We all agree that the first and most important task of every preacher is the careful and accurate exposition of Scripture. The Spirit of God will not bless the mishandling of the holy book He inspired. When we stand in the pulpit and proclaim the word, we must seek to do so with great care and respect. The Truth must be preached truthfully, without misrepresentation or personal agenda. I doubt that anyone will disagree with me about this. But recently, I came across another instance of the importance of truthfulness in preaching.
Some years ago I purchased an interesting little book: Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton. In it, the author seeks to debunk popular myths that have arisen around word or phrase origins–things like “OK” or “rule of thumb” or “500 Eskimo words for snow” etc. Using historical (or diachronic) dictionaries and primary sources, he seeks to set the record straight on the origins of many words and phrases.
What especially struck me was the section in the author’s introduction in which he describes how these linguistic urban legends spread. he traces the dissemination to four sources: journalists, teachers, tour guides, and most interestingly for our purposes, preachers (p. 14). Wilton’s argument is compelling, especially since I have heard the kinds of remarks he describes made off-the-cuff by preachers. Isn’t it disturbing that such a statement can be made about preachers? What does it say about our carefulness and dedication to our task?
In meditating on this, it struck me that this is an important matter. Our task as preachers is to distribute truth–and it is incumbent on us to ensure that everything we say is true. Minimally, this is clear–if we say something that an expert in a certain field will recognize as incorrect–at that point, our credibility will be damaged. But more important is the fact mentioned above–the Holy Spirit of God blesses truth. I am sure that we cannot limit this to correct exegesis and exposition. We must ensure that everything we say reflects reality.
How do we do this? The bottom line is that preaching is hard work, and we need to make the extra effort to be certain that what we say is accurate. We need to check our facts before we make them. Preparation is key. Let’s not pray for the Spirit to bless our labors and then intrude our own mistakes.