Am I Really Preaching the Bible?

A little exercise for men who preach.

It is common for preachers to have much more in their minds when approaching sermon preparation and delivery than they can say. We are often guilty of preaching “the right message from the wrong text.”

I suggest this little exercise for preachers who are preparing a message. (This won’t work for a topical sermon, which is another issue and subject to other criteria). This exercise is for men who are preaching expository sermons.

Imagine your sermon is recorded on audio only. It was edited poorly so that the reading of your sermon text is cut off. The listener has no idea what your text is.

Now consider your sermon: when listening through the average serious message, 35 minutes or so, could the hearer, from your sermon, figure out the passage your sermon is based upon? Does your message arise from the text in such a way that the hearer (at least the Biblically informed hearer) can find the passage, or a parallel passage to your text? Could those who are not familiar with the Bible at least know you are basing it on something, basing your message on something that is missing?

If you must honestly answer “no” to this question, please read on:

The reason this is important is that much of preaching today is assumed to be Biblical because a passage is read before, and then the message commences; and never the twain shall meet! The ideas, concepts, lessons, stories from the sermon itself may be excellent, even Biblical, but are they Biblical from that text?

Expository preaching has been called lazy by some mega-church pastors. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, or I don’t have the gift of gab and can “shoot from the hip” with my stories and illustrations, but I find expository preaching to be the most rewarding and challenging preparation I do.

Whether or not it is the sole cause of Biblical illiteracy in the church, I do find that fewer men are preaching expository sermons. The present day’s urgency pushes us toward passages that somehow seem to answer immediate needs. But are the immediate needs we perceive to be most important the same as those God says is important? Preaching through the Word can be a guard against preaching to immediate crises only, while still addressing those crises. Expository preaching can uncover what lies beneath and prevent us from making the Bible come off as a book of advice-giving fables.

It is an easy thing to look up topics in a topical Bible or a concordance, but it is very hard to gather verses together that don’t violate their own contexts. Thus proof-texting that doesn’t supply valid proof can become the norm.

So listen to your sermon. Does it flow logically from the text? Does the text supply the outline? What is the context—immediate (previous and following chapters or paragraphs) and the context of the book in Biblical history (OT or NT is the most obvious, but there are other contexts); what is the genre of the passage? What is it’s historical context? How is the passage used in the rest of Scripture? What are other passages that parallel the one you are expositing?

A Bible passage is not a diving board from which one takes a great bounce and leap into the unknown pool of our own ideas.

A Passage Study: 2 Timothy 2:14-19

Passage outline

The main points are all imperatives in the Greek. Studying in the original languages often shows the author’s structure or frame of ideas. Imperatives are indicated in red.

2 Timothy 2:14-19

  1. Remind (vs 14) ὑπομιμνῄσκω 2nd person singular
    1. “these things” refer to 2:8-13
    2. And charge them before God:
      1. Not to quarrel about words
        1. Which does no good
        2. But only ruins the hearers.
  2. Do your best (vs 15) σπουδάζω 2nd person singular
    1. To present yourself to God as one approved
      1. A worker who has no need to be ashamed
      2. Rightly handling the Word of Truth
  3. Avoid irreverent babble (16) περιΐστημι 2nd person singular
    1. Leads to ungodliness
    2. Spreads like gangrene
    3. Hymenaeus and Philetus as examples
  4. Depart from iniquity: )19) ἀφίστημι.
    Third-person singular. God’s firm foundation
    (19a)
    1. The Lord knows those who are his: salvation
    2. Depart from iniquity: sanctification

Emphasis: “This is what you must do in your ministry.” I.e., “This is what the Gospel ministry looks like.”

Strategies: I notice that the passage is ordered around four imperatives: 2nd person (3x); 3rd person (1x).

Context

a) the literary context (the passages on either side): The literary context is connected by “these things” in vs. 14 which refers to 2:8-13 (something of a creed). This context supplies what Timothy is to bring to remembrance, in addition to the things following vs. 14.

Vss. 20ff. illustrate the differences between the gangrene of vss. 17ff., and show the results of obeying vs. 19

b) the historical context (circumstances and culture of the audience): This context is the rise of false teachers in the church, even though it was only a few decades old. If vss. 11-13 form an early creed, this signals the likelihood of such statements, and their importance in countering false teachers (compare vs. 11b to vss. 16-18)

c) the Biblical context (connections to other places in the Bible): As Paul’s final extant letter, we see his stress upon true doctrine as against false.

Vs. 19 is not a direct quote, but an allusion to Num. 16:5; Nah. 1:7; John 10:14, 27; [Luke 13:27]; See 1 Cor. 8:3. God knows the elect. This is reassuring: an upset faith contrasted to the Lord’s knowledge of His elect.

Main Idea or Emphasis:

Keep to the main idea, the Gospel.

The Gospel in this passage:

The Resurrection is central to the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 15:12). The correct view of the resurrection, both of Christ and the future resurrection of the dead is essential to the Gospel.

In contrast to false-gospels, the foundation of the Gospel stands.

Application

To both believers and unbelievers: there is a canon of truth that is contained in Scripture that excludes other doctrines and teachings.

Believers need to be reminded to reject idle speculation and to learn to know the difference between Biblical doctrine and hobbies. Vs. 19 makes it clear that this kind of activity is iniquity.

Unbelievers need to be told that not everything they hear or see being taught by alleged Christians is actually true.

Preaching outline

  1. Timothy, Remind Them
    1. The Essential Truths
    2. Charge them not to quarrel about non-essentials
  2. Timothy, Do Your Best
    1. Be a fit worker
  3. Timothy, Avoid Them
    1. Avoid babble
      1. The decent into babble: upset faith
  4. Everyone, God’s foundation stands. Therefore if You Name the Name of the Lord, Depart from Iniquity
    1. You are of the elect
    2. You are therefore to forsake sin

       

What David Helm Calls, “Staying on the Line”

charles-spurgeon

The following quote is from Charles Spurgeon. For more information on what “Staying on the Line” is all about, please visit the Charles Simeon Trust.

More information here.

Never strain passages when you are expounding. Be thoroughly honest with the word: even if the Scriptures were the writing of mere men, conscience would demand fairness of you; but when it is the Lord’s own word, be careful not to pervert it even in the smallest degree. Let it be said of you, as I have heard a venerable hearer of Mr. Simeon say of him, “Sir, he was very Calvinistic when the text was so, and people thought him an Arminian when the text was that way, for he always stuck to its plain sense.” A very sound neighbor of ours once said, by way of depreciating the grand old reformer, “John Calvin was not half a Calvinist,” and the remark was correct as to his expositions, for in them, as we have seen, he always gave his Lord’s mind and not his own. In the church of St. Zeno, in Verona, I saw ancient frescoes which had been plastered over, and then covered with other designs; I fear many do this with Scripture, daubing the text with their own glosses, and laying on their own conceits. There are enough of these plasterers abroad, let us leave the evil trade to them and follow an honest calling. Remember Cowper’s lines—

“A critic on the sacred text should be
Candid and learn’d, dispassionate and free;
Free from the wayward bias bigots feel,
From fancy’s influence and intemperate zeal;
For of all arts sagacious dupes invent,
To cheat themselves and gain the world’s assent,
The worst is—Scripture warped from its intent.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Commenting and Commentaries; Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle., vol. 4 (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1876), 55–56.