Christian preachers should do two things in every sermon. They should seek to convict their hearers of sin. Secondly, they should proclaim Jesus’ work as the only answer for such sin. The first task Lutherans usually call “preaching the Law.” The latter we call “preaching the Gospel.”
Both tasks are of great importance. For if the Law is not preached, the Gospel will be disregarded by the hearers who are left to think they do not really need Jesus all that much. And if only Law is preached, the people will leave in despair instead of joy, which is not God’s intention for His Word.
I believe that the preaching of the Law must be specific and varied. What do I mean by that? Well first, our task is not simply to tell our people that they are sinful, although we do that as well. But our task is to expose specific sins, particularly sins that our hearers are not already aware of in their own lives. And that means that we must not only speak, for instance, about greed generally but show how greed manifests its ugly head in everyday life. We might mention how as workers we are almost never content with our wages. Or we could mention how owners can gather all the profits of a company to themselves while leaving their workers impoverished and think of themselves not as sinners but good capitalists. We must be specific because sin occurs in specificity.
But besides being specific, the Law should also be varied. If someone preaches every week about husbands looking at internet pornography, the congregation might rightly begin to wonder why this topic comes up so frequently in their Pastor’s sermons. No, every corner of life should be explored.
But how does one on a weekly basis make sure their Law preaching is both specific and varied? Well I think it is quite simple. Martin Luther writes that in preparing to confess sins one should “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments.” (Small Catechism) In other words, especially if specific sins to confess do not pop right to mind, let one or more of the Commandments search through one or more of your vocations. So a Christian might ask, “How have I kept the Third Commandment as a father? Have I made sure my family is in worship? How has I kept the four commandment as a citizen of the United States in regard to that president I can not stand? Have I obeyed as I must?”
The same is true for preaching. Law preaching becomes specific and varied when the preacher considers his hearer’s place in life according to the Ten Commandments. I would suggest specifically that he let the Table of Duties and the Ten Commandments meet and see what Law is crafted.
One could even literally write down the various vocations mentioned in the Table of Duties (Pastor, master, wife, children, etc) on one stack of cards and the Ten Commandments on another stack of cards. Then he could then at random pick one card from each pile and come up with a Law application. This week I will mention how children ought to live sexually pure lives. Then next week I will talk about the pastor’s responsibility to guard people reputations through not revealing sins confessed to them, and so on.
In this way, the examples are just as specific as real life and yet the preacher does not get stuck constantly riding one hobby horse or another. And all of this leads to the end that all sins might be exposed, repented of, and find their end in Jesus. To Him be the Glory.