Summary: How to expound a whole book of the Bible
In this lesson I want to encourage the use of a whole book or more in preaching.
When I was in Bible College we used to laugh about the guy who would get up to preach and say that he only had one text, everything from Genesis to Revelation. I stopped laughing about it after I had realized that that was similar to what Stephen did in his sermon in Acts 7. There is a place for a sermon like that, but in all practicality, you could really only give such a broad brush sermon from Genesis to Revelation once in any congregation.
We are going to discuss the broadest brush usually found in the preachers paint kit, expounding a book. We will examine Acts 7 for lessons on how to use a broad brush approach to preaching. We will look at choosing key quotes, a theme, maximizing advantages, minimizing disadvantages, and tying it all to Christ.
1. The Scope of Stephen's Sermon
Notice that Stephen's sermon travels a long way. It is more than just one book, but we can learn some lessons that apply to a book of the Bible sermon from his broad-brush sermon. He begins with Abraham, the Egyptian enslavement of Israel after Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and finally hits them between the eyes for their murder of Jesus.
The scope of this lesson is not nearly as extensive as Stephen's sermon; however, we know that a broad ranging sermon can be effective and exemplary.
2. The Quotes
Stephen actually quotes two passages of Scripture, one from Exodus and one from Isaiah. Notice that he does not specify what part of Exodus or Isaiah these quotes are from. It was the ancient practice of just quoting what book, because chapters and verses are a modern invention.
While chapters and verse have advantages, they also introduce some disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that sometimes when we try to remember chapter and verse, we get lost in the unnecessary memorization of numbers and overlook the important lessons we ought to be remembering. Our minds can only cram so much information in, and the less you know the less you can forget. Although memorizing chapter and verse has some advantages for those gifted with that kind of mind, memorizing what the verses actually say, and the principles they teach, are so much more important than remembering the chapter and verse numbers, and the pride that can go along with having learned them by rote.
3. The Theme
The theme of Stephen's sermon is an attack. It is an attack on his nation's long history of having stiff necks and hard hearts, always resisting the Holy Spirit. It would be like an American condemning America's history of oppressing black slaves, or an Englishman condemning Britain's corruption in the Chinese Opium Wars. As Christians well know, Stephen's attack does not apply to Jews alone, because all of humanity has resisted God and disobeyed him. In fact the few prophets and righteous people, who did obey God during all those years, were mostly Jews.
It is important to remember that when we handle a broader subject, whether that is a history of Israel or a whole book of the Bible, we remain focused on a theme. Otherwise, we would just tend to wander about aimlessly.
An advantage of preaching a whole book is that people are not so lost in details that they forget there is a broader picture. The Pharisees were known for their detail-mindedness. They were so detail-minded that they completely lost sight of the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23). A broader brush can, if used rightly, point us to the weightier matters.
We are not so concerned with harmonizing details such as whether or not the Israelites were in Egypt 400 years or 430. We are concerned as to why and what we can learn from that. An overview has the advantage of learning lessons that took some believers a lifetime to learn. We can study both their virtues and their mistakes.
Preachers can lose sight of the importance of a book and treat this sermon just as a book summary. It is not. It is more than that. It is a placement of the book in its biblical perspective, the purpose for the book in the plan of God. There is no time for the treatment of many picky questions in a sermon on a book. If forces us to look for important principles.
For instance, if I preached a sermon on Genesis, I would divide the sermon into two parts: the creation and the patriarchs. I would not have time to answer questions about the pros and cons of various old-earth and young-earth creation theories, nor the various theories surrounding Noah's flood. This disadvantage can be overcome by using other opportunities to explain such details.