In this third part, I comment a bit on keeping the entire scope of scripture in mind when studying an isolated passage. Most of what I say in this section is only relevant to my own local evangelical non-denom church – the specific audience.. I’m posting it here anyway though for the sake of completeness. This isn’t the model I personally think is completely ideal (though it’s actually pretty good), but rather what we currently do where I serve and why.
Here, we do mostly expository preaching. The elders get together a few months ahead of time and decide what book of the Bible we are going to preach through, and how small of chunks (usually a chapter at a time) to break it into. Again, this forces us to deal with a wide scope of scripture. We try to have at least one gospel every year (a year ago it was John, this year, the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew). We also try to do a New Testament letter (we just finished 1 Corinthians), and we try to do an Old Testament book too. Last year it was Joshua. This coming year it’s probably going to be Samuel. This summer we’ll be going through a bunch of the psalms, one psalm per week.
Some books, like Romans or Hebrews are full of a lot more hard theology and can take more careful preparation to do well. Other books like Isaiah are so vast and full of poetry, they too can also require a lot of study. Books like Genesis can be fun to preach on because there are so many good stories to start with. Above all, we want to focus on Jesus. That is why even though we try to have wide coverage, we’ll typically spend more time in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) than anywhere else. The plan is to force ourselves to not leave anything out though. That’s why we preach through whole books and eventually every book. We believe that God had his hand in carefully preserving all these works up to today and that none of them can be ignored.
Another thing that is very important when studying a passage verse by verse in detail is to always keep the big picture in mind. Some parts of the bible, like Deuteronomy or the epistle of James seem to have a lot of really hard rules to follow in them. If we don’t keep Jesus’s 100% complete atoning work for us in sight, we can get bogged down in moralism and despair at how big of losers we are. This is why you will still see regular cross-references to other parts of the bible, even when we are focusing on just one part that week. We read this little bit, but we are thinking about the entire thing. We read one little passage, but if we’re “doing it right” we are thinking of Jesus, and connecting everything back to Jesus. The preacher is there to help you do that.
People who don’t know the whole bible well often complain that it is full of contradictions. In reality, it is very cohesive and unified, but some parts of it can seem confusing and counterintuitive if you take them in isolation. This isn’t something just for scholars to deal with. Even average everyday Christians like most of us in this room should have at least some grip on the wider scope of scripture. It helps make everything clearer and more meaningful, whichever section you are reading or hearing.
Finally, it’s important to realize that as Christians with a high view of scripture, we don’t believe preaching is just an information dump. The Word of God is unique and the Holy Spirit works with it in our hearts at a subconscious level. It’s special. One of my favorite preachers, N.T. Wright, puts it this way:
“When you read scripture in public, it’s not just informing the congregation what’s going on, it’s declaring the mighty acts of God, which is an act of praise and adoration.” – N.T. Wright
Starting next week, we are going to be preaching through a much lesser-known book – the one written by the minor Old Testament prophet Micah. At first glance, it may not seem very relevant to us at all. Where Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was full of practical advice about all kinds of things like marriage, leadership, sex, food, love, spiritual gifts, and more, Micah is a poetic warning to the kingdom of Judah that they’re about to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire and that God is going to leave them there for a long time. But as we’ll see there are things we can learn in there about the character of God, his mercy even when things seem to be really terrible. We’ll also find some direct prophecies about Jesus Christ that come to pass 500 years later. Why do the wise men go to Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus? Why does the evil king Herod get paranoid and execute all the children there? Because of a one-sentence verse in Micah. Really. Luke will preach on it next, and then Loren.
In closing, I would just like to say, if you’re new to hearing the Word of God preached through the slow, expository way, hang in there! It really does pay off in the long run.
Father, thank you for your living Word, Jesus Christ who came to take away all our sin as far as the east is from the west. And thank you for preserving the psalms for us so that we can use the beautiful analogy of “as far as the east is from the west” when we try and describe your love for us. Give us grace father, that we may grow in maturity and kindness as we continue to meet together to worship and study your holy word. In Jesus name, amen.