How Do You Know Whether Preaching Edifies?
Many make the mistake of thinking that the best preaching is that which is most eloquent or proficient. “Sermon tasters” may go further and discern what they think makes an exceptional sermon. We need preaching that has a lasting impact on our lives, however. Such preaching will be spiritually edifying. It must be solid and full of substance but also practical. To edify means to build up in faith, godliness and spiritual maturity. But how do we know whether a sermon does this?
James Durham believed that edification was the key to truly biblical preaching. In fact, he spoke of it as key to the ministry and everything that happens within the Church. A sermon on Ephesians 4:11-12 (only recently discovered in a manuscript) emphasises these points. We must seek to “excel to the edifying of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). Durham says that we need to aim mainly at edifying the body of Christ.
In every sermon, in every exercise of discipline, in every meeting together, in every word we speak in our meeting, in all the steps of our conduct, look to edify.Durham shows how Paul identifies a fault among the Corinthians in the verse quoted above. They were taken up with gifts such as who could preach and pray best. Paul’s exhortation is that they must concentrate all of their gifts on the purpose of edification. They should “have them visibly for the good of God’s people”. This is true for all Christians but especially for ministers.
Preaching involves a giftedness to “express and bring forth, for the edification of others” what ministers have obtained from God’s Word through the help of the Spirit. Durham gives various rules that help to discern whether the content of a sermon is edifying. What follows is something of a paraphrase of these points in updated language.