I typically preach my way through entire books of the Bible. In 2018, I’ve already preached through the book of Colossians, and I’m currently hitting the high points of the book of Genesis. This approach to sermon writing has numerous benefits for me: It keeps me from focusing on my favorite Bible verses, it forces me to preach on difficult topics, and it saves me time since I don’t start my Monday wondering what I’m going to preach on this coming Sunday.
While seminary textbooks extol the virtues of preaching through entire books of the Bible at a time, one of the benefits of this approach that we often miss is its redundancy. Last week, I preached on Genesis 3’s story about Adam and Eve. This week, I’m preaching on Genesis 4’s story about Cain and Abel. One of the things that has come out so far in my sermon prep is how similar Genesis 4’s story is to Genesis 3’s.
Let’s compare the stories: In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve have a perfect relationship with God which they ruin by choosing to sin. Instead of wreaking havoc on them, God seeks out his wayward human creatures, gives them a chance to confess, and remembers mercy when pronouncing judgment. In Genesis 4, Cain murders his brother Abel, which is clearly a heinous sin; instead of instantly casting Cain into hell, God comes gently to Cain, gives him a chance to confess, and then remembers mercy when pronouncing judgment. Though there are obviously differences, these two stories have a lot of common themes. Consequently, if my sermons are biblically based, they should have similar emphases and applications.
Genesis isn’t alone in its redundancy, however. If I were to preach through Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount, I’d have to preach some very similar sounding sermons to get through Matthew 5:21-48. Likewise, when I preached through Colossians, the necessity of having Christ as Lord of our lives was a continual concern. For the most part, each biblical book has a handful of essential issues that they return to over and over again. Consequently, when we preach through a book of the Bible, we should hear some common issues repeated.
At first blush, preaching two sermons back-to-back that have nearly identical points, emphases, and applications may seem like it would make for a boring Sunday. Perhaps it will; however, that’s a risk I’m willing to take because preaching isn’t really about entertaining. Preaching serves many goals; two of these goals are what we could call the educational goal and the applicational goal.
Regarding the educational goal, when I finish my sermon on Sunday, I want somebody to know more about the Christian religion than they did when they got out of bed. With the applicational goal, I want God to use what I say in the pulpit on Sunday to change somebody’s lifestyle between Monday and Saturday. Any preacher worth having would agree that these goals are much more important than entertaining the congregation.
When we consider that seeing a growth in knowledge and holiness is more important than entertainment, we see that one of the values of preaching through books of the Bible is the fact that the sermons can be redundant and repetitious at times. While the repetitious nature of the sermons may bore the people in the pews, it’s an established fact that repetition is a key to learning. I’m personally willing to preach similar sermons two weeks in a row if it helps one person appreciate how patient God is when dealing with us. If we’ll ask someone to repeat their phone number so we can make sure to memorize it, we should be willing to listen to the preacher repeat that God is patient with us.