If you believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, removing a book from the canon is out of the question. Taking away one of the sixty-six books would delete the voice of God speaking to us through the excised book.
Yet there are many books that believers skip or ignore in their annual or perennial reading of the Bible. In effect, repeatedly skipping a book as if it is not in the canon is doing the same thing as taking scissors (or SELECT ALL + DELETE) to a portion of the Scriptures. Practically speaking, skipping a book says either that one does not need that book to live out all that the Lord commands, or maybe even that one questions whether God has spoken his will through that book. Or, positively speaking, we need to read the entirety of the Scriptures, repeatedly (annually, bi-annually, or tri-annually) so that we might hear the Lord speak his will to us on all things. We need the whole counsel of God to shape us into Christ.
So do not skip Judges or Ruth! Make them part of your regular diet of Scripture reading. There is so much great stuff God has willed for us in these books that record some of Israel’s early experiences in the Promised Land. The Judges-Ruth commentary is written to help you hear God speak through each of the books’ twenty-five chapters. Below I provide a screenshot of the opening page of the commentary of Judges 5 in an effort to entice you to read Judges with the commentary.
Have you ever considered what Deborah’s military leadership, Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter, or Samson’s eyes being gouged out teaches us about living a life of joyous obedience before Christ? Or, when Ruth secretly lies down next to Boaz, what does that reveal about Jesus’s redemptive love for us?
My new commentary,Exalting Jesus inJudges and Ruthwill be available in a couple of weeks! Like my previous commentary on Jonah in the Christ-Centered Exposition series, this commentary intends to be readable, understandable, and practical for everyone. In writing this commentary, I attempt to be engaging, clear, and relevant without going beyond the boundaries of the author’s subject in a passage. My intent is for readers to be able to understand Judges and Ruth as whole books and to understand each individual chapter within these books. The commentary should help each reader see the importance of these stories to living a life that pleases the Lord.
Each chapter has a simple format:
Main Idea and Outline: Every chapter opens with one complete sentence that expresses the main idea of the Biblical writer. This helps the reader make sense of the passage in question. Then the outline reflects the main idea in the flow of the passage.
Exposition: The exposition is commentary that explains the meaning of the passage and its verses. It includes illustrations or stories to further clarify the explanations. It reads like hearing a readily graspable sermon, with the depth focusing on obedience to the passage. The exposition points the reader to Jesus and his gospel in each passage.
Study Questions and Application: Between chapters 9-11 individual study questions and/or personal applications follow the exposition. I have tried to take the guesswork out of the initial application of each passage. I hope very reader will find this commentary to be one of the most practical guides through Scripture you ever have encountered! Purchase a copy for your devotions, personal study, small group, Bible study, Sunday School class, and/or sermon preparation. For more to come on the book, find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
[G. L. Hiestand, our pastor] said to us last week… “The Christian life begins with the accepting love of Jesus and then continues with the perfecting love of Jesus,” like a parent moves toward perfecting a child only once the child shows agency. Initially, the parent shows accepting love, and that should continue forever just as Jesus’s accepting love for us is forever. Only once the child shows agency do the parents move toward perfecting the child.
Our shepherd went on to say, “If we only have an experience of his [God’s] perfecting love but do not have a robust experience of his accepting love… we will experience robust failure. If we impose perfecting love on our kids to a degree of experience that outstrips their accepting love, the children will experience rebellion….”
It is common to put accepting and perfecting love in the wrong order. We want people to be perfect before we accept them—before we fully embrace their authentic selves the way we want people to accept our authentic selves with our warts, scars, failures, weaknesses, fears, and all. But Jesus accepts before he perfects, and he calls us to love as he has loved us. As he said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Again, in John 15:12 he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The ten or eleven additional “love one another” passages in the NT flow from this command, as do all of the other “one another” directives throughout the letters of the NT. It would be great if we read them each as “Accept one another first, and concern yourselves with perfecting others later, and even when you do start to perfect, don’t reject, but continue to accept.” Just comfort one another; perfect later. Just encourage one another, perfect later. Just serve one another, pray for one another, confess your sins to one another, and forgive one another; perfecting is riding in the slow lane and will catch up much later.
It is important to get accepting right, for only then can we rightly love as verse 13 says: Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
To open our homes for hospitality makes us vulnerable to judgment of our status, material wealth, home decorating and upkeep abilities, culinary skills, curb appeal, and parenting skills. Who wants those to be judged? But boasting is the way of the world. Jesus owns one hundred percent of our homes and allows us to put our names on the deeds and leases. When we gave our minds and bodies to him, we gave our houses…. We gave away criticism of others’ homes, parenting and culinary skills, broken concrete in driveways, and need for exterior and interior paint jobs. We go to others’ homes for the people—for one another.
The term for “hospitality” also is one you would recognize: Philoxenion (like philia + xena, or xenophilia—love of the stranger). It simply indicates “brotherly-love the stranger” (or welcome the stranger – which I also think is the polar opposite of xenophobia). As Sara Kyoungah White recognized in last week’s Christianity Today article on hospitality for introverts, welcoming the strangerdoes not require a domicile or the opening of one’s home. It simply requires us to be accepting of people who we do not know at all, know well, or know deeply.
Xenophobia is what we are facing in our country as refugees come to our shores and hate rhetoric against Asians, Jews, Latinos, and African Americans rises. We need to be people who welcome strangers.
Welcoming does not make or require a political position. If the borders remain closed, we welcome people who are here who are strangers in many forms. If the borders open, we welcome the strangers in our midst. Obeying the exhortation to welcome people unknown, little known, or not deeply known to you would cut through many of the ills we see today.
Again, if I thought for one second that I would walk into a body of believers, be completely welcomed into the family as if I was one of the initiated, knowing I would not receive judgment of my lack of moral or religious perfection, and that if I had a need, asking me to justify it would not be in the first series of thoughts of those helping me, [the local church] would be a place crucial to my happiness and wellbeing. You might as well carve my imprint in the pew because I will be here every week….
We have a unique opportunity to get pursuing strangers right before the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. While we will rightly applaud the rescuing of the lives of the unborn, we need to be prepared to offer brotherly, affectionate, stranger-welcoming, lowering of ourselves, genuine love to many families who will be burdened with the various costs of unwanted pregnancies.
Every post-Roe statistic points to Brown, Black, Indigenous, and poor people with unwanted pregnancies – people who will be strangers to most of us – being those who will be furthest from necessary health care helps needed for mom, child, and families the rest of their lives. If we can be creative and sincere in our welcoming—in giving our very selves to make others part of our lives, contributing to their needs, and doing so before the Court makes judgment—our actions will not be perceived as political maneuvering, but could be accepted as the real care and concern that it will be. Welcoming strangers is part of what can help we who are pro-life be pro-living; it allows us to trade in a political position for a moral disposition.
Moody Publishers created an Author’s Page to go with Say It! On the page, I answer a handful of questions, including, “What are some core values that are embodied in Black churches and preaching?” They also recently changed the page for Say It! to include the recognition of the book’s awards.
I listened to a sermon preached this weekend at a large evangelical church in the suburbs of Chicago. It was not my own church, nor was the speaker an elder or member of the pastoral staff of our church. The congregation and their edifice were much larger and much more suburban than my own assembly. I had high expectations based on the size of the church, for I hoped that the word of God was drawing people to the thousands of seats in this sanctuary. However, I could not have been more disappointed in what I heard. I will not mention the passage or church so as to hide the identity of the speaker in my brief review. First, the person preaching totally missed the Big Idea of the passage — the main idea, the central idea —and substituted his own. His own idea was clever and drew from the personal significance of the textual words in English rather than from the meaning of the combined words, structure, theology, and tone of the text.
That preacher’s struggle to find the central idea in this narrative passage reminded me of the great importance of my task in teaching hermeneutics to my students: We must discern what God has said through the human author and not communicate our own extrinsic idea as the main idea. We are not preaching God’s words if we are not communicating his main idea through the author, no matter how clever, creative, or cool our idea sounds.
Second, for a theological issue in the passage he did not understand, the preacher attempted to explain it by means of an analogy. It was a good attempt, but it showed little concern for his people’s need for a correct theological understanding. It would have been good for him to give more thought and study to the issue and present accurate theology to those he served. Who knows if his listeners ever will have this theological error corrected even as they attempt to build their lives and theological knowledge on the error?
Third, the preacher ignored the issue of nationalism that was part of the meaning of the passage. On a particular point of application, he expressed agreement with striving for “social justice” (even though what he described was not social justice but social service; the wrong identity reinforces false ideas about social justice). He followed his expression by saying that the gospel is a proclamation not simply a demonstration.
Was that false distinction even necessary?
Apparently, it was necessary based on his audience’s response, for he received a hearty “Amen!” from many people. He could not hide that he was playing to the sentiments of the membership rather than applying what the biblical text means.
Again, the preacher skipped the nationalistic thrust of the passage, misspoke about social justice, and then separated the so-called “gospel” from serving people socially. I was witnessing the soft reinforcing of Christian nationalism or at least the ignoring of it. It is no wonder so many evangelicals are not confronted on sins related to their preferred political ideologies if this preaching is representative of the typical evangelical pulpit, which I fear it is. I should not have been surprised, though, since there was an American flag posted in the sanctuary.
I was thankful that the preacher later explained the gospel in a succinct form. He preached the wrath of God as God’s just judgment against sin. He exalted Christ’s death and resurrection as God’s solution for sin and wrath. He challenged the listeners to repent and trust Christ. Christ was preached, and for this I rejoiced!
Still, I am sad for that congregation. I am sad over a preacher who substituted his own idea for God’s idea in the passage, over a congregation that received that message as the word of God, and over the missed opportunity to challenge believers to pursue God-glorifying life-change based on God’s meaning in the passage. There were several other misgivings in the preaching of this passage, including the building of a point of application from an admittedly speculative interpretation by some scholars. However, the three aforementioned concerns stood out as most significant.
Finally, may I encourage believers in the pews to remove any and all expectations for the preacher to make you feel good about your faith, to say what is familiar or agreeable, to affirm your values or political views, or to make sure you leave the worship service without critical spiritual and theological challenge? It is not the preacher’s job to do anything other than preach the word of God in love with a view toward calling all hearers to the obedience of faith. The preacher I heard gave the evangelical form of scratching itchy ears, making people laugh at jokes and nod at error cloaked as Theology Lite. As preachers, our calling is to herald the gospel and all of its implications for living life before our Savior and King. We have one grand opportunity to do so each week. We need to be the best stewards possible over that calling and not send people away in disobedience or ignorance but with smiles on their faces. The gospel also is education, not job-preservation.
Instead, members should expect to leave the preaching event with a robust sense of conviction, correction, instruction, humility, hope, anticipation, and celebration of Christ. We should walk away feeling the gravity, grace, and gladness of having met with God and heard his voice.
I had a brief social media exchange with people I do not know about a well known preacher’s expositions of Scripture. I remarked that the preacher in question is a highly competent expositor of NT Letters – which, if trained in evangelical academies that affirm inerrancy, is almost a given. (As Jonathan Pennington says, “For Protestants, especially evangelicals, especially Reformed, doctrine-oriented ones, we love Paul. Give us Romans and thirteen years to preach through it phrase by phrase, and we will be in heaven!” [Reading the Gospels Wisely, Baker Academic, 2012], 37.) However, I also mentioned that the same preacher is not a competent expositor of NT Gospels and Acts, or the OT. I made no comment on the person’s abilities with the book of Revelation because I did not want a debate over views of interpreting the Apocalypse.
The comments related to the NT Letters and the other biblical literature recognizes that many expositors use hermeneutics intended for NT Letters to interpret the Fourfold Gospel, Acts, Revelation, and the OT. When they do so, they yield sermons that do not respect the biblical writer’s combined theology, structure, tone, and argument even if they might respect the use of the original languages. Yet even that respect for the languages is only to a certain degree if one does not place the grammar and syntax of the language back into the structured theological content of the passage’s tone and flow of the argument of the words.
Expositional preaching takes the biblical author’s central idea in a passage and communicates that idea to a contemporary audience, while respecting the biblical author’s language, structure, theology, tone, and argument. To do otherwise in preaching is not exposition, even if one is a highly respected expositor of the NT Letters.
For example, the subject of Judges 13 is, “Manoah’s increasing understanding of the identity of the Angel of the Lord in the revelation of the child to be born to his barren wife.” While there are typology and echo related to the child to be born, the passage moves from Manoah’s ignorance related to the words of the Angel to Manaoah and his nameless wife bowing in worship before the Angel as the Angel reveals his divine identity. If one preaches a sermon on Judges 13 without the above subject being the central idea behind the homiletical idea, the sermon will not be an exposition of this passage no matter how well studied, crafted, and delivered.
A good adage to insert here might be the one that begins, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck….” However, having moved to Chicago, I have noticed how many people identify Canadian Geese as ducks.
Although our methods differ ever so slightly, I highly respect the work of David Helm and what his team at Charles Simeon Trust is doing to train preachers to give expositions of Scripture in various genres according to the conventions of the genre. Tony Merida and his team of writers are doing the same in the Christ-Centered Exposition series; (see this resource too). Also, if one is looking to approach the exposition of 1 and 2 Chronicles, some helps are offered here, there, and there.
Calvary Memorial Church has posted three of my recent sermons on Acts 4-5, 9, and 10. The Big Idea of each of these passages is somewhat unexpected. I am grateful for the roles of the Cyprusian Levite and the tanner by the sea in the narratives. I look forward to rejoicing with them in Christ’s kingdom.
Congratulations to Drs. Eric Mason and Charlie Dates as they join the faculty for the Preaching Masterclass and are recognized by In Club Magazine as faith leaders to follow. Both contributed to Say It! Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition (Moody Publishers). They are faithful preachers and pastors with significant words of truth and righteousness for our times.
Preaching Source blog graciously published a small piece I wrote on the application of biblical narrative. The word count limitation does not allow for other items I include in my classroom lectures on application. However, I hope this small piece gets us thinking about individual narratives within the larger canonical narrative.
I am looking forward to being on the air this afternoon, 5.30 EST/4.30 CST, with Mark Eckel of The Cornelius Institute to discuss Say It! and expository preaching. I suspect we will get into a little bit about the current expression of the pandemic of racial injustice.
I also am excited about speaking tomorrow morning, June 9, across multiple Moody Radio stations on real solutions to the racial injustice pandemic that does not seem to end:
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