Preaching the Bible vs. Using the Bible

On a regular basis I will hear a shocking phrase from somebody who is new to our church.

It’s great how you guys actually teach the Bible.”

What a bizarre idea. A person experiences our ministry and is refreshed because we actually teach the Bible. What is everyone else doing?

This used to strike me as odd because any time I would visit an evangelical church, the preacher had a Bible in his hand. He wasn’t preaching from the newspaper or Sports Illustrated. So, you have two pastors, and they both hold Bibles. They both read from Bibles. They both talk about things in the Bible. But one is actually teaching the Bible. What’s the difference?

The difference — and it’s a big one — is that one pastor preaches the Bible and the other just uses the Bible.

What are some marks of preaching the Bible that make it different from just using it?

1. The preacher gives the sense that he and the congregation are joyfully under the authority of the Bible. I say “sense” because this is often more felt than explicitly stated. Men who preach the Bible feel excited about the Bible and feel like it’s really important. These feelings spill onto the congregation.

2. There is a biblical text being considered. I’m not against thematic or topical preaching. But it’s best done when considering a primary text that informs our understanding of the topic. When a preacher pulls many proof-texts together around a topic (especially using multiple translations), it feels like he is using the Bible, not preaching it.

3. The point of the sermon is consistent with the author’s intended meaning. Preaching the Bible means that the preacher works hard to understand what the biblical author was saying to his intended audience. Rather than the preacher just using the Bible to say what he really wants to say or to prove his clever point, preaching the Bible happens when the preacher is directed by the biblical text itself.

4. The truths emphasized in the sermon come from the text under consideration. I know this sounds like I’m repeating what I just said, but I’m really just drilling down further. Many times I hear sermons where a preacher says something that is biblically true, but it doesn’t actually come from the passage under consideration. An example: A preacher considering Romans 5:1-11 (Peace with God Through Faith) makes a big deal about how Jesus is the only way to have peace with God. That’s a true point. Jesus is the only way to peace with God. But it’s not a Romans 5:1-11 point. Romans 5 is not about the exclusivity of Christ, it’s about all the incredible riches that come to Christians who trust Christ by faith.

5. The tone of the sermon is consistent with the tone of the text. Preaching the Bible means that the attitude and level of urgency of the sermon is also dictated by the text. Texts that challenge should lead to sermons that challenge. Texts that comfort should lead to sermons that comfort. Texts that celebrate should lead to sermons that celebrate.

I don’t have anything to say if I’m not preaching the Bible. Without the authoritative power of God’s word, I’m not wise, creative, clever or powerful enough to say things that will takeover of the heart of sinners.

Additionally, I might argue that the ultimate goal isn’t really to preach the Bible as much as it is to preach Christ. But you’ll never preach Christ with authority if you don’t start with a commitment to preach the Bible.

What are some other ways you’d distinguish between preaching the Bible and using the Bible?

Published by Luke Simmons

I was born and raised in Denver, CO and lived there through high school. Then I moved to Champaign, IL where I attended the University of Illinois and played on the Fighting Illini baseball team. I was married in December, 2001 to Molly, who I met at the U of I. In June of 2002, we moved to Phoenix and have been here ever since.

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