When speaking about balanced preaching the subject can refer to a number of important ideas. By balanced some may think of paying attention to both the Old and New Testaments. Preachers may think of a balance between topical and expository sermons. Yet others may refer to complex versus simple lessons. Some may think of a balance between edification and admonition, or what some would call positive or negative. Recently I have become concerned with the balance needed between practical and doctrinal preaching. All preachers and elders should consider these things.
I have encountered congregations in which the teachers have focused all of their attention on the New Testament. Apparently this seems reasonable to many since we are no longer under the old covenant, but the new. Yet consider what Jesus says in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” Many of the wonderful things we learn about Jesus are found in the Old Testament. Never mind the fact that when we disregard the Old Testament we are ignoring about two thirds of the revealed word of God, things which He clearly wants us to know.
Too many preachers preach too many topical sermons. I once worked with a preacher, one who had been preaching for many years, who, after he had heard me preach a few expository lessons, asked, “What kind of lessons do you call those?” He wasn’t being critical, he had never really heard lessons based on the biblical text and context. The problem with topical lessons is that this approach has a tendency to use the scriptures as nothing more than a “proof text” to support an idea that may or may not actually be scriptural. It is not uncommon for passages to be lifted completely out of context and used to prove a point that the speaker wants to make rather than one God wants to make.
There is a time and place for topical lessons, yet care must be exercised to rightly divide the word of truth and make sure that we are teaching God’s will and not our own. Good expository preaching lets God communicate His will to us through His word. A good definition of expository preaching is found in Nehemiah 8:1-8. Verse eight says, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.”
Another point that is sometimes overlooked in Nehemiah 8:1-8 is found in verses four and seven. Two distinct groups are mentioned in each of these verses. We see in verse four that when Ezra stands up to read the word of God he is not alone. There are leaders of the people standing with him to his left and right. Why? What does it mean? It means that Ezra is not alone in his commitment to the word of God. The leaders of the people share in that commitment. It reminds me of Exodus 17:12 in which Aaron and Hur stood to the right and left of Moses to support him as Israel gained the victory over the Amelekites. Verse seven speaks of another group who helped Ezra in his teaching. The leaders of congregations need to stand and work together in their commitment to and teaching of God’s word, and this must be clearly so.
Occasionally one runs into the preacher or Bible teacher who feels it necessary to speak in the lofty multi-syllable language of self-important academia. It seems that the need to demonstrate their deep understanding of the subject matter outweighs the need of their audience to comprehend what they are saying. To this I would reply with 1st Corinthians 14:19 where Paul says, “yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Now that’s a little out of context, but the principle applies. Then again, there are leaders who believe that we must preach and teach to the lowest common denominator. It should go without saying that such a congregation will have, at best, a difficult time reaching any kind of spiritual maturity. Our preaching and teaching must be challenging yet easy to grasp and understand. That is the art of preaching and it takes effort. It is not for the lazy.
One time a wonderful sister in Christ approached me while I was speaking at a meeting. This sweet 80-year old woman came to me with tears in her eyes lamenting that every Sunday she leaves the assembly so beat down by the preaching that she had started to question her salvation. She couldn’t remember the last time the local preacher had given a lesson that lifted the congregation up. There are times when we need to be admonished. There are times when we need to be chastened and corrected by the word. I would say that there are times when God’s word should thunder from the pulpit, and this can be accomplished without even raising one’s voice. However, to encourage, to edify, to exhort, to lift up the spirits and fill with hope is what the Gospel is primarily about. What is so great about an invitation that simply seeks to blast us? Our preaching and teaching of the word of God should convict us, but also give us rest for our souls.
Not long after I began preaching I was chastised by an older gentleman for not preaching the Gospel. By that he meant Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and be Baptized. Many are of this mindset. Yet, there is much more to the word of God than just the plan of salvation. God gave us His word so that we might know how to live our lives, so that we can be Christians in every aspect of our life, not just in name or church affiliation. God wants us to be His children, not just act like them. So much of our preaching is reduced to do this, or don’t do that. Many of our children leave home and the church with an overwhelming desire to do all of the things that were forbidden to them because they were never taught to BE a child of God. They spend the first eighteen or so years of their life associated with the church, but leave it with no sense of Christian identity. We need to hear what God has to say about living our everyday lives. We need practical spiritual answers to the problems that we all encounter from day to day.
Having said that, we must absolutely pay attention to the doctrine concerning the church that Christ built. If what we preach and teach cannot be differentiated from the multitude of self-help books on the market we stand in danger of losing our identity as true worshipers of God. There are congregations in which this balance of preaching and teaching was lost. Lessons on the distinct identity of the Lord’s church, authority, the need for and the means of salvation, and the perils of worldliness fell by the wayside. This has led to the ruin of once sound and strong congregations. This balance must never be neglected. We must heed the words of Peter when he said in 2nd Peter 1:12-13, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. 13Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you.”