Don’t Skip the Text: A Word on Commentaries and Sermon Preparation

I’m a preacher and in a very real sense being a preacher is a vocation and most vocations have tools. One of the most important tools that a preacher has are his books, in particular his commentaries. I own a lot of books and the majority of my books are Bible commentaries. I love them, I cannot seem to get enough of them. I love them because they are books about the Bible. I’ve made it a habit in my nearly 5 years in pastoral ministry to preach through books of the Bible expositionally.

That being said, I have lots of books on the books that I’ve preached through or I’m currently preaching through. Week after week I’ll pick up commentary after commentary on the book I’m currently preaching through. If it is reading through Logos on my Kindle or a good old fashioned printed book I’ll pick up at least half a dozen commentaries on any given week for my Sunday morning sermon. Every time I prepare I am faced with a temptation. That temptation is to jump into the text of the commentary and skip over the text of the Bible it is commentating on. I almost always have my Bible with me when I’m doing this exercise, it has its own tab on Logos or the Bible I preach from will be laid open on the front porch swing, desk, or kitchen table wherever I’m doing my sermon prep. It’s certainly sufficient in and of itself. I’ve read my passage several times through before I even begin to read Bible commentaries, so it seems natural and okay to skip over the presentation of the text in the commentaries, but don’t do it!

Anytime you have the opportunity to read over the text again as you prepare to peach it is a good thing. I’ve made connections by reading through the passage I’m preaching in a commentary that I’m not sure I would have made otherwise. When you read the Bible in a commentary you are using you have the opportunity to do several things. You will often get a different translation that you preach from. I preach from the ESV but the commentaries I read regularly expose me to the NASB, KJV, NIV, an authors own translation, and of course others that aren’t quite so common. I find exposure to those other translations is often helpful. You also get to see the Bible in a different format. This might sound silly, but sometimes just seeing the Bible laid out differently allows you to see things in the text you might miss where there is a page or paragraph break. And again, you get exposure to the text again. If the point of expository preaching is to proclaim the point of the passage, the more exposure the better. I do not know of anyone who really can say they have read their Bible too often. Read the text and read it often!

A Full Head and a Full Heart – A Gospel Cordial from Don Whitney

I maintain that a biblically balanced Christian has both a full head and a full heart, radiating both spiritual light and heat.

If absolutely forced to have only on or the other, we must choose the burning heart. If we have the truth in our head but our hearts are not right with God, an awareness of truth will only magnify our guilt before Him at the judgement. But if we have properly responded to the gospel from the heart, in the end we shall be saved even though the rest of our doctrinal understanding is shallow or muddy. Not only would I choose that option for myself, but I would prefer that for those I pastor as well. It’s much harder to get a ship out of the harbor than to correct one on the sea that has drifted off course.

But let us be both out of the harbor and on course. Christians must realize that just as a fire cannot blaze without fuel, so burning hearts are not kindled by brainless heads. We must not be content to have zeal without knowledge.

Does this mean we must be brilliant to be Christians? Absolutely not. But it does mean that to be like Jesus we must be like learners even as He was at only age twelve, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Does this mean we must have several diplomas handing on the wall to be first-rate-Christians? It certainly does not. But it does mean that we should discipline ourselves to be intentional learners like Jesus, of whom it was marveled, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”

 

– from Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Right Polity Matters: A Gospel Cordial from Dever and Leeman

Right polity properly situates a Christian under the rule of Christ during the time of his or her discipleship in this world. Wrong polity either wrongly imposes human rule where Christ does not mean for it to be, or it evacuates his rule from a certain area of the Christian’s lie where it should be.

Right polity hems us in and keeps us from our excesses while also providing a platform for growth and ministry and freedom. Wrong polity erases the lines we should not cross while undermining those platforms that God intends for us to stand on and blocking the paths where we hope to walk.

Right polity protects the gospel from one generation to the next. It is the platinum prongs that hold the diamond of the gospel in place. Wrong polity loosens those prongs so that the diamond of the gospel eventually falls to the ground and gets lost. It leaves heresies and hypocrites unchecked. It lets hurting sheep wander off and fall into canyons.

Right polity protects the path of life. Wrong polity, over time, helps to lay the path for authoritarianism and moralism in one direction and nominalism, liberalism, and atheism in another.

– from Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age 

Holman Old Testament Commentary Set: A Review

I recently received the Holman Old Testament Commentary Set. I’ll be perfectly honest, it wasn’t a set I normally would have given much attention to. Typically inexpensive commentaries that aren’t the most academic don’t catch my attention. However, I must confess I have been pleasantly surprised with Holman Old Testament Commentary series. The series covers every book of the Old Testament. They are not the most detailed of commentaries like many academic series are, but the HOTC does a good job of covering the main details that need to be covered without getting bogged down in the minor details that truthfully most preachers aren’t going to share in their preaching and teaching. One of the things these volumes do really well is it’s chapter and verse divisions of the Biblical text. The teaching outlines can certainly be used by anyone preaching or teaching the Biblical text. One of the interesting things about this series is that every chapter begins with a quote. Each quote comes from a different person and deals with the subject matter of the chapter at hand. These intrigued me and sometimes they’ve found themselves worked into a sermon. While, not every volume is identical, some give a slightly different layout concerning application than others. Certainly like with any set of commentaries particular volumes are much better than others. The two volumes by Steve Lawson on the Psalms are my favorites so far. All and all though, I’ve found these volumes to be rather beneficial.

These volumes might not be the beneficial to the student writing an academic paper, but to pastors and teachers I find them to be worthwhile volumes. I think these would take a valuable place in a church library, or in a pastor’s study. One group that could benefit tremendously from these volumes would be Sunday School teachers. All of that being said, they certainly could find themselves in anyone’s library who is a student of scripture, teacher or not, and have great benefit to their readers. On top of all of this they come at a great price of only $19.99 per volume for a hardback, that’s pretty hard to beat. If you are interested in purchasing the series you can find them here through B&H Publishing.

Let Us Labor to Study the Bible: A Gospel Cordial from J.C. Ryle

Let us strive, every year that we live, to become more deeply acquainted with Scripture. Let us study it, search into it, dig into it, meditate on it, until it dwell richly in us. (Col. 2:16) In particular, let us labor to make ourselves familiar with those parts of the Bible which, like the book of Psalms, describe the experience of the saints of old. We shall find it most helpful to us in all our approaches to God. It will supply us with the best and most suitable language both for the expression of our wants and thanksgivings. Such knowledge of the Bible can doubtless never be attained without regular, daily study. But the time spent on such study is never mis-spent. It will bear fruit after many days.

– J.C. Ryle, from Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke Volume 1. 

Resources on James

I love preaching through books of the Bible verse by verse on Sunday mornings. Taking the time to preach expositionally takes quite a bit of time and one often uses resources to aid in their exposition of the Biblical text. I always consult blogs and websites as I decide what books to buy. I also consult friends who have spent time preaching through the same book(s) in the past. Having spent several months preaching through James in this past year, I’d like to share some of the resources I found the most beneficial in preaching through the book of James.

Daniel Doriani’s Reformed Expository Commentary: James – This is one volume I never skipped the pages of when preaching through James. Preaching as a pastor I found this volume to come from very pastoral perspective. It was true to the text and provided great insight that wasn’t just for good preaching but for gospel-centered living. If I were restricted to only buying one volume on James, this would be the one I’d buy. (P&R Books)

Thomas Manton’s James – This was by far the most detailed exposition of James that I used. I distinctly remember hearing a popular evangelical skip over James 1:18 in his preaching of the text on the radio while at the same time preparing to preach the text. Reading Manton’s 11 pages on the one verse made me chuckle a bit to see how James 1:18 didn’t fit into the Arminian preaching of this popular evangelical pastor, but it certainly didn’t stop Manton from giving great detail to the text. That being said, 11 pages on one verse of the text can get quite heavy at times. This is an incredibly beneficial volume, but you can easily get bogged down in it’s reading. I would still commend it’s reading if you have the time. (Banner of Truth)

John MacArthur’s MacArthur New Testament Commentary: James – If you are preaching a book of the New Testament other than Mark’s gospel (because those volumes aren’t published yet) you should invest in MacArthur’s commentaries. This volume on James is no exception. Much like Doriani you see the heart of a pastor and a careful expositor of the text. MacArthur’s use of the language in word study is not word study for the sake of fluff, but is called to attention for the exegesis of the text. (Grace to You)

R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word: James – I’m sure it isn’t proper to have a list of commentaries and the entirety of the list be homiletical commentaries. But, good theology, is pastoral theology. R. Kent Hughes like the other listed writes with decades of pastoral experience and the heart of one who desires to stay close to the text. I’ve come to grow to love the Preaching the Word series. The point of preaching is to provide careful exposition of the text and the application of the text. This volume is quite helpful in doing both. (Crossway)

David Platt’s Christ-centered Exposition: James – If you are looking for a volume with brevity, this is the volume for you. This short little volume on James is packed with theology. As with the other volumes in the series it does a great job of outlining the book in a way that is very helpful for preaching. The price on this volume is also very hard to beat. The only downfall to this little volume is just that, it is a little volume.There were times in which I wish Platt had given more time and space to the text. That being said, it is still a worthwhile volume and would be especially helpful for someone teaching Sunday School on James. (B&H)

I hope these recommendations/reviews might prove helpful for anyone working through James. The letter called practical is one that is cutting to the heart in it’s practicality. James makes much of the Christian life and these volumes resound with James’ pastoral heart. I’d also like to note, it took me much longer than I expected to work through the short little letter of James. (These books will help you layout your planning in preaching).

Restless in the Home: A Review

A good friend of mine Chris Canuel has written a wonderful little study on the Christian life in the home. I’ll not post a long review because the work itself isn’t very long. 

Restless in the Home is a wonderful and beneficial little book. Canuel takes a biblical look at marriage and family and presents it before his readers in a very honest and practical way. No one has a perfect marriage and no one has a perfect family because no one is perfect; and this is the honesty of this little book. Canuel’s book doesn’t leave its readers beat up in their shortcomings it takes its readers straight to Jesus. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter can be used for personal study or could be used in a small group setting. I gladly recommend the reading of this book and serious evaluation of its discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

As someone in ministry I can definitely foresee using this book in counseling, particularly marriage counseling. I commend this book to your reading and study. My wife and I both have read it and have gleaned from its pages and discussing the questions therein. The book is at an excellent price for only $.99 on Kindle and $3.59 for the print edition. You won’t go wrong with reading this book. 

Resources on Mark

Having spent over a year preaching through Mark’s gospel I though it might be of benefit to share some of the resources I found particularly helpful in preaching through the book.

A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels – I’ve always found A.T. Robertson’s works to be of benefit in study. As I preached through the gospels I found it incredibly helpful to have a harmony of the gospels to read the parallel accounts in the other gospels. Though this work is antiquated today’s readers will still find it to be helpful.  (Amazon)

R.C. Sproul’s St. Andrew’s Expository Commentary: Mark – I cannot say that every commentary I own on Mark was opened and read from cover to cover week after week. This commentary by R.C. Sproul however was a go to week after week. Sproul’s commentary isn’t a technical commentary, but he does a good job addressing Greek when needed. This volume is rich theologically, incredibly practical, and would be of great benefit of anyone studying Mark. As one preaching through the book I found that Sproul’s textual divisions were often helpful in determining how much of the text to preach from Sunday to Sunday. Reading the pages of this volume you see the work of a pastor and theologian with a desire to communicate the truths of the text. (Ligonier)

Sinclair Ferguson’s Let’s Study Mark – This isn’t the most in depth commentary on Mark’s gospel, but its concise chapters proved to yet again like Sprou’s commentary show the heart of a pastor/theologian. Ferguson took the truths of the text and its theology and put it before his readers with a challenge to respond to the text. I try not to quote too many commentaries whilst preaching, but this is one volume I found myself quoting time and again. If you’re looking for a concise and reasonably priced commentary on Mark you won’t be disappointed with this volume. (Banner of Truth)

J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels – Bishop Ryle’s exposition of Mark was another volume I found so sweet to read week after week. Ryle never came short in seeing the beauty of Christ the King throughout the gospel. His application of the text would astound me week after week but I never found it to be beyond the scope of what the text was teaching. Every week I share a quote on the back of our church bulletin that deals with the sermon text, quotes from this volume could be found more times than any other commentary I used in my study through Mark. This volume and the others by Bishop Ryle on the gospels should be in every minister’s library. (Banner of Truth)

R. Kent Hughes Mark: Jesus, Servant, Savior (Preach the Word) Volumes 1&2 – This is the most homiletical of the commentaries I used preaching through Mark. Hughes is a well known preacher and these sermon based volumes were very beneficial in taking the message of Mark and bringing it to my hearers. Having originally only purchased volume one, upon completing reading it I took no hesitation in ordering volume two. This is a great commentary for the application of Mark’s gospel in the Christian life. This volume dealt with the linguistics of Mark when needed, it kept the theology of Mark present throughout its pages, and dealt wonderfully with the more difficult passages in a very pastoral manner. My only fault with these volumes is that it did not deal as thoroughly with every passage and even omitted a couple passages. Yet, with that being said I still think this volume would serve the student of Mark’s gospel well. (Volume 1Volume 2 Crossway)

I hope that these recommendations can be of benefit to anyone working through Mark. I know that my journey of exposition through it was most beneficial. It was my first venture in preaching through a book verse by verse. I’ve found it to be so rewarding in my own life as well as in the lives of my church. I’d encourage other minister’s of the gospel to do the same. Mark has a big view of Jesus the Christ the Son of God. Mark answers the question of who Jesus is. That’s what we all need to know, He is the one we all need to know. Study beloved of God to show yourselves approved, and you’ll have no reason to be ashamed.