The Spirit and the Bible Study

Preaching! I know it may be going out of fashion, but I love to hear well prepared, solid and inspiring preaching and teaching. In my early days in ministry a mentor said to me, “The pulpit should be at the centre of the church!” Metaphorically speaking, this is absolutely right. Ambient lighting, a little entertainment and wonderful music have helped many a restaurant, but only the food is truly important. There is a huge temptation to entertain people in the modern pulpit, and I hope that you enjoy your pastor’s ministry, but the success of preaching is not whether people laughed or clapped, but whether anything helpful was actually said. It’s important because people are a product of the things that they are taught. Garbage in, garbage out.

The encounter Jesus had with the travellers on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35) can help us to discover some of the ingredients of a genuine Bible study and be of help to those who regularly handle the Word in public. The first truth is that good Bible study is comprehensive. Jesus took this couple all the way through the Scriptures (verse 27) during their seven mile walk. What a sermon! Preachers today, and I include myself, are often tempted to speak far too much on their favourite subjects. Perhaps this is done to avoid those more difficult parts of the Bible or topics that don’t go down well at all in modern PC Britain. Other times it may be that the speaker has somewhat limited knowledge and is unwilling to learn. But Paul said, “I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you” (Acts 20:20). When we received the call to preach the Word, it was all the Word. Don’t let the systematic teaching of the Bible disappear from the church programme. Lengthy discourses may not be best for Sunday morning’s menu – where the mandate must be to feed the sheep, not the giraffes. But it is important to find some time and place to be comprehensive, even if it means calling upon an Ephesians 4 teacher to come and assist from outside.

Second, the preaching was inspiring. The testimony of the travellers was that their hearts burned with them when they heard him speak. The verse goes on to say that He “opened the scriptures” to them (verse 32). In today’s church, the hearers’ hearts will not burn if the preacher’s heart is only lukewarm. I made up my mind many years ago to preach every message as though it were my very last. We need passionate communicators, filled with the Holy Spirit, who reach the inner being of those who listen. We are in the “spirit to spirit” communication business. In the parable of the sower, the seed was always good. It was the soil that varied so much. Oh how we need the power from on high to fall upon speaker and hearer alike! If hearts aren’t burning, we need to go back to the heavenly furnace for fresh coal. Preaching and teaching should always be a hot dish.

Third, true Bible teaching will bring the hearers closer to the Author. During this first Easter Bible study, these Emmaus students were brought into the very presence of Christ. I remember painfully my worst time in the pulpit: it was full of Greek and Hebrew but changed nobody’s life. The role of teaching is not to coach people to do well in Bible trivia quizes. The purpose of study is not to know the Book but to know the Author. If the literature you read or the preaching you hear does not draw you closer to the living Jesus, then something is not right. Bible students must not seek to master the scripture but to allow the scripture to master them. The Word should help us to encounter He who is the Word.

Fourth, this Bible study (with its rather unique final point – the physical disappearance of the speaker!) concluded with a desire in these men to go and tell others the good news about Jesus (verse 33). As much as I might want people to be gripped to their seats when I preach, the true Bible teacher wants to preach people out of the church and into the harvest field. In Torquay, we had this saying: “When the service ends, the service begins.” Therefore, the equipping for mission must play a major role in the spoken ministry today if it is to follow in the Master’s footsteps. Thank God for all those handle the Word of life today. Pray that fresh unction might be granted to them and to us who hear them.

JOY Magazine, September 2008

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