As we have been looking at the importance of Sola Scriptura, we have primarily focused on understanding it in its historical context and responding to some errors that come up. While this is an integral part of something, it is equally important to understand how to apply the principle practically. This is especially true when it comes to the principle of Sola Scriptura since we are dealing with the Word of God. In order to help us understand how to apply the principles, we are going to compare different types of preaching. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there are a lot of different approaches to preaching. From the topical to selecting individual passages to preaching through whole books, there is a wide variation in preaching styles. Within each of the styles listed, there are even further variations. For example, someone preaching through books of the bible could do it by going verse by verse or by themes. The comparison we are going to look at today will be between topical preaching and verse-by-verse exposition.
The Forest and the Trees
One of the significant strengths of the verse-by-verse exposition of a whole book of scripture is that the book as a whole comes to light. It is holistic. One of the first lessons in sound interpretation of scripture is that context is king. Every part of scripture should be read in the context of the verses around it, the whole of the book it is found in, and the whole of scripture. Scripture contains a lot. There are 66 books that were written over the course of 1500 years in three languages and on three continents. There are idioms and expressions that can be hard for us to understand. There are references to historical events and testimony of miraculous things. One of the most important things for what we are talking about today is that Scripture was not written as a list of principles, although there are specific places this does occur. The books of scripture are written to be understood as a whole. If we do not take the time to do this, allowing scripture to interpret scripture, we can come up with some strange teachings. A funny example of this is a desktop calendar I saw a few years ago where each day had a different verse on it. It had Matthew 4:9 on it as an encouragement, and at first glance, it would be. It says, "And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." The issue comes when you actually go to check the context and see that this is part of Satan's temptation of Jesus. What is sad about this, though, is that this is how many people treat scripture.
The Issue of Love
To use another example, one of the hot-button issues in the culture today is the issue of love. There are countless preachers every Sunday who choose passages such as John 13:34 and 1 John 4:11 as the verse that they are preaching from. These verses talk about how Christians are to love one another, a good and right thing. The issue comes when those verses are separated from the rest of the bible's teaching on love and even the way Scripture defines love. For example, earlier in 1 John 2:15, the apostle also talks about love, but this time, he tells the reader not to love something. If the book was preached through verse-by-verse, this is something that would be necessary to talk about. "Do not love the world or anything in the world" is as much a scriptural command as "Love one another." This is why a holistic approach is so important.
Sola Scripture is an essential principle for us to follow. We need to come back to it and stand on it the same way the reformers did. Willing to die for it. Scripture is not ours to do with as we will. It is the Word of the Lord, and we are to handle it rightly. An essential part of this is the holistic approach. All of scripture is important. When Paul or John sat down to write the books and letters we have from them, they did not give a list of one-liners. They wrote arguments that flow from one thought to another. 1 John is an excellent example of this, where the love for one another comes after and builds on the fact that we are not to love the things of this world. It is a contrast set up to show us something important and true about love. Do not love the world. Instead, love one another. But this contrast is completely missed if all we do is pick and choose. We never deal with the hard things. And yet, it is often the difficult things that draw us closer to God. Understanding our sin is hard. Dealing with the reality that we are born in sin is difficult, and yet it is this very reality that points us to Christ. It is in the difficult things that we often find the most hope. So, read and study the Bible holistically. Start at the beginning and go to the end. Do not skip parts, but try to understand them as part of the whole and avoid cherry-picking and people who would push for that approach.
Soli Deo Gloria