We Preach not Ourselves but Christ

Rev G G Hutton

Reading through the Epistles of Paul, it is clear for all to see that, throughout his ministry, he consistently emphasised grace — the grace of God towards ruined, undone sinners. Paul’s sense of the privilege, coupled with his sense of responsibility, to preach such a glorious gospel of grace, enabled him to testify: “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). He felt himself under a divine compulsion to preach the one-and-only gospel of free and sovereign grace. So he declared, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor 4:5).

There was thus both a negative and a positive emphasis in the Apostle’s preaching. He stated what he did not preach, as well as what he did preach. He knew he could not successfully preach Christ and, at the same time, promote himself — it had to be one or the other. Paul’s testimony about his ministry ought to incite some degree of soul-searching in every gospel minister as to the real focus of his ministry. Does he use the pulpit to promote his own name and reputation, or to display his gifts, or even to advertise his perceived graces?

The Lord Jesus, whose teaching every minister of the gospel ought to follow, stated the requirements for discipleship: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). These words make it obvious that the ego, self, is an obstacle to following Christ or engaging in His service. Unless the Holy Spirit will convince us of our obnoxiousness before a holy God, we will foolishly retain unwarrantedly-exalted opinions of ourselves. When, however, a sinner receives saving grace, he will adopt a low opinion of himself and an exalted opinion of the Saviour. Self will be put in the dust, while Christ will be put on the throne. Therefore, without this personal experience, no man is qualified to preach the gospel which Paul preached — the gospel of grace for even the chief of sinners. Humbling grace needs to be experienced before saving grace can truly be preached.

Paul, the great exponent of grace, personally knew that he was nothing without it. Writing to the Corinthians he stated, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10). He possessed many personal gifts and qualities, yet he wrote, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more…But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:4–8).

In the same Epistle, Paul summed up his life in the simple affirmation: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). The Apostle’s life was a sermon in itself. His preaching and his life both testified to how he valued the person and grace of Christ. As far as gifts and graces were concerned, he could claim, “In nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles”; yet he could acknowledge that, in and of himself, he was “nothing” (2 Cor 12:11). Paul was nothing; his Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, was everything. So with every minister today: his personal relationship with, and his personal knowledge of, Christ will determine what and how he preaches.

In order to a full-orbed ministry, he needs to be personally acquainted with Christ Jesus in both His deity and His humanity. The minister must know Him in His offices of Prophet, Priest and King. His daily acquaintance with the Redeemer must inevitably produce in his life and conduct an ever-increasing conformity to the likeness of Christ. Nothing so contradicts or discredits the gospel as when those who preach it with their lips deny it with their lives. Christ is so often wounded in the house of His professed friends.

An awareness of this fact undoubtedly influenced the Lord’s servants in the New Testament Church. Paul could write to the Thessalonian believers, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you” (1 Th 2:10). This living godliness was a matter of conscience with the Apostle, who testified before Felix: “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). When therefore Paul declared, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord,” he was not inferring that the preacher himself is of no consequence, and that his life and character are basically irrelevant so long as what he says about Christ is orthodox. Paul believed that godliness in conduct is essential in every minister of the gospel. The minister is not to be a holy man so that he can draw attention to himself, but rather to confirm, by his life, the power of the grace of the gospel, which he preaches to others.

When Paul wrote, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord”, he was emphasising that he was not in the ministry to lord it over the flock (1 Pet 5:3). His hearers were not required to submit to him, but rather to Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Paul was the messenger; Christ Jesus the Lord was his message. Thus Paul, in his preaching, called on sinners to repent. Repentance was the evidence that they were submitting to the rule of the glorified Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

This gospel is rarely preached from pulpits today. Jesus is presented in all kinds of relationships but seldom as “Christ Jesus the Lord”. Being Lord of all by divine appointment, however, Christ Jesus applies His authority in every area of the justified sinner’s life. Thus “the Word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him” (Shorter Catechism). All the laws of Christ’s kingdom are set before us in the Bible, and therefore the gospel minister is under an obligation to expound all its teaching, making practical application to the everyday life of his hearers.

The Christ of Scripture is the glorious Redeemer, the true priest who offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all the sins of all His people, and is now making intercession for them in heaven. He is also the unique prophet of the Church. God’s redemptive purpose is made known by His eternal Son — the Word incarnate. The Lord Jesus Himself taught, “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Mt 11:27). For “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb 1:1,2).

Christ Jesus has revealed Himself as a complete and willing Saviour for sinners. He exhibited His love for them through His perfect obedience to the law and in His atoning death for them, thereby removing the condemnation and curse of the law, while paying the debt they owe to God’s law and justice.

The offices of Christ as mediator of the covenant of grace, while separate, are nevertheless eternally intertwined, so that we cannot enjoy the benefits of one office without experiencing the blessings dispensed through another. If Christ is our priest, He is also our prophet and king. The sinner needs Christ in all His offices; he needs Christ as his King as much as his priest and prophet. When the Lord Jesus Christ justifies a sinner on the basis of His atoning work, He indwells that sinner to exercise all His prerogatives as a king. While it is certain that the “old man” will resist the rule of Christ, the believer will nevertheless experience progress in sanctification, which is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (Shorter Catechism). As a complete Redeemer, Christ Jesus the Lord rules over His people, both collectively and individually.

When Paul wrote, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord,” he meant that he preached a whole living Christ who spoke for Himself. Through the whole of Scripture, Christ addresses us. When the preacher addresses his fellow-sinners, he is like John the Baptist — just a “voice” (Jn 1:23). As the voice articulates what originates in the mind, so the gospel minister is a voice, articulating what originated in the mind of the eternal Word — Christ. Many under the preaching of the Word make a dangerous mistake; they mean merely to be informed about Christ, rather than to obey Him. But, from Genesis to Revelation, the eternal Word speaks to us.

Reproduced with permission.
Hutton, George G. “We Preach not Ourselves but Christ” The Free Presbyterian Magazine, October 2013: 311–314.