John Piper: „Brothers, Be Bible-Oriented—Not Entertainment-Oriented—Preachers”

John Piper has updated and added content, 6 new chapters and a new Introduction, to his book „Brothers We Are Not Professionals” to coincide with the theme of the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference 2013 also titled „Brothers We Are ‘Still’ Not Professionals” (the word ‘still’ added for 2013). Here is an excerpt form the newly added Chapter 13 here. You can read it in full at

Chapter 13: Brothers, Be Bible-Oriented—Not Entertainment-Oriented—Preachers
by John Piper

Earnestness is the demeanor that corresponds to the weight of the subject matter of preaching. The opposite of earnest is not joyful but trivial, flippant, frivolous, chipper. It is possible to be earnest and have elements of humor. But there is a vast difference between humor and levity—between robust laughter that grows up out of the realities of life and the silliness that constantly angles for a clever line and savvy turn of phrase.

Spurgeon had a way with words, for example, that caused some foolish things to look ludicrous. “Live on the substantial doctrines of grace, and you will outlive and out-work those who delight in the pastry and syllabubs of ‘modern thought’” (C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954], 310). Now “syllabubs” is an extraordinary word! I don’t know how many of his people knew it. It means “a sweetened drink or topping made of milk or cream beaten with wine or liquor and sometimes further thickened with gelatin and served as a dessert.” It is a funny-sounding word. But he probably did not smile, and I doubt there was a calculated pause for the laughter to register. He is earnest but not so solemn in his earnestness that he cannot experience human folly as both sad and comical.

Unbroken seriousness of a melodramatic or somber kind will inevitably communicate a sickness of soul to the great mass of people. This is partly because life as God created it is not like that. There are, for example, little babies in the world who are not the least impressed with or in need of our passion and zeal and earnest looks. They are cooing and smiling and calling for their daddies to get down and play with them.

The daddy who cannot do this will not understand the true seriousness of sin because he is not capable of enjoying what God has preserved from its ravages. He is really a sick man and unfit to lead others to health. He is in the end earnest about being earnest, not earnest about being joyful. The real battle in life is to be as happy in God as we can be, and that takes a very special kind of earnestness, since God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.

As far as I can remember in thirty-two years as a pastor, I have never told a joke in a sermon. Don’t feel picked on. My father, whom I esteem as high as any man, startedevery sermon with a joke. But joke, or no joke, our people laugh with uninhibited joy when humorous things happen, and I laugh with them. For example, once I was comparing the dolphin with the jellyfish. The dolphin swims where he wills. He is free and can cut against the current. But the jellyfish floats with the tide in bondage to every current that comes along. You can tell where I am going. So I looked out over the people and said with a loud voice, “Who in the world would want to be a jellyfish?” And a little girl in the second or third row said loud enough for all to hear and full of joy: “I would!” The place erupted in laughter. As it should.

There are hundreds of such things in life. And only the sick soul fails to laugh. But we live in a day when, it seems to me, few pastors are falling off their horse on the side of excessive seriousness. The trend is all in the other direction—toward the flippant, casual, clever, hip feel of entertainment. The main problem with this is that it is out of sync with the subject matter of the Bible and diminishes our people’s capacities to discern and feel the weight of glorious truth.

The sheer thought of God should make us tremble. Isaiah 66:2 says, “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Quipping and jesting about God—or in an effort to point to God—simply means a person is oblivious to reality. The domestication of God is a curse on preaching in our day. We need to recover reality and the language of majesty and holiness and awe and glory: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exod 15:11).

Sin is intrinsically ugly and outrageous in the universe. To trifle with sin and treat it as minor or casual is to miss what it is. We get some idea of its outrage by considering the images of physical suffering and agony that have entered the world to testify to sin’s moral horror.

And if we do not feel the immensity of sin’s contemptibleness from its images in human suffering, then the final penalty of it should make us shiver with what it must really be: “He . . . will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev 14:10–11).

Sin’s outcome is eternal misery. What infinite ugliness then must be the ugliness of sin. This is the constant subject of preaching, for this is what we must ever overcome. It is more serious than Satan and sickness and insanity. None of those can damn a soul. Only sin can damn. This we must defeat in preaching, or all is in vain. Flippancy in and around our preaching communicates to people that sin is not as serious as the Bible says it is.

Jesus, more than anyone else in the Bible—and the apostle of love, after him (see Rev 14:10–11 above)—spoke of the horrors of hell. Jesus spoke of “outer darkness” (Matt 18:12), and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:50), and a place where “their worm does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and a “place of torment” (Luke 16:28). These are descriptions of an eternity to which many people are heading because “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Matt 7:13).

Preaching has hell ever in view because so many people are going there and because the Word of God saves from hell. This makes a preacher earnest. If it does not, he is simply out of touch with reality.

The death of Jesus was unspeakably horrible. Not only because of its moral hideousness as the ultimate desecration of the infinitely pure Son of God but also as one of the most cruel kinds of torture a human can endure. The central saving event of our preaching was a horrible reality. Had we been there, we probably would have thrown up at the sight and then wept uncontrollably at the suffering of the most precious Person who has ever lived.

This act was the price for all we offer in preaching. Virtually every benefit or hope we offer in preaching was obtained at this cost. How can any of it be trifled with?

Read the article in full here –

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