The word literal is complicated. According to one of the first definitions in the dictionary, literal means: “adhering...to the ordinary construction of primary meaning of a term or expression.” In other words, being literal can just mean saying what you mean to say, giving primary importance in the moment to...
…hold fast to the word I preached to you… (1 Corinthians 15:2b)
A good sermon exhorts us to grapple with God’s Word preached, hold fast to its truth, and do what it commands. A preacher who places himself under Holy Scripture will present his teaching in a way the congregation can follow, to understand the text they hold on their laps.
10 Bible Reading Habits I’ve Learned from My Pastor’s Sermons
I have found my senior pastor to be exceptionally faithful in this regard. In recently reflecting on 15 years of sitting under his teaching, I’ve seen how his Word-based preaching has significantly impacted my personal Bible reading.
Here are 10 habits I have picked up from my pastor’s weekly sermons:
1. Slow down!
I’ve read the Beatitudes many times and thought I had mined all their treasures—until our church did a 17-week series on only 10 verses. My pastor’s high view of Scripture has challenged me to expect more from each verse and to slow down when I read my Bible.
2. Use Scripture to explain Scripture.
When seeking to understand the meaning of a word or verse, I’ve seen how important it is to interpret Scripture in light of itself. For example, I understood the word “blasphemy” to mean insulting or showing contempt for God. But my pastor used Mark 2:7 to explain Matthew 26:65, which defines “blasphemy” as claiming to be God. This makes the charge against Jesus before the priests all the more meaningful since Jesus was put to death for claiming to be God, the one crime for which Jesus could be rightfully convicted.
3. Expect glimpses of Christ outside the Gospels.
I likely would never have seen all the ways Joseph pointed further to Jesus Christ if it hadn’t been shown to me, but as I repeatedly saw this on Sunday mornings I started finding Christ throughout Scripture on my own. I found Jesus in the promised son who would deliver God’s people (Judges 13:3) and in the psalmist longing for a pledge of good (Psalm 119:122), among many other examples. As Pastor Colin has said, “The whole Bible is one story. It begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points us to Jesus Christ.”
4. Details are often more significant than we realize.
I’ve learned to ask questions of details that may seem insignificant in a passage. For example, why are we told that Jesus heals an official’s son in John 4? My pastor brought to our attention the many parallels to Pharaoh’s son who died in Exodus 12. He explained how this small, but significant, detail pointed to why grace is better than law, and why Jesus is better than Moses. Any time a verse gives specific details like the number of baskets in Mark 6 or repeats a phrase like “here I am” in Genesis 22, I want to look closely because I know the Spirit has preserved the text this way for a reason.
5. We have more in common with the original recipients than we think.
Our God is unchanging (James 1:18), and the truth in his Word is relevant to all people in every century, but sometimes it can be hard to place ourselves with the original recipients. My pastor’s imaginative reconstruction of the original context of Acts has helped me relate to the early church. For example, I can feel how difficult it might have been for the church in Antioch to give up their best leaders so the gospel would spread. They obediently sacrificed two of their greatest assets for the good of the whole church. I’ve also seen how the political climate described in 1 Peter was not unlike today where Christianity is increasingly unwelcome.
6. Never skip over difficult or boring passages.
I vividly remember the Sunday our church opened its first new campus. Our pastor preached on 2 Peter 2, an account of the destruction that awaits the wicked. He started out by saying it was not a text he would’ve selected for the occasion, but because we believe in the importance of the whole of Scripture, he wasn’t going to change it because it was Grand Opening Sunday. I’ve found myself reminded of that day when my mood tempts me to jump around my Bible instead of working systematically through a book. I’m convinced it’s good to receive the whole counsel of God.
7. Use the New Testament to explain the Old (and vice versa).
Our God never changes, so we can expect consistency in both Testaments. For example, this Christmas we considered the star in Matthew 2. My pastor pointed out that there is another instance in the Old Testament where God guided his people with a wonder from the sky—the pillar of cloud and fire from Exodus 14. The significance of the star announcing Jesus takes on greater meaning when placed beside the Old Testament manifestation of God’s presence with his people.
8. Outside sources can be “helpful.”
Every time my pastor quotes an outside source, he uses the term “helpful.” In fact, I don’t recall him using any other word to describe the quotations he shares! I found it fascinating that he doesn’t use words like “clarifying,” “illuminating,” “explanatory,” “authoritative,” or others. He purposefully uses the word “helpful,” as in “to give aid.”
This word choice has affected how I view outside sources. Often, we can be tempted to quickly adopt the opinions of notorious scholars, giving them equal or more weight than Scripture. But these voices are merely human. The Word of God, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is the only trustworthy means of hearing the voice of God. We are blessed to have access to many helpful books and writings for interpreting difficult passages or proposing another way to view something—but they are not to be seen as absolute authority.
Sometimes we need help, but by the Holy Spirit, every believer in the gospel of Jesus is perfectly equipped to hear the Lord speak to them in his Word. We should keep the words of men in their proper place.
9. Theology should aid Bible reading, not the other way around.
I have grown to appreciate how my pastor introduces an important doctrine to help us understand how a Bible passage fits the big picture of the Bible story. But he rarely starts with the doctrine itself. In this, I have gained confidence that reading my Bible is the best possible way to grow in doctrine and theology, which are aids to understanding the biblical text and the God who inspired it, not the other way around.
10. The Bible is an unending source of wisdom and pleasure for the Church.
It’s a joy to watch my pastor preach. His love of God’s word is abundantly clear. Seeing the joy he finds through time spent in Scripture spurs on my own private devotional reading. I want to tap into the source of wisdom and pleasure that he continues to lead our church to each week.