At The Church at Trace Crossing, we are journeying through the book of Exodus each Sunday morning. With the exception of Palm Sunday and Easter, we have trekked through Exodus verse by verse and chapter by chapter. Since the end of January, we have made it through seventeen chapters. This past Sunday, our Lead Pastor opened his Bible and asked our congregation to turn in our Bibles to Exodus 18. If there was ever a chapter in Exodus to skip over, it would be Exodus 18. The reason is because it is sandwiched between two incredibly interesting and important chapters. Exodus 18 almost feels like it is in the way. But despite these personal feelings, we walked through Exodus 18 as a faith family verse by verse. And next week, you can bet that at Trace Crossing we will be asked to open our Bibles to Exodus 19. Why? Because the best way to preach the word of God as he revealed it is to preach through books of the Bible verse by verse.
Lectio Continua is the technical name for this method of preaching. Historically, this method of preaching was made famous by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Matthew Henry, among others. While many church members and pastors cringe at the prospect of a sermon series lasting 6-12 months going through just one book of the Bible, there are many benefits of preaching through books of the Bible. Dr. Brian Payne once offered fifteen benefits in a class he taught on preaching at Boyce College. The following list consists of Payne’s points, which are bolded, followed by further commentary of my onw. Consider each of these benefits. Feel free to add your own in the comment section below.
1. The preacher grows personally in knowledge and obedience by his disciplined exposure to God’s Word.
Preaching verse by verse and chapter by chapter means the preacher will inevitably approach doctrines, truths, and passages that push and challenge their own theology and heart. As the pastor prepares to preach this way each week, he will study topics and passages he may never have otherwise.
2. The preacher conserves time and energy used in choosing a sermon for each week.
The text sets the agenda. When Exodus 18 is preached, everyone in the church knows Exodus 19 is on deck.
3. The preacher balances his area of “expertise” and preferred topics with the breadth of God’s thoughts in the Bible.
In the words of Dr. Payne, verse by verse preaching “combats one’s tendency to choose a canon within the canon.”
4. Sensitive matters can be addressed without the appearance of pointing a finger at persons or problems in the church.
When you preach haphazardly through biblical topics, everyone’s eyebrows will be raised when you preach a sermon on sexual purity or marriage. But by preaching through books of the Bible, pastors can organically address a plethora of topics without appearing disingenuous.
5. The preacher gains accountability to not avoid skipping over what does not suit his taste or temperament on any given Sunday.
Pastors are not called to preach what they like about God’s word and ignore what they don’t like. We are called to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2). We are called to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). All pastors have preferences, but they should all be taken captive to the word and will of God.
6. Biblical literacy is promoted in the preacher’s congregation by teaching them through example how to study their Bibles.
That is, verse by verse preaching teaches a reproducible method of Bible study. Every Sunday morning, pastors teach their congregations how to study the Bible. The hermeneutical skill of a congregation typically mirrors that of the preaching pastor.
7. The preacher is forced to address a greater number of issues than what readily springs to mind.
I once heard of a pastor whose sermon topics came from newspaper headlines. If you only make use of topics on Fox News or what you are personally concerned with, you will be incredibly limited in what you can preach. And ultimately, pastors who rely on sources other than the Bible as the basis of the content of their sermons will find themselves preaching the same kinds of sermons over and over again.
8. Much research time can be saved because each new sermon does not require a new study of the book’s or the passage’s author, background, context, and cause.
If you genuinely spend time studying the word each week, verse by verse preaching will be your best friend. On Sundays that I fill the pulpit for our preaching pastor, I’m never in a panic the week leading up to Sunday because I’ve already been studying the surrounding context. All I have to do is turn the page.
9. It is more likely that the pastor will preach the whole counsel of God over time.
Haphazardly choosing topics to preach will make a pastor feel like he is chasing his own tail. Preaching through books of the Bible will take your people on a journey throughout redemptive history and various biblical genres over time.
10. The pastor’s God-given prophetic authority in the pulpit will be increased by grounding his preaching in the divinely intended meaning of the text.
The act of preaching is heralding a message that has been entrusted to us. We did not invent the message of the gospel. As a herald of the truth and preacher of the word, preachers are literally the mouthpiece of God. Preaching through books of the Bible allows the preacher to more accurately say what God has said and no more than this.
11. The trustworthiness of the pastor’s preaching is increased in the eyes of the congregation.
It is easier to trust a man who relies solely on the intention of God in his inspiration of biblical texts than a man who relies on his own wit and intuition.
12. The pastor’s God-given blessing in the pulpit is increased by remaining faithful to the intention of the One who sent him to preach.
Preaching is a massive responsibility. It is a weight no man could bear alone. But to know that you are striving to proclaim what God himself has revealed in the way God himself has revealed it brings great comfort to a pastor. Pastors can rest in their preaching if they are faithful to the word.
13. The congregation’s trust in the inspiration, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture is increased.
Preaching through books of the Bible shows your commitment to and reliance on the word for life and godliness. Your people will catch this vision and trust that the best thing for them is God’s word.
14. The congregation will be less susceptible to the deception of false teaching.
The simple antidote to false teaching is true teaching. The truth of the gospel pierces the heart of all false teaching. The more God’s people are exposed to God’s word, the less likely they will be deceived by false teachers. Faithful biblical exposition gives your congregation legs to stand on.
15. The message is communicated that we need all 1189 chapters and 31,012 verses of the Bible for our salvation.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We don’t just need the portions of Scripture that we like. We need all of Scripture. From Exodus 18 to Romans 8, God’s people need God’s word. The best way God’s people can receive God’s word is through preaching that seeks to communicate the divinely-intended meaning of each passage. Brother pastors, find yourselves faithful in the handling of God’s word.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.