I heard a preacher recently who mildly mocked those pastors who relied on commentaries to get something to preach on Sunday mornings. It was “tongue in cheek” hyperbole. He wanted to make the point that the Holy Spirit was to be involved in the process of sermon preparation. From the rest of his sermon it was evident that he too used commentaries.
But there are those out there who believe all they need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit to understand all things spiritual. So what place commentaries? Well, isn’t it possible that God just might have shown some writers of commentaries a part of God’s understanding of things? Could not the Holy Spirit give spiritual insight to these men and women who have labored to understand the meaning of Scripture?
This is not a given of course. There are, admittedly, some commentaries that are dry as dust, spiritually speaking. But still they may be beneficial in getting at the context of language and culture. Someone has to study Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Archeologists have yet to dig up ancient biblical manuscripts written in English.
So, reading, meditating, mulling, praying over the Scriptures is a good way to start sermon preparation. Let the Holy Spirit speak, but don’t neglect the insights (sometimes corrective) of a good commentary or two.
But what about those who rely solely on their Bible (usually King James) and the Spirit? Do they have a point? I think they do when it comes to priority. That is to say, our first commentator should be the Holy Spirit, or at least what we think is the Holy Spirit. We may find out later through more study that that thought may not have been from the Holy Spirit but from some other spirit or from our human spirit.
Seems to me that those pastors who rely only on the Bible and the Spirit come up with interpretations of Scripture that look a lot like their own denominational theology. Why am I not surprised?
So where does that leave the hearers of sermons? What is their responsibility as the recipients of a preacher’s great learning and spiritual insight? They are to be like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures for themselves to check out the preacher’s message. (Acts 17:11) And who were the Bereans checking up on? No less than the Apostle Paul himself. So, I say to you, if these Bereans were considered “noble” because they kept the Apostle Paul accountable for what he preached, how much more should we keep our preachers accountable? Is your Church a noble Church?