There is a widespread assumption in many churches that preaching through books of the Bible is not enough to sustain a pulpit ministry over the long haul. Granted, there is a place for the occasional topical sermon that draws on multiple passages of Scripture. But as a steady diet for sheep and shepherds alike, the benefits of consecutive, expositional preaching through books of the Bible are too many to ignore; maybe too many to count. Here are nine.
- It honors God (2 Timothy 3:15–17).
We consider it a mark of respect when others listen to what we’ve said, from beginning to end. It’s a mark of disrespect when others tune in late, tune out early, cut us off, or take our words out of context. How much more does God deserve our attention to every word he says? Context, storyline, structure, and typology matter if we want to honor God by understanding his words. All Scripture—all of it—is breathed out by God (theopneustos). We honor God himself, then, by paying close attention to every word he has exhaled to us (Romans 4:22–24; 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Peter 1:12). God says still today, “those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Samuel 2:30). Does your church’s preaching and hearing of God’s Word honor him?
- It exalts Jesus (Luke 24).
Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to see how the entire Old Testament pointed to him (Luke 24:25–27, 44-47). The apostles in Acts preached Old Testament sermons with Christological application (Acts 2, 10, 13). Paul noted how “the Scriptures preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Galatians 3:8). Peter said it was the Spirit of Christ himself who was indicating to the Old Testament prophets the “sufferings” of Christ and his “subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10–12). And don’t forget Jude’s mention of the Exodus: it was “Jesus who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, and afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). Preaching through whole books of the whole Bible helps us see how every book and theme points forward or backward to Jesus, just as Jesus and the apostles taught.
Consecutive exposition through whole biblical books shows that precisely when you attend to the literary and historical context of the Old Testament, it is pointing you to the Christ who corresponds to that context and yet heightens its original significance without ignoring, contradicting, or merely repeating it. First and second Adam. Creation and new creation. Exodus and new exodus. Tabernacle, temple, and God with us. Old and new covenant. Death and resurrection. Exile and return. Judgment and salvation. Sin and redemption. Passover and sacrifice. Prophet, priest, and king. Kingdom and blessing. Wilderness and City. Babylon and Jerusalem. Wisdom and foolishness. War and peace. People and place. Election and destiny. Holiness and consecration. Alienation and reconciliation. Conquest and mission. Jew and Gentile. Suffering and glory. Preaching through whole books shows you the historical and literary rootedness of all those categories Jesus came to fulfill. And it shows how he fulfilled those categories, and what that means for the church and the world.
- It does not presume to speak the Spirit’s will apart from His Word.
It’s sometimes tempting for a pastor to imply that he has some inside track with the Spirit of God. As a result, he structures his preaching calendar around his own subjective “spiritual” sense of what he thinks the congregation needs to hear—what the Spirit is telling him to tell them. But, brother pastor, you don’t know exactly what each member in your congregation needs to hear week to week because you are not the Holy Spirit … and that’s ok. You don’t have to try to be the Spirit; you just need to listen to what he’s already said—and is still saying (Hebrews 3:7; 4:11–13)—in all Scripture.
- It listens to what the Spirit actually has said.
It is the Spirit of Christ—the Holy Spirit—who is testifying both in the Old Testament and the New. Therefore, preaching through whole books of the Bible, as they testify to Christ, is actually the most ‘Spiritual’ way to preach. “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). If the preaching glorifies the preacher, or even the Spirit, more than Christ, it is not actually Spiritual at all. Preacher, the Spirit breathed out every word of every book in the Bible, and therefore you already know your congregation needs to hear all of it. As Jesus says in Matthew 13:52, “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” So bring it all out in due course.
- It gives and sustains life (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from God’s mouth. Every book of the Bible, then, is part of a balanced nutritional plan for the church and for the soul. Preaching that whole Word, in context, testifying to Jesus as the bread of life, is what Jesus meant when he told Peter “feed my sheep” (John 21:15). When God told Ezekiel to prophesy to dead bones, the implication was that Ezekiel would prophesy God’s words, not his own. And when Ezekiel obeyed, God’s people came to life (Ezekiel 37:1–14). Consecutive preaching through books is also good for God’s people because it makes the Bible far more approachable for them in their own private reading. It cuts their teeth so they can chew on meat. Consecutive expositional preaching through biblical books introduces, explains, and applies God’s Word so that his people are then equipped and competent to read, understand and proclaim it themselves (Ephesians 4:11–16).
- It challenges God’s preachers and God’s people.
Preaching through books of the Bible inevitably makes us preach and hear things we wouldn’t choose to preach or hear if it were up to us. There’s no skipping anything when you preach through books consecutively. You simply cannot avoid getting to passages that make everyone feel uncomfortable, passages that confront us in our favorite sins and correct our most stubbornly held errors. Besides, aren’t those the ones that help us grow the most? What’s the point of preaching if we’re not willing to be surprised, confronted, corrected, and taught?
- It protects God’s preachers and God’s people.
It protects the preacher from being wrongly criticized for preaching only his own pet doctrines or personal opinions. This is especially true when consecutive preaching through books is careful to take the point of each passage and make it the point of the sermon—that’s exposition. This kind of consecutive preaching, though, isn’t just protective for pastors. It protects God’s people from straying away from the safety, clarity, authority, and sufficiency of God’s Word.
We say it all the time of other people we view as rookies: “He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” It’s good to be simple and focused—”Christ and him crucified”; but it’s horrible to be simplistic and myopic—”Jesus died for our sins, what else is there to know?” The most dangerous ignorance is not even knowing there are things out there that you should know. This is true of all too many congregations, because, sadly, it is true of their own pastors. Pastor, if this makes you squeamish and paranoid, then decide now which book you’ll preach through first, and get into your study. Church member, if you suspect this is true of your pastor and church, don’t berate your pastor or elders; but happily demand that they give you the whole counsel of God. If they don’t respond, then replace them with shepherds who will feed you on good grass and guard you in green pastures.
- It keeps your preaching fresh and lively.
No one likes eating the same bland food day in and day out. Variety is a staple spice of the pulpit, and thankfully, there’s a vast variety to Scripture that gives range, texture, and assortment to your preaching. God gives different genres to communicate different things about himself and to accomplish different goals among his people. If your preaching tastes like insipid, flavorless mush with a side of stale bread—pedantic platitudes—don’t blame it on Scripture. Don’t cheat yourself or your people out of all that rich and seasoned flavor! Scripture’s cupboard is replete with sweet and savory, hot and spicy, tangy and sharp, soft and buttery, tender and crunchy. Get cookin’.
- It keeps your love from growing cold, your pride from running hot, and your growth from stagnating.
The biblical books are so diverse in their harmonious testimony to Jesus that you can preach them all, all the way through, two or three times in your life, and still never quit discovering and rediscovering Jesus. The sixty-six books of the Bible present Jesus as endlessly interesting to the mind, satisfying to the soul, comforting to your sorrow, and convicting to your own sinfulness. Preaching consecutively and expositionally through books—ideally bouncing back and forth from Old Testament to New Testament and genre to genre—is the best way to avoid becoming lukewarm toward Christ or static in your knowledge of him.
Ironically, the more books of the bible we preach through, the less likely we are to become prideful in our biblical knowledge. There’s so much to learn, to remember, to trust and obey, to praise and admire! And consecutive exposition models a humble submission to the content, intent, structure, and variety of God’s Word.
Churches rarely if ever grow past the knowledge and maturity of their pastors; and pastors themselves rarely keep growing if they only ever preach their favorite passages or most familiar themes. Preach through the books, brother. Sheep want grass, and the Good Shepherd expects you to give it to them. He commands us still today, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15).