In the beginning, God… These words probably seem familiar because they are the beginning of the Bible. And, what great words they are–of beginnings. I can think of no better place to begin reading on the first day of the year than Genesis 1:1.
Every now and then the question comes up: why do you preach the way you do? The question is never about style, it’s always about content. Like, why do I preach series instead of just stand alone messages and why do I preach through books of the Bible?
The reason comes from my own conviction which comes from the Bible itself. Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 that the day was coming when people with their ears itching would “heap” up for themselves teachers and try to persuade them to tell them what they want to hear; “suit their own passions.” But, Paul tells Timothy not to fall for that but instead preach the inspired Word of God. And by the way, it’s all inspired. I read today a blog post that explains very well why I do what I do, so let me share it with you.
This is straight from the “Grace to You” blog and is written by John MacArthur. I have copied the post titled “Preach the Word: Because It Brings Depth and Balance to Ministry”in it’s entirety because it explains as well as I ever could why I do what I do:
“One frequently overlooked benefit of consistent Bible exposition is that the preacher’s faith and practice is tested by every text. Over the long haul, everything I have ever taught has had to survive the scrutiny of the Scriptures. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to teach through every verse of the New Testament (using the Old Testament as support and examples). Both my doctrine and my life have been radically shaped by the Word of God, as they have had to stand the test of every single text.
In the big picture, preaching verse by verse, book by book brings a divine balance to ministry. It keeps the preacher from leaving things out or from getting on a hobby horse and riding it to death. It forces him to deal with topics he might not naturally be drawn to if not for the fact that the next verse he is preaching addresses them. Put simply, it requires him to teach God’s truth in the way God revealed it. And that’s the best way to teach.
Some preachers allow their audience to determine what topic they will address. As one popular pastor has written:
Adapt your style to fit your audience. . . . The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text, expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it. You must first capture their attention, and then move them to the truth of God’s Word. By starting with a topic that interests the unchurched and then showing what the Bible says about it, you can grab their attention, disarm prejudices, and create an interest in the Bible that wasn’t there before.
But such a bait-and-switch approach is really just a recipe for compromise—tempting pastors to tickle the ears of their audience or water down the gospel in an effort to be more appealing. In essence, this approach says that God’s Word is irrelevant, and makes human ingenuity the key to getting sinners interested in the gospel. It is therefore an approach that should be categorically rejected. As James Heidinger writes
Evangelical pastors and theologians can learn from the mainline experience of placing relevance above truth. We must avoid the lure of novelty and soft sell, which, we are told, will make it easier for moderns to believe. Methods may change, but never the message. . . . We are called to be faithful stewards of a great and reliable theological heritage. We have truths to affirm and errors to avoid. We must not try to make these truths more appealing or user friendly by watering them down. We must guard against a trendy “theological bungee jumping” that merely entertains the watching crowd.
We are called to preach the Bible consistently and accurately, fixed on the text as the revealed Word of God which, through the work of the Spirit, alone has the power to save and sanctify souls. When we do this, we can be confident that God is pleased, since our preaching will be in keeping with His Word (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2).”
I often think about how perspective can make such a difference in attitude. We tend to be more driven and have more perseverance in our work when we believe things are going well. Often in life we evaluate how things are going based upon our perspective. I certainly understand how this works. But, how much should perspective control our attitude?
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Ezra after the foundation of the new temple is completed and the different reaction between the young men and the old. It’s all based on their perspective. The young men shout with excitement because there will soon be a temple again. They’ve only heard about the former temple that was destroyed when their parents were hauled away to Babylon. The old men as children, however, saw the glorious temple of Solomon and were convinced the new temple could never live up to the glory of the old one.
The book of Ezra explains the confusion of sound as some cheered and other wailed at the sight of the new temple foundation:
“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 11b – 13)
Have you ever experienced anything like this in life? I sure have. I’ve been in meetings with ministry leaders in which we looked at the same decision or situation, some view it with optimism and others with trepidation. The difference based solely upon perspective.
The question is; how much of our perspective really plays a part in God’s plan?
There’s an answer to this question, I believe, when Paul’s makes this monumental statement in his letter to the Philippians:
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
The truth is; God’s plan is not limited or perpetuated by man’s perspective. God’s perspective is different, greater and more clear than ours every will be in this life. He is great, powerful and is working out His plan according to His perfect will. The good news is, how I feel about it doesn’t make any difference as to whether God will do what He’s set out to do.
I think this truth comes to fruition in Paul’s quotable statement that followed the verse above; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I believe God wants us to have an optimistic perspective simply because we can trust Him in His work. As that work involves us, we work with confidence that He will complete what He’s set out to do. But, even if we’re experiencing struggle, we know, our perspective will not hinder the work of God. Just as the men of Jerusalem, both young and old, saw the completion of the temple, we will see the completion of God’s work too.