In creation, God put beauty and design into the largest galaxy and the tiniest cell. Accordingly, we have, for centuries, used different instruments to behold the glory of God in creation: the microscope enables us to see God’s miniscule handiwork; the telescope opens our eyes to heavenly vistas. From both ends of the spectrum, we benefit from considering God’s micro-creation and macro-creation.
Something similar takes place in the Bible. When we read Scripture, we can find gospel truth in a word (propitiation), a phrase (‘it is finished’), a verse (John 3:16), a story (Job’s suffering and restoration), or a series of songs (the Psalter). Indeed, from every angle, we behold God’s wisdom and goodness in his word. Yet, unless we are intentional, it is easy to focus on the smaller parts of the Bible and to miss the larger ones.
There are many reasons for that—lack of time, lack of understanding (what is Revelation about?), lack of interest (why do I need to read the minor prophets?). In our fast-paced world, it is easy to overlook the Bible’s big picture, and often pastors have not helped their people “put the Bible together.” Still, I am convinced that if we are to have minds renewed by the Scriptures, we must not simply have a collection of unrelated memory verses free-floating in our heads; we must also understand the larger framework(s) of the Bible. For that reason, I want to suggest five reasons why I preach larger sections of Scripture.
Five Reasons for Preaching Longer Sections
1. A Biblical Reason. Most of the Bible is written in story-form, and thus a biblical church will give large attention to how the Bible is written. While it is good and right to preach an occasional proverb or take eight weeks to preach the Beatitudes, faithfulness requires us to spend ample time revisiting the stories of Scripture.
Why? Because stories create (church) culture and shape personal identity. It is by faith in Christ that a man is saved, but it is through constant exposure to the story of Christ (i.e., the whole Bible) that one becomes like him. Therefore, we must read and reread the Scriptures (1 Tim 4:13).
2. A Practical Reason. In Acts 20:27, Paul says that in his ministry at Ephesus, he did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. Following suit, it should be the goal of every pastor and every congregation to consider the whole counsel of God. And practically, the only way to preach through the whole Bible is to preach larger sections of Scripture.
If we really believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word, we will not be satisfied with a cursory knowledge of it. Rather, as God’s children we will long for the pure spiritual milk of the word, which comes in pints and gallons. Preaching longer passages gives the church large doses of gospel goodness. This is all the more necessary in a world that invites you and I to partake of its buffet of ungodly ideas and images.
3. A Developmental Reason. Preaching longer passages demands the preacher learn how to identify and navigate the forest. One of the biggest challenges of preaching larger sections is making the time to find the main points of the narrative, connecting the story (especially if it is in the OT) to Christ, and applying it to today. Nevertheless, the challenge is worth effort. By preaching larger sections of Scripture, pastors train their flock how to read the Bible and to see the wisdom of God in action. (On the sustainability of preaching expositional messages of all length, see Dan Doriani’s recent TGC post: ‘Sustainable Preaching‘).
4. A Spiritual Reason. Perhaps the greatest benefit to preaching longer passages is how it teaches God’s people to wait upon the Lord. Unlike proverbs and epistles, which supply immediate instruction, longer narratives take the congregation through a variety of emotions before creating greater confidence in God.
By means of crisis, suspense, and deliverance, believers learn that delayed deliverance is better than instant gratification. In a high-speed world that dulls our moral imagination, good-storytelling from the Bible awakens our need for the gospel and thrills our heart with the triune God. We desperately need more of that!
5. An Evangelistic Reason. Finally, pastors are not the only ones who need to be good biblical storytellers. In a postmodern culture, the evangelistic church will be filled with saints who know the Bible’s stories and how to relate them to their unchurched neighbor.
In truth, one of the most effective means of evangelism available today is biblical story-telling. As important as memorizing the Romans Road is, a well-told story from the Bible, one that connects with the person’s crisis and shows how Christ is the solution, will be more effective in evangelism than the best logical argument. But how do busy Christians learn to tell the Bible’s stories? They regularly hear them preached in their church.
To Create Fresh Faith, Preach the Old, Old Stories
In the end, preaching longer narratives is challenging and takes practice. It is easier to pick up a few verses from Paul and make a practical, relevant sermon. Just the same, congregations may feel that the familiar stories of the Bible are ‘old hat.’ After all, once you have learned the story of Noah, Samson, or Daniel in the Lions’ Den as a child, why do we need to revisit them?
Well, here is my answer: Our faith in God depends on letting these old, old stories recreate the way we think about God and his world. Simultaneously, if we are serious about seeing others come to faith, we must know how to naturally introduce the unchurched to the stories of the Bible. But again, to do that, we must give priority to preaching larger sections of Scripture.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
N.B. If you are looking for models for how to preach longer passages of Scripture, look to Mark Dever’s overview sermons and Russell Moore’s sermons in the Old Testament.
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