As I begin a new chapter of ministry in my life as a Senior Pastor at Valley Baptist Church in San Rafael, CA., it didn’t take long for me to make the book of Colossians my choice for my first exposition of Sermons. There are 3 primary reasons I chose to preach from the book of Colossians:
(1) An Upward Focus on the Sovereign Majesty and Saving Work of Jesus Christ - Perhaps of all the books of the Bible Colossians is arguably the most dense in its Christology. The Person and work of Christ as the Sovereign Redeemer for mankind is proclaimed loud and clear from the start to finish in this epistle. Throughout the entire letter the apostle Paul redirects Christian’s distracted focus back to Jesus. He shows how focusing on Jesus builds a strong defense and forms a strategic offense against enemies both inside and outside the church. As clearly as any book of the Bible, Colossians rivets our attention on Christ and who He is and what He has done for us. Christ’s Person and work are the very motivation and power we need to live by faith, walk in obedience, and glorify God. As Scotty Smith has said, “The only cure for self-occupation is a preoccupation with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(2) An Inward Focus That Helps Equip Us to Avoid The Dangers of False Teachings - The Colossian Church was being undermined by two types of heresies that had infiltrated the doctrinal beliefs of the Church: There was a combination of Jewish legalism (works salvation) and Eastern philosophy (gnosticism) that threatened the peace and unity of the Church. Today we have all kinds of heresies and false teachings that many long time conservative evangelical churches have succumbed too and have abandoned the faith that has been “delivered unto the saints.” We need to get back to the core teachings of Christ as reflected in the gospel – salvation by grace alone through Christ alone via faith and repentance.
(3) An Outward Missional Focus on How To Live For Christ Everywhere We Are – Paul shows us how Christ is at the center of all of our relationships (at home, work, and in the community with outsiders).
Bottom line – Colossians is all about Jesus – upward in worship, inward in equipping, and outward on mission. When we find our security and significance in Him we find that He’s really all we need and we want others to have what He’s given us – a personal relationship with Him through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
After stating that the Bible is God-breathed, Paul spelled out its purpose and value. Scripture, he said, is profitable for several things, including doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.
The value of the Bible lies, first of all, in the fact that it teaches sound doctrine. Though we live in a time when sound teaching is denigrated, the Bible places a high value on it. Much of the New Testament is concerned with doctrine. The teaching ministry is given to the church for building up its people. Paul said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12).
The Bible is also profitable for reproof and correction, which we as Christians continually need. It is fashionable in some academic circles to exercise scholarly criticism of the Bible. In so doing, scholars place themselves above the Bible and seek to correct it. If indeed the Bible is the Word of God, nothing could be more arrogant. It is God who corrects us; we don’t correct Him. We do not stand over God but under Him.
This yields a practical help for Bible study: read the Bible with a red pen in hand. I suggest that you put a question mark in the margin beside every passage that you find unclear or hard to understand. Likewise, put an X beside every passage that offends you or makes you uncomfortable. Afterward, you can focus on the areas you struggle with, especially the texts marked with an X. This can be a guide to holiness, as the Xs show us quickly where our thinking is out of line with the mind of Christ. If I don’t like something I read in Scripture, perhaps I simply don’t understand it. If so, studying it again may help. If, in fact, I do understand the passage and still don’t like it, this is not an indication there is something wrong with the Bible. It’s an indication that something is wrong with me, something that needs to change. Often, before we can get something right, we need to first discover what we’re doing wrong.
When we experience the “changing of the mind” that is repentance, we are not suddenly cleansed of all wrong thinking. The renewing of our minds is a lifelong process. We can accelerate this process by focusing on those passages of Scripture that we don’t like. This is part of the “instruction in righteousness” of which Paul speaks.
Finally, Paul explained the overriding purpose for Scripture study. It comes in the final clause, where the apostle wrote, “… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It was as if Paul was warning Timothy that if he neglected the study of God’s Word, his life would be incomplete. He would be missing out on this vast resource, this treasury of truth that is the Word of God. And the same is true for us.
Source: Adapted from R.C. Sproul’s little book: Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow.
As Christians we have the great privilege of knowing that God speaks to us through his Word, the Bible. There is no other book like it—no other book that rewards us with God’s own words. But to know what God says to us, and how God means for us to live, we need to do a little bit of work. Every Christian, and every preacher in particular, has to go from the text to today. We all wonder, “But what does this mean to me?” or “What does this mean to my congregation?”
Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.
We have all seen situations—and many of us have caused situations—where we have been sloppy in going from the text to today. The young man who marches three times around a young woman and waits for her walls of romantic resistance to crumble is not properly understanding how to go from the text to today. Similarly, the muscleman who tears a phone book in half while quoting, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not properly accounting for the context of that verse.
There are different ways Christians attempt to get from the text to today in ways that are faithful and accurate. I’m going to borrow from my friend James Seward and display one of these ways with a triangle that has four T’s on it. Look at figure 1 and you’ll see it: One triangle, three corners, four T’s.
We will begin with the right side of the triangle. Let’s let the top corner represent our text—any text within the Bible. The bottom-right corner will represent today. You can see this in figure 2. What we are prone to do is to hurry our way from the text to today, just like that young man and that muscleman. We underestimate or under-appreciate our cultural and chronological distance from the text and are too quick to assume we know how to apply the text to our lives today. We sometimes get it right, but often we do not. Every Christian acknowledges this as a potential problem and different traditions attempt to deal with it in different ways.
I am convinced that the most faithful way to deal with it leads us to the bottom-left corner of the triangle. The TT down there stands for them/then—the people for whom the words were originally written (see figure 3). What if, instead of going straight from the text to today we go from the text, to them/then, and only then to today? In this way, before we apply the text to ourselves, we attempt to understand what the words meant to those who first heard them. So when Paul wrote the church in Philippi and said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” what did he mean? What did he mean to communicate to them/then? Once we have established what the text meant to them/then, we can more accurately apply it to ourselves—to us/now.
How can we go from the text to them/then? Broadly, through prayer, through meditation, and through study. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the text so we rightly understand it; we meditate on the text, expecting that God will reward this deep contemplation with greater understanding; we study the text through cross-references, word studies, sentence diagraming, commentaries and other resources. We do all of this to understand what the text meant to the original recipients.
Once we have done that—once we have a solid understanding of what the text meant to them/then, we are prepared to visit the third corner of the rectangle. Now we take what we have learned and we ask how it is meant to impact us today. How do we do this? Largely through prayer and meditation, though some further study may be involved. Now we pray and ask God to show us how he can apply his truth to the specifics of our lives and times; we continue to meditate on the text, looking for immediate application, and still trusting that God will use our deep contemplation to give us insights into his Word. You can see this all in figure 4.
In his book Expositional Preaching, David Helm gives an example of how he, an experienced preacher, was too quick to go from the text to today. He had determined that he would preach 2 Corinthians 8-9 at time when his church needed a financial boost. Even before he began his sermon preparation he knew what he would say—he had a major theme, he had an outline, and everything else he needed to make a great, Bible-based appeal for money. But as he dove into the text he realized that his understanding of the text was too simple: this text isn’t about regular and cheerful giving to meet the church budget, but about a famine relief collection for churches full of Jewish Christians. He came to see that this collection was meant to serve as a test of these Corinthian Christians so that if they gave generously, it would show that they aligned with Paul and the gospel over against the so-called super-apostles. When he went from the text to today he had one sermon, but when he went from the text to them/then to today he had a very different one, and one that more faithfully understood the original meaning of the text. I suspect almost every preacher—every expositional preacher, at least—has had a similar experience at one time or another.
A couple of weeks ago I quoted David Helm and his concern with lectio divina. His concern is exactly this—that lectio divina may too quickly move from the top of the triangle to the bottom-right. It moves from one corner to the other through prayer, meditation and contemplation, but in all of that may not adequately account for the distance between the text and today. This is true, at least, when lectio divina is done apart from serious study and serious work in the text prior to that contemplation. On the other hand, people who value study may be too reliant on their effort while short-changing both prayer and meditation (and I put myself squarely in this camp). And this is why I find this simple triangle so helpful. In three corners and four little T’s it helps us move from the text to today in a way that faithfully captures what God means to communicate to us.
10 Reasons I’m Thankful For a God-Breathed Bible by John Piper
1. The Bible awakens faith, the source of all obedience.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
2. The Bible frees from sin.
You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32)
3. The Bible frees from Satan.
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
4. The Bible sanctifies.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17:17)
5. The Bible frees from corruption and empowers godliness.
His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
6. The Bible serves love.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.(Philippians 1:9)
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)
7. The Bible saves.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:26)
[They will] perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
8. The Bible gives joy.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.(John 15:11)
9. The Bible reveals the Lord.
And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:21)
10. Therefore, the Bible is the foundation of my happy home and life and ministry and hope of eternity with God.
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“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God.
The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled, “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.
Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”
As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.”
Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.
As Mark Galli notes:
It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.
And Galli continues:
It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.
The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time—if not worse.
Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves?
One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8 (ESV):
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand: the Bible was read and explained and received.
As Hughes Oliphant Old comments, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing of the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition took place in a context of worship as the people listened to the Word of God. The point of the sermon was simple: “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”
In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation such that God’s people—young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well—hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.
How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word—not by congregational self-study.
In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We all, both individually and congregationally, neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.
As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
(1) READ IT – Find time every day to read the Bible. Build this into your routine each morning, Pray as you read, asking God for insight.
(2) LOOK FOR A NEW VERSE EACH DAY – As you read, ask God for a special verse to meet that day’s need. Read until you arrive at that verse, and then write down and carry it with you. You’ll discover new strength!
(3) STUDY BOOK-TO-VERSE-TO-WORD – One of the best methods of Bible study is book-to-verse-to-word, some times called inductive Bible study. Choose the book you want to study, then read through the book introduction and the Bible text several times for a sweep of its contents. Then read all you can about the background of that book. Next…
(4) LOOK FOR THE OUTLINE OR THEME OF THE BOOK – After that, you’re ready to study chapter by chapter. Read through each chapter, making notes, underlining verses, and looking for key thoughts. When you have a good idea of what each chapter says, study the individual verses themselves, down to the various words that are used. Then…
(5) READ THE BIBLE WITH PEN IN HAND – Underline, circle, and draw lines from verse to verse. Thoroughly read (A good study Bible – like the Jeremiah Study Bible) notes and their cross references. Scribble comments and insights in the margins, and post dates besides verses that God gives you on particular days. Someone once said, “A well-marked Bible means a well-fed soul.” You can also use a journal to analyze sentences, paraphrase verses, and condense passages, list points, and record observations.
(6) MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE AND MEDITATE ON IT – Memorized Scripture is the fodder for meditation, and meditating on God’s Word opens the door of our hearts to the real riches of Scripture. When we memorize God’s Word, we can think about it all the time, mulling it over as we eat breakfast, as we drive to work, as we fall asleep at night. We digest its meaning, and it becomes part of us.
(7) JOIN A BIBLE STUDY GROUP – One of the most exciting developments in many churches has been the proliferation of Bible study groups. Find a good group and sign up. The right small group can make a big difference in your appreciation of Scripture.
SOURCE: *Adapted from “Ways To Study The Bible Effectively” in The Jeremiah Study Bible. Worthy Media, 2013. xv.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. David Jeremiah is the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, and chancellor of San Diego Christian College. He is also the founder of Turning Point, a ministry committed to providing sound Bible teaching through national radio and television broadcasting. Dr. Jeremiah has authored numerous books, including the best-selling “Captured by Grace,” “Life Wide Open,” “My Heart’s Desire,” and “Sanctuary.”
A GUIDE TO THE BIBLE’S STORY, SYMBOLISM, AND PATTERNS
Book Review by David P. Craig
My wife and I have a tradition that we have practiced over our 21 years of marriage. Once every two to three years we plan a trip somewhere in the United States we’ve never been to before. We have gone to Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Seattle, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Orlando, Austin, San Diego, and several others. Before we go to the city we buy a really good map that gives us the lay of the land. Once we are there the first thing we do is go on a city-wide bus tour. In doing these two things it helps us to appreciate the history of the city, landmarks, and highlights we don’t want to miss during our stay. We get an overview and the big picture of the city before we enjoy its constituent parts.
Hamiton’s book is like a map or tour of the Bible. He helps you not to miss the most important stories, symbols, and patterns that are featured in the Scriptures. All of the biblical authors do “biblical theology.” They have a framework or world-view through which they interpret and describe the events, stories, and principles through this lens. All of the authors interpret Scripture in three ways (1) They interpret the words or accounts of God’s words and deeds that have been passed down to him; (2) They interpret world history from its creation to its final consummation; and (3) They interpret events and statements that they describe. According to Hamilton biblical theology in essence “means the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.”
By taking into account the different genres of Scripture and their various themes, Hamilton helps the reader appreciate the biblical “lay of the land” in it’s varied history, and its consummation centered around the gospel and the glory of God in Christ. I think the thesis of this book is wonderfully expressed by Hamilton in the second chapter: “Our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world.”
I believe this book is indeed a fantastic guide in helping all Bible students to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the biblical message intended by the author of the word – the Word – Jesus himself. We learn how to read, understand, and interpret the Bible from the perspective of the biblical authors, which is to learn a divinely inspired perspective. I believe that Hamilton achieves his hope and desired purpose for everyone who reads this book: “My hope is that you cross the bridge into their [the biblical authors] thought-world and never come back. I hope you will breathe the air of the Bible’s world, recognize it as the real Narnia, and never want to leave.”