibid, p. 169.

[11] Garland, p. 277.

[12] The Baptist Hymnal, (Convention Press, Nashville, TN, 1991).

[13] Garland, p. 277.

[14] Brian L. Harbour, Second Corinthians:  Commissioned to Serve, (Convention Press, Nashville, TN, 1989), p. 49.

[15] Leith Anderson, “Preaching to Churches Dying for Change,” Communicate with Power, ed. Michael Duduit, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996), p. 11.

[16] Garland, p. 299.

[17] Lee, p. 144.

[18] Havner, p. 173.

[19] C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973), P. 128.

[20] Ibid, p. 135.

[21] Havner, p. 173.

[22] Anderson, p. 12.

[23] Tony Campolo, Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God, (Word Publishing, Dallas, TX., 1997), p. 3.

[24] Leon Hill, O’ for the Life of a Preacher, (Baxter Lane Company, Amarillo, TX, 1975), p. 5.



Dr. Donald McCulley has been pastor of First Baptist Church Dresden, Tennessee since 1989.  He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Union University; a masters of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and a doctor of ministry degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He and his wife, Sherryl, have two children:  Rebecca and Matthew.

Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry