Brothers, preach hard books. During our church’s new members class our pastors make the case for expository preaching. It is one of our church’s deepest convictions. During the class we explain our strategy of preaching from both Old Testament and New Testament books. We talk about the importance we place on preaching the Psalms and the Gospels. I always add we want to be experts on Jesus and we want to be a worshipping people. But we also explain that expository preaching actually protects the church from the pastor. Eyes usually get big at the thought. However, we explain how every pastor has soap boxes. Further, every pastor has texts and truths he tends to avoid. Therefore, preaching the whole counsel of God protects the church from a pastor’s soap boxes as well as forces him into truths he might otherwise avoid.
That is how expository preaching should work in an ideal world. However, that is not always the case. For example, I attended a seminary that had an amazing class that was an in-depth exegesis of the book of Ephesians. We all joked how pastors from that seminary taught heavily from Ephesians at their first pastorate. However, many times, hard books are overlooked. For example, book like Ephesians is profound but also linear in its logic, but what about Isaiah? I assume many pastors prefer to preach an easier to understand book like Ephesians over the swirling imagery of Isaiah. Calvinists love Romans, but might be tempted to preach less from the warning passages in Hebrews. Arminian leaning brothers might love the Gospel of John, but find it more difficult to preach Romans or Ephesians. It is a mark of a mature pastor and a healthy church if sermons are preached from hard books. This claim is true for a number of reasons.
First, preaching hard books demonstrates a commitment to the authority and power of the Word. Malachi is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) just like Luke. Isaiah is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) just like Galatians. When pastors preach hard books, it demonstrates the authority of God’s Word to the church. It helps people understand how to apply those texts to their lives. By preaching hard passages I have seen our people embrace all of God’s Word and not just cherry pick well known texts. When God’s people understand and apply God’s Word, they also unleash its power. By preaching difficult books like Micah, it opens the flood gates of God’s power. I have seen God do powerful things in the lives of his people when they reflect on rarely studied texts.
Second, preaching hard books spiritually grows the pastor and the congregation. I’m reformed and preaching the warning passages from Hebrews has forced me to do the hard work of clarifying my theology in light of God’s Word. By preaching those passages I grew by creating in my spiritual life a place for genuine warning. I emphasize God’s grace, but I also shouldn’t avoid a genuine call to fear the Lord. Our church was greatly challenged by our study of the book of Micah. The paradoxical Day of the Lord is a consistent theme in Micah’s book. The Day of the Lord became a hope and a motivation for our church. Personally, I have benefited from doing the challenging work of wadding into hard passages, but more importantly our church has also spiritually matured.
Third, preaching hard books illumines a beautiful and lofty gospel. Brothers, I’m with you in having soap boxes. Particular themes and passages stir my soul over and over again. However, if I stick to my tried-and-true texts I limit the beauty of the gospel for myself and our church. For example, diving into the prophet’s foreshadowing prophecies about Jesus was like holding up a diamond to the light and examining its beauty from multiple angles. We might have head knowledge of certain truths, but preaching even the hard texts helps us ponder afresh stirring of the gospel. Further, I’ve found hard texts broaden my understanding in a way that makes the gospel loftier and God more glorious. For example, OT narratives can provide layers of meaning that protect us from putting God in a box.
Years ago, I heard an older pastor say that he tries to bounce back and forth from the Old Testament to the New Testament in his expositional series. Initially his approach seemed too formulaic to me. However, as years have passed, I have found that pattern helps me into difficult Old Testament books that I might naturally avoid. Preaching those hard texts have helped me see how God’s Word is truly powerful to save and sanctify. Preaching those hard texts have matured me and our church. Preaching those hard texts have given us a delight in the God of the gospel.