Next Sunday, 7/5/2015, I will be concluding my sermon series preaching through the Book of Galatians. In total, I will have preached 23 sermons from the book over the course of about six months. The week after I conclude Galatians, I will be starting a new series preaching through the Book of Ecclesiastes. I anticipate spending about five months preaching through the book.
Now after hearing that, several obvious questions may emerge in your mind. For example: Why would you do that? Why would you plan to spend five months preaching through an obscure book like Ecclesiastes? Wouldn’t it be better to preach from the Gospels? Won’t your congregation get restless being in the same book for so long? Wouldn’t it be better to “shake it up some” by preaching a week in the gospels, a week in the epistles, and then a week in the Old Testament?
While preaching through books of the Bible has been growing in popularity in recent years, it is still looked upon as something strange in large sections of Christendom. Even within evangelicalism, preaching through books of the Bible in an expository fashion has been cautioned against by some, and dismissed as easy by others. My goal, then, in these next series of posts is to explain why I am convinced that preaching through books of the Bible is the best way to provide a balanced diet of scriptural truth for the congregation.
Why do I preach through books of the Bible?
1) As a pastor, I have a responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God
Paul was able to declare to the Ephesians Elders in Acts 20: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” He famously told Timothy in his second letter to him, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” By preaching through books of the Bible, we honor the fact that every verse of scripture is the word of God and needs to be declared. If we only preach certain parts of certain books, we neglect the truth that all of the scripture is indeed breathed by God. This leads to the second reason.
2) Preaching through books of the Bible ensures that difficult passages do not get neglected
I had heard many sermons preaching on John 3:16. Indeed this is one of the most beloved verses in all of the scripture and for good reason. I recall hearing many sermons teaching on God’s love from this verse, but I have heard very few on John 3:36 in the very same chapter which says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” If a pastor does not like the idea of God’s wrath, he does not have to repudiate the doctrine to do his church. All he has to do is not preach on texts that teach it. If, though, one is preaching through a book, then the preacher has no choice but to preach the next text and expound on the truths found within. Pastor Phil Newton described this reality well when discussing his own expositional preaching through the Book of Genesis. Newton writes, “In my Genesis expositions, I wrestled through Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s incestuous acts, and Judah’s adultery with his daughter-in-law. I would not voluntarily pick those texts for topical expositions! But they are part of the storyline of Scripture that helps us to understand the fallen condition and the necessity of God’s grace to redeem sinners.” Difficult, controversial, and confusing parts of the Bible, then, will not be neglected if one is preaching through a book.
3) Preaching through books of the Bible honors the Spirit’s inspiration of the Books
The Bible is not a random, disconnected, jumble of passages. Each book has a purpose and flow. Every verse in the scripture is within a context of a book designed by the Holy Spirit. Preaching through books honors and respects this reality. This is related to the next point which is:
4) Preaching through books of the Bible prevents me from taking verses out of context
Let’s say, for example, I am preaching on Matthew 7:1 where Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” If I am preaching that verse by itself in isolation, then it would appear that Jesus is saying that Christians should never judge another person. More than that, it would seem that Jesus is saying that we will avoid the final judgment if we do not judge others. This, of course, would be a ridiculous assertion because of everything else that Jesus said before or after this verse. For Jesus was not calling for a moratorium on moral discernment or spiritual evaluation. Five verses later, for example, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.” How is one to know who is a dog and who is pig? Judgment of course. The point, though, is that I can make a verse or a textual unit say whatever I want if I avoid the context.
For example, Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I could very easily use this text to preach on the guarantee that the Christian has for success and prosperity because of Christ, unless of course I look at the context. The context of the verse tells me that it is about the strength to be content when one’s physical resources are minimal and they are in the midst of suffering, not about having the courage to sing the solo in church or winning the big game. If I was preaching through Philippians and preached this verse in such a way, though, it would be obvious to the congregation that I was eisegeting the passage by ignoring the context.
5) Preaching through books of the Bible prevents me from preaching just on my own favorite topics
Some preachers love to preach on Calvinism, or baptism, or against worldliness, or against gay marriage etc. If I am the one setting the agenda, I will naturally gravitate towards the topics and themes that interest me and that I think the congregation needs to hear. If I am preaching through a book, though, it provides a balanced diet for the flock and it allows God to set the agenda for what the congregation hears.
Next week, I will list five more reasons why I preach through books of the Bible.