If someone polled your church with the question, “which preacher has the loudest voice in your life,” how would they respond? Some would point to you, their pastor. Others might suggest a preacher on the radio or a favorite podcast. But if we are honest, these answers are often not true. Believe it or not, the individual who has the greatest access to many of our hearts, the one who preaches to us most frequently and aggressively, is not who we think.
For many, it’s the Devil!
The Sophisticated Preacher
Hugh Latimer (1487-1555), a reformer burnt at the stake by Bloody Mary, wrote, “The Devil…is the most diligent preacher of all others; he is never out of his diocese; he is never from his cure; you shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keeps residence at all times; you shall never find him out of the way; call for him when you will, he is ever at home. He is the most diligent preacher in the realm.”
Latimer was on to an important truth. Satan is a preacher, and he preaches a sophisticated, seductive, and manipulative message. He has one goal, to either convince your people that the lie is true, or to convince them that the Truth is a lie. As Jesus noted, the Devil “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and father of lies” (John 8:44).
This is complicated by the fact that, because we are usually unaware when he is preaching, we listen passively. He speaks through the sports page, your favorite sit-com, blogs, emails, conservative talk radio, popular music, the latest movie, magazines, celebrities, and yes even at times our Christian friends. Jesus called him the “Prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), the word “prince” speaks to the magnitude of his influence on public thought.
Satan is a preacher, and he preaches a sophisticated, seductive, and manipulative message.
How do we know if people in our congregation have been listening? The fruits are ominous and varied—discouragement when life doesn’t go as planned, feelings of crushing guilt, comparing self to others and then feeling inadequate, feelings of hopelessness or fear as culture changes, restlessness to acquire things, sexual temptation, ungratefulness, or despairing that this life is all there is. The Devil knows how to “bring it,” and we are often his unknowing congregation.
But God has given us a mighty spiritual weapon—and this is where pastors come in—the gospel. Hidden in its recesses are truths that liberate from Satan’s lies. When applied they change lives. One of our jobs on Sunday morning is to confront his sermons with the Truth. Our people hear it many ways, but primarily as grace, a reinforcement of biblical ethics, and hope. Effective pastors teach their people to aggressively preach the truths they learn Sunday morning to themselves throughout the week. Effective pastors help their congregations identify when Satan is speaking, and rather than listening passively, go on the offensive.
Another way to say this is that effective pastors teach their congregation to cultivate the discipline of preaching to themselves. Listening to demons is passive. Preaching to self is active. For example, when they don’t feel loved by God, it is our job to teach them to preach gospel-truth to themselves. God’s love is objective. It transcends our feelings. Before the foundation of the world God chose them and set his love upon them (Ephesians 1:3-5), not because they performed, but despite the fact that they didn’t. He sent his Son to live a perfect life in their place. His infinite love motivated him to bear the wrath they deserve at Calvary.
Those who preach these truths, and others, to self often enjoy fresh feelings of love, joy, and peace.
Effective pastors help their congregations identify when Satan is speaking…
Preaching the gospel to self is something very specific. “Gospel,” includes everything that God has done, or will do, to save us. It stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It includes the doctrines of election, Christ’s incarnation, his active obedience, his penal substitutionary death, his bodily resurrection, his ascension to God’s right hand, and his future return for final judgment and the creation of new heavens and a new earth. And it is our job to teach these truths and how to apply them.
This preaching presupposes that you, the preacher, practice this discipline yourself. Do you have a clear grasp on the gospel? Do you believe it with all your heart? Are you amazed that, despite your unworthiness, God chose you before the foundation of the world that you might be holy and blameless in his sight? Do you feel the horror of what you deserve? Do you see Christ humbling himself in your place so that you, the proud one, can receive the exaltation that his humility deserves? Do you feel Christ, the only sinless man who has ever lived, hanging on the cross voluntarily absorbing the wrath that you deserve, so that you, the sinner, can receive the reward that he deserves? Do you meditate on these truths? Do you preach them to yourself daily?
The pastor that has cultivated this discipline is the only one qualified to teach his congregation how to do the same through regular sermon application.
So, which preacher does your congregation listen to? Congregations taught the nature of spiritual warfare, the Devil’s active attempts to preach to them, and the life-giving truths of the gospel are blessed. They know how to filter who is preaching. They know what Satan sounds like, and they are not passive. When they hear his voice, they aggressively preach the gospel to themselves and to that message they cling diligently. The fruit is love, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit.
Who doesn’t want that?