How a Biblical Theology of Work Can Transform Your Life: Interview with Dr. Jim Hamilton

Biblical Theology of Work - Dr James Hamilton

Understanding how key biblical themes develop over time is essential for reading the Bible correctly and living faithfully.

One biblical theological theme that can transform our daily lives and identities is that of work. To discuss how a biblical theology of work can transform our work lives, I conversed with Dr. James Hamilton, author of a new book in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series from Crossway called Work and Our Labor in the Lord.

Dr. Hamilton is the Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of several books, including God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and What is Biblical Theology? among other commentaries and books on biblical theology. He currently serves as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY in addition to responsibilities at Southern Seminary. The transcript of our conversation is below.


Kevin Halloran: On the first page of Work and Our Labor in the Lord, you write this: “Biblical theology…is the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors…to attempt to understand their worldview.” Can you explain how biblical theology shapes our worldview and why that’s so important?

Dr. James Hamilton: I can do that easily by contrasting it with a movie I watched last night on an airplane: Interstellar.

If you’ve seen this movie, the underlying premise—which I found so unbelievable that it took away from my enjoyment of the movie—is that our world cannot sustain life anymore. The earth is dying and there is a new Dust Bowl coming, and no one will be able to survive on earth. That kind of eschatology (or understanding of where things are going) then informs the work people try to do in the movie, and they actually think that they are trying to save the world—to save humanity. They accomplish it through supernatural feats of the manipulation of time, and it involves relativity and gravity (it’s a little complex, but honestly it was unbelievable).

Our worldview is the big story of where things came from, what we understand to be wrong, how we understand those things might get better, and where everything is going in the end—it is going to inform all of our lives. I think the Bible’s account of all those things—in spite of the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, and the so-called ‘sexual revolution’—is still the most compelling one available.

KH: The part of your book that most drove me to worship was the chapter on creation. It made me ponder the wisdom and glory of God in creating work. My question is this: why did God ultimately create work?

Dr. James Hamilton: Life would be pretty slow if we didn’t have any tasks to do… In the very good world prior to the fall, I don’t think we would know the frustrations, difficulties, feelings of lethargy, and lack of desire to do work. Minus all of the negative effects of sin, God created a world where there would be a rhythm of diligent labor followed by rest, and then more diligent labor where you actually accomplish something. You actually get to see something completed.

I can remember years ago, Elizabeth Elliot contrasted sweeping the floor with writing a book. She said, sometimes I really love to sweep a floor because I can see the fruits of my work. Whereas, if I sit down to write, I might not see that book for years. It’s great to mow the grass and see the fruits of our labor and see the lawn nice and trimmed. Work is a gratifying thing; it can be a physically exhilarating thing to engage in, depending on what kind of work we are talking about. And so, this may sound strange, but work is a gift, a mercy from God, something good that he created for us to engage in.

KH: Like you express in the book, working is a way to reflect our working God. He created six days and rested on the seventh. That being said, what are some misconceptions Christians have about work that a biblical theology of work can clear up?

Dr. James Hamilton: I don’t know how widespread these misconceptions are, but I think people tend to think it stems from the judgment spoken on Adam’s work in Genesis 3:17–19. This overshadows the fact that Adam was supposed to work and keep the garden in Genesis 2:15 prior to the fall. Then their own experience of work being frustrating and perhaps misreadings of the book of Ecclesiastes where “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity” can lead people to the conclusion that the world is going to burn, my work doesn’t matter. They might also misinterpret that poem that concludes ‘only what’s done for Christ will last’—this kind of idea.

The Bible teaches that everything that we do has value and that our labor in the Lord, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:58, [and I do in] the subtitle of the book, is not in vain. This is because we are created in the image and likeness of God and we are to bring God’s character to bear on all creation in everything that we do.

KH: In addition to clearing up negative misconceptions of work, biblical theology also provides a positive power for believers as they think about work. How might a biblical theology of work encourage someone perpetually discouraged in his or her work?

Dr. James Hamilton: The Scriptures encourage us that, ultimately, we work for the Lord—[as] that classic statement in Colossians 3 says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as for the Lord and not for men.” Discouragement tends to come from, maybe an overbearing boss who never says anything positive; a lack of acclaim or commendation… We counter that by remembering that ultimately we are working for the Lord and not for men. There’s an audience of one that I’m seeking to please.

The whole Bible’s framework teaches that work was in the garden and continues after the fall. Now that Christ has come, there’s a possibility for the redemption even for the things that we engage in, and our hearts are renewed. We come at this as a remade humanity. In the new heavens and new earth, we’re not going to be these cloudy, wispy ghosts, we are going to be resurrected bodies in the new heavens and new earth, engaged in grand projects for the glory of God. If we have this broader framework, it will reinforce and inform the idea that we are really working for God’s glory.

KH: My last question might be a challenge because you wrote an entire book on the subject, but if you had to give a one-minute biblical theology of work, how would you do it?

Dr. James Hamilton: I would start with what Jesus said in John 10, “My Father is working until now and I am working.” A biblical theology of work starts with the idea that God is a worker. From there, I would say that as those made in the image and likeness of God, we are made to work. We are going to be most satisfied and most fulfilled when we are doing what we were created to do. From there, I would walk through that big story where God created good work in the garden. That work was judged as the result of man’s sin—it was made more difficult—and yet the man was mercifully allowed to do that work. The warning was that in the day you eat of it, you will die. He died spiritually, but I think through God’s words, he began to trust the Lord and he began to continue his work.

Christ came and has set in motion the renewal of all things in such a way that we live as children of God. We live in a manner worthy of the gospel in everything we do. I think that in all kinds of jobs there are ways to lay down our lives to benefit other people spiritually, and we work in anticipation of a renewal of all things when all tears will be wiped away.

When as the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “Would that I had thorns to battle” (Isaiah 27:4)—there will be no more thorns and thistles on the ground, and all things will be made new, and we will know as we are known, and we will be the Lord’s.

KH: Thank you Dr. Hamilton for the time to discuss Work and Our Labor in the Lord.


On April 3–5, Leadership Resources will have a booth at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Indianapolis, IN.

Tuesday, April 4th, LRI will be presenting at 7:45am on the topic of Unlocking the Potential of Your Missions Strategy.

If you plan to attend TGC17 and want a reminder email for this event, sign up here.

Stay tuned for more information, or save $20 on your registration with the discount code “LRI”. TGC.org/2017.

10 Hindrances to Transformative Expository Preaching

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The call to preach is both a glorious and fearful one: glorious because God uses His proclaimed Word to give life and transform hearts, and fearful because we are imperfect vessels with the potential to hinder God’s transformative work in the world.

The following ten hindrances to transformative expository preaching* will undermine faithful ministry over the long haul.

1. Unbelief.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6)—a truth for preaching and all of life. To faithfully preach the truth, you must believe the truth and be compelled by it. While God backs His proclaimed Word no matter what, the effectiveness of preaching can be greatly hindered if people sense insincerity or artificiality in the preacher. Preachers need to exercise faith in and out of the pulpit in order to please God, set a faithful example (1 Timothy 4:12) and persevere under trial (2 Timothy 3:12). As sinful people prone to faithlessness, we must make the prayer of the man with the sick child in Mark 9:24 our own, “I believe! Help my unbelief.”

2. Lack of personal holiness

“It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.” —Robert Murray McCheynePaul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 to, “Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching.” Preachers must exemplify the message they proclaim in Word and deed, and if they don’t, they not only disregard qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, but also will hinder the work of God through them over the long haul. A preacher that fakes holiness and love for others will undermine and hinder the fruit God desires to bear while storing up judgment for themselves (James 3:1).

3. Prayerlessness

A preacher who is prayer-less misunderstands the task of preaching. God calls preachers to proclaim His life-giving word to the spiritually dead—and only God’s Spirit can bring the dead to life. With the enemy of our souls on the prowl, we must pray, and call our people to pray, for the powerful proclamation of God’s life-giving Word.

Charles Spurgeon comments on the need for prayer:

The bell in the steeple may be well hung, fairly fashioned, and of soundest metal, but it is dumb until the ringer makes it speak. And … the preacher has no voice of quickening for the dead in sin, or of comfort for living saints unless the divine spirit [Spirit] gives him a gracious pull, and begs him speak with power. Hence the need of prayer for both preacher and hearers.

4. Lack of clarity

“Remember that to attain simplicity in preaching is of the utmost importance to every minister who wishes to be useful to souls,” writes J.C. Ryle in Simplicity in Preaching. “Unless you are simple in your sermons you will never be understood, and unless you are understood you cannot do good to those who hear you.” The Apostle Paul agrees, and that’s why he asks for the Colossian church to pray “that I may make it [the gospel] clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

This is one reason Leadership Resources uses the hermeneutical principle called “Finding the Big Idea.” One Indonesian pastor confessed that before learning this principle, “I would preach thirty minutes to an hour and still have no right direction to the sermon.” But now, sticking to his Big Idea gives him clarity—and his people are understanding God’s Word more deeply.

5. Not laboring for author’s intent

Preachers must resist the urge to use the Bible as a launching pad for their thoughts or ideas. We need to diligently and deeply study Scripture to uncover the main message that God, through the biblical author, wants to communicate through a text. Once we find that message, it is our task as preachers to shepherd hearts with it.

Many preachers stop just short of the Scripture’s authorial intent. In their preaching, they will answer the question, “What does the text say?”, but will avoid taking the needed step to ask, “Why does the text say what it does?” Asking why a text says what it does leads to the transformational intent God of the passage (or book).

6. Lack of application

“The exposition of Scripture remains incomplete until a preacher explains the duty God requires of us.” —Bryan ChapellGod’s Word is meant to be heard and obeyed. In sharing specific points of application, we can help connect the transformative intent of the Scriptures with the daily thoughts and actions of our hearers. When studying a passage to preach, we need to ask, “What transformation was God seeking to accomplish through this passage in the life of the listener?” This is the Intended Response of a passage, fleshing out the passage’s transformational intent for the lives of your hearers.

7. Preaching a Christ-less sermon

Jesus Christ is at the center of not only the Scriptures (Luke 24:44), He’s at the center of the entire universe (Colossians 1:16–20). If we preach a message that fails to present how a particular passage testifies to Christ, we fail to communicate the full meaning of the Bible, we fail to point people to the only Way to the Father (John 14:6), and we fail to testify about the living Savior who alone has the power to save and transform.

Our preaching must help people encounter the risen Savior, and not merely preach morals or steps for a better life. The law (i.e. God’s commands) was never meant to transform hearts apart from the context of God’s grace to us in Christ (Romans 7:7–12, 8:2–4).

8. Not communicating the tone of the passage

Preachers need to dial into the underlying mood and emotion of a text. For example, when preaching Ephesians 1:3–14, preachers need to rejoice as they unpack the glorious riches of God’s love for us in Christ, while preaching a passage of judgment will mean a serious tone and emotive plea for repentance. Helping people feel what the author of the text felt in a certain situation will help shape biblically-informed emotional lives.

9. A lack of knowledge of the audience

For preaching to be transforming, it must rightly apply God’s Word to the lives and circumstances of the audience. It also must be accompanied in love. The more a preacher knows the lives and struggles of his congregation, the more he can apply the truth and grace found in Christ to their situations.

Consider how Jesus’ personal knowledge of the woman at the well in John 4 informed His words that led to her transformation. He knew she tried to quench her spiritual thirst with men, and offered her Living Water from which to drink. Tim Keller says it another way, “It is also impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols.”

The apostle Paul is another example. He knew and loved the churches he planted and applied God’s Word to their situations, even being stern with them if the situation required—just ask the Galatians (Galatians 3:1–3)!

10. Impatience for God to work

A lack of patience will lead preachers to frustration and discouragement. It also may demotivate them from the hard work of faithful ministry. Scripture calls preachers to “preach the word…with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, emphasis added). Patience is needed because transformation doesn’t always (or usually) take place immediately. We need a steady diet of God’s Word week after week to continually work toward full maturity.

In which of these ten areas do you most need to grow? Since the preaching of the Word has eternal ramifications, dedicate yourself to prayerfully pursue growth in each of these areas. As you grow, God will work His transformation in both you and your listeners.


*This list presupposes getting the content of the text right.


On April 3–5, Leadership Resources will have a booth at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Indianapolis, IN.

Tuesday, April 4th, LRI will be presenting at 7:45am on the topic of Unlocking the Potential of Your Missions Strategy.

If you plan to attend TGC17 and want a reminder email for this event, sign up here.

Stay tuned for more information, or save $20 on your registration with the discount code “LRI”. TGC.org/2017.

Interview with Graeme Goldsworthy on Biblical Theology

help-me-teach-the-bible-coverNancy Guthrie recently interviewed Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy on the topic of biblical theology on the Help Me Teach the Bible Podcast.

Their conversation talks about what biblical theology is, how it affects our understanding of the Bible, the history of the discipline, as well as comments on Goldsworthy’s specific approach to biblical theology.


Right Click to Download the Audio


“God’s kingdom is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” —Graeme Goldsworthy

Goldsworthy’s Definition of Biblical Theology:

Essentially, it is about understanding the theology of the Bible, the way it [theology] is presented in the Bible. It’s not a systemization of doctrines, it’s looking at the way the theology is unfolded [throughout the Bible story].


Books mentioned:

Related Links:

Seven Biblical Definitions of Ministry Success (Part Two)

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Continued from Part One.


4. Success is Believing.

“For me [this truth] points to one of the great needs of Christians—which is not to believe more and better things, but to believe what we already believe. During my bout with success, my faith had slipped so miserably that I was not believing the things I actually did believe.” (63)

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (63)

“Whether these great people of faith [from Hebrews 11] were called to focus their belief on God’s rewards in history or in eternity, they all believed that God was actively working in them and through them and for them, and would reward them even though they could not always see or understand how.” (64)

Hughes proceeds to offer an extended meditation on the implications of Colossians 1:15–18 on our lives and ministries. How does believing Christ as Creator of everything, Sustainer of the universe, the Goal of all creation, and the Lover of our souls change our outlook on ministry?

Gauge your belief by answering these three questions truthfully (70):
1. Am I believing that God can take care of me?
2. Am I believing he loves me?
3. Am I believing that he rewards, that he is morally active on the part of those who seek him?

5. Success is Prayer.

Like a lumberjack’s work would be less effective with a dull axe, “God’s servants fail in their appointed tasks because they do not take time to sharpen their lives in prayer.” (71–72)

“Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” E. Stanley Jones (73)

We must pray because (72–77):
1. …of what prayer does to us.
2. …of what prayer does in the church. “Prayer brings power to the church and to ministry.”
3. …Jesus prayed.

“Fellow servants, we know that the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray, even making intercession for us, but we also know that there is our part, which is discipline. Surely we can do nothing in our own power; nevertheless we are called to be fellow workers with God.” (81)

Hughes also drew from Ephesians 6:18–20:
“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

6. Success is Holiness.

“The logic of Scripture is unavoidable: God calls his people to be holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is foundational to true success. No one can be regarded a success who pursues a life contrary to God’s will. Therefore, we come to this irony: there are untold numbers of successful pastors and Christian workers who are abysmal failures.” (84)

“I have known Christ-professing, Bible carrying men and women in Christian ministry who were adulterous, even incestuous, and saw no contradiction in their lives. I have known Christian workers who have led a secret pornographic existence: fundamentalists at church and X-rated cable voyeurs at home. Even more tragic, their delusion is so deep that they admit no inconsistency in their behavior.” (87)

“Lay this maxim to heart: when lust takes control, God is quite unreal to us…When we are in the grip of lust, the reality of God fades. The longer King David gazed [at Bathsheba bathing in 2 Samuel 11], the less real God became. Not only was his awareness of God diminished, but in the growing darkness he lost awareness of who David was—his holy call, his frailty, and the sure consequences of sin.” (89)

“Understand, servants of God, that some of life’s choices, especially those that have to do with sensuality, have irreversible consequences. You may be making that choice now. For your sake and for God’s sake, do not take the fatal step!” (91)

“During our difficult time in learning about success, Barbara and I were encouraged as we came to see that holiness is foundational to true success. We were also heartened. Although holiness is not easy, the fact that God demands it means that he helps those who seek it.” (93)

7. Success is Attitude.

“In Christian ministry it is no exaggeration to say (with some common-sense qualifications, of course) that attitude is everything. There are two attitudes that particularly characterize ministry failures: negativism and jealousy.” (96)

[Paul’s response to suffering in prison:] “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).” (98)

“Next to our free salvation in Christ, our attitude is the most important thing we possess. Attitude is more important than circumstances, the past, money, successes, failures, our gifts, other’s opinions, even the ‘facts.'” (99)

“Jealous, envious hearts are unhappy, for there is a miserable pathology to jealousy. The Bible unforgettably commemorates this in the case of the prodigal’s older brother. His jealous heart makes it impossible for him to share in his family’s joy. In fact, he misses the party of his life! (Luke 14:25–30). Then, unable to share in the things that please his father, he suffers further estrangement…He is miserable. A heart subject to such pathology can never be successful, regardless of its outward performance.” (101)

“Those who have negative attitudes in the ministry never truly know success, regardless of their accomplishments. Their negativism sours the proper sweetness of their desserts…They are unable to enjoy the pleasant things that come their way, for they always manage to dwell on what might have been and fear the worst in what is to come.” (103)

“Through the example of Paul and others, Barbara and I became aware of how important a role in our mind-set played in our ministry. We had learned that a positive attitude and an encouraging attitude are foundational to a truly successful life.” (104)


*Page numbers taken from the 1988 edition of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.

Summary: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

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In his early life as a pastor, Kent Hughes faced a personal crisis. He seemed to be doing everything right in ministry, but his church wasn’t growing—at least not compared to the church across town. This lack of ‘success’ ate at him and made his efforts seem worthless. What else do I need to do to be successful?

Many—if not all—pastors face a similar crisis. Is this just part of the grind of ministry, or is there a better perspective?

Kent and Barbara Hughes sought God for answers from the Scriptures for their dilemma and what they found make the backbone of their important book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.

The Hughes’ tell their story of liberation from the success syndrome of ministry by sharing rich examples from biblical characters, powerful illustrations, and God’s eternal perspective that will energize and refocus readers. Instead of measuring success with worldly standards, the authors share seven biblical definitions of ministry success, which we share below in the form of a quote summary.

“…the miserable yoke of worldly success is so crushing because it is a burden that God’s servants were never meant to bear.” (106)


Seven Biblical Definitions of Ministry Success

1. Success is faithfulness.

“As Barbara and I searched the Scriptures, we found no place where it says that God’s servants are called to be successful. Rather, we discovered our call is to be faithful.” (35)

“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2).” (35)

Using the episode from Numbers 20 when Moses struck the rock to provide water for Israel instead of speaking to it, Hughes explains that, “one can be regarded as hugely successful in the ministry and yet be a failure.” (36) Moses was not faithful to God’s word and faced the consequence for it: not being able to enter the Promised Land.

Two Essential Elements of Faithfulness:

1. Obedience

“Obedience (knowing and explicitly doing God’s Word) is the key to true success.” (38)

2. Hard work

“No one keeps track of a pastor’s time…if a man is not a self-starter, it is so easy to come in late and go home early. It is also very easy to let prayer and sermon preparation slip, and, generally, to imagine that extraneous interests are ‘ministry.’ There is more sloth in the pastoral ministry than we would like to admit.” (42)

[Commenting on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–20]:
“The Lord has nothing good to say about lazy servants; they are unfaithful.” (42)

2. Success is Serving.

“Whenever we may be on the path of servanthood, there is one thing we all must do if we are to be servants, and that is to look to the cross. It is the crowning event of Christ’s servant life, just as Jesus had said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)…So here’s one secret of successful ministry: When we keep our eyes upon the cross, we want to serve. Friends and co-workers, if we have been chafing under our ministerial burdens, possibly wondering if we have followed our own fancies, we need to envision Christ washing the feet of rough, unlettered fishermen. We need to see Christ on the cross washing our sins away as the Ultimate Servant. And then we need to whisper, “Lord, you washed their feet; you washed away my sins. I will serve you and your church. Amen.”” (50–51)

Three Essential forms of service:

  1. Preaching. “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), tell us that a primary avenue of servanthood is preaching the truths of the gospel.” “Faithfulness in the pulpit requires a vast investment of time and energy and is a great service to Christ and his church, whether recognized by the church or not. Those who would honor God in the pulpit must be servants.” (51)
  2. Administering. “Do we see our executive duties as opportunities to serve Christ? If we do, we will be encouraged to give our very best to him in loving, efficient administration.” (52)
  3. Counseling. “Paul charges us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Here the pastoral ministry provides vast opportunity for servanthood because we are very often the ones to whom people turn to unburden themselves…pastoral counseling compels us to serve others much in the way the Lord would if he were still here on earth.” (52)

3. Success is Loving.

“Before all things, even service to God, we must love God with all our hearts. It is the highest priority in life! It is the first question for every theologian, every pastor, every missionary. It is the quintessential question for everyone who wants to please God.” (58)

“What appears at first glance to be success, is not necessarily success in God’s economy.” (58)

Love liberates us in four ways (59–60):

  1. It places our lives and ministries beyond the fallible, oppressive judgment of the quantifiers—the statistic keepers.
  2. It liberates us from the destructive tendency to compare ourselves with others.
  3. It frees and motivates us to live our life’s highest priority [loving God].
  4. It is freeing to the whole church, regardless of status, because loving God is something equally open to all.

3 Ways to Cultivate More Love for God (60–61):

  1. Be honest in examining yourself and your current love for him.
  2. Cultivate earnestly the conscious inner ability to love him while we serve him.
  3. Spend special time with him.

Part two shares four more biblical elements of ministry success.

Don’t Let Your Bible Keep You From the Bible

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In a recent interview with DesiringGod, Glenn Paauw, the Executive Director of the Biblica Institute for Bible Reading and author of Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, shared how “Bible clutter” can provide a framework that warps how we engage with Scripture.

(“Bible clutter” refers to anything added to Scripture including chapter and verse numbers, study notes, cross-references, concordances, etc.)

The interview overlapped so much with the “Text and Framework” hermeneutical principle that we are compelled to share the interview mp3 and our notes below.



Unintended consequences from “Bible Clutter”:

  • Chapter numbers (added in the early 1200s by Steven Langdon, a church leader in England) and verse numbers (added in the 1500s by Robert Essien, a Frenchman working on a Bible concordance) can cause Bible readers to see books as fragmented collections of verses rather than an entire book.
  • Concordances, while being great reference tools, can change the way people interact with the text and hurt the plain reading of Scripture by neglecting the immediate or whole-book context of a passage.
  • While cross-references are helpful, they might prevent a reader from focusing on the text in front of them and wrestling with meaning. Again, what is primarily lost is a sense of context—something vital for faithful interpretation.
  • Many modern Bibles are designed for people who aren’t readers and who may not be very biblically literate. This pushes Bible publishers to make Bibles with helps, notes, and highlights because that is what buyers want.
  • While we may boast a confidence in Scripture, our true confidence might rather lie in a certain study Bible we align with theologically more than Scripture itself. Many feel Bible reading needs ‘guide rails’ to keep people from falling off of the theological cliff.
  • A temptation of using Study Bibles is engaging with study notes more than Scripture itself. Research on Study Bibles proves this is the case for many.
  • All of the colors and special designs common in many Bibles today (study notes, graphics, special sections, etc.) can draw people’s attention more than Scripture, which is generally left untouched.
  • We want to read Scripture and apply it to our lives fast. Our desire for quick application can short-circuit the study process by jumping to application to early or buying a study Bible that will apply it for us.

Two flawed approaches to engaging Scripture:

1. Seeing Scripture as a collection of inspirational quotations.

Many who do this take favorite verses like Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and virtually ignore most other passages of Scripture. This greatly misrepresents what the Bible is and deforms us spiritually just like a pure cotton candy diet would. (Interviewer Tony Reinke deems these using verses in this way as “Scripture McNuggets.”)

2. Seeing Scripture as a self-help manual.

Some want to gather all of the Bible verses on a certain topic and create messages from those verses. This also strips verses of their context and fails to take Biblical Theology into account. Biblical theological themes develop throughout the Scriptures in various genres, and, as Paauw reminds, some accounts are not to be taken prescriptively but rather descriptively. (For example, Paauw says we wouldn’t build a doctrine of marriage on the example of patriarchs.)

A Better Comparison

A better comparison for the Bible is “the collected papers of the American Antislavery Society” because,

“the Bible is a collection of different kinds of writings, each of which exist in its own context, its own literary form, and they have to be taken as this kind of a collection. It is true that the collection of the Bible comes together to tell this amazing, redemptive, restorative narrative of what Jesus the Messiah has done. But the books themselves are the core units. The Bible is the collection of those things. It is not a collection of verses, so not a collection of little how-to passages. Again, it is a matter of receiving the Bible on its own terms, receiving the Bible in the form that God actually chose to give it to us. That, I think, is something that our modern format tempts us to move away from.”


How can we fight against “Bible clutter”?

“The first and the primary and the most natural thing to do with the Bible is to read individual books at length in their own terms. So understanding the kind of literature it is, who was the author, who were they writing to, what was the issue, those kinds of things are necessary.”

“We need to make sure we are always ready to listen to the text first…[not] our material [or thinking], which is not inspired… A real high view of Scripture says: Let the text be the text, and always seek to let it speak to me, even on things where I think I might have my mind settled… But we need to always be willing to say: What does the Word of God say? Not: What have I always said that the Word of God says?”

The true spiritual riches are found in engaging God’s Word directly, not going through another’s explanation of God’s Word.


Related Story from Honduras: “Take that Bible Away from that Man!”

The Word, the Spirit, and How God Speaks to Us

Leadership Resources’ ministry is built upon the fact that God speaks through His Spirit-carried Word.

Understanding the dynamics of this can be a bit tricky. Consider the following thoughts:

Evangelicals seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘the word of God’. It is one of our catchcries. Are we mistaken in having this emphasis? What is the place of experience and the Spirit? Does ‘the word of God’ equal ‘the Bible’?

We have been greatly helped by the work of John Woodhouse, former principal of Moore Theological College.

Woodhouse’s work on the Word and Spirit is available in three formats:

1. Read articles from The Briefing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

2. Buy the Brief Book from Matthias Media or on Amazon.

3. Listen to the conference audio below or download from The Proclamation Trust.



Description from Matthias Media:

“Evangelicals seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘the word of God’. It is one of our catchcries. Are we mistaken in having this emphasis? What is the place of experience and the Spirit? Does ‘the word of God’ equal ‘the Bible’? In this stimulating Brief Book, John Woodhouse offers some fresh insights into what ‘God’s Word’ is, and what it means for the modern Christian.”

40 Quotes from The Challenge of Preaching by John Stott

Below are an assortment of quotes from the abridgement of John Stott’s Between Two Worlds titled The Challenge of Preaching. In the book and many of the quotes below, Stott captures the foundation and heart of expository preaching.


John Stott Quotes from The Challenge of Preaching[Prayer of John Stott before preaching]:
Heavenly Father, we bow in your presence.
May your word be our rule,
Your Spirit our teacher,
And your greater glory our supreme concern.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. (x)

Preaching is indispensable to Christianity because Christianity is based on the truth that God chose to use words to reveal himself to humanity. (1)

All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor; our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the word of God is expounded in all its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe. It is preaching which accomplishes this. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable. (9)

The secret of preaching is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions. (12)

There are those who emphasize the historical activity of God but deny that he has spoken. They argue that God revealed himself  in deeds, not words. They insist that the redemption is the only revelation. But this is false. Scripture affirms that God has spoken both through historical deeds and through explanatory words, and that the two belong together. Even the climax of God’s self-revelation, when the Word became flesh, would have remained incomprehensible if Christ had not spoken and his apostles had not recorded and interpreted his words. (14)

We who recognize the authority of Scripture should be the most conscientious preachers. (15-16)

Some preachers love to speak about the mighty acts of God but present only their own interpretation of them. Others try to stick to God’s word but are dull because they have lost the excitement of what God has done in Christ. The true preacher enthusiastically and faithfully conveys both. (16)

We [preachers] are not just miners extracting ore and leaving the landscape desolate. We are skilled mapmakers, carefully observing the landscape of the text so that we can help our listeners see all its features and follow the paths and highways God has placed there. We often speak about ideas to our listeners—just as the Bible regularly does. But we should try to convey to our listeners as much of the tone and feeling, of the impressions and aims of the text as possible. (17)

Spurgeon urged pastors to “so pray and so preach that, if there are no conversions, you will be astonished, amazed and broken-hearted.” (21)

The church is the creation of God by his word and is dependent on his word. (21)

The Old Testament consistently indicates that the welfare of God’s people depends on their listening to his voice, believing his promises and obeying his commands. The health of the church in the New Testament also depended on their attentiveness to God’s Word. (21)

Only by humble and obedient listening to his voice can the church grow to maturity, serve the world and glorify our Lord. (22)

A low level of Christian living is due, more than anything else, to a low level of Christian preaching. If the church is to flourish again, there is a need for faithful, powerful, biblical preaching. God still urges his people to listen and his preachers to proclaim his word. (22)

All true Christian preaching should be expository…The expositor opens what seems to be closed, makes plain what is confusing, unravels what is knotted, and unfolds what is tightly packed. (25)

Just as a bridge makes it possible for traffic to flow from one side of a river or ravine to another, so our preaching must make it possible for God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures and into the lives of men and women today. Both ends of our bridges must be firmly rooted if we are to be able to show that Christianity is still relevant today. (31-33)

[When engaging potentially polluting aspects of culture like theatre or cinema] It must be clear that we are not cooperating with the spirit of the age but trying to understand it so that our preaching can be relevant. (46)

We have to study both the ancient text and the present scene, both Scripture and culture, both the word and the world. It is a huge task, demanding a lifetime of study. (47)

…if we look back at the great men and women of God, we shall find that their lives were disciplined, allowing much time for prayer and study. So we need constantly to repent and renew our determination to discipline our lives and our schedules. Only a constantly fresh vision of Christ and of his commission can rescue us from laziness and keep our priorities straight. Then we shall make time to read and think, and our preaching will be fresh, faithful and relevant, yet simple enough for people to understand. (50)

The best sermons we ever preach to others are those we have first preached to ourselves. (54)The best sermons we ever preach to others are those we have first preached to ourselves. —John Stott

A sermon, unlike a lecture, should convey only one major message. Students are expected to take notes because lecturers provide so much information during the class. A sermon, however, is quite different. As a living word from God to his people, it should make its impact on them then and there. (58)

“No sermon is ready for preaching…until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting and the most fruitful labor in my study…I do not think any sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.” —J.H. Jowett (59)

An unstructured sermon is like a jellyfish, all flesh and no bones. However, a sermon whose structure is too noticeable is like a skeleton, all bones and no flesh. Neither jellyfish nor skeletons make good sermons! (60)

The golden rule for sermon outlines is that each text must be allowed to supply its own structure. The skilful expositor allows the text to open itself up before our eyes, like a rose unfolding to the morning sun and displaying its previously hidden beauty. (61)

Every preacher must be constantly on the lookout for illustrations. Not that we read books and listen to people only to collect sermon material! Yet we would be wise to write down ideas which come to us, as well as the best quotations from every book we read. (65)

It is on our knees before the Lord that we can make the message our own, possess or repossess it until it possesses us. (73)

The whole process of sermon preparation, from beginning to end, was excellently summed up by an African American preacher who said, “First I reads myself full, next I thinks myself clear, next I prays myself hot, and then I let go.” (73)

Preachers must mean what they say in the pulpit, and must practice what they preach when out of it. (75)

Preachers must mean what they say in the pulpit, and must practice what they preach when out of it. —John Stott

Nobody can be a good pastor or teacher of others who is not first a good servant of Jesus Christ. (77)

One of the chief proofs of genuineness is the willingness to suffer for what we believe. The faithfulness of the true servant of God is proved when opposition comes (2 Cor. 6:4, 5). Paul even spoke of his sufferings as his credentials or qualifications (2 Cor. 11:21-33; 1 Thess. 2:1-4; 2 Tim. 3:10-12). (79)

Earnestness goes one step beyond sincerity. To be sincere is to mean what we say and to do what we say; to be earnest is also to feel what we say. Earnestness is the deep feeling essential to preaching. (80)

The New Testament makes it clear that combining the mind and the heart, the rational and the emotional, can bring our listeners to faith and obedience. (82)

Dr. Campbell Morgan, minister of Westminster Chapel, London, told his students of three essentials of a sermon: truth, clarity, and passion. (83)

Humor [in the pulpit] has to be used wisely at the right place and the right time. (85)

The Christian pilgrimage begins with bowed head and bent knee at the cross; there is no other way into the kingdom of God. (90)

Like John Newton, the converted slave-trader, we must aim “to break a hard heart and to heal a broken heart.” (92)

It is possible to seem humble while constantly longing for praise. At the very moment we are glorifying Christ, we can actually be looking for our own glory. (94)

Christian preachers are to be neither inventors of new doctrines nor editors who delete old doctrines. Rather, they are to be stewards, faithfully handling out scriptural truths to God’s household. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. (96)

The most moving experience a preacher can ever have is when, in the middle of the sermon, a strange hush descends upon the congregation. The sleepers have woken up, the coughers have stopped coughing, and the fidgeters are sitting still. No eyes or minds are wandering. Everybody is listening, but not to the preacher. The preacher is forgotten, and the people are face to face with the living God, listening to his still, small voice. (97)


Related Posts:

Preaching to Make the Bible User Friendly

Preaching in a Way that Trains Bible Readers

Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought, “Wow, I could never get as much from that Scripture text as he did”—as if the preacher was a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat?

I have.

When the preacher is biblically faithful, this can be a beautiful demonstration of God gifting the church with shepherds and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It may also expose a flaw: the preacher may not be training his flock how to read the Bible through his preaching.

Preachers need to see the preaching event as a key moment in church life that makes the Bible more “user friendly” for congregants. This will deepen their own time in the Word, growing them as disciples and equipping them for ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Failing to do this will hinder spiritual growth by hindering Bible engagement, and could also leave congregants amazed at their preacher’s vast knowledge instead of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the importance of this in The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making:

In his preaching, a pastor sounds the tuning fork so that the whole orchestra knows in what key to play. He teaches and guards the sound deposit of the gospel so that all may know it clearly and thoroughly (for how else will they speak it?). He shows them not only what the Bible says, but how they can read and speak that truth for themselves. He constantly teaches the sound doctrinal framework that shapes the Bible reading and speaking of the whole congregation. (117)

What does this equipping look like in practice?

This way of thinking doesn’t require an extra twenty minutes of specialized instruction in each sermon.

What it does require is first understanding the text deeply and knowing how God wants to use it to shepherd hearts (often called the transformational intent of the passage). We will also want to know the challenges our congregants face approaching Scripture so we can properly address them (i.e. does biblical poetry confuse them?). Lastly, we will want to model faithful biblical interpretation by using basic hermeneutical principles to explain our thought process and conclusions. Below are several practical suggestions of how to implement this.

Practical Suggestions:

  • Remind listeners the most important question to ask when reading the Bible: What does the text actually say?
  • Walk through the historical, literary, and biblical context of the passage.
  • Explain how to approach the biblical genre that your text comes from.
  • Explain how the individual parts of your text make up the big idea of the text.
  • Make sure sermons are not a mere oration on the subject that doesn’t flow from the text or so detail-focused you lose the text’s big idea.
  • Regularly point back to the book’s main ideas and explain how your text functions in light of the whole.
  • At the start of a new sermon series through one book of Scripture, encourage your people to read through the whole book in one sitting. You could also preach an overview sermon for a book before beginning a new series on it.
  • Fight the temptation to look to another text of Scripture before you stick your nose deep in the one you’re studying.
  • Note connecting words and their functions. How does the use of words like “therefore”, “for”, “in order that”, “then”, “now” help the author communicate his main point?
  • Lead listeners with thoughtful questions that direct them to the text’s authorial intent.
  • Help the text’s surprises jump out at your listeners.
  • Model asking good questions that uncover the author’s transformative intent. “You might notice in verse two, Paul says such-and-such. Now why would he say that here? Let’s look at verse three for the answer.”
  • Zoom out of your text to see its place in the context of redemptive history.
  • Explain biblical theological themes and how your text points to Christ.
  • Encourage your congregation to underline repeated words or ideas in their Bibles.
  • Have application undergird your teaching as a reminder that God means for Scripture to change our lives.
  • When explaining a hard to understand text, remind listeners that Scripture is its own best interpreter, and model how you think through the text.
  • Recommend and give away books that model faithful Bible interpretation.
  • Offer Bible reading classes/lessons or read the Bible more one-to-one with congregants.
  • Encourage equipped members to minister by regularly reading the Bible with others.

Just like people are more likely to embrace technology that is user-friendly, peppering your preaching with these suggestions over time will help your people better engage the Bible, which will nourish their faith, grow them in holiness, and spur them on to bear fruit.

And as that happens, there will be less magic tricks and exaltation of the preacher in favor of more “wow!” comments where they should be directed: God and His glory as revealed to us in Scripture.

22 Questions for Pastoral Self-Evaluation from Tim Keller and David Powlison

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“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16.

Pastoral ministry is indeed a dangerous calling. Many have been derailed or disqualified in ministry from failing to heed the Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 4:16. To prevent damage to the church and Christ’s name, pastors must be vigilant in their personal and ministerial self-examination.

In the first appendix of Practical Wisdom for Pastors: Words of Encouragement and Counsel for a Lifetime of Ministry by Curtis C. Thomas, Timothy Keller and David Powlison provides diagnostic questions to help pastors examine their lives and teaching.

Keller and Powlison’s recommendations for what follows:

  • Read the questions carefully.
  • Think hard.
  • Pray.
  • Seek counsel from others.
  • Plan.
  • Acknowledge that others have gifts that complement yours.

Part I. Personal Qualifications of Effective Ministers: Holiness

A. Humility

1. Do you acknowledge your limitations and needs out of confidence in Christ’s gracious power?
2. Do you demonstrate a flexible spirit out of confidence in God’s control over all things, God’s authority over you, and God’s presence with you?

B. Love

1. Do you have a positive approach to people because of confidence in the power and hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
2. Do you show a servant’s heart to people because you are first and foremost a servant of the Lord?

C. Integrity

1. Are you responsible to God first and foremost?
2. Do you demonstrate a disciplined lifestyle under the Lordship of Jesus?
3. Are your family commitments a proper priority under the Lord?

D. Spirituality

1. Do you demonstrate personal piety and vigor in your relationship with God?
2. Do you demonstrate faithfulness to the Bible and sound doctrine?

Part II: Functional Qualifications of Effective Ministers: Pastoral Skill

A. Nurture

1. Do you show involved caring that comes from genuine love in Christ for your brothers and sisters?
2. Do you counsel people the Lord’s way? [i.e. using biblical principles.]
3. Do you disciple others into maturity in Christ and use of their gifts?
4. Do you give yourself to discipline and to patrolling the boundaries of the church which God bought with His own blood?

B. Communication

1. Do you preach the whole counsel of God?
2. Do you provide education for God’s many kinds of people?
3. Do you lead others to worship the Lord?

C. Leadership

1. Do you lead people into effective work together?
2. Do you administer well, creating a church that is wise in its stewardship?
3. Do you mediate fellowship among God’s people?
4. Do you create cooperative and team ministry within the church and between churches that honor Christ?

D. Mission

1. Do you evangelize those outside of Jesus Christ?
2. Do you show social concern for the many needs of people whom God desires to address?

Conclusion

“You have looked at yourself, hopefully through God’s eyes. Now work with what you have seen. If you could change in one area in the next year, which would it be? Where do you most need to mature in wisdom? What changes in you would bring the greatest glory to God and greatest blessing to other people?

Confess your sins and failings to God. Jesus Christ is your faithful high priest and shepherd. He is the Pastor of pastors. “Come with confidence to the throne of His grace that you may receive mercy and grace to help you in your time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Believe it and do it. The Lord’s strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Now what must you do? Prayerfully set goals. How will you become a more godly person and pastor? Are there people you must ask to pray for you and hold you accountable? Are there Bible passages or books you must study? Are there plans you must make? Do you need advice from a wise Christian about how to go about changing?”


Download a PDF of the entire article.

This material originally appeared in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. XII, No. 1, Fall 1993.