Since August, our church has been listening and responding through the book of Acts as I preach one section of thought after the other. I mention working through Luke’s second volume because at times, at least for me, it has felt like we have been hacking through a dense rain forest with a dull machete, and I am the dull machete.
Recently, I jokingly told my church family that at our current pace, we would be in Acts for the next three years, and we may be. But I wouldn’t do it any other way, even though there might be easier ways to preach. I believe more than ever that consistently committing to go through the Word of God instead of cherry picking around the Word of God is the best way to preach God’s Word. Here are nine reasons I believe it is best to preach through the Bible:
1. Preaching through the Bible demonstrates that I trust God. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) I may not make it through the whole Bible in my preaching career, but it seems to me that the best way to demonstrate that the whole Bible is inspired and profitable is to preach it the way it was inspired; one section at a time. God in His infinite wisdom gave us all of what He gave us for a reason. Do I trust the inspiration of the Spirit? Do I trust God and all the words He gave?
2. Preaching through the Bible enables me to establish an objective credibility. One of the reasons topical preaching appears so suspicious is that the topic chosen can be viewed merely as the pastor’s agenda. I was visiting with a pastor 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 increase the budget. 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 also 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.
3. Preaching through the Bible requires that I explain hard passages that need to be heard. People typically don’t like to be reminded of their inadequacies (sin) as free moral beings. Having preached through the book of Galatians, I can say without hesitation 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 people by exposing the happy parts and the ones that assault human pride. It may mean that a pastor is not liked by everyone if he preaches through hard texts, but people need to hear the bad news so they cherish the good news of Jesus Christ.
4. Preaching through the Bible helps me establish and teach 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, The Sermon on the Mount and almost all of Galatians. Preaching through sections of thought instead of around them always leads me back to Genesis and the Old Testament, reminding me 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)
5. Preaching through the Bible helps me to teach the people 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 every way. But if the verse is read in context of Paul’s main 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 the preacher and the people he serves from interpreting verses out of context.
6. 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 the pastor and the church depending on God.
7. 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 the edification of the people we serve, but my job is to simply follow the outline of the Holy Spirit.
8. 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. It cannot be overestimated how important it is to show consistency and perseverance in loving the whole Word of God.
9. Preaching through the Bible means that I am following the leading of the Spirit. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16). It makes sense then that the Holy Spirit is going to use that which He inspired to lead us to accomplish God’s will through Christ. Do you want to be Spirit-led? Then follow the leading of the Spirit through the scriptures that the Spirit inspired.
I acknowledge that preaching through the Bible is not the only way to preach. I will occasionally preach a topical sermon, but if I preach topically, I still make the effort to use the Scripture in context. I had a friend recently comment to me 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 meaning of the Spirit-inspired text. I just happen to believe strongly that preaching through the Bible, not around it, is the best way.
Brent Prentice is pastor of Stillwater, Eagle Heights.