Preaching and Listening at Bethlehem

I love to preach for the saints at Bethlehem. There are so many of you who love the word of God and are hungry to hear. It is a great motivation for my work when I know that there are spiritually alive men and women weighing what I say like the noble Bereans—to see if these things are so. I want to build a people who believe and cherish the Bible. I want everything I say to stand under the Scriptures. I want you to assess as well as accept.

This affects the way I preach. I try to preach in such a way that anything you learn will be rooted directly in the Bible. I point to chapter and verse because if I don’t, the source of my thoughts becomes hazy and my authority as a minister of the word diminishes. I want the building block of your system of doctrine to be specific statements from the Bible, not sermonic reinterpretations.

I am convinced that the deepest and most permanent spiritual changes are effected in people when they quit talking in generalities about God and his will, and begin to submit their wills to specific words and phrases and sentences of Scripture. People who are not interested in seeking specific meanings of particular texts of Scripture for application to their own lives are generally stiff-necked. That is, they have a deep-seated insubordination or pride which protects itself from being told what to do by preserving a fog of generalizations between itself and the particular meanings of specific words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs of Scripture.

Preaching which does not explain biblical sentences and does not cause people to look at the nitty-gritty specifics of God’s word plays right into the hand of stiff-necked generalizers. Preaching that simply reads a text and then builds thoughts and stories around it with no explicit grounding of those thoughts in the grammar and logic of the text will cater to and cultivate listeners who do not reckon seriously with the daily authority of concrete biblical sentences and paragraphs in their lives. That kind of preaching will produce a church covered with a doctrinal haze and will lay the people open to incisive winds of false teaching which often offer a refreshingly clear breeze of specificity. But more important than that, this kind of preaching blunts the point of the Spirit’s Sword so that it may perhaps be good as a back scratcher but not as a weapon to slay the dragons of pride and greed.

Some of the great listeners at Bethlehem who want and expect expository biblical preaching have asked me two key questions about Galatians 2:1-10. 1) What was the point of verse 10? Why didn’t you comment on it? 2) If Paul was so adamant about not allowing Titus to be circumcised (2:4, 5), why did he have Timothy circumcised in Acts 16:3?

1) I left out Galatians 2:10 simply because of lack of time. It says, “Only they (the Jerusalem apostles) would have us (Paul and Barnabas) remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.” I think the word “only” implies that this was the one possible exception to Paul’s statement, “they added nothing to me” (v. 6). But when he says, “which very thing we were eager to do,” he means, this was really no exception because we already had that in our hearts. So the point of verse 10 is to answer a possible criticism of the Judaizers, namely, that Paul just does what he is told by the Jerusalem apostles—he is taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul’s answer is: Yes, they made this suggestion, but our agreement to do it was because we feel so deeply about it ourselves, not because we depend on them for guidance. We ought to stop and ponder the implications of verse 10 for our relation to the poor and to barn-building.

2) I’ll try to answer the question about Timothy in another Star article (Taste & See).

Thanks for loving the word,

Pastor John

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