The sword of the Spirit should be used with care.
Preaching the Word is serious business. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the Word … For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:1-3). Teachers “receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1). Those with a speaking gift are to speak as “the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).
To prepare ourselves correctly, we must be concerned about doctrine and dividing.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). Doctrine (teaching) is God’s thinking on something—an event, action, or statement. Observation tells one what happened. Doctrine gives one the why of the action—what it means. For example, one may observe a boy washing his father’s car. But why? You could reason that it is because the boy is obedient. But only when you have the explanation of the action do you know its true meaning. The father might tell you the reason is because he disobeyed last night and came home late. Therefore, his washing of the car was the evidence of disobedience, not obedience. It was revelation, not observation, that gave you the true understanding. This is what doctrine does. It reveals the character of God, His wisdom and ways. Doctrine is objective truth that stands independent of one’s experience, and it forms the basis for proper actions.
Romans to Revelation, letters of instruction from the risen Lord Jesus to His church, give us God’s interpretation of the statements and actions in the four Gospels and Acts. For example, the Gospels witness that Jesus died. But they really don’t tell us why. Did He die as a martyr to draw attention to a good cause? Did He die just to make an “I love you” statement? It is the Epistles that give us the doctrinal understanding of why He died. The Lord Jesus died as a redemptive payment for our sin. He was offered as a propitiatory sacrifice to God. We only learn this from the apostles’ doctrine—the epistles (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 3:23-26).
Biblical events need to be understood through the epistles.
One arrives at true doctrine by “rightly dividing the Word of truth” or accurately handling it, as Paul exhorted Timothy. Anyone’s words can be twisted out of context, including the Lord’s. Rightly dividing involves understanding that the church is not under the Old Testament like Israel was; we are connected with the New Testament (2 Cor. 3). To avoid legalism, it is imperative to understand that while all Scripture is for us, it is not all to us.
What then is the value of the Old to those people living in the times of the New? Even though we are not under its practices and terms, the Old Testament gives us prophetic promises, pictures, principles, and perspectives of the Lord and His ways. The New Testament was written to Christians (Heb. 10:15), with explicit instructions to obey. The Old Testament was written for Christians (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11), as examples of learning.
For example, under the terms of the New Covenant, we are not to bring a lamb sacrifice for our sins to the temple like in the Old Covenant. Today, the one and only sacrifice is His beloved Son. But the Old Testament does reveal for us the consistent character of God that requires a proper blood sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. This helps us understand why Christ Jesus had to die.
Pitfalls to avoid
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3). Using the Word in speaking is not necessarily the same as preaching the Word. The following are some popular ways of using the Word but without a careful doctrinal basis.
Motivational—preaching inspiration. This approach does not concern itself with the meaning of the passage. Instead, it focuses on some positive statement (regardless of context) and uses it to motivate personal achievement that will benefit either the person or the ministry preaching it. It virtually ignores the sin or error of a situation. (This is not to say that truth cannot motivate one into God-pleasing ways).
Psychological—preaching behavioral modification. The goal of this type of preaching is to bring success to one’s life and form positive relationships. That, by itself, is not wrong. However, it observes behavior in the Bible and then draws conclusions on the basis of the personal thoughts of the speaker rather than Scripture. It is not necessarily the point the passage is making. The emphasis is what will benefit me in life, not what pleases and glorifies God. For example, one might say David committed adultery (true biblically) because he had “low self esteem” of his manhood (not taught biblically), and, therefore, the solution to correcting his bad behavior is to obtain “high self esteem” (not taught biblically). Psychology observes behavior, but, often, its understanding of the behavior and its solutions to correct it are at odds with the Bible.
Methodology—preaching how to. In this case, the emphasis is not on what God says He wants done (doctrinal instruction) but how to get it done, according to the speaker. It is subjective.
An example would be: “How to deliver a good sermon. Reality: be yourself – Simple and Clear – Voice Inflection – Animation – Humor – Passion and Energy – Authority – Use Visual Aids – Power of Spirit and Prayer”
One cannot find this formula in God’s Word. What we do find is the command to preach the Word in dependence upon the Lord.
Proof-texting—preaching an idea inconsistent with all of Scripture. The preacher employing this method comes up with an idea and then hunts through the Bible to find one or more passages that can be used—however loosely—to prove that his idea is biblical.
For example, suppose a speaker wanted to prove that if believers come together on a mountain, they get more inspiration from God. He might point out:
• God called Abraham to go to a mountain and a blessing followed (Gen. 22);
• Moses got revelation for Israel on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19);
• Our Lord’s first message to His disciples was on a mountain (Mt. 5:1-2);
• Christ was transfigured on a mountain (Mt. 17:1);
• After Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, they all went to the Mount of Olives (Mt. 26:20);
• The Great Commission was given from a mountain (Mt. 28:16);
• The revelation of the return of Christ was given to disciples while on a mountain (Acts 1:10-12);
• John received the revelation of the New Jerusalem from a high mountain (Rev. 21:10).
Of course, no such command or promise is given to the church. But Scripture itself was used to make the idea appear right and biblical. This approach uses the Bible to back up the speaker’s thoughts and practice rather than using the Bible to reveal God’s thoughts and determine our practice.
If we are to rightly represent the worthy Lord Jesus Christ, there is no substitute for preaching the Word and rightly dividing it.