As a church, we want to preach the whole counsel of God. We take seriously what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ We believe the whole of the Bible is God’s Word and all of it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. In short, we don’t want to skip any bits of it because doing so means we are missing out on God’s wisdom and we will be lacking somewhere, somehow.
But there is always a temptation to skip certain bits of scripture. The reasons tempting us to skip bits are plethora. Here are some reasons we might be tempted to skip over bits of God’s Word.
A primary issue is culture. I am reminded of the time I was approached by some Iranian folk in our church who felt awkward as we preached through Song of Songs, who all insisted these things should not be discussed in public. I similarly remember a time a few Brits in the church suggested we should not keep mentioning issues of sin because “it might put people off”. When asked what we should do when the passage before us clearly spoke about sin, they responded admirably honestly but discouragingly given what they actually thought: ‘you should skip it’. In both cases, the temptation to skip parts of scripture were culturally driven. A concern that these things are not appropriate as far as our culture is concerned.
Sometimes, the issue is simply our own embarrassment. One sister – who recognised that it was in the Bible and so was important for us – could not bear Song of Songs because, in essence, she felt embarrassed by it. She accepted it was in scripture and could be learnt from, but insisted it should not be discussed in church and not preached on. Ultimately, it made her feel uncomfortable and that was reason enough for it to be avoided.
Other times, we know what scripture says, we really do believe it, but we know we are out of step with what many others think on the matter. We are, therefore, a little embarrassed to preach it. We are embarrassed by the matter.
For some of us, we might just feel awkward as the preacher. Speaking about giving to the church as the pastor who receives support is always awkward. Preaching as a church elder on the need to submit to and obey your leaders can feel difficult. Delivering a sermon on an issue that you know is live in your church can be awkward. All these things can tempt us to just skip these bits.
We may be tempted not to preach parts of scripture because we don’t think they are relevant to us. Some go as far as to insist that, because we are under the New Covenant now, the entire Old Testament is irrelevant to us. They say we should “unhitch” from the Old Testament. Others, who don’t go quite so far, cannot fathom how the lists of tribes and genealogies in Numbers, for example, could possibly have anything useful to say to us today, so we skip over such things. In the New Testament, we might be tempted to skip over the greetings to churches or the closing remarks listing various church members. We just don’t know how or why they are relevant to us so we skip over them and don’t bother with them.
I don’t mean this in a nasty way. But sometimes, we just don’t know what a passage means. If not a whole passage, perhaps just certain bits of it. We have questions of our own that we just can’t answer, so we skip over it and just move on. Sometimes, it’s not that we don’t know what something means so much as we can’t figure out how on earth to preach it. How, exactly, do you preach through books like Psalms or Isaiah? How do you systematically preach through the latter parts of Proverbs? Sometimes it is too difficult to figure out how to preach something so we are tempted to just skip them altogether.
Sometimes we are worried about preaching certain parts of scripture because we know they are controversial. Think of the opening chapters of Genesis, millennial views in Revelation 20, passages on the gifts of the Spirit. There are any number of examples. Sometimes, we know something may be a cause of controversy and so we are tempted to skip over it.