By Chris Philbeck
Our preaching team decided to devote June to an “Ask Me Anything” series. I know that’s nothing new or dramatic; churches and preachers have been doing these kinds of message series for years. But I’ve never done one, so we encouraged our church family to send in their questions during May. And even though I had a basic expectation of the kinds of questions people would submit, I was surprised by the response.
On the first weekend of the series, I began by saying that upon reviewing the questions I was left with two overwhelming feelings. First (half-jokingly), Why in the world did I decide to do this? I had looked on the gotquestions.org website to review their “Top 20 Most Frequently Asked Bible Questions” in preparation for what would be coming, but the questions I received were much more difficult and detailed than anything on their list. My second feeling was profound sadness at the reality of what so many people in my church family were facing in their lives. I’ve been a pastor too long to be naïve about life.
Stick with the Authority
Reading the questions was overwhelming and compelled me to ask my church family, Do we believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God for all matters of life and living? The way we answer that question provides the answer for the great questions in life. That should challenge everyone who has been called to preach to make sure the Bible isn’t an afterthought or an add-on in preaching, but the one thing that sets the sermon’s agenda, drives the application, and produces the conclusion.
I recently watched a YouTube interview between two veteran pastors who shared a close friendship. Both pastors were older men, and one of them, at the time of the interview, was nearing the end of his life (he has since passed away). Toward the end of the video, the now-deceased pastor said this of his friend: “When I listen to him preach, I know he’s been in the text.” I wrote down that powerful statement on the only thing I had handy at the time—a napkin that came with my lunch from Subway. I have that napkin next to my computer as I write these words.
Teach Precepts and Principles
The Bible addresses the questions of life in one of two ways: by precept and by principle. I’ll attempt to explain the difference.
A precept is like driving down the road and coming to a stop sign. There’s only one way to understand and respond to that sign because its message is singular, it’s clear, and it needs to be obeyed. The Bible contains instructions (commands) like that. A good example is the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
This commandment is from the Old Testament, but it was repeated and affirmed in the New Testament. One example appears in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).
In this passage, Jesus not only acknowledged and affirmed that one should not commit murder, he also raised the bar on how God wants us to behave by focusing not just on our behavior toward others (“You shall not murder”) but on the attitudes of our hearts toward others.
A principle, on the other hand, is like driving down the road a little farther and coming to a sign that says, “Drive carefully.” That sign means there are some challenges ahead, so be alert, pay attention, and be prepared to make the right choice with your driving.
A good example would be Paul’s words, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). That verse means our actions and choices have consequences, so be careful and thoughtful about the choices you make. There are many other examples of precepts and principles in the Bible.
Effective preaching will always be biblical preaching where the precepts and principles of God’s Word are taught in a way that challenge and change people’s lives. So, if you’ve been called to preach, use your God-given gifts to deliver your message in a winsome and compelling way, but never forget that when it comes to the questions of life, the divinely inspired Word of God is our only source of authority for life and living.
Preach for Transformation
Paul also wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). The JB Phillips New Testament translates it this way: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” That’s exactly what happens to Christians who don’t know the truth of God’s Word.
One thing I learned from our “Ask Me Anything” series is that the stakes are high when it comes to the challenges of living in this modern world. So, let’s preach in a way that gives our people the opportunity to have their minds saturated and guided (renewed) by the truth of God’s Word. And one day, when our time in the pulpit has come to an end, someone might say of us, “When I listened to him preach, I knew he’d been in the text.”