The Difference Between Timely and Timeless Messages

Many pastors believe in the essential importance of messages that are timely. That is, the Sunday teaching must approach ideas that are in the news, culture and church body today. This approach is widely reflected in the evangelical North American church—indeed even in the theming of message and series that Pastors Edge offers. From titles to pop culture take-offs, to some degree every sermon reflects the age in which it is preached.

I’m a strong believer, however, in the concept timeless teaching. A sermon built on the timeless principles of God’s Word will in some ways be ageless. This is why when we read sermons from men like Spurgeon, Welsey, Tozer, Carey, Calvin and others they are as powerful today as they were 100 or more years ago. The language may have lost a little flourish, but their message is spot-on. Why is this true? Let me suggest a few characteristics of timeless teaching.

Centered on God’s Word. Sermons centered on the Word of God will by design have a timeless quality, because God’s Word is timeless. Saturate your teaching with the Word of God. The Word will be just as relevant 100 years from now as they are today. John 3:16 will still be there, unchanged. Romans will still be there as well. God’s Words draw men to Himself. Avoid the temptation to improve on or add to the Word of God. In a sound-bite culture, this is a constant danger—attempting to find an improvement on the original. What we say in human terms will never out-God the Word of God.

Timeless sermons are marinated in God’s Word. There is a consistent mention of the Word throughout the message. Examples are given from the Word more often than from culture. Spend time identifying with the characters and situations in Scripture and how they parallel today’s culture, versus consistently mentioning something from yesterday’s online postings.

Answers the greater questions. When sermons are focused on the Word of God, they’ll also focus on the greater questions. By this I mean you can teach a sermon on marriage, filled with very good marital advice and sound practices. But when you approach the topic of marriage—or any topic for that matter—from a biblical perspective, you’re concern will be to rightly interpret and teach it from a God-centered perspective. How does the character of God come into a marriage? How will a marriage look if the husband is seeking Christ first and the wife also? How is Christ honored in marriage? These are the greater questions than simply trying to answer “How can you have a great marriage?” Are you preaching on money management or stewardship? Disciplines of the faith or holiness? Prayer tips or a right relationship with God? Sharing your faith, or the mission command and responsibility of every believer? In your preaching, always seek the underlying questions that go deeper than the topic at hand.

Points people to Jesus Christ. Finally, perhaps the greatest weakness in contemporary church teaching are messages that are filled with many good, positive ideas, but which do not actually lead people toward a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. A worshipper who leaves the church with a positive outlook for the week may end up going straight to hell for eternity. That sounds harsh, even extreme, but we must admit that a sermon that is not grounded in the Gospel is often just a shifting sand of sentiment.

All of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, points to Christ. The greatest questions we can ask point to Christ. Jesus is at the core of the answer, really, to any meaningful inquiry of eternal significance. In great sermons of old, we hear such a passion for the Gospel expressed by men of God, and I believe this is to a large degree why they resonate through history. In their sermons you can hear confidence in the Word of God, a bold teaching and deliberate consideration of the great things of God, and a clear admonition to look first and only to the Son of God. Consider the words of these storied preachers:

“The first duty of the gospel preacher is to declare God’s law and to show the nature of sin.” –Martin Luther

“Let’s quit fiddling with religion and do something to bring the world to Christ.” –Billy Sunday

“Nothing can touch the Word of God. Not all the powers of earth and hell, men and devils combined, can ever move the Word of God. There it stands, in its own moral glory, spite of all the assaults of the enemy, from age to age. ‘For ever, 0 Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven.’” –C.H. Mackintosh

“It is a sad and shocking fact that many religious people are in Hell.” –John R. Rice

“I would rather win souls than be the greatest king or emperor on earth; I would rather win souls than be the greatest general that ever commanded an army; I would rather win souls than be the greatest poet, or novelist, or literary man who ever walked the earth. My one ambition in life is to win as many as possible.” –R. A. Torrey

“I prayed for Faith, and thought that some day Faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But Faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘Now Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God’. I had closed my Bible, and prayed for Faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and Faith has been growing ever since. ” –D.L. Moody

“The world’s greatest need is preaching preachers. The Gospel is our emancipation proclamation: let’s take it to the slaves of sin.” –Lester Roloff

“Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement.” –Charles H. Spurgeon

“When the Lord Jesus Christ became my surety . . . He went to Calvary’s cross, and all my guilt was charged against Him. He settled for everything, and then He cried, ‘It is finished.’ And on the basis of that finished work, God can freely forgive, and justify completely, every poor sinner who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ.” –Dr. Harry A. Ironside


Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt,