How do you listen to a sermon that’s not about you? How can I benefit from a talk on anxiety if I’m not worried, marriage if I’m not married, or depression if I’m not down? I’m currently preaching through 1 Peter, and coming across some passages with specific target audiences—like Christian wives, many with non-Christian husbands (1 Peter 3:1–6). Clearly these are vital topics for Christians in these situations. But can all members of our churches benefit from these passages? Should we even try?
Expositional preaching—verse-by-verse teaching through the Bible—means that we explain each passage that comes up in the flow of each biblical book. It might be addressed to first-century slaves. It might be about fathers or mothers. It might be for those actively persecuted for their faith.
I assume that pastors shouldn’t skip these passages and listeners shouldn’t ignore them. But are there specific reasons why we should listen and learn, even when it feels like we’re not the intended audience? I think there are a lot of good reasons. Here are six.
1. Every passage is part of the ecosystem of truth.
Every passage of Scripture is part of the broader ecosystem of truth. So every passage is related to every other passage, whether the connections are right on the surface or subtle and subterranean. Scripture provides the only unerring framework for living, the only worldview that provides an authoritative lens for seeing the world accurately. But if you ignore or minimize certain parts, you’ll distort the rest. So whether you’re reading a priestly manual called Leviticus, love notes between a king and his bride, the confrontations and comforts of a prophet, or Paul’s two pastoral letters to his ministry protégé Timothy, God is using his word to marinate you in his ecosystem of truth—regardless of your personal situation.
2. Every text helps us understand the gospel.
The Bible culminates with the good news that God has entered human history in Christ, fulfilling the promises he made to Adam and Eve, Abraham and Israel, David and the prophets. But this good news is anticipated, explained, symbolized, applied, and spread through a vast diversity of scriptural genres and truths. For example, in a royal psalm lamenting political slander, we get a foretaste of what Christ would endure (Ps 41); through God’s specific instructions to husbands, we learn about Christ’s relationship with his church (Eph 5:22–33); through instructions about how the church should care for widows, we get a glimpse into God’s new family created by the Spirit (1 Tim 5:3–16). In other words, because all of Scripture foreshadows Christ or points to Christ or extends his reign into some arena of life, every passage of Scripture (rightly understood) helps explain the gospel.
3. Every passage reflects timeless principles for your life.
The Scriptures were written in time, but the principles are timeless. Sometimes the bridge across time and culture is concrete; other times we feel like we’re staring at an island with no bridge to bring the contemporary relevance across. But the better we learn the progression of biblical revelation, the better we come to understand how each text reflects timeless truth about God, man, the world, the human condition, and the redemption even now being completed through Christ.
4. Every disciple is responsible to encourage others.
In Romans 15:14, Paul tells the Roman Christians, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” In Ephesians 4:15, he teaches another church that they’ll grow together as they “speak the truth in love.” Despite the sharp clergy-laity distinction that continues afflicting our churches, every Christian belongs to God’s “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). We’re all called to serve each other, speak to each other, encourage each other, even instruct each other. The better we know the Scriptures—all the Scriptures, not just the ones that obviously apply to our gender or vocation or season in life—the better equipped we’ll be to help our fellow believers walk with God themselves.
5. Every Christian is called to represent the faith.
Christians are ambassadors of Christ. We live among the nations of earth, but our citizenship is in heaven. We belong to a different kingdom, and we’ve been commissioned by the risen Christ to represent the teachings and values of that kingdom as well as the pathway to citizenship for all who would flee the kingdom of darkness and take refuge in the king of light. We are not just called to represent the simplest form of the gospel message—that Jesus died for our sins—but the entire body of Christian truth. Whether the topic is creation or sexuality, immigration or entertainment, gender or government, work or leisure, Christians and churches should always be growing into more effective ambassadors and embassies for Christ and his kingdom. Therefore, no matter what topic comes up in our Bible reading or small group or Sunday sermon, we should engage it enthusiastically as training material for our ultimate vocation as Christ’s ambassadors.
6. Every believer will experience changes in life.
One consistent thing about life is change. Our age changes, our situations change, our comforts change, our jobs change, our status changes. We might be married now but widowed ten years from now. We might have an easy boss now but next month an overbearing one. We might feel little need for patience in our current season, but tomorrow the winds could change. We might work in a comfortable Christian environment, but get challenged by a skeptic’s questions on our plane flight next week. We might not think a specific passage of Scripture applies to us today, but it might next week or next year. Consistently learning God’s word—all of it—prepares us for these changing seasons well before they arrive.
Wise to Listen
When God speaks, we’re wise to listen. Not because everything he’s written will feel immediately relevant, but because everything he says is true, and everything he says is helpful. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If you want to be trained, mature, and ready for the good works God’s prepared for you to do each day, learn his word well—even when it feels like he’s talking to someone else.