The Necessity Of
Preachers & Preaching

Faith Comes By Hearing

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 50a of 83

“…14  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?  15  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? (Romans 10:13-21).

The apostle Paul has been discussing why the Jews have been rejected by God. Their rejection is surprising not only because they were the covenant people of God in the Old Covenant but also because many of them were zealously keeping the Law of God.

Paul’s answer to the problem is essentially threefold—

·    First, God is sovereign in our salvation. He would have mercy on whom He would have mercy and He hardens whom He wills (Rom 9).

·    Secondly, the Law was never intended as a way of salvation for fallen man. Righteousness and salvation have always been by grace through faith in the Messiah, although in the Old Covenant, it was wrap up in the Law (Rom 10:1-13).

·    Thirdly, although the Gospel was preached in the Old Covenant, the Jews would not believe (Rom 10:14-21).

It is in the context of this third argument, that the apostle pens some of his most famous words on the necessity of preachers and preaching.

Now, it is sometimes understood that Paul is here exhorting the Church to send out preachers, or even to send out preachers to preach to the Jews. But this, —we must realise, —is not the purpose of Paul, in this passage.

The purpose of Paul is, rather, to show that even in the Old Covenant economy, God had sent out preachers to preach the Gospel.

Nevertheless, although this is not the purpose of Paul, he does, —in an indirect way, —remind us of the necessity of preachers and preaching.

Now, during the days of Paul, what he is saying would not be read as a reminder simply because it was commonly understood by the people that preachers and preaching were necessary! But this is not the case today.

In those days Bibles, or even part of it, were extremely rare, if not practically non-existent. Indeed, up till the 16th Century, Bibles were rare. If an ordinary person wanted to know the Word of God, it would have to be through preaching. And then it must be a preacher who would preach the Word of God.

But today, there are Bibles everywhere and in every language. Most of us would have at least two or three Bibles in our homes. This is true, I think in most Christian families in the developed world.

Now, this is very good and most of us can testify of the blessings that come with having a Bible which we can read for ourselves at any time.

But as with everything that is good, the advantage of having our own Bibles can be abused. One of the ways it is abused is the deprecation of preaching and preachers: for it is a fact that preachers and preaching are no longer viewed as highly as during the days when Bibles were rare.

But now the question we must ask ourselves is: Is preaching and preachers really necessary? If we can all read the Bible by ourselves, why do we need preaching?

A common answer to why we still need preaching and preachers is that the Bible needs to be made alive; or that the preacher is needed to excite the hearers. But if that is so, why can’t we use music and drama instead. After all, most people in this generation seem to be able to respond to music and drama better than to plain preaching.

So, that cannot be the reason why we need preachers and preaching. What then, are the Biblical reasons for having preachers and preaching?

I believe the answer can be found in our text. And the answer is threefold.

Firstly, it is appointed that faith comes by hearing.

1. Faith comes by Hearing

Paul says:

13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

But immediately, he anticipates three objections:

14 How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent?

Paul, you must remember has been trying to show that the way of salvation for both the Jews and the Gentiles is the same: It is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But someone may object: But how could the Jews believe in Christ when they have not heard of Him? How could they hear about Him without a preacher? How could the preachers preach about Him when they have never been sent?

How does Paul reply to the objection? Notice that he does not question the logic of the objection. The questions are valid.

How does he answer then? He answers by showing that the Old Testament does speak of preachers of the Gospel being sent:

15b …as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

The problem of the Jews is not that the Gospel was unknown, nor because God did not send any preachers to disseminate the Gospel. The problem was that of stubborn unbelief (v. 16).

But why is it valid for the objector to suggest that the Jews could not believe in Christ if they have not heard of Him? Could not Christ have revealed himself to them in other ways? Could they not read about him? Could He not appear to them? Could not Holy Spirit impress the truth upon their minds as they offered their animal sacrifices?

Well, indeed, that could be the case. But that did not happen because it was not appointed by God that faith should come through these means. What is the appointed means by which God’s people may receive faith? It is hearing.

Paul makes this clear in verse 17—

17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

The “word of God” here, by the way, does not refer to the written word but to the preached word. There are two Greek words that are translated as ‘word’ in the English. One is logos. This usually refers to the written word. The other is rêhma, which generally refers to the preached word. Now, the word in verse 17 is rêhma, which is the spoken Word.

But now: Why must faith come by hearing? We are not given answer. But the Word of God has said it. So we must put a hand on our mouth and believe that this is the way that God wants his truth to be communicated.

But the question may be asked: How could faith come by hearing when man is by nature spiritually deaf, since we are, by nature, dead in sin and trespasses?

Well, to answer this question, we must realise, first of all, that Paul is not only talking about the unconverted. We must never fall into the error of thinking that faith is only a duty for unbelievers, and not for believers. No, no; faith is the hand of the soul by which we must receive every spiritual benefit that God would give us. It is as needful for believers to have faith, as for unbelievers.

Therefore, preaching is necessary not just for unbelievers, but for believers: for it is necessary for believers to cultivate and exercise their faith. Preaching is the means by which we may cultivate our faith. The hearing of sound preaching is the way which God has appointed to increase our faith.

Food and exercise are needed if we want to strengthen our arms; so the hearing of God’s word preached and prayer is needed if we want to strengthen our spiritual hands.

The reading of the word is important. But let us not forget that hearing is the primary means appointed by the Lord for the cultivation of our faith. You will not read in the Bible, —“Faith cometh by reading, and reading by the word of God.” No, no; it is “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

The Bible does talk about reading of the Scriptures. But usually, what is referred to as public and audible reading of the Scriptures. 

Preaching, rather than reading is the primary means of cultivating faith, and changing lives. Thus our Shorter Catechism, question 89 asks: “How is the word made effectual to salvation?” The answer?

“The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

But what about in the case of the unconverted? How does “faith cometh by hearing” apply to them? How can those who are spiritually dead hear? They can hear the sound of the words, but how can they hear spiritually when they are spiritual dead?

Well, those who are spiritually dead can hear only if God first changes the heart and implants spiritual ears. But still God, in general, changes the heart of an unconverted person while he is hearing the Word preached.

Remember the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch? We are told that he had gone to Jerusalem to worship and when he was returning home, he was sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah 53.

When Philip caught up with him he asked him: “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:30); and he says: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31a).

It was through Philip’s preaching that the eunuch came to understand the truth. And then exercising his newfound faith, he sought to be baptised immediately.

What did the preaching of the Word do? What it did is like what the Lord’s words did when He called Lazarus out from the grave. Lazarus was dead and rotting in the grave. But the Lord Jesus cried out to him: “Lazarus, come forth” (Jn 11:43).

What did Lazarus do? He came out! How could he obey the Lord’s command when he was dead and rotting? He could—because the command of the Lord was accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit to restore him to life and to awaken him.

In like manner, it can be said that “faith cometh by hearing” even for the unconverted because the word preached, accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit will quicken the dead sinner. When he is quickened, then he has faith to receive that which is preached.

When Paul preached in Philippi, the Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart that she received and attended to his word. The preacher may at best knock at the door of our heart, but as the Word is preached, the Holy Spirit comes with a key to open it so that all the blessings of God may enter in. This is why the ministry of the Gospel is called the “ministration of the Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 3:8.

Only the Spirit can change our heart. But the Spirit generally comes only when the preacher has begun to knock on the heart’s door. So then, preaching is the primary means used by the Lord to give us faith, and to cultivate faith.

Well, knowing this, what should our response be?

Well, in the first place, let us realise that it is foolish to ask the Lord to increase our faith if we refuse to attend to the preaching of the word. And I may add that if you have no desire to increase in your faith, then your spiritual health must be quite sickly. Every healthy Christian will want to grow in faith because faith is the means to enjoy God and to glorify Him.

As soon as our faith grows dim, so soon do the things of the world become more important, and matters of eternal value become less important. When that happens, we will begin to squander more and more of life away with trivialities and things that do not count forever.

And so likewise, secondly, it is foolish for parents to pray for the conversion of their children if they will neither bring them to hear the preaching of the word, nor explain the Word of God to them.

God has appointed that faith comes by hearing. For this reason preaching is important!

But secondly, we see from our text that preachers are important because they are God-Sent.

to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim