The Benefits of Preaching Through an Entire Book of the Bible
It has been almost a year since I began preaching a series of lessons on the gospel of Luke and we are only now in chapter 14. When I began I promised the congregation I was going to preach on every verse in Luke. There have been a few interruptions where I have had to take a Sunday off from preaching in Luke, but for the most part we have continued our trek each Lord’s day and have been blessed by the word of God. Some may think this is crazy. Some may think that in our world of short attention spans it would be ridiculous to spend over a year in one book. I respectfully disagree and here are a few of the benefits I have found from preaching through an entire book of the Bible.
It brings us to a better understanding of Jesus. We are called to imitate Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21). The only way we can do this is by studying Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and finding out who Jesus really is. I believe that every congregation should be preaching or teaching through one of these gospels at least every five years. The gospels present the clearest picture of God we have in the Bible. The life of Jesus is our blueprint for how we should live in the world. We’re not going to come to a full understanding of Jesus unless we continue to look at the gospel accounts in their entirety. Preaching, teaching, or reading through one of these books will give us a clearer picture of the God who came to earth to show us how to live.
It puts things in context. Sure this may sound like a cheesy reason for preaching through an entire book, but it really isn’t. Failure to recognize or understand context is one of the main reasons people misunderstand Scripture. Context allows us to understand texts that we may have struggled with before. Context may bring new meanings to passages we thought we understood. Reading through an entire book also allows us to get a feel for the literary context. Each writer uses different literary devices to convey the point being made, and we often miss out on these. Basically, if we study a book in its entirety we will come to a greater knowledge of the message that is being presented.
It challenges the preacher and the congregation to look at texts they may have otherwise skipped or overlooked. Sometimes a preacher comes across difficult texts that would be hard to preach, and other times a text may not seem that important or relevant at the time, so chooses not to use that particular passage. Choosing a text to preach on is not always easy. A preacher only has a limited amount of Sundays and he always wants to choose the right text. Preaching through a book or from a lectionary causes preachers to use texts they would have never chosen themselves. This then allows the congregation to hear a word from God that they may have not heard otherwise. This breaks the monotony of powerful and bold texts that may get overused. It pulls the preacher away from his comfort zone and challenges him to think outside the box. Not only will everyone get to hear a text that isn’t often preached, but this also allows the preacher to hone his craft, which will benefit him when he goes back to the other texts he is more comfortable with.
It allows us to see themes we may have missed. There are themes in every book of the Bible, but if we are not looking at the book in its entirety then we are likely to miss them. As one preaches through a book these themes can be pointed out and the congregation will begin to recognize them. Sometimes I may even miss one of the themes in a passage, and later a member will point it out to me. One of the major themes in the gospel of Luke is meals. This is a common action that people will miss if they do not study all of Luke. Once a person sees how meals play a role in Luke, then certain passages begin to come to life like never before.
It may cause us to see a text in a different way or a different light. We never know what is going to happen in the world. When news broke of the shooting in Aurora, CO I knew I wanted to say something about it, but I did not want to change the text I had already prepared for. As I began to look at Luke 13:31-35 it became apparent that this text directly applied to the tragedy that was on everyone’s mind. The passage is about Jesus living in a dangerous world, and how he responds to that world. If I could have chosen any text to preach on after that tragedy this would never have been the one, but because I was already prepared to preach on this passage and I wanted to talk about what happened the previous Friday I began to see this passage in a different light. I saw things in this text that were true, but that I had never noticed before.
It conveys the belief we hold that all Scripture is important and relevant to our lives. We often affirm that all Scripture is inspired, but we do little to prove it. This is an action we can take that supports our belief in the inspiration of Scripture. It says that we not only believe that all Scripture is inspired, but we are going to allow all Scripture to speak to us.
It encourages Bible reading. When I preach through a book I tell people what I am doing. We set a goal as a congregation and people know where we are heading. They know what is going to be preached the following week, and this allows them to read ahead. I also encourage this, and ask them to familiarize themselves with Luke, just as I am doing every week when I study and make my preparations. Often Bible reading is seen as a laborious discipline, but when everyone is doing it together we learn from one another. We come to a deeper understanding of the text because we, as the community of God, are journeying together in the same direction.