The need of this present hour of crisis is for preaching that has been blessed with unction by the Holy Spirit. In First John 2:20 we find the Apostle John writing, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One” (KJV). What did John mean by the “unction from the Holy Spirit?” An ol’ preacher was once asked to define what John meant by “unction of the Holy Spirit.” He perceptively replied, “I don’t know how to define it, but I know when you ain’t got it!”
While the preacher’s message may have proper content and be biblically accurate, does the message he is proclaiming possess him, is he engaged in incarnational preaching? What is incarnational preaching? The Incarnation is described by John as “the Word become flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The Incarnation is God (divine) in Jesus Christ (human flesh) dwelling on earth for the purpose of revealing and making Himself known to humanity. Incarnational preaching, then, is preaching that weds together by the Holy Spirit (divine) with the messenger (flesh) and the preaching of the Word (eternal). The messenger and the message from God’s Word must be inseparably united by the Holy Spirit if it is to be effective and revelatory to the hearers.
John in his use of the word “unction” goes beyond what characterized an effective proclamation by Greek philosophers of his day. The Greek philosophers believed for one to have a verbal discourse that was effective and influential upon their hearers it had to possess three inseparable elements – logos, ethos and pathos. All three must be inextricably linked together like the roots, trunk, and branches of a tree if the words spoken were to penetrate the psyche of those listening. Logos was the intellectual and rational content of what was spoken. Could the speaker explain intelligently, rationally and coherently in a way that would connect with the experiences of the hearers? The element of ethos touched upon some ethical or virtuous element that could be applicable to the hearer’s everyday life. Then there was pathos which referred to the passion with which the speaker spoke. How could the speaker expect others to adopt or accept his proclamation as valid and worthy of consideration if his words were not conveyed with passion that confirmed they were of value in his life and, therefore, were worthy to be considered as being of great value for the hearer’s life.
This union of logos, ethos, and pathos, John elevates to a much, much higher level in his use of the word translated “unction.” The Greek word χρῖσμα (chrisma) comes from the word xríō (chrio) from where Christ (anointed One) is derived. Chrio means “anything smeared on, salve, ointment, to anoint by rubbing or pouring olive oil on someone to represent the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Anointing involved rubbing olive oil on the head, especially to present someone as divinely-authorized and appointed by God to serve as prophet, priest or king, etc. and by it they were regarded as endued with the Holy Spirit and divine gifts (Ki 19:16; Lev 8:12; Ps 133:2; 1 Sam 10:1, 16:13; 2 Sam 2:4, 5:3).” Chrisma (unction) refers to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit guiding and empowering the receptive believer in his proclamation of the Word; refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the efficient aid in imparting knowledge of the truth. So in summary, “unction” is the special anointing or endowment of the Holy Spirit of one who is proclaiming divine truth.
While every preacher needs logos, being able to verbally share the truth intelligently and coherently; and needs ethos, conveying the applicability of the truth to others; and needs pathos, a passion that demonstrates that the verbal communication is more than nicely strung together words but words that have captured the speakers life and he passionately shares with others as worthy for them to adopt for their lives; but above all, the preacher needs an endowment and anointing of the Holy Spirit to be effective in communicating the truths of God’s Word that it will revelatorily penetrate the heart and spirit of the hearer.
Unction is the product of God’s Spirit, not man. Yet incarnational preaching cannot be disconnected from the preacher’s daily life, and cannot be disconnected from the power of the Holy Spirit in the verbal transmitting of the truth to the hearers. The goal of incarnational preaching, preaching with unction, is that the hearers will be more deeply challenged, convicted, inspired, encouraged and convinced by the truths they are hearing. Oh, how that is needed today.
Since preachers have different personalities and methods of delivery, we must never equate personality characteristics with unction. Unction begins when the preacher is immersed in the truth of God’s Word and it first grips the core of his being, has bathed his message in prayer, and has the surrendered attitude of John the Baptist, “[Christ] must increase, I must decrease” (Jh 3:30). Charles Spurgeon wrote that without the “unction” of the Holy Spirit the preacher is “like branches without sap, like ships without wind, like coals without fire. Where there is no unction, it does not matter what we preach or how we preach it. Do not preach [a text] until you have taken it up into yourself as the wick takes up the oil. So only can you be a burning and a shining light.”
A wick soaked in oil, burning brightly to give Light…..now that is preaching with “unction.” O Lord, let it be so.