Preaching Through the Bible and Not Around It
Since August we have been going through Paul’s epistle to the Galatians sequentially, one section of thought after the other. I reflect on our journey through Galatians because at times, at least for me, it has felt like we have been hacking through a dense rain forest with a dull machete. (I’m the dull machete.) But I wouldn’t do it any other way, even though there might be easier ways to preach.
But now on the verge of preaching through an entire book of the Bible for the first time in my pastoral career, I am more committed than ever to preaching through books of the Bible, or in some cases, preaching through units within books of the Bible. Either way, consistently committing to go through the word of God instead of cherry picking around the word of God makes the most sense to me for several reasons.
- Preaching through the Bible establishes an objective credibility. I think one of the reasons that topical preaching appears so suspicious is that the topic chosen can be viewed merely as the pastors agenda. I was visiting with a pastor friend recently and we were discussing tithing and the challenges the topic presents from a pastoral and preaching perspective. He said that while preaching through the book of Philippians he came to the latter part of chapter four where Paul talks about the generosity of the Philippian Church in giving. It happened that the day my friend was to preach over this section of scripture, his church was also presenting the budget for the upcoming year. Now suppose my friend was not preaching through the book of Philippians but decided arbitrarily to pick that passage because it fit the need of advancing the budget and giving for the coming year. You can imagine the cynicism of people who think that the pastor is just trying to pad his salary. But because my friend was preaching through the Bible faithfully, it gives him credibility in that not only did he preach the passage about giving, but he preached and called for obedience to the whole counsel of God throughout the book of Philippians. Preaching through the Bible and not around it shows a commitment to the Bible and not an arbitrary agenda.
- Preaching through the Bible makes me preach hard texts that need to be heard. People typically don’t like to be reminded of their inadequacies (sin) as free moral beings. Having preached through most of the book of Galatians I can tell you that talking about sin and the need for people to be declared righteous by a perfect God through faith alone is unavoidable. My tendency as a people-pleaser is to want to win the approval of people, but preaching through the Bible requires that I please God rather than man by dividing the happy parts and the ones that assault human pride.
- Preaching through the Bible helps me establish a meta-narrative understanding of the Bible. In one year of preaching I have preached through the first four chapters of Genesis, the last two chapters of Ephesians and almost all of Galatians. Preaching through texts instead of around them always leads me back to Genesis and the Old Testament, reminding myself and my listeners that the story of a Holy God redeeming fallen mankind for the praise of His glory, is the consistent and ultimate theme of the Bible. God is telling a central story using many smaller stories and they all point to Jesus, the consummation of all things. (Ephesians 1:10)
- Preaching through the Bible helps me to teach the people I lead how to study the Bible in context. Galatians 3:28 is a verse that looks like it is teaching that men and women are equal in all aspects of the Christian life. But if the verse is read in context of the Paul’s greater argument, it becomes plain that Paul is saying that men and women, Jew and Greek, slave and free are all equally justified in Christ despite gender, social status or ethnicity. Verse 28 is about justification not gender roles and preaching through the Bible helps protect us from interpreting verses out of context.
- Preaching through the Bible keeps me humble. Preaching is hard work and there are many passages that are difficult to understand and preach through, but it keeps me depending on God.
- Preaching through the Bible saves me from my own creativity. I really don’t have any creativity which is why I need to be saved from myself. I have a gifted media pastor who brands and packages sermon series for me, but my job is to simply follow the outline of the Holy Spirit.
- Preaching through the Bible means that I am following the leading of the Spirit. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It makes sense then that the Holy Spirit is going to use that which the Holy Spirit inspired, and if all of it is inspired then I would do well to treat it as such. “God’s Spirit uses God’s word.” – Mark Dever
- Preaching through the Bible models consistency and perseverance for those I lead. It is not easy to preach through the Bible just as it is not easy to read through the Bible, but sticking with preaching through the Bible or units in the Bible displays a commitment to God and His word. I don’t think it can be overestimated how important it is to show consistency and perseverance in loving God’s precious word.
These are a few of the reasons I feel strongly that preaching through the Bible is the best way to consistently preach for the health of those I pastor, but I also acknowledge it is not the only way to preach. I will occasionally preach a topical sermon from time-to-time. I had a friend recently say to me about preaching that there is no right way to preach, but there are definitely a lot of wrong ways. I see his point. But whatever each pastor’s unique style or angle is, he must be faithful to the inspired text and I just happen to believe strongly that preaching through the Bible and not around it, is the best way.