“They only do what they see at home!” I hated hearing those words from a witty observer when my kids said or did something embarrassing in public. But it’s true. Children have a tendency to mimic in public what they hear or see their parents do in private. The same is true in reverse for people who sit in our small group Bible studies and Sunday School classes—they likely will read the Bible in private the same way they listen to us teach it in public. That makes the way we teach almost as important as what we teach.
That’s one of the primary reasons the systematic, consecutive treatment of Bible books must be our bread-and-butter in Bible teaching. It helps people read the Bible better! While there can be value in teaching week-to-week from selected and distinct Bible texts (and even periodic, but rare topical lessons!), teaching the Bible book-by-book reaps a higher yield when it comes to benefiting our listeners, not to mention ensuring the keenest interpretation through the best use of context. Here are just a few of its benefits:
- Biblical Literacy – Rampant biblical illiteracy partially is fostered by “hop, skip, and jump” approaches to Bible study. Taking their cues from teachers who jump from text-to-text, Christians often use a similar “lucky dip” approach to personal Bible reading. They close their eyes, let the Bible fall open to a random point, and begin to read. Spiritual eating habits that involve intentional, systematic study are much healthier than such haphazard and mystical approaches to Scripture.
- Biblical Authority – Teaching Bible passages consecutively and contextually has a better chance of encouraging people to look for what God says in a Bible text instead of what they want it to say. It doesn’t seek our subjective thoughts or opinions, but the authoritative “Thus saith the Lord” in every passage of Scripture. And that authority breeds immense force and confidence in those who teach the Bible, and it models great reverence and submission in those who read it.
- Biblical Objectivity – Systematic teaching helps protect Bible readers from the tendency to develop a one-subject mentality. All of us have our special areas of interests, such as the Second Coming, spiritual gifts, certain ethical issues, or abundant life passages. Teaching through Bible books helps model for Bible readers how to stay off hobbyhorses and pursue a more holistic understanding of the Bible that includes topics that might otherwise by overlooked or avoided.
- Biblical Spirituality – The term nutritional time bomb refers to a deficiency in the diet that may remain undetected for years, but suddenly manifest itself in severe sickness. Similar explosions happen in undernourished spiritual lives. Unhealthy, random intake of biblical truth can leave one too weak to weather the storm of sudden catastrophe or unusual burden. But faithful consumption of a balanced diet of God’s Word builds a reservoir of spiritual resources to help us face times of crisis.
- Biblical Priority – Many Christians spend needless time searching and pondering over their next subject of Bible study, often waiting for God to “zap” them! Relief of such frustration—in both teaching and personal reading—frequently is sought in the latest best-seller or topical devotional book by a well-known author in the local Christian bookstore. Systematic approach to Bible study keeps the Christian focused on the biblical text while providing a built-in map for where to go next!
An old proverb says, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Every time we teach, we have a responsibility beyond just teaching a Bible lesson on that occasion. We must teach people to fish! Teaching through Bible books better positions us to make our people Berean Christians, who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). That’s the only way they will survive and thrive spiritually.
Pastor of Teaching & Training, The Church at Brook Hills
Professor of Preaching, Southeastern Seminary