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Guest Editorial: Preaching through the Bible

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.

Brent Prentice

Author: Brent Prentice

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  • Thank you for putting it so clearly. I have always agreed with this method – just not been able to explain it so clearly!

  • Carlin Lawrence

    This was written for an aviation magazine and the pilots that read it. But it gets to the point of teaching the Bible in its context.

    Understanding the Bible

    A few years back I quoted what Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). And a man spoke up and said, “But that is just your interpretation.” There is the idea in the unsaved world and in the Christian world that it is okay take a verse in the Bible and interpret it to mean anything we want it to mean. Or that we can take a verse in the Bible and say that it means something to you and another thing to me. But I wonder how long most pilots would live if we approached flying a plane in the same manner? And how much trouble we would get into if we used the labels on how to use a chemical in this same interpretive manner! Or if we used an overhaul manual for an engine in such a hap-hazard manner! Isn’t it necessary for us to use the same logical sense in reading and understanding the Bible as we do in understanding how to fly a plane or helicopter, and how we use a chemical that is made for a specific purpose, or how to understand the overhaul manual for an engine?

    It has been said, that if you preach on a verse of Scripture for more than 15 minutes you will get into heresy—false teaching. And I believe that there is a lot of truth in that saying. Almost all of the heresies that have troubled the church throughout its long history have arisen because men and women have forgotten the simple principle of teaching and learning the Bible in its context, and used a verse of Scripture out of its context and formed a doctrine on it. Many cults have originated because of this very thing. I am always amazed when I hear someone say, “The answer to all the world’s problems is in the Ten Commandments.” And in a sense that is true, but the Ten Commandments have been around for thousands of years, and the world has gotten worse. The problem is the human sin nature that we inherited from Adam and Eve; it is impossible for humans to keep the Ten Commandments in thought, motive, and action.

    Many Bible teachers and pastors seem to teach almost totally of what God has done for humanity, others get stuck on practical human living for God. When this happens the Christians that are being taught will become one-sided on their Christian beliefs. There are those Christians who believe that we don’t have to witness to people about Jesus Christ because God has already chosen everyone that is going to be saved. And then there are those Christians who believe that if they don’t witness to people they may inadvertently send someone to hell. But both of these schools of thought are not biblically correct. Jesus told us to witness for Him in both word and action, and no one is going to hell because you or I didn’t witness to him/her. God will use someone else, and we will miss the blessing. Spiritually immature Christians have caused a lot of problems for the church.

    It is a common mistake for Bible teachers to use the Old Testament Laws to dictate how a Christian is to go to church, how to give to the church, or how to dress and what to eat. There are over 600 laws in the Old Testament and too many people have decided to pick and choose the laws that they think are the most important, or the laws that they think everyone should keep, and then install them into their church doctrine. What they end up with is a list of self-righteous rules that they, nor anyone else, can keep. When the church leaders in Jerusalem wanted to force Christians to keep the Law of Moses Peter told them, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (For context read all of Acts 15). John wrote, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

    I know that there are places in the Bible where we have to make interpreting decisions. And I believe that there are verses in the Bible that we will not know what they totally mean this side of heaven. But that does not give us a license to use any verse in the Bible any way we want to. There are several places in the Bible where I don’t know exactly what is being said. I read commentaries and listen to other Bible teachers to enlarge my knowledge of the Bible (No one knows it all). Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don’t, but that doesn’t necessarily make either of us right or wrong. I do know that it is false teaching to teach that anyone has to join a church, a denomination, or any religious organization to go to God’s heaven. All humans are natural born sinners destined for hell; our works don’t send us to hell, and our works can’t save us from hell. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

    It is important that we read a book of the Bible from the beginning to the end, and in that way we can learn it in its context. If colleges taught their students in the same manner that many preachers teach the Bible, the students would never learn enough to graduate. If I taught you how to fly a plane in the same hop, skip and jump manner that some preachers teach the Bible, then you would never learn to fly a plane properly. One of the most dangerous things a young Christian can do is to take verses from the Bible and look at them by themselves without ever considering the context that they were written in—we need to be very careful about isolating a Bible verse. That is the reason that Paul used the word “therefore” or “because of” so often in his writings. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to read and study the Bible in its context—it is the only way to spiritual growth.

    Carlin Lawrence

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  • Great guest editorial Brent!

  • Great stuff Brent! Keep up the hard work brother!

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