Your blessing depends on the sermon-delivering-servant’s zeal to please God in order to serve you. It must be in that order. The minister is only as good for the flock as he is doing right by God and a being a faithful steward of God’s Word. When it comes to preaching, the preacher must not hold back any effort from knowing the Word and preaching the Word in order that the church will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
Of course I’m usually just preaching the sermon, not talking about sermons as a sermon subject. But we’re finishing some reminders about our Lord’s Day liturgy, and, though the sermon is not the only important part, it *is* a part of how God shapes and strengthens His church. The power for getting the parts to work properly so that the whole body grows up into the unity of faith doesn’t come from the furniture/pulpit, it comes from God’s Word spoken by God’s representative and applied by God’s Spirit. When exercised rightly, preaching is *salvation* for the speaker and the hearers. This isn’t an adversarial relationship, but it’s not allowed to be a tickle party or affirmation therapy session either.
Here are a couple key passages that you need to know, passages that are always under the water of the sermonic iceberg.
> Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13–16 ESV)
Progress is big. So is persistence in paying attention to life and teaching. The KJV opens verse 16 with “take heed,” which is probably just the right amount of not how we usually talk to get us to “pay close attention” (NASB). **Keep a close watch** (ESV), “Be conscientious” (NET).
There must be a maintained, mindful grasp on two things: 1) watch one’s *self*, as in one’s speech and conduct for setting the believers an example (see verse 12), and 2) watch one’s *teaching*, that it not be doctrines of demons (see 4:1) and not irreverent, silly myths (4:7), but in the fulness of God’s good things given (4:5-6) and the faith and doctrines that cause all our hope to be in the living God (verse 10); “for to this end we toil and strive.” Watch the teaching.
So “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them” (verse 15, NASB). The whole process matters as God’s means to the *saving* of the assembly. We know it’s *God’s* means, since God is the Savior (verse 10), and He uses in season and out of season reproofs, rebukes, exhortations, and truth-teaching to complete His saving work.
Another key passage relates to this work of watching.
> Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Timothy 2:14–17 ESV)
It’s verse 15 in the middle there that’s fairly well known among Bible-loving people. Do you know what’s behind the command: **Do your best**? It’s the imperative form of the Greek word σπουδάζω, a cognate with the noun σπουδή, meaning *zeal*, which I’ve been touting like a Styrofoam #1 pointy-finger since we saw it in Romans 12:11 - “In zeal, don’t hold back.” So the verb form of it is “be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous, take pains, make every effort” (BAGD).
What’s required is σπουδή/zeal for Scripture, taking pains over the pages of the Bible, making every effort to not get God’s Word wrong. Not only is God the judge, but the fruit is in the people. Certain teaching **ruins the hearers**, it **will lead people into more and more ungodliness**. That puts the teacher in a position of *shame* before God.
This calling—to be an agent of saving grace or of disgrace—is a beautiful and blessed but weighty and wearisome burden. Sometimes you’ll hear pastors tell people that if a young man can do anything else than be a pastor/preacher, he should. That’s not just because of James 3:1, it’s because there is a glorious and grave (though not grim) grind to beat on the Word so that its living waters will flow, and to be beaten on by that Word so that his own affections will abound, to watch his life and teaching, and to then carry that treasure in his jar of clay and pour it out for the work of life among the people.
God continues to be extremely kind to me in that He continues to give me desire/craving for His Word. I have σπουδή for Scripture.
That said, I am often tempted to hold back in the preaching. It requires Spirit-strength (as do any and all types of good works) to not be reluctant, but to be ready and sober-minded and enduring suffering (2 Timothy 4:2-5). Not only is the preacher’s schedule out of sync with most of the flock and to a degree even with his own family, his zeal in study and preparation is hardly ever met with similar zeal in eagerness to attend and receive. There are those who are asleep, spiritually and sometimes in the flesh. There are those who aren’t just resistant, they are recalcitrant. And yet “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
But blessing and salvation are brought through the preaching of the Word. It’s the charge given to the minister in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.
I mentioned three things last week that are being learned through sermons even when they are not the direct content of the sermon. The third point was that sermon hearers learn how to be Scripture readers by the example of the sermon preacher. *He must watch the teaching, and so should you.* For my part, when I’m preaching through a book of the Bible, I do think that I could synthesize my zeal for being intentional example under two headings. I am zealous that you would read and interpret every passage in its context, and I am zealous that you would read and receive all of it under Christ’s lordship.
Two parts of my Sermon Spoude.
# Everything you really need to know is in the passage you’re reading.
There are a couple other ways to describe this, but it starts with a recognition of our privilege. We have Word Privilege. We should not give it up, we should give thanks to God for it, we should realize that to whom much is given much is required. Our Word Privilege comes in the fact that we have our own copies of the *complete* inspired Scriptures. We have what *no one in the Bible had…a complete Bible*.
One implication of that is that any given author—Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Paul, Peter, John—did not expect that his readers *needed* other books/writings to make his point. Each author had a point, and he made it his point with his own composition. For sure, some of the prophets wrote things that they weren’t fully sure how it would look when it came about, but that’s not the same as saying they expected their readers to need a concordance. *Analogia Scriptura*/Scripture-interprets-Scripture is great *second*, after the context of Scripture has proven incapable of understanding.
There are a bunch of quotes and allusions that NT writers make from OT passages. But the Romans, for example, did not have all the Jewish books, and did not need them. For that matter, the Jews in captivity in Babylon hearing Lamentations didn’t need Romans to understand what they needed to believe or obey.
You may, or may not, have noticed that I usually don’t have us going all over the Bible during our line—upon-line series. Stay here. See what’s here. You don’t *need* cross-references 98% of the time (even if that percentage is not scientifically determined).
Like real estate rules (Location. Location. Location), there are three most important rules for Bible reading: 1) Context, 2) Context, 3) Context. The most important thing you can figure out is: *What did the author intend his readers to understand?* As soon as you bring meaning with you into the passage (no matter how “true” the meaning), you are doing *eisegesis*, you are “interpreting *into*” rather than out of the passage.
The most helpful “hack” is to read in paragraphs. The invention of the chapter and verse notation systems are great for navigation, but they can make the *point* harder to notice. Use whatever tools you have access to and skill with, but most of what you need is to stay on the page you’re reading, think about the author’s intent, and ask the Lord for understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). Watch the teaching for ideas.
# All Scripture is the word of Christ, but not every word is about Christ explicitly.
Every once in a while I hear the criticism that I do not preach Christ. I am honestly baffled by that. But, there are some virtuous sounding Bible reading strategies that always expect to see Jesus, and I don’t, so why don’t I?
There’s a passage that’s often used to argue for Christocentric reading, which has become a way of reading where Christ at the center of the meaning of every Bible text. Jesus taught the two disciples on their road to Emmaus.
> beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 ESV)
They immediately returned to Jerusalem, and were with the eleven disciples, when Jesus stood among them.
> He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45 ESV)
The phrase in verse 44, (πάντα τὰ γεγραμμένα) is a substantival participle with a modifier: All the Having-Been-Written-Things (AtHBWT). And “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” and **everything written about me** are not the same as saying “*each thing was written about me*.” Rather than the explicit subject of every Scripture, I prefer the description Christo*telic*, Christ is the endpoint.
There’s a Spurgeon quote that gets trotted out in these discussions: “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” First, it’s not yet been sourced as a thing he actually said; it has [not been verified in searching his published works](https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/blog-entries/6-quotes-spurgeon-didnt-say/). Second, that’s *not* cutting a straight line with Scripture.
That said, all things are His things, and yet His things aren't His self. Nothing isn’t part of His property or part of His purposes, but we still maintain a distinction between those things and His Person. It is *all* the “word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16), so we can talk about *any* of His things and still be preaching Christ.
When the paragraph (pericope, proverb, prophecy) doesn’t explicitly mention Christ, I don’t think we should try to act like it is (we’re not looking for a “deeper meaning,” it’s usually a sort of Christocentric eiesgesis). Nor should we try to forget that it all relates to Him. But getting grief because you don’t see Jesus as the spiritual meaning of a verse is a burden I’m trying to show you isn’t yours to carry. Watch the teaching.
Why should you care about any of this? This is *not* just “Insider Bible” talk. You should care because your salvation and blessing depend on it.
You should also be zealous to pay attention to the Word, here and on your own. Be zealous to understand the context, be zealous to understand how all of it helps you live a more jealousable life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Let the Bible get into your bones. Let the Bible give you backbone. That CAN'T happen if you waffle on definitions. Don’t bend over backward on definitions, with pressure from the culture or even certain theological confessions. Christians have waffled on words such as: inspired, inerrant, elect, resurrection, day, Israel, land, man, woman. Heed the words. Let the Bible define its terms, and hold on to them..
Heed the Word. Heed All-the-Having-Been-Written-Things, for the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures (Romans 15:4).
All the Having-Been-Written-Things (AtHBWT) point us to Christ in whom is our endurance and encouragement and hope. All the Word is from Him and through Him and to Him. Let the Word of Christ abide in You, and you will bear MUCH FRUIT and prove to be His disciples.
> Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 ESV)