Because of God’s grace (and the kindness of many pastors in my life), I have had the opportunity to preach from the Bible in different settings for about 10 years now. One preaching lesson I have learned in that time is to preach (and read) the Bible within its entire context.
One of the errors that we as preachers and Bible teachers can make is making our point too strong and without nuance. Anecdotally, I have heard preachers choose their favorite ministry practice or theological topic and say something like this: “Does it say ______? No, it says ________.” I know when I hear that phrase, we are going somewhere undesirable. (Not to say that this particular word structure is inherently bad.)
Think about this hypothetical scene. One pastor– we’ll call him John– is passionately against church marketing. John cringes when churches use a budget to pay for boosted Facebook posts, search engine spots on Google, billboards on the side of the road, and mailers.
John is preaching from Matthew 28:18-20 and he gets to the place where Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He wants to make a point of application, so he says something like this: “Does Jesus say go into all the world and hand out fliers? Does he say go into all the world and put your sermons on the internet? No, he says go into all the world and make disciples. We don’t need to worry about all these other things, we just need to preach the gospel.”
While it is true that Jesus didn’t say this (he’s not lying), the problem is, these are not necessarily in contradiction to one another, and I would be highly suspicious that the churches that use these ministry practices didn’t get them from an application of Matthew 28:18-20. In fact, most likely, they got it from application of a text like 1 Corinthians 9:19-24 where Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some (emphasis added).”
So what happened in this hypothetical scene? John made his point too strong. Because he made his point too strong, he actual criticized something that the Bible doesn’t. He became more strict than God.
What did this do to the people who were listening to John preach? Now, some of them believe that churches shouldn’t have a marketing budget and should “just preach the gospel.” Now, they are criticizing brothers and sisters who haven’t done anything wrong, brothers and sisters who have a sincere desire to reach people with their methods. And, John’s listeners are forming a wall in their heart to Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 9. They are also closing their eyes to the fact that Jesus himself did not just “preach the gospel” but did acts of service as well. By making his point too strongly from one text, John started building walls in the hearts of his hearers that shouldn’t be there.
What I would like to see more of in myself and in other preachers and Bible teachers is more AND’s. The Bible teaches this AND that. We don’t want to build a hardness of heart in people for one part of the Bible because we are teaching another part too strongly—we want to be able to say, like Paul, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; emphasis added).”