Editor’s note: At each of the regional Focus Retreats in 2019-2020, an experienced pastor was asked to share about “how my preaching has changed over the years and, if I were starting all over, how I would preach the Bible in today’s world.” At the East Retreat in October in Ocean City, Md., Galen Wiley, who led Charis Fellowship congregations for more than 44 years until his retirement in 2015, had these thoughts. He currently serves as part-time administrative pastor at Grace Church, Lancaster, Pa. (Scott Becker lead pastor), where he served as lead pastor from March 2004 until his retirement.
by Galen Wiley
At Grace College and Seminary, I gained a deep commitment to the study and preaching of the Bible as God’s Word. I loved 2 Timothy 3:16-17. We were taught to exegete and diagram a passage, build the outline from the diagrammatic structure, and then carefully preach it with some illustration and application. (It didn’t take me long to drop the diagramming.) I loved the careful exegesis and exposition of the text. I believed that if I knew the truth of the text and carefully taught it to others, that truth would set us free (John 8:32). In my first ministry as a senior pas- tor I preached through Colossians – for 21 months.
But then God used John 5:39-40 to change the course of the rest of my life and ministry. We do not find life, nor do we lead others to find life merely by the study of the Bible – we must come to Jesus!
The Holy Spirit reminded me that 2 Timothy 3:15 precedes 3:16-17: the real power of the Bible is that it makes us wise for the salvation that comes by faith in Jesus. The Spirit orchestrated the writing of the Bible to define exactly who Jesus is, how He works, why we need that work and what it looks like, and how we allow Him to work in us. The Spirit uses this Book to teach us Jesus – to convict us where we get off track, to restore us, and to train us in living in the righteousness of Jesus – so that we can be men and women of God. Jesus is the Truth who sets us free (John 8:36). The Holy Spirit wrote the Book to lead us to Jesus. This is the real power and purpose of Scripture – to make us wise for the salvation that is by faith in Jesus!
It is exciting to realize that though this Book is the written Word of God and Jesus is the living Word of God, Jesus is God’s ultimate, greatest revelation to us (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-3). We should be passionate about studying, living, and preaching God’s written Word and even more passionate about studying, living, and preaching God’s living Word. God wants us to know His Book, but infinitely more He wants us to know His Son.
In the early church, they simply preached Jesus. The world was turned upside down. When they quoted the Old Testament Scriptures, it was the only Bible they had to point people to Jesus as God’s Messiah who came to save. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that to the unbelievers he simply preached Christ and Him crucified (and raised and exalted). To the believers, he preached the mystery wisdom of God which includes all that God has graciously given to us through Jesus. In Colossians 1:24-2:3 Paul defined that mystery wisdom as “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Paul said that he simply proclaimed Christ, admonishing everyone, and teaching everyone with all wisdom to present everyone perfect in Christ. He did it all through the power of Christ living and working in Him.
I am overwhelmed with how God has so patiently and graciously led me from the pride and self-confidence of my law mindset. I thought I had arrived because of my heritage, my law-righteousness, my academic achievement, my hard work, and my self-sacrifice. Now He is leading me to His grace mindset where I accept that I have not arrived and that I must humbly turn to Jesus by faith alone to allow Him to unleash in me all the power of His death, resurrection, and exaltation (Philippians 3).
He has been convicting me recently how I still live sometimes in fear because of that law/slave mindset that what all I have to do to please God as Master, instead of accepting that I am home, relaxing with God as Father, crying out “Abba, Father,” and enjoying all the riches of my inheritance (Romans 8:12-17).
We love this Book. It is God’s Word. But we love Jesus more. He is God’s Son and our Savior/Lord. So how has my preaching changed? I want to preach Jesus. I want to study, live, and preach the Bible more than ever before because this Book makes us all wise for the salvation that is by faith in Jesus. I want to study, live, and preach Jesus even more because Jesus is the One who saves us. He is the One who gives us life.
There’s a lot I don’t understand about preaching Jesus. The same Holy Spirit who wrote this Book can help us learn how to study, live, and preach it in the way that He wants us to. He knows how 2 Timothy 3:15-17 works. He can empower us to be living witnesses of Jesus, to be so excited about experiencing Christ living in us and saving us that we tell everyone we meet (Acts 1:8).
A couple of months before Elsie and I got married, my dad gave me a little book on sex and marriage (or at least I remember the sex part). Then on June 9, 1968, when we got to the motel, of course, I got out the book, exegeted it, and explained it carefully to my wife until midnight when we both fell asleep. No way! We made love! And we had an awesome honeymoon. That was a lot more exciting than just reading the book. I am so glad for the book because I was naive. But I love my wife infinitely more than I loved that little book. Here’s the question: do we just want to read the Book, or do we want to make love with Jesus and live in an intimate, exciting love relationship with Him – the way the Book tells us to?
I believe God wants us to preach Jesus. Preach Jesus first to ourselves so we will fall in love with Jesus more and more. And then preach Jesus to everyone we can, so they can fall in love with Jesus too. This doesn’t mean we preach the Bible less; it just means we preach it the way it’s supposed to be preached – as the Spirit’s masterpiece to lead us to Jesus, so Jesus can lead us to life!