Preach More Than Truth

That’s a provocative title.  Ok, how about a provocative opening volley?

Preaching true truth using a Bible passage is better than preaching error and heresy, but not necessarily much better.

Right, now to dig myself out of the hole . . . what do I mean?  Well, it is common to hear preachers take a Bible text and preach a message that is truth.  Real truth.  True truth.  Bible truth.  All off the back of the text they read.  But the truth preached is not the truth specifically communicated by the passage.  This is better than error and heresy . . .

Truth is better than error. Obviously it is better to preach the truth.  People need to hear the truth.  People need to face the truth.  Error and heresy confuse people and mislead people and have eternal consequences.  Give me truth over heresy any day.

But it is not enough to preach truth using a passage from the Scriptures . . .

Any truth preached from a Bible passage is not good enough. The real goal in preaching a passage is to preach the truth of that passage.  To simply jump off the passage to preach a generic biblical truth can be genuinely harmful, not to mention wasteful.

Why is it wasteful? Because this particular passage is saying a specific something.  It is not saying anything.  It is not saying everything.  It is saying something.  If you don’t preach that specific something, then the opportunity is gone and the passage probably won’t be preached again for several years (to these people).  While there are consistent themes and big  big ideas in the canon, each passage is unique in terms of its specific main idea.  Why waste the opportunity to let that passage hit home?  (How many “whole counsel” preachers are actually mostly preaching only a single message from a whole host of source texts?  This leads to the other matter…)

Why is it harmful? Really, what harm can be done if the truth is preached, if the gospel is presented, if people are brought face to face with the demands of the gospel on their lives?  Perhaps none.  But what if the listeners look down at their Bible and see what is actually there?  One of two things could happen, and both are harmful:

1. They might think that it is normal to read any passage and squish it into a simple presentation of the gospel (or whatever true truth is consistently preached).  They will learn to not treat the Scriptures as having anything specific to say.

2. They might recognise that the message preached does not have the authority of the text it is claimed to be based on.  The discerning listener may end up rejecting true truth because the preacher acted as if that message actually came from that text.

Whether they learn to misread the Bible, or they distrust the message, harm is done by preaching true truth that is not the truth presented in a passage.

8 thoughts on “Preach More Than Truth

  1. Well stated.
    When I teach my favorite generic truths while pretending to unpack a specific text, I place myself above the sacred text. I merely use the specific passage for my purposes—as a jumping off place to say what I want to say. My sermon is all about me and what I think the audience needs to hear today, or [worse yet] whatever I feel like talking about today. This practice reveals a scandalously puny view of the Scripture, often coupled with laziness relative to inductive study.

  2. I totally agree. If in our preaching we teach poor Bible interpretation, we can cripple those we preach to so that they feel they can’t quite get what we “get” out of Scripture.

    Working with college students on Bible study methods, I’ve seen first-hand that this happens often. The classic example of this is when I ask a question about what a particular passage means and heads go up in thought rather than down to search the passage. It’s not that thinking through something is bad (at all!), but we need to be training and equipping people to learn to dig into Scripture on their own.

    Something Peter told me once is that if, at the end of a sermon, the congregation is amazed at the skill of the preacher but still cannot see what he preached from the text, then he hasn’t fully done his job (or something to that effect-Peter feel free to correct this). Part of the job of the preacher has to be to preach in such a way that it inspires passion for the Word and enables the congregation to better understand that portion of Scripture the next time they come to it in their own study.

  3. Hey Lance – no worries. Here’s my suggested solution: “The real goal in preaching a passage is to preach the truth of that passage.”

    What I am urging preachers to do is not to be satisfied to preach true truth that doesn’t really come from the passage, but to preach the truth that genuinely is the message of that passage. It’s a kind of biblical integrity that is often missing, sadly.

    • Thanks. That actually helps rather a lot. Yeah, I don’t mind a nice story now and then or a bit of humor to keep the congregation awake, but its very frustrating to me when the preacher gets down the road a piece from the scripture at hand. My wife likes it topical, but as for me I think there’s nothing like good exigetical preaching.

  4. I’m a writer – not a preacher, but this is good for me too! on my Blog I am trying to share, in writing, what truth comes out of Bible passages that I read each day. I am reading the “red words” currently. Just a 69 year old layman, but I feel that I am finding truths by reading scripture, looking for the truth of that day and then trying diligently to share what I found. I believe that this entry will help me a lot – thanks.

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