(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] Online one can read nearly the full text of “Brothers, Let Us Query the Text.”)
If we are going to feed our people, we must ever advance in our grasp of Biblical truth. We must be like Jonathan Edwards who resolved in his college days, and kept the resolution all his life, “Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in knowledge of the same.” Growing, advancing, increasing—that is the goal. And to advance we must be troubled by biblical affirmations. (74)
Take two hours to ask ten questions of Galatians 2:20, and you will gain one hundred times the insight you would have attained by quickly reading thirty pages of the New Testament or any other book. Slow down. Query. Ponder. Chew.” (75)
We must train our people that it is not irreverent to see difficulties in the Biblical text and to think hard about how they can be resolved. Preaching should model this for them week after week.” (76)
He has called us to an eternity of discovery so that every morning for ages to come we might break forth in new songs of praise. (77)
Skipping the hard stuff in Scripture is so easy to do. Much harder is to wrestle with an apparent discrepancy or apparent contradiction the way Luther wrestled with what appeared to be a contradiction between Paul and James on the righteousness of God and justification by faith. Luther got it wrong where it concerns James – and now many others are making studies on righteousness from Romans and Galatians that amount to modern epistles of straw – but we can forgive him for an honest attempt to defend the truth of justification by faith. We should not skip the hard stuff.
Of course, preaching through the books of Scripture, staring with 1:1 in a book and going to the last verse, whether the last verse is 1:25 (Jude), 25:30 (2 Kings), 66:24 (Isaiah; Ray Ortlund helps with the long journey through Isaiah!), or 150:6 (Psalms), forces querying. Going through means not skipping, but wrestling, pondering, meditating, arguing, and waiting on the Spirit to reveal. Going through you will have to harmonize “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” with “keep yourselves in the love of God” with “now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 1:1, 21, 24).
Going through the Psalms means you will challenge your people to consider the stunning implications of Ps. 139:7, “blessed shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock,” for an uncompromising Christianity. They will have to ponder a Christian faith in which our Avenger promises to crack open the skulls of the children of the enemies of God’s people who are also his enemies, and that God’s people will bless him for it without turning away from resolutely pro-life positions on abortion on abortion and adoption. The implications are stunning, especially when we consider how Elisha wept over the revelation that Hazael would do such a thing in Israel (which we find as we go through 2 Kings – 2 Kgs. 8:12; cf. Isa. 13:16; Hos. 10:14; 13:16; Nah. 3:10). We must be a people who would rather hang our harps than sing for our captors. Query Psalm 137 for a few days and see for yourself! Going through the Scriptures makes us query; querying makes us pray; praying freely grants us grace from the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit unleashes the word through us to a people who need to query. It is amazing that Ps. 139:7 was included in the Psalter so that we could sing it back in praise to God, querying the whole way!
This chapter reminds us:
- Feeding sheep is possible only from shepherds who themselves are growing in God’s word.
- Taking time to meditate, ponder, wrestle and pray is more useful than simply reading briskly through God’s word.
- Our people need to wrestle with tough texts and see us wrestle with tough texts in our preaching. They need to know that everything is not “simple.” Following Christ is not simple.
Ray Ortlund’s, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Crossway), is a tremendous commentary on Isaiah. Although it is in the Preaching the Word series, it easily could be read as a devotional book or used for a year-long Sunday School lesson. Challenge your people to query through Isaiah for a year – twenty minutes per day – with helps from Ortlund.