Specialization is a hallmark of the age in which we live. If we are ill, the diagnosis of a general practitioner can lead us to consultation with a specialist. If we need a vehicle repaired, we can choose between shops that specialize in domestic or imported automobiles; or based on the need, take our car to a mechanic who specializes in brakes, mufflers, or tires. Seeking out someone who can address a very specific need in our lives is a means of convenience--a way of saving us time by addressing particular concerns.
Often those who preach or teach God’s Word have received specialized training for exposition of a biblical text that includes understanding the passage in its original context so that it can then be filtered through cultural lenses for a modern audience. The pastor or teacher has the responsibility of determining what is relevant for a particular group (I remember one of my professors from years ago telling us, “You don’t have to include in your sermon everything you know about a passage”). Included in this task is the process of presenting the passage in an understandable and memorable format. Although I’ve heard some preaching instructors suggest that pastors spend one hour in preparation for every minute spent in the pulpit, the reality is that most pastors do not have the luxury of spending this much time in study because of their other ministerial responsibilities.
So, in keeping with the age of specialization in which we live, it is only suitable that professional communicators of the Bible’s message would have access to commentaries designed specifically for this purpose. For years, Crossway's Preaching the Word commentary series has helped pastors, preachers, and anyone who teaches God's Word better to interpret and apply the message of the Bible. Under the careful editorial oversight of experienced pastor and best-selling author R. Kent Hughes, this series is known for its commitment to biblical authority, its pastoral tone and focus, and its overall accessibility.
Now available for the first time in Accordance, this 36-volume series covers 15 Old Testament books and 26 New Testament books, including a specific volume for Sermon on the Mount. Each commentary volume is rich with illustrations and applications that can be taken right to the pulpit. Featuring contributions from a host of respected Bible teachers, this set offers readers a well-rounded and multipurpose resource for preaching, teaching, and personal study.
As an example of the nature of this kind of commentary series, consider the treatment of Exodus 2:11-15 in the second volume, written by Philip Graham Ryken. The chapter is titled “Moses Takes Matters into His Own Hands” and begins with a shocking question: “Have you ever wanted to kill somebody?” I say that this is shocking because we don’t normally discuss such primal emotions from the pulpit—at least in most of the churches I’ve been in. However, this may be a false sense of surprise because most of us may have experienced the kind of anger that leads to these thoughts at one time or another.
I could picture beginning a sermon about Moses taking the life of an Egyptian slave master with this very question. It would be a chance for a preacher to get past the walls of religiosity that we often bring with us on Sunday mornings. We could put ourselves in Moses’ shoes and perhaps refrain from being quite so judgmental.
Ryken goes on to defend Moses’ actions, playing devil’s advocate to a certain extent, before bringing us back to the New Testament perspective of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about anger in our hearts toward others (Matthew 5:21-22). As I read through what initially seemed like a defense of Moses' actions, and then observed Ryken carefully turn the reader to seeing the events from a different perspective by considering other ways that Moses could have handled the situation, I found myself thinking, “That’ll preach!”
The Preaching the Word commentary series is valuable not just because it has numerous relevant illustrations. It has those, and they are both memorable and applicable. However, as I read passage after passage in this series, I saw how the writers equip the preacher or teacher of the Bible to connect their audience directly to the biblical events. This allows the Bible to move from just being a record of historical events to truly becoming a practical guide for daily living.
If you were to purchase the entire Preaching the Word series at full retail price, you’d pay nearly $1000. The list price in Accordance will be $499, but right now all 36 volumes can be purchased for the introductory price of $349.
Preaching the Word Commentary (36 volumes)
List price $999; Regular price $499; Sale price $349
The above sale price is good through February 9, 2015 (11:59pm EST) and cannot be combined with any other discounts.
Moreover, Accordance users have the convenience of being able to carry all 36 volumes with their entire Accordance library on any laptop, tablet computer, or iPhone. Our developers have carefully analyzed the text of the entire series and have identified different kinds of content in the commentary, allowing for greater precision when using this series in preparation for teaching or preaching on a passage. When using the Preaching the Word commentary series in Accordance, the user can search in any of the following fields: Reference, Titles, English Content, Scripture, Greek Content, Hebrew Content, Transliteration, Authors and Page Numbers.
Using the English Standard Version (with additional interactions with the NIV, NASB, and KJV) as a base text, the Preaching the Word series is a commentary specialized to the needs of the teacher and preacher of the Bible. Its specialized design will not only save time in preparation but allow for better communication as well.
Last night I demonstrated Accordance to a bunch of pastors at the Desiring God Pastor's Conference. Since I don't get too many opportunities to preach to pastors about sound exegetical method, I decided not to give a drink-from-the-firehouse-here's-everything-Accordance-can-do demonstration. Instead, I showed how you can use the tools in Accordance to exegete a particular passage. After a brief overview of the interface, I opened 2 Samuel 11—the story of David and Bathsheba—and began unpacking the text using a variety of Accordance tools.
I won't go into everything I did in that session, but my favorite part was showing how you can use Accordance's analysis and highlighting tools to identify repeated words and key themes in a passage. This was my favorite part because there are so many interesting motifs to explore in 2 Samuel 11, and each of those motifs can form the backbone of an expositional sermon.
For example, I began by highlighting all the words in 2 Samuel 11 related to washing. Obviously, David sees Bathsheba "bathing," and the text mentions that she was "purifying" herself from the ceremonial uncleanness resulting from her menstruation. Later in the passage, David tries to cover Bathsheba's pregnancy by enticing her husband to return home and "wash his feet"—that is, enjoy all the comforts of home, including his wife's companionship. Uriah, of course, refuses to return home. This motif of washing introduces a number of ironies. First, Bathsheba's "purification" becomes the stimulus for a far more significant loss of purity. Second, the one person in this story who doesn't "wash"—Uriah—is the only one who remains clean. As we say in the South, "That'll preach!" A good expositional sermon, therefore, could work through the implications of this washing motif in 2 Samuel 11, communicating both the author's literary artistry as well as a whole host of practical applications.
That, of course, is not the only literary motif in 2 Samuel 11. I went on to show how you could search for every word in 2 Samuel 11 (use the asterisk in word mode and define a range for 2 Samuel 11), then choose Analysis from the Details pop-up to get a list of all the words in the passage and the number of times they appear. Change the sort of the Analysis window from Alphabetical to Count Down and you'll see immediately which words are used most often in that passage.
Doing this reveals a number of interesting things:
First, David and Uriah are the two people mentioned most often, while Bathsheba is mentioned only once. Clearly, the author is more interested in contrasting these two men than in focusing on the woman with whom David committed adultery.
Second, the word "house" is repeated ten times in this single chapter. Do a search for "house" in 2 Samuel 11 and you see the contrast between David, who expanded his own house by pillaging Uriah's house, and Uriah, who remained faithful to build up the house of the king who had already betrayed him.
Finally, the word "sent" is also repeated numerous times in this passage. Examine that word, and you find that David, who is a man of action in almost every other passage, is constantly sending people to do his dirty work in 2 Samuel 11. The picture you get is of a man who is repeatedly manipulating things for his own benefit, rather than acting in service to the Lord or for the benefit of his people.
It should be easy to see how each of these motifs could form the outline of a good expositional sermon. For example, one could use the "house" motif in conjunction with Solomon's statement in Psalm 127:1 that "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." David resorts to ungodly means to build his own house, and it results in the judgment that "the sword shall never depart" from his house (2 Samuel 12:10). One could also point out that it was David's second son with Bathsheba who makes the observation about the LORD building a house, so that you could end your sermon on a redemptive note.
If an expositional sermon derives its central message and structure from the text itself, exploring the text's literary motifs and central themes provides a solid foundation upon which to build your sermon outline.
Last week I wrote a couple of posts in which I said it is more important to read English well than to know Greek and Hebrew. I was, of course, deliberately being provocative by setting up a false dichotomy. It is not as if reading well is somehow incompatible with knowing Greek and Hebrew. My point was certainly not that Greek and Hebrew are unnecessary to good exegesis. Rather, it was that good exegesis begins with effective reading. If you know how to read texts well—a skill learned in one's native language—then you can easily apply that skill to reading the original languages. If, however, you lack that skill, learning Greek and Hebrew will not by itself make you a better exegete.
Now, it often happens that the process of learning the original languages can help develop literary acumen in those who had previously lacked it. Sometimes we learn our native language so intuitively that we never slow down to consider the ways in which communication takes place. In such cases, learning the grammar and syntax of Greek and Hebrew can help us to read our own language more intelligently. The best Greek and Hebrew teachers even encourage this. For example, I love the way Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek begins with English concepts and then relates those concepts to the Greek grammar being introduced. Mounce's text also includes "exegetical insights" which show how those grammatical concepts affect our understanding of specific Biblical passages. In doing this, Mounce helps to develop the kind of literary acumen I've been discussing.
However one acquires it, and whether one applies it to the Bible in translation or in the original languages, this literary acumen is essential to the task of exposition.
What is exposition? Here's a great explanation from John Stott’s Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century:
Whether it (the text) is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction, or falsification. In expository preaching, the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said.
Note the approaches to preaching which Stott contrasts with exposition. The first uses the text as "an introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme." Have you ever heard a sermon like that? The sermon may be wonderful, but at the end you find yourself wondering how what was said had any connection to the actual sermon text. The second approach uses the text as a "peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts." I saw that in a church my family visited when we first moved to a different town. The pastor preached for forty minutes from a powerful text in Ephesians, yet he only turned to the actual text twice during that entire time. In the end, the passage became nothing more than a peg on which he hung forty minutes of good advice. Although we liked a lot of things about the church, we never went back.
In contrast to these approaches, Stott holds up expository preaching which allows the text to control the message being preached. Put another way, an expository sermon draws its structure and message from the text itself. The expositor asks what the main point of a passage is and then seeks to make that the main point of the sermon. The expositor asks how the text communicates that message and then organizes his points and subpoints along those same lines. As Darrell Johnson puts it in The Glory of Preaching:
expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do what only the text can do.
If exposition involves inviting people into the text of Scripture, enabling them to read it for themselves with greater clarity and engagement, then it stands to reason that exposition must begin with reading. Unless the expositor knows how to read the text for himself with clarity and engagement, he cannot hope to help others do the same.
With Accordance, it is ridiculously easy to branch out from the text to dig into all kinds of helpful tools and study aids, but all of that digging must come after a unified reading of the text—even multiple readings. Otherwise, genuine exposition becomes impossible. If you want to avoid obscuring the text of the Bible with a "ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts," develop the discipline of reading the text as the first step to meaningful exposition.