“If all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable,” the questioner asked, “why do we tend to focus on certain parts of the Bible and pay little attention to the rest?”
I’d just finished a sermon on 2 Timothy 3:14-17, addressing the unique origin and value of Scripture. The questioner raised an issue I’d been thinking about earlier in the day, and one that I’m running out of time to address.
When I began preaching, I thought I had all the time in the world to cover every part of Scripture. Now, almost thirty years later, I realize how important it is to plan to make the most of whatever amount of time we have left.
In The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible, Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid offer a challenge: “All vocational preachers should set themselves the goal of preaching through the entire Bible over a thirty-five-year period.”
“By this, we mean preaching through every biblical book from start to finish as a coherent whole. And that means every chapter of every book, and every verse of every chapter—the whole lot!” They suggest this challenge is a practical application of our beliefs about the Bible. “If we really believe our doctrine of Scripture, what else can we do?”
I thought this would happen automatically. Now I realize how much intentionality it takes, and how short 35 years — “an attempt to approximate a solid lifetime of preaching” — turns out to be.
If you’re a younger pastor, it may be worth sitting down and creating a rough plan for how to cover all of Scripture over the course of something like thirty-five years. You’ll probably never be able to carry out the plan perfectly, but at least you’ll have something to work from.
Those of us who have less time may have to take a different approach, diving into sections of Scripture we’ve ignored up until now. Of course, the goal isn’t to cross Scriptures off a mental checklist. The goal is to preach what’s helpful for our people and to ensure we’re preaching all parts of the Bible, not just our favourite parts. We want to demonstrate that all Scripture is profitable, and teach people how to read it.
We can preach passages in detail. Martyn Lloyd-Jones filled eight volumes preaching on Ephesians, for instance. But we can also preach from a higher altitude. “When the preacher surveys a long section of biblical text, he is able to expound on large ideas and present the grand flow of biblical logic in a panoramic way,” says Mark Dever. “When he deals with smaller sections in more careful detail, he can home in on specific issues and explain them in greater depth. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. Both methods have a legitimate place in biblical preaching.”
However we do this, I love the challenge. I was asked to preach last Sunday morning on Psalm 101, a psalm I’d never preached before, and I loved every second. I want to preach all of Scripture, ignoring nothing, delighting in all of it. It’s all God-breathed. It’s all profitable.