For as long as I can remember, I have heard preachers sound the alarm about the sad state of preaching in many pulpits throughout the country. Johnny Ramsey would often talk about preachers who “didn’t preach enough Bible to fill a thimble.” I recall Andrew Connally lamenting an occasion on which he stepped into a pulpit for a gospel meeting and found a sermon outline book the local preacher had preached from the night before without any study or preparation of his own. Countless preachers tell of occasions of traveling somewhere to preach a gospel sermon only to have members come to them at the end of the service and express how they don’t hear sermons like that anymore, and they wish their preacher would just preach the Bible. Brethren, these reports are neither fabricated nor out of date. It is tragic, yet true, that within so many congregations of the Lord’s people there is a famine in the land “of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). But this famine does not exist by the will of the people. While it is true that many “turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:4), it is also true that many are spiritually starved and long to be fed (Matt. 5:6; 1 Pet. 2:2; etc.).
A recent UN report stated that over 820 million people worldwide suffer from starvation. Malnutrition causes a number of problems from weight loss and anxiety to stunted growth and impaired brain function. Our physical bodies cannot operate normally without the required nutrition. The same principle applies to the spiritual man. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Without an insatiable desire to feed on God’s word (1 Pet. 2:2), spiritual malnutrition results. We become weak (Heb. 5:12-13), carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3), and will ultimately die. God said of Israel, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). A land full of those who refused to proclaim God’s word resulted in the demise of an entire nation. There was no truth, mercy, or knowledge of God in the land (Hos. 4:1). They were spiritual adulterers (Hos. 1-3) and idolaters (Hos. 4:12-13), and therefore God rejected them (Hos. 4:6b). Spiritual starvation is just as catastrophic to the health of the church today as it was to Israel then. We sometimes wear ourselves out looking for answers to spiritual problems within our congregations. Could it be that those problems are the result of a weak spiritual diet?
No excuse is acceptable for a lack of Bible preaching and teaching. Preachers are commanded to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). They must preach, “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), and “Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). New Testament preachers preach “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). They follow the command of 1 Peter 4:11–“If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” Too many preachers are preoccupied with “righting the wrongs of the church” and helping the church maintain “relevance” in the modern world by shaking the dust of the preachers of the past from our feet. Such is utter foolishness. It is true that the church must be aware of the times and our preaching should contain relevant applications for the issues faced daily. But that does not require us to remove Scripture from our sermons and replace it with emotional appeals and empty speculation that seems to be on the cutting edge of theological “wokeness” to us but realistically is the spiritual equivalent of serving hot water and calling it soup. Is that how Peter preached to an audience containing some whose hands were still stained with the blood of Jesus (Acts 2)? Is that how Stephen preached to ungodly Jews of the same disposition (Acts 7), or how Paul preached in every synagogue he visited (Acts 17:3-4)? No. Those men were gospel preachers who recognized the power of God’s word to save (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12) and, therefore, their sermons were filled with Scripture. Shame on every preacher who refuses to follow their example.
We should also recognize that the responsibility for spiritual malnutrition does not fall solely at the preacher’s feet. Occasionally someone will observe that the greatest problem the church faces is a dearth of sound preachers. But that doesn’t capture the whole picture. Responsibility for a spiritually starving congregation falls ultimately at the feet of the elders. Godly elders will ensure that their congregation is well fed even if that means they must take care of the preaching themselves. Elders are commanded to “take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, KJV).
A shepherd’s job is to hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict (Tit. 1:9).
Shepherds must ensure that their sheep are fed well and protected from those that mean them harm. No member should starve because no eldership should allow it to happen. No excuse is acceptable for an eldership tolerating non-biblical preaching that leaves the flock longing for nourishment.
That any member of the Lord’s church would long to feast on God’s Word without ever being satisfied is a travesty. Yet that very scenario unfolds on a regular basis. Make no mistake about it, there are many people in this world, Christians and non-Christians, who long for the Word of God. People want answers; they want the truth; they want to know about the God who loves them and the Savior who died for them and what they must do in order to live an abundant, well-pleasing, life in the sight of God. We should be encouraged by the fact that there are many who say, “Feed us!” But we should also feel the weight of responsibility to make sure that it’s done. Preachers, preach the Scripture! Elders, demand that preachers preach the Scripture. Members, settle for nothing less. So that it may never be said again, there is a famine in the land, “not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).