Monday, May 1, 2017

Commentaries and Sermon Prep Do Not Mix

Contrary to what some think, I do not hate commentaries. I do, however, think they are highly overused, especially when pastors depend more on them than they do the Bible for their pulpit ministries.

I can always tell when a commentary, rather than the Word of God, has been used in sermon prep. I think it's a shame, too. This practice not only hurts the pastor doing the prep, but it hurts the listeners as well.

I Peter 2:2 tell us, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby."

God wisely gives us the perspective of His Word as milk...and not just milk, but sincere milk. As the mom of 8 kids, I can tell you first hand, it's not good for newborn babies to have anything but the sincere milk they need to start off life. With my first baby, my doctor advised me to give him nothing but my milk for at least the first 6 months. No water, No juice. No food. Just the sincere milk of his mama, so that he would grow. While the same applies to non-nursing newborns, they ought to be given the sincere milk of the formula their doctor prescribes. You can't just give a newborn cow's milk, soy milk or almond milk. They need "sincere" milk. They need highly nutritious, high protein, pure milk, either from their mama or specially they can grow properly.

Commentaries are not for newborns. Baby Christians need the sincere milk of the Word of God. They need the real thing, not a watered down version that has lost its potency. They need the pure Word of God, not the opinions of men. Commentaries are the opinions of men. When a pastor heavily uses commentaries for sermon prep, they are giving their people a watered-down version of the Word, not the pure Word. The result is, the people don't grow as they ought. Their behavior might change for a while, but their hearts are not growing, they are only temporarily changing their behavior to please people and try to fit in with everyone else. This is not discipleship, this is cloning. God does not want clones; He did not tell us to make clones. He told us to make disciples.

Pastors, take a look at your sheep. Are they stepping up to serve? If you're begging for helpers and volunteers to teach and no one is stepping up, it could be that they are spiritually malnourished from shallow preaching that has been heavily watered down by commentaries. Babies who are properly fed want to learn all the time, then they want to share that knowledge. It's impossible to stop a properly fed newborn from growing, learning and wanting to share that learning with their world. When babies don't do this, pediatricians call it "failure to thrive" and immediate steps are taken to improve their diet. Are your sheep failing to thrive in their Christian walk?

Commentaries are not for pulpit ministry. Once a person has established their ability to learn from God's Word by personal observation and interpretation, they can begin to refer to a commentary here and there as a reference to see what others have concluded about a passage of Scripture. It's assumed that one who is a pastor has already learned how to make their own personal observations and learned to interpret God's Word properly. If they want to read a commentary to see how their interpretations line up with others who are assumed to be like-minded, then reading a commentary is highly appropriate to their study. However, when a commentary is the first thing a pastor grabs for sermon prep and does not do any of their own observations and interpretation, there is a big weakness in their ability to dig out the Truths in God's Word. This, in turn, leads to a weak pulpit ministry....and weak sheep with a failure to thrive.

Commentaries are not always right. God's Word is always right, but since commentaries are written by humans, we have to assume they have contain mistakes. There is not one commentary that is 100% right 100% of the time. Since it would take a tremendous amount of time to flush out every mistake, why use a faulty guide in the first place? There are no mistakes in God's Word. None. And if one does not feel confident in their ability to observe and interpret, they can be reminded that the perfect Holy Spirit is their Guide.  I do not understand people's insistence on using an imperfect resource as a main resource when the Perfect One is so readily available.

I fear many lay aside God's Word and pick up commentaries first. They ought to lay aside the commentary and pick up God's Word for a change. They might be surprised when their church begins to grow and thrive beyond their expectations. After all, this is how we all grow.


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