Tell me, please, as a preacher, how much should I focus on emotions when preaching? Does the preacher even have to focus on these or not?
God created us with emotions
If we were machines, we could have been coded as robots and then emotions would have played no part in our daily lives. However, God created us differently. We laugh and weep, rejoice and grieve, whisper and cry, and all these emotions are part of our everyday life. How poor life would be if we did not have all these feelings. It is exactly the same with preaching. When the preacher is monotonous and emotionless, it is very difficult to follow him and it requires an even greater effort to understand what is being preached. As human beings, we each have our own personality. Someone may be more dynamic and another more melancholic, but each have their own charm. When I talk about emotions in preaching, I do not mean you must change your personality and be what you are not. All I am saying is that God has created us, men and women, as beings with senses and emotions that we have not acquired, but He as Creator has put in us. Therefore, as in all things done for the Lord, we must use all that is best, as for Him. Thus the gospel message becomes alive because we are alive and very enthusiastic about what we want to communicate to people.
Looking into the Scriptures, we see that messengers have always been bold when they preached the Word. We have even seen God shouting as He spoke to Moses (Exodus 34: 5). To make sure people heard Him when He told the sower’s parable, the Bible says, “As He [Jesus] said these things, He would call out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” (Luke 8:8) Watching the way the Lord Jesus preached, we see that He did not only have a form or a way to communicate with people; He was sometimes shouting out loud. For example, in Sermon on the Mount He went up on the mountain. “And after He sat down… He opened His mouth and began to teach them,” (Matthew 5:1-2) And “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29) In Sermon on the Mount our Lord Jesus Christ sat down. Then, at the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem, the Bible says “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.’” (John 7:37)
That’s exactly what we see the Apostle Paul saying when he tells the Thessalonians: “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
It is very interesting that Jesus, Paul, and the Old Testament prophets used emotions to reproduce the truth of the Gospel. These people did not use emotions to draw attention to themselves but to the gospel message. To make sure people heard the message, Jesus cried out. So did John the Baptist (John 1: 15) and Paul. They did not to draw attention to themselves, but to the message. Paul tells the Thessalonians: “just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” He did so because he had love for them, not himself. When the preacher focuses on emotions, he actually wants to impress and draw their attention to himself, and, in fact, his topic is only meant to astonish people.
Sound Doctrine should be the Priority, not Emotions
If the preacher focuses on emotions (of either himself or the listeners) and Scripture remains in the shadows or generally is not preached, he is very dangerous. As I said above, such a man is not interested in the message of the Gospel, but about his own person. The pulpit is the place where he ascends not to convey the truth, but to receive praise. This is very dangerous.
It is interesting what Paul said to the Galatians:
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)(NASB)
If the preacher uses emotions or focus on them, only to please men, he is not a bond-servant of Christ. Such a man no longer fulfills his role as a preacher. He becomes a false teacher who only seeks to tickle ears. Paul gave the following commandments to Timothy, his disciple:
“… preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4: 1-5)(NASB)
Both sound and false doctrine do not lack emotions while being conveyed. When Paul asks Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season, he tells him that in this process he must reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience. All this involves emotions, but they are used naturally by the preacher to get the Word in the ears and hearts of the listeners. It is not a deceptive push to give birth to certain emotions, but rather something that occurs naturally.
On the other hand, when he speaks of false teachers, he says that people will not endure sound doctrine anymore, but will accumulate teachers who will tickle their ears. These teachers only want to give people pleasant, positive emotions because they expect these from their listeners. Today many church visitors come just because a divine service is taking place or a well-organized concert and they like it. People do not endure to hear the sound doctrine anymore, but rather pleasant things that do not disturb them much … These false preachers are not interested in the correctness of the teaching but pleasing people. As long as people like it and their ears are tickled with various myths, these preachers are “happy.” From this category comes those about which Paul said they “ must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. “(Titus 1:11 )
Think about this verse from Hebrew which says:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12)(NASB)
It is very important to understand that the Word of God penetrates the heart of man, the hearts of those who listen, dividing and purifying. The Word produces emotions and feelings, but the Word also judges our feelings. The Word shows me if my emotions are good or bad and if my heart’s feelings and thoughts are right or wrong. So, emotions do not tell me the truth about the Word, but the Word shows me the reality about my emotions and feelings.
I encourage and urge you to go to the Homiletic Session that will be taught in Chisinau on September 18-30. This session helped me learn how to write a sermon and how communicate it to people. If you are a minister, preacher, teacher, or ruler, I recommend you take the time and go to this session. There you will have the opportunity to not only teach theory, but also practice the art of preaching.
May God help us understand that we are created with feelings, and that He wants us to use all the best so the message of the gospel can be heard by people. But we must be very careful that the focus is never on emotions, but on the truth. As preachers, let us never seek to impress through false emotions, like crying and laughing on command, but rather love for God, His Word, and people. This must fill our hearts. Let us be filled and led by the Holy Spirit so we will no longer seek to please people but God.
May God help us with this. Amen.
Translated by Elizaveta Bîrlădeanu