By John Piper
Editor’s note: As we step into the study of Scripture week after week, we’re eventually going to step right into a difficult text.
It might be tempting to skip over those texts. Instead, here are four reasons John Piper provides for preaching hard texts in his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.
1. Desperation (A sense of utter dependence on God’s enablement.)
I see this in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually appraised.”
The natural person (all of us without the Spirit’s work in our lives) should feel desperation before the revelation of God. He needs God’s help.
Well, the same thing is true of spiritual—yet finite and fallible and sinful—people like me, when I meet difficult texts of God’s Word. I should feel desperation, a desperate dependence on God’s help.
That is what God wants us to feel. That is something He has unleashed by inspiring difficult texts.
2. Supplication (Prayer to God for help.)
This follows from desperation. If you feel dependent on God to help you see the meaning of a text, then you will cry to Him for help.
I see this in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Seven times in one psalm the psalmist prays, “Teach me your statutes” (119:12, 26, 64, 68, 124, 135, 171). Or as Psalm 25:5 says, “Lead me in your truth and teach me.”
By inspiring some things hard to understand, God has unleashed in the world desperation which leads to supplication—the crying out to God for help.
3. Cogitation (Thinking hard about biblical texts.)
You might think, “No, no, you are confused, John. You just said that God wants us to pray for His help in understanding, not to think our way through to a solution.”
But the answer to that concern is, “No, praying and thinking are not alternatives.”
We see this in 2 Timothy 2:7, where Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
Yes, it is the Lord who gives understanding. But He does it through our God-given thinking and the efforts we make, with prayer, to think hard about what the Bible says.
So when God inspired texts like Romans 3:1–8, He unleashed in the world an impulse toward hard thinking. So alongside desperation and supplication there is cogitation. Which leads finally to:
4. Education (Training young people and adults to pray earnestly, read well, and think hard.)
If God has inspired a book as the foundation of the Christian faith, there is a massive impulse unleashed in the world to teach people how to read.
And if God ordained for some of that precious, sacred, God-breathed book to be hard to understand, then God unleashed in the world not only an impulse to teach people how to read but also how to think about what they read—how to read hard things and understand them and how to use the mind in a rigorous way.
Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Impart understanding to others, Timothy, in a way that will enable them to teach others also. In other words, the writings of the apostles—especially the hard ones—unleash generation after generation of education.
Education is helping people understand something they don’t already understand. Or, more accurately, education is helping people (young or old) learn how to get an understanding that they didn’t already have.
Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a book with complex demanding paragraphs in it.
Brothers, it is worth it! Show your people why God inspired hard texts.
JOHN PIPER (@JohnPiper) is the founder and teacher of Desiring God and the chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. Excerpted and adapted with permission from Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Copyright 2013, B&H Publishing Group.