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Jesus in the Pulpit: Verse-With-Verse Preaching
by Tom Goodman
January 27, 2005
The WWJD fad has faded, but you can still find wristbands, clothing, and Bible covers with the initials. The letters stand for the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”
As I prepare to preach, I often ask WWJP—What Would Jesus Preach? Jesus was the master communicator. Just as I want to imitate the way he lived, I also want to imitate the way he taught. How did Jesus preach?
As my leadership partners, it’s important that you understand what I’m trying to do in the pulpit. If folks in our church have questions or criticisms of our services, they will share them with you more often than with me. You’ll want to have an answer for those you lead and influence. Across the next few editions of LeaderLines we’ll look at Christ’s style of preaching:
o He was a topical preacher
o He was relevant
o He told jokes and stories
o He welcomed seekers
o He called for a decision
In this issue of LeaderLines, let’s look at the first sentence: Jesus was a topical preacher. Do you remember the section in the Gospels where Jesus did a verse-by-verse analysis of the book of Deuteronomy? I don’t either. It doesn’t exist. Though Jesus often quoted Scripture, it was in the context of dealing with certain topics that confused or concerned his listeners. Today, however, some who prefer a line-by-line multi-week study through a Bible book belittle “topical preaching.”
I do book studies—I’ve spent the last nine months of Sunday nights going through First Peter, for example. Still, I wouldn’t want to be caught belittling the preaching style Jesus preferred. One of the most beautiful examples of his “topical teaching” is found on the road to Emmaus. When the risen Lord met the two disciples on that road, the Bible says, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).
Was that Bible study? You bet. He took them from one Scripture to another under the topic of who the Messiah was supposed to be and what the Messiah was supposed to do.
I recall my days in seminary when I would attend preaching classes where we were told that the only real preaching was line-by-line studies of one text. At the end of that class, I would go across the hall to another class called “Systematic Theology.” There we would study various Scriptures collected under certain topics: all the Scriptures on the divinity of Jesus, for example, or everything the Bible has to say about church discipline, and so on. I found it strange that in one seminary class I was told that the only way to really teach the Bible was by preaching upon a single passage, and then I went to another seminary class where we studied the Bible topically.
People will typically contrast “topical preaching” with “expository preaching,” by which they mean a verse-by-verse, line-after-line sermon. That’s a true use of the word “expository,” as far as it goes, but it’s not a sufficient use of the word. It doesn’t take a PhD in English to see that the words “expository” and “expose” are related. Anytime you faithfully expose the meaning of Scripture, you’re being an expository preacher! You can expose the meaning of Scripture through verse-by-verse preaching and also through verse-with-verse preaching. The verse-by-verse approach lingers over one text of scripture; the verse-with-verse approach pulls together several texts to explain the Bible’s position on an issue.
I will continue to do verse-by-verse exposition like the Sunday evening series on First Peter, for example, and the Lord’s Prayer series I’m doing on Sunday mornings. It’s a great way to impact people with the eternal Word. In the last few years, though, I’ve also done more and more verse-with-verse exposition after looking carefully at the way Jesus preached. Pray for me as I expose the meaning of the Bible to people!
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