Handling Accurately the Word of Truth
- Monday, January 18, 2016
- By Tyler Strickler
Recently I read David Helm’s book Expository Preaching (I know, it sounds like a page burner). One of the chapters was dedicated to how some misuse the Bible. Helm gives a number of vivid illustrations, but my favorite was called inebriated preaching. In this illustration the Bible is a lamp post. The purpose of a lamp post is to illuminate the street so travelers can see where they are going. But in the case of the inebriated preacher, the lamp post is not for illumination but for support so he does not fall over. In other words, the pastor has something he wants to say and the Bible becomes his proof text. Rather than letting Scripture set the course of his sermon, he uses it to justify his opinion. What he says may sound profoundly Biblical, but upon deeper inspection, it is found to be a distortion of it.
This leads to an important question. Is there a right way and a wrong way to handle the Bible? Postmodern thought teaches that the meaning of a text is determined by the interpreter not the author. As a result, discussion around the Bible often begins with the question, what does this verse mean to you? What follows is a hodge-podge of personal opinion and discussion separated from the original purpose of the text. This is not why God has given us His word. He has given it as a lamp post to illumine our path. There is a right way and a wrong way to approach the scriptures. We find the right way illustrated Nehemiah 8:8.
Nehemiah 8 describes a spiritual revival in Israel. The people of Israel have gathered in Jerusalem and from early in the morning until midday Ezra read from the book of the law while all the people were attentive (8:3). The chapter records how the people heard the word of God and then responded by bringing their lives into conformity with it.
Verse 8 gives us good insight into how we should approach the Bible. First, they read from the book, from the Law of God. Any proper exposition of Scripture must begin with the Biblical text. When a preacher has preached half of his sermon before he gets around to his text, you can probably guess that he is an inebriated preacher. The text isn’t dictating his discourse, his discourse is dictating his text.
After the text is held forward, it is translated or explained to give the sense so that they understood the reading. As Ezra read the law, he explained the meaning so the people understood God's message. Admittedly, there are some things in the Bible that are hard to understand, so it is helpful when someone in the church gifted by God as a teacher can explain these harder truths to us. But the explanation is based upon what the text says, meaning that the inspired word of God shapes the commentary rather than the commentary shaping the text.
The rest of Nehemiah 8 relates how the people applied the text to their context by observing the feast of booths. God has given us His word for a reason. When we see things in God’s word, we should seek to apply them to our lives.
Asking the question, “What does this text mean to you?” is an appropriate thing to do, but it is not where we begin. First we must ask “what does this text mean?” Only after we have answered the first question can we properly answer the second.
We live in a day where there are a lot of talking heads out there in social media, Christian radio, television, podcasts, sermonaudio, and the countless other forms of media available to us today. Although this is a blessing, we must also listen with a careful ear because, unfortunately, not everyone who preaches is handling accurately the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). How can you tell? Read the text. Do their points flow out of it? Does what they say the verse means match the verses before and after it? Do they talk about context and how the passage applied to the original audience before applying it to the 21st century? And ultimately, are they explaining the meaning of the verses so people understand what the text says, or are they simply supporting their viewpoints with some proof texts torn from their context?
Expository preaching is not flashly. It does not fit the glitz and glamour our generation craves. It will not bring the community flocking into your church like the entertainment based approaches we see taking over the North American church. Yet if we want to see lives actually changed…if we want to see sinners putting off the world with its pleasures and putting on Christ…if we want to see the church grow in depth of relationship with God and each other…if we want to produce the kind of fruit that will remain and be rewarded in eternity, we will find preachers who boldly proclaim the word of God and call people to conform their lives to its standards. Will they make us uncomfortable at times? Yes! No one likes to be corrected, and it is not fun standing against the tide of cultural opinion. Yet the accurate exposition of God’s word is the Spirit’s primary tool in bringing us to salvation (1 Cor. 1:18-31) and then to conforming us into the image of Christ.
For this reason Paul exhorts Timothy in this way: I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Not everyone handles the word of God accurately. God tells us to know the difference between those who do and those who do not. Find and follow those men and women whose approach to the Scriptures first looks at what the text says, seeks to find out what God means by it, then calls you to conform your life to the truths of God’s word. The preacher has not preached until he has done all three of these things.