Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bird's Eye View

You've maybe seen on my sidebar that I've been reading Mark Dever's book The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept for quite a while now. After studying Philemon this morning, I decided that today's post needed to be a plug for this excellent book.

Most people, when they think of expositional preaching (if they know what it is), think of going bit by bit through just a few verses of Scripture at a time. (Expositional preaching, for those of you unfamiliar, is "a sermon which takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon"--for more explanation, check out the link above.) But Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, demonstrated in a sermon series a few years ago that expositional sermons can be effectively preached on much larger sections of text. He took his congregation through the entire Bible, preaching one overview sermon on each book. And thanks to the folks at Crossway, these sermons were turned into a two-volume Bible commentary of sorts.

As Thomas Schreiner explains in an endorsement, "Many Bible readers are familiar with individual trees while failing to see the forest. They are in great danger of misinterpreting the parts of the Bible they read because they do not see the entire structure... Mark Dever fills a gaping need with his sermons on each of the individual books."

I am finding this bird's-eye-view incredibly helpful and engaging. It's really giving me a better understanding of the major themes and their significance. This morning, after reading the chapter on Philemon, I feel as though I understand this tiny, often-overlooked letter much more clearly than I ever did before. Dever identifies the theme of Philemon as "Forgiveness" and explains how "Paul pulls out all the stops" in trying to bring reconciliation between Philemon and his slave, Onesimus. He asks, "Does the length to which Paul goes remind you of anyone in particular? Paul is following the example of his master [Jesus Christ], who went to far greater lengths to make peace."

He then points out:
"Philemon will feel offended if he has understood everything about Christianity except the gospel. In other words, if he understands that right and wrong are absolute, that actions have consequences, and that Christiasn must live exemplary lives, then yes, Philemon will understandably feel offended. But if God's Holy Spirit has ever convicted Philemon of his own sin, then he will not take umbrage."

Finally, Dever says:
"Nothing is nearer the heart of the Christian faith than the recognition of our own need to forgive because of our own need for forgiveness in Christ. in this little letter, we see three miniature pictures of what true Christian faith will look like in us. We will be peacemakers, like Paul...We will forgives others, as Philemon should...We will know our need for forgiveness, as Onesimus did."

Wow! Suddenly Philemon isn't a little chapter buried in between the "more valuable/relevant" Titus and Hebrews. It teaches me about the significance of forgiveness in my own Christian life; it equips me to counsel others when they struggle to forgive.

I highly recommend this book as a wonderful companion to your time in the Word. It's also lot more user-friendly than many Bible commentaries and even includes application questions to help you think through each book. I can't wait to get the Old Testament volume!


Zoanna said...

I will have to get this commentary. I have traditionally been anti-commentary because I'm afraid of overusing them, or using them before I seek the Lord on what He might be wanting to say to me without the "aid" of another voice. But I've heard such good things about Dever, and I like your excerpt. Man! When was the last time I read Philemon? Well, last year, I guess, when I read thru the whole Bible, but I can't say I retained any of Philemon! Thanks for the plug.

Amy said...

Zo--I think this is definitely a good option for what you're describing. It would give you a great overview and help you to see the overarching themes but still leave plenty of room for you to hear from God on more of a specific-passage level.

Last night at dinner I was telling Steve about this post and I said, "Well, I guess that goes to show it's pretty effective, if I can sit here and outline Philemon and the application of it without even looking at my Bible or the book!"