A Sermon Should Not Reproduce the Text

Preaching is not narrative, poetry, or apocalyptic. It is a distinct form all its own, its own genre if you will. Therefore, we should not try to reproduce the text in our preaching. We should preach from the text and make sure the people know why we believe the text is teaching what it is teaching. But the goal is not to reproduce the text. I recently finished The Shape of Preaching by Dennis Cahill. It was a good book overall. But the author says, “The literary form of the text ought to bear a significant relationship to sermon shape.” If all he means by this is that we ought to consider what genre we are preaching, use the structure of the passage to help determine meaning, and possibly use the structure to help structure our sermon then I am fine with that. Nothing new there.

But it seems that he is saying our sermons ought to reflect the genre we are preaching in a more concrete way. It is hard to say exactly what he or others who express similar sentiments mean. But the impression I get is that a sermon on an apocalyptic text will be different than an sermon on Ephesians 3 or Psalm 51.  For example, a sermon on a narrative text should have more story telling in it. I once heard a sermon on Ruth that was all dialogue and story telling, like a play. Or the idea could be that a sermon on the Psalms should be more poetic than a sermon on I John. The point is that the sermon should reflect the type of passage we are preaching.

But a sermon is not supposed to reproduce the text. It is supposed to explain and apply the text.  In our sermons we do explain Hebrew poetry, symbolism in apocalyptic passages, and the flow of a narrative.  We do not take the particular genre of the text and try to make our sermon fit that genre. Preaching is not narrative, poetry, an epistle, or an apocalypse. It is a sermon: An oral exposition of a Biblical passage that explains and applies that text to a certain group of people at a particular point in time.

Second Helvetic Confession: On the Scriptures

I have been reading the Second Helvetic Confession. What is that you ask? Here is a little background. Here is the document itself, which is longer than either the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession. While I don’t agree with all of it, such as its “ever virgin” phrase or its excessive pessimistic view of the church in history, overall it is rich and is worth consulting. Here is the first section of the confession on the Scriptures.  I have put in a bold a few phrases I enjoyed.

CANONICAL SCRIPTURE. We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.

And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

SCRIPTURE TEACHES FULLY ALL GODLINESS. We judge, therefore, that from these Scriptures are to be derived true wisdom and godliness, the reformation and government of churches; as also instruction in all duties of piety; and, to be short, the confirmation of doctrines, and the rejection of all errors, moreover, all exhortations according to that word of the apostle, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,” etc. (II Timothy 3:16-17). Again, “I am writing these instructions to you,” says the apostle to Timothy, “So that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God,” etc. (I Timothy 3:14-15). SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD. Again, the selfsame apostle to the Thessalonians: “When,” says he, “You received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God,” etc. (I Thess. 2:13) For the Lord himself has said in the gospel, “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaking through you”; therefore “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Matt. 10:20; Luke 10:16; John 13:20).

The sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture is one of the key battlegrounds in the church today and will be in the coming years. Those of us in the reformed world would be wise to read not just the key works on Scripture (Warfield, Whitaker, and systematics), but also to mine the depths of the confessions and catechisms.

Questions About Family Worship


Here are some common questions that come up when family worship is discussed.

Will family worship make my children super-spiritual?
Okay, no one actually says this, but it is often an unspoken assumption. We believe that family worship is some great key to unlocking our children’s potential holiness. It is not. It is one of the many things that we can do to help our children grow. But it is not magic. Many families have practiced family worship and yet not brought their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Do family worship, but don’t expect it to do too much. There are many other tools we must use alongside family worship to raise godly children.

What if I am not capable of teaching my family God’s Word? 
All men who lead their family in worship feel inadequate.  However, if you are the father, then God expects you to lead your family in learning God’s Word. The usual problem here is that we think we need to be John Piper or R.C. Sproul every time we have family worship. But you don’t need to be an amazing speaker to lead your family in worship. You don’t need to be profound. In fact, when we try to sound profound often we lose our children’s attention. All you need to do is give your family a clear truth or two from Scripture each time.

How do I practice family worship with young children?
Family worship can be difficult with young children. My encouragement would be to keep it simple and short. If you have a three or four year old read them a little Scripture, sing a short song, and pray with them. After you read them the Bible explain what it is saying in short, clear sentences. Young children understand a lot more than we think they do. You can read them stories from the Bible. But you can also read them books like Ephesians. For example, you could read Ephesians 1:7-10. If I was talking to little children I would explain that Jesus died for us and that we can run to him to have our sins taken away. That is about all I would say. Illustrations are very helpful with young children. Sin is like mud and Jesus makes us clean. It may not be Charles Spurgeon, but it is true and clear. And that is all that is necessary.

How do I practice family worship with a broad age range?
This follows naturally from the above question. What if I have numerous age ranges? A good shepherd understands how to minister to various kinds of sheep. This is easy to do one on one, but in a group it is more difficult.  The key is to try balance the increasing inquisitiveness of the older children with the short attention spans of the younger ones. Here are my two suggestions. First, talk directly to the little ones as you do worship. Look them in the eye and ask them questions on their level. For example, “Elijah (my three year old) what does Jesus have coming out of his mouth?”  Second, let the older ones ask questions, but don’t allow them to go on and on. With older children, you will want to set aside time to discuss spiritual issues with them outside of family worship. Sometimes I will tell one of my older children to wait until after family worship and then answer their question privately.

Can I use a story Bible instead of the real Bible?
Using a story Bible can be a helpful way to supplement reading the Bible. But I would not encourage using it in place of reading Scripture. Even with young children I would read at least a little bit of the “real” Bible.

Can the wife lead family worship in the husband’s absence? 
A wife can lead in family worship in her husband’s absence as long as she does it in a way that supports her husband and does not undermine him. The woman in  Proverbs 31 has wisdom on her tongue and the law of kindness in her mouth (Proverbs 31:26). It might also be worthwhile to have older sons lead family worship occasionally to get practice.

What if a woman is married to a non-Christian husband? 
This is a difficult question. The wife is stuck here between two competing obligations. First, she wants to give her children God’s Word. Second, she wants to respect her husband’s wishes. Ideally, she would graciously approach her husband and ask to have a short Bible time with the children. I think most non-Christian husbands will be fine with this. She should ask what time he would like her to do it so it does not cause him unnecessary interference.  If he says no, I would encourage her to not implement family worship without her husband’s consent. If there is no family worship, she should make sure she is giving her children God’s Word all day (Deut. 6:7). If the husband will not allow family worship then she needs to make sure her children are getting the Bible other ways. Family worship is not explicitly commanded in Scripture so her husband is not forcing her to disobey God’s Word. But teaching our children God’s Word is. She must find ways to get them God’s Word. Obviously, a key would be getting them to church. In order of priority for a Christian woman married to a non-Christian would be 1) church, 2) Christian education, 3) daily interaction about God’s Word, and 4) family worship.

Note: Several of these answers were influenced by Jason Helopoulos’ book A Neglected Grace. 

A Word Shaped Life

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Reading, hearing, believing, and obeying Scripture is the sum of the Christian life. In the Holy Scriptures we meet Christ and learn to become like Christ.  If a man is to be truly Christian then he must be a man of the Bible. The Bible will shape how he thinks, feels, and acts. This means we reject rationalism and emotionalism as foundations for truth.We do not reject emotion or rational thought. But we seek to bring our actions, thoughts, and emotions in line with God’s Word.

We are not emotionalists. We do not believe the Bible simply when we experience something emotionally. Most people today believe something to be true only if they feel it is true. True worship is worship which makes us feel a certain way.  Many Christians approach both the reading and preaching of Scripture the same way. If I experience a good feeling when I read the Bible then what I read spoke to me. Otherwise it did not. Christians are to believe and obey the Bible whether or not we feel it to be true.  Truth shapes our emotions. Emotion does not determine truth. If our feelings object to certain truths in the Scriptures, we need to change our feelings, not reject or change the Scriptures. This is not to reject emotion, but rather to say that our emotions are sinful and need to governed by God’s Word.

We are not rationalists. Truth is not determined by what makes sense to us. There are many truths in Scripture that hard to reconcile in our minds, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and even the creation of the world from nothing. And even beyond those obvious examples there are other Biblical truths that are odd or hard to reconcile with what we see. Is suffering good for us? Why should I have a bunch of kids in this terrible world we live? Our minds and eyes say, “No.” But reason should bend to the Bible, not vice-versa.  This does not mean that we do not use our mind. We are to honor God with our mind. We are to think, observe, meditate on, and analyze the world with our  minds. But our mind must be shaped by the Word.

Finally, not only must our mind and our emotions be shaped by God’s Word, but our actions must be also. Often the things we do and why we do them are influenced by the world more than by Scripture. This world could be the home we grew up in, the books we read, our friends, or the movies we watch.  Usually the influence from these various worlds lurks beneath the surface. We do not recognize  how heavily influenced by the world our actions are. The reading and preaching of the Word remind us that we are living like the world instead growing up into Christ. We should constantly be asking, “Am I walking in the ways of God?” The only way we know the answer to that question is by examining our life in light of God’s Word. 

We are to read and then re-read the Scriptures. But is this enough? The answer is no. We all come to the Scriptures with our own set of glasses, which can cause us to see things in the Bible which are not there or miss what is there. We should read the Bible privately. But beyond that and more importantly we must read the Bible with other believers in church and especially to give heed to the preached word. It is from the pulpit that our assumptions about God’s Word are most forcefully challenged. As we sit there week after week the Word works on us. In the Scriptures, the preached Word is the great tool God uses to make us like Christ.

Read the Bible. Listen to the Bible preached by men who know, love, and obey the Scriptures. Then shape your life, emotions, and mind by God’s good Word.

Sexual Purity & the Seventh Commandment: Heidelberg Catechism~Lord’s Day 41


This Sunday is the 41st Lord’s Day in 2016. The Heidelberg Catechism reading for this Sunday is:

Q. What does the seventh commandment teach us?

A. That God condemns all unchastity, and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it and live decent and chaste lives, within or outside of the holy state of marriage.

Q. Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?

A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires, and whatever may incite someone to them.

Kevin DeYoung sets the stage by saying:

Is there any command more ridiculed in our culture than the Seventh Commandment? Adultery is a joke; homosexuality is a right; sex before marriage is the norm; no fault divorce and remarriage is assumed; bestiality is increasingly considered avant gard. This is the world we live in. Sex has always been a leading vote-getter in the most popular sin contest, but never before in this country has sexual deviance been made to look so normal and God’s standard make to look so obscene…The Seventh Commandment is not just broken in this country; it’s being smashed to pieces.

Our bodies are rarely pure, much less our thoughts and desires. We are so at home with sexual immorality in our TV shows and music, but perhaps more deadly in our churches. The Heidelberg says we should “thoroughly detest unchastity. We are not encouraged to a mild disdain for sexual immorality. But to a deep, abiding hatred of lust. We are not encouraged to a casual approach to sexual purity, but to a whole-hearted pursuit of it. Is that our attitude towards sexual immorality? How many of us detest the idea of getting caught looking porn, but do not detest the porn itself? How many of us hate that a friend or spouse might see us lusting after that girl in yoga pants or that guy in a tight jeans, but do not hate the fact that we want to lust after her/him? For most of us, the consequences of sexual sin are what we hate, not the sin itself. Until we learn to hate the sin and the desires that give birth to those sins we will never gain the victory.  Continue reading

Psalm 119:71~It was Good for Me to be Afflicted


One of the primary values of our age is that suffering is bad. Physical pain and suffering must be eliminated at all costs. If it cannot be eliminated then we should have the right to end our lives. Children born with diseases should not have been born at all. Boys and girls are not taught to “fight through pain” anymore. They are taught to look for a way out. Pain, affliction, and suffering are enemies to be vanquished. Emotional pain is approached the same way. We avoid close relationships because they will create deeper scars when they are ruptured. We rarely commit to anything of substance because we could be criticized for it or it could go bad and we would look foolish. We guard ourselves against emotional pain.

There is some truth in our gut reaction to pain and suffering. It is not the way it was supposed to be. Without sin there would not be pain, at least as we know it. But in this fallen world pain and suffering don’t just exist. They are good for us. In the world, as it is now, suffering plays a central role in the life of the Christian. We might say that God has redeemed suffering and pain. In a few short verses the Psalmists tells us three times the value of affliction.

Psalm 119:67, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:71, It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119: 75, I know, O Lord , that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted.

The word translated “afflicted” in all three verses means to hurt, humiliate, cause to suffer, or cause pain. It is used in Psalm 105:18 where it says that Joseph’s feet were “hurt” when they were put in irons. It is used in Psalm 89:22 where it says that David will not be afflicted by the wicked. Perhaps most striking is Isaiah 53:4 where it says that Christ was “smitten by God and afflicted.” These three verses in Psalm 119 give us a rich theology of suffering. Continue reading

Pray as a Beggar

Here is a section from John Calvin’s Institutes on prayer (III:XX:7).  I have removed Scripture references unless he quotes the passage in full.

For this reason, they who delight in their own foulness aspire not at all [to prayer]. Lawful prayer, therefore, demands repentance. Hence arises the commonplace in Scripture that God does not hearken unto the wicked, and that their prayers-just as their sacrifices-are abominable to him. For it is right that they who bar their hearts should find God’s ears closed, and that they who by their hardheartedness provoke his severity should not feel him conciliatory. In Isaiah he threatens in this way, “Even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen; for your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). Again, in Jeremiah, “I cried out…and they refused to listen;…they will cry out in return, and I will not listen” (Jeremiah 11:7, 8, 11). For he counts it as the height of dishonor for wicked men, who all their lives besmirch his sacred name, to boast of his covenant.  Consequently, in Isaiah he complains when the Jews “draw near to him with their lips…their hearts are far from him” (Isaiah 29:13). He does not, indeed, restrict this to prayers alone but declares that falsity in any part of his worship is abhorrent to him. That statement of James applies here. “You seek, and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). It is indeed true, as we shall see again later, that the prayers poured out by the godly do not depend upon their worthiness; yet John’s warning is not superfluous; “We receive from him whatever we ask because we keep his commandments” (I John 3:22), while a bad conscience closes the door to us. From this it follows that only sincere worshipers of God pray aright and are heard. Let each one, therefore, as he prepares to pray be displeased at his own evil deeds, and (something that cannot happen without repentance) let him take the person and disposition of a beggar.

For our prayers to be heard we must hate our sins, repent of them, trust in Christ’s blood to take our them away, and grow in holiness. Otherwise our bad conscience and our wicked deeds will put a ceiling over our heads and God will close his ears to us.