Last Sunday, I finished preaching through 1 John. It was my sermon series as a pastor and also my first time to preach through an entire book of the Bible. It took me 4 months to march from 1 Jn. 1:1 to 5:21. It was an enlightening experience, both as a pastor and also in a personal, spiritual way.
Though I was not able to study 1 John as intensely as I would have liked (that is one of the drawbacks of being bi-vocational, I suppose), I did study the letter consistently and over a long period of time. Translating the text from the Greek week after week was incredibly beneficial. First, you learn the biblical authors vocabulary. John used the same phrases and vocabulary throughout his letter and this is much more obvious in the Greek than in the English translation. For example, moneo is a very big piece of John’s vocabulary. Typically the ESV translates it “abide”, but not always. Sometimes the translation uses “continue” or “remain” (both of which are fine translations in their own right) while I think continuing the language of “abiding” would have been more helpful. This is perhaps the first benefit of preaching expositionally through books of the Bible: you study a book thoroughly and over a long period of time. It forces you to slow down and ruminate (yes, ruminate) on texts that otherwise you might gloss over. Themes and ideas bubble to the surface and become incredibly clear as you continually mull over Scripture.
Another benefit, which has been touted over and over again by many, is that preaching expositionally through a book of the Bible teaches the congregation you are shepherding how to read the Bible better. Growing up, I did not hear much expositional preaching. Thus, I did not realize that the Bible was God’s revelation to man, but rather I thought it an inspirational (not in the technical, theological sense) text which contained numerous coffee cup verses. Expositional preaching helps the congregation to realize that the books of the Bible are coherent units of thought, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by men in a certain time and certain place. It helps your congregation to see textual connections and to account for the context of passages.
One lesson I learned about preaching, particularly epistles, is that the deductive and propositional preaching required by preaching epistles can be exhausting both for the preacher and congregation. It seems that some narrative preaching needs to be sprinkled in among the propositional preaching. This can be a breath of fresh air for the preacher and for the congregation. This could take many different forms. If you have a morning and evening service like we do in Duffau, perhaps you could be preaching through an epistle in the morning and, in the evening, be preaching through a narrative book of the OT or the Gospels.
Another lesson I learning about preaching is that people need to hear God’s Word. As cable news, Internet news and the radio bombard us with stories of man’s depravity, both in its ingenuity and depth, God’s people need to be reminded time and time again of the promises he has made in Scripture and how those promises apply to us today. Merely, prescribing a self-help regimen for the church through a series of steps to more fulfilling lives or keys to a happy marriage is not enough. God’s people need to be reminded of his love for them and that this love was shown for them first and foremost on the cross. They need to be reminded of the promises which God has made to every believer, both the ones that are easy to swallow, such as our reigning with Christ one day, and the ones that are more difficult, such as our being called to lives of suffering for the sake of the Name.
My admonition to myself and my fellow preachers out there is to preach through books of the Bible and to preach through them expositionally. It is the only way that your congregation will grow in maturity and godliness and it is the way which God has ordained for his people to hear what He has to say.
My admonition to those who are church members and attenders: find a church in which the Word is preached. If the pastor merely uses the text as a springboard to discuss whatever he wants to discuss, he is not participating in biblical preaching. If the pastor mentions his text, reads it once and then it is never mentioned again, he is not participating in biblical preaching. Please find a church where the pastor preaches the word; he does as Ezra and the priests did in Nehemiah 8:8: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” Find a preacher who preaches like Ezra and grow under the preached Word.