The Bible: A historical book for a contemporary audience

pulpit

I follow over 40 different blogs on a regular basis. One of these writers is a teacher out of London, UK, named Peter Mead. His ministry is one of teaching preachers, and his blog, Biblical Preaching, contains his thoughts on how to accurately preach God’s Word. I really enjoy reading it, and he shares some great insight.

Mead is a huge proponent of expository preaching. That is, he believes that preaching is best when it’s done straight through a Bible book Correction: Many people take that to mean preaching straight through a biblical text, rather than skipping around hitting various topics. (Unlike many others, though, he does recognize the usefulness of intentional topical preaching.)

Recently, he wrote a short post based on comments that Warren Weirsbe (a great modern Bible preacher) wrote about Harry Ironside (1876-1951; a preaching giant from the last century).

Here is one of Weirsbe’s sections Mead quoted in his post:

Some have criticized Ironside for preaching through Bible books instead of preaching “more contemporary messages” in such a strategic pulpit.  But time, I think, has vindicated his ministry.  His expositions are as fresh and meaningful today as when they were preached.  I have many books of “contemporary sermons” in my library, and they read like old newspapers in comparison.

My initial response, when I read this, was, “Yes, that’s true. Messages built on contemporary needs and topics have short-lived value. Preaching should follow the text more.”

In fact, this is my background and my training. I grew up in a church that taught through the Scriptures, and I was trained to do the same thing because it is the right thing to do. So it was sort of like going back to a comfortable place to read this.

But as I thought about it over the last week, I was reminded of something very important. Most of the Scriptures were not written as sermons or messages to be taught straight through. Sure, some of the letters in the New Testament are designed that way and a few books in the Old Testament, but the majority of the Bible is not. Here are a few examples:

The first 17 books of the Old Testament and first five of the New Testament are histories or narratives that tell us things that happened. These are not things we are supposed to necessarily duplicate; they just happened. And many of these stories are not even told in the order they happened. They were recorded as the writer remembered or collected them. Many times, in the gospels especially, stories are recounted together in groups of like stories (topics or settings), whether or not they actually happened in that order.

The Old Testament also includes a few books of poetry, none of which requires or even wants to be taught from beginning to end. The Psalms, for instance, is essentially a hymnal, a book of songs the people sang or recited at various times throughout the year, much like we skip around modern songbooks depending on the day’s message or the time of year.

Then there are the actual “sermons” of the Bible – the words of the prophets. Bible prophecy comprises about one-third of the Scriptures, a large chunk. They can be preached straight through, but do they need to be? I don’t think so. In fact, many of the visions that the prophets recounted were given days, weeks, months, and even years apart. They didn’t even preach them straight through!

Not only that – they were God’s response to the contemporary problems of the day. The same holds true for the New Testament letters. Both the prophets’ and the apostles’ writings are full of then-modern people, places, and (most importantly for our purposes) issues. They responded to the issues of the day, using whatever ancient Scriptures they needed to drive home the point. You never find them preaching through any of the Old Testament books.

The reason we can use the Scriptures to speak to modern issues is that humanity’s problems are the same in every generation. The apostles and prophets, Jesus’ cultural-laden stories, and the narratives of life in the ancient Middle East are always relevant because we can see ourselves in them. But just like they addressed issues as they arose, so should we – not necessarily tied to an outline that was written for a specific time and place.

Now, there are times that preaching or teaching through a book is important and useful. I do so at least once each year with one of the letters. In fact, I’ll be teaching through Philippians this fall at Oak Tree Community Church. So, I’m not against it by any means. But to say that it is the best way (Mead) or the only proper way (others), I think does a disservice to those who willingly sit under our teaching.

I love the way Andy Stanley puts it in his book, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. They are very specific about what they teach each group of people in their church because, “All Scripture is equally inspired. All Scripture is not equally important. All Scriptures is not equally applicable” (pp. 124-125).

This is the balance we need to remember. There is a huge difference in preaching or teaching what people need to hear and what they want to hear. We would do well to follow the example of Jesus and the apostles and prophets by diligently preaching what people need, whether or not it exactly follows an ancient writer’s outline.

Never forget: we are not called to teach the Scriptures. We are called to use the Scriptures to teach people.

Bible study resource

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, summer is actually a great time to do a short, fixed-time, personal Bible study. You can use the nicer weather and additional daylight (in the morning or evening) to spend a little time outside, in a park, at a coffee shop – anywhere – studying God’s Word.

I have long been a fan of e-Sword Bible software for several reasons. First, it’s FREE! And not just the base package either. In addition to the software itself, you can get:

  • over a dozen English Bibles (plus a bunch of other languages) – FREE!
  • over a dozen commentaries and word study books – FREE!
  • over a dozen dictionaries and reference books – FREE!
  • thousands of maps and charts in eight collections – FREE!
  • over a dozen works on Jewish and church history – FREE!
  • five devotional books – FREE!
  • and a collection of 100 classic books – FREE!

 

That’s the second thing, too. It includes a lot of resources in one place. And if those aren’t enough for you, there are other works in those same categories available for purchase – newer Bibles, commentaries, and more.

A third reason I like e-Sword is because it’s always getting better. I’m really excited to announce that version 9 has been released! In addition to a few minor updates, it has a redesigned database which makes it faster. It uses screen space better. (Read the list of changes here.)

NOTE: If you are already an e-Sword user, the changes in version 9 require you to download all of your user modules again. I am working on compiling a CD of them. If you’re interested in getting a free copy, let me know.

Do you like to do Bible study on the go? Do you need to look up a verse or passage while you’re out sometimes? Then you have to check out e-Sword LIVE, the free online version. While it doesn’t have quite as many resources as the desktop version, it’s handy for quick reference if you’re not at your main computer.

So, what are you going to study this summer? Need some ideas? Ask me here or in a comment below.

Obadiah

Obadiah is the shortest book of the entire Old Testament. At a brief 21 verses, his prophecy is beat out by only 2 John (13 verses) and 3 John (15 verses) in the whole Bible.

It is essentially a prophecy of doom for the nation of Edom (Esau’s descendants). In the first nine verses God starts by railing against them for their pride and arrogance.

Your presumptuous heart has deceived you –
you who reside in the safety of the rocky cliffs,
whose home is high in the mountains.
You think to yourself,
‘No one can bring me down to the ground!’ (verse 3)

He follows that with a litany of the destruction that he would bring against them. He promises things like this and more:

“You will be totally destroyed!” (verse 5)

“Esau will be thoroughly plundered!” (verse 6)

“Your trusted friends will set an ambush for you that will take you by surprise!” (verse 7)

“Everyone will be destroyed from Esau’s mountain!” (verse 9)

Now this seems like a harsh punishment for anyone, but especially Esau’s descendants. Remember that Esau was Abraham’s grandson, Isaac’s son, and Jacob’s twin brother. Shouldn’t that give them some leverage with God?

What could possibly have happened that would cause God to promise this destruction when they had someone like Abraham in their family tree? Here it is:

“Because you violently slaughtered your relatives, the people of Jacob,
shame will cover you, and you will be destroyed forever.” (verse 10)

Verses 10-14 reminds them that they stood by and watched Israel be attacked and didn’t lift one finger to help. Instead, the Edomites actually helped Israel’s enemies! While this almost certainly refers back to the incident when the Israelites were marching toward Canaan after leaving Egypt, it appears that Edom was constantly a pain in Israel’s back side.

The final result, according to God, will be the complete elimination of Edom – “There will not be a single survivor of the descendants of Esau!” (verse 18)

OK, what does this mean for today? Honestly, I don’t know if Esau has any descendants alive today. If so, well, their herd is going to become extinct by the end of the great Judgment Day. Regardless, this isn’t for them.

I’m thinking of the great war that is happening in the Middle East right now. OK, yeah, there’s supposed to be a cease-fire. Big deal – there’s always a cease-fire over there, but people don’t cease firing, so I don’t think one more is going to make a difference.

God has promised that one day – regardless of how big or strong their enemy is – Israel will come out victorious. And the nastier the enemy fought, and the worse they hurt Israel, the harder they will one day fall.

“For the day of the LORD is approaching for all the nations!
Just as you have done, so it will be done to you.
You will get exactly what your deeds deserve.
For just as you have drunk on my holy mountain,
so all the nations will drink continually.
They will drink, and they will gulp down;
they will be as though they had never been.
But on Mount Zion there will be a remnant of those who escape,
and it will be a holy place once again.
The descendants of Jacob will conquer
those who had conquered them.” (verses 15-17)

I’m not worried about whether Israel makes it out intact. That’s already been confirmed. I just hope that the American government chooses to remain on the side of Israel and not become one of “the nations” that commits suicide by standing against God.