This is semi-funny. In my retirement ministry–preaching in various churches–I naturally preach the passages that mean a great deal to me. And, since I know them so well, in many cases I quote the verses from memory. Often I don’t even carry a Bible to the pulpit with me. To read, I need cumbersome reading glasses, and if I already know the Scripture, what is the point? Just recite the passage and preach it. If someone asks–as they often do, probably not seriously– whether I have memorized all the Bible (try to imagine that!), I say, “No, I just preach the parts I’ve memorized.” That’s flippant, I suppose, but pretty much how it is.
I do love the Word of God. I love all of it, not just the parts I’ve preached again and again. And I love how those well-known familiar passages keep yielding insights and blessings. Here are a few thoughts on ten passages that I dearly love…
One. Romans 8 is the mother lode of spiritual insight.
In my sermon on prayer last Sunday morning, Romans 8:26 played a huge part. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…”
We are poor pray-ers. If the Apostle Paul did not know how to pray, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that you and I don’t!
But, we’re not to despair.
The Holy Spirit picks up the slack and helps us. He is our intercessor. (I admit to having no idea what that is like, how the Spirit intercedes with the Father; and see no point in trying to figure it out.) And then–this is where it gets good–in verse 34 the Lord Jesus is said to be our intercessor. He is “at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.” Think of that! We have the Son and the Spirit interceding for us.
If we thought imagining how the Spirit intercedes was difficult, now imagine both the Spirit and the Son doing it! And yet, that’s what we have in Romans 8.
Now, just in case we are tempted to say “two members of the Trinity are interceding for us so the Heavenly Father is out-voted from the first,” Romans 8:31 says “God is for us!” (That’s what that verse means, even though it says “if God is for us.”) The first 30 verses of Romans 8 braid together the three-pronged truth that the Father is for us, the Son is for us, and the Spirit is for us. Then, drawing it all together, verse 31 says since God is for us, it doesn’t matter who or what is against us! Such a truth is too wonderful for words and furnishes meditating material for a month or more.
Reinforcing all this, verse 32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” Since God has given us the best Heaven has, is He now going to start withholding further blessings?
This is just a small sample of the riches of this chapter.
Two. Psalm 103 is saturated with wonders.
After memorizing this psalm and preaching it for years, one day I noticed in my grandmother’s Bible a note beside verse 17. “Papa’s favorite verse.” I was stunned. That’s the great-grandfather whom I never knew, but who preached the Word in and around the turn of the 20th century, traveling on horseback or in a wagon or on foot.
Psalm 103 is all about God’s love. The psalmist stacks insight upon insight, accolade upon accolade. Never should we let people say the Old Testament is about wrath or law and the New about grace. It’s all grace, from beginning to the end. The psalmist quotes from God’s self-revelation in Exodus 34:6-7, perhaps the most quoted Old Testament passage of all.
Verse 14 is great comfort to those of us who sin. (That would be all of us!) “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” He who created us knows we are made of humble stuff. He knows He got no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us. And yet, God loves us still, as He did from the first. That’s why He built into the system a fail-safe way back into His presence when we sin. It’s called the cross, pre-figured by every altar in the Old Testament.
Three measurements of God’s love are given in Psalm 103:11-13, then reinforced and extended in verse 17.
Three. Matthew 10:16ff so perfectly describes the life (the expectations, the conditions, the requirements) of the Christian worker.
As a young pastor, I would preach this passage using the outline of wise up, speak up, stand up, and look up (with maybe another ‘up’ point or two in there which I’ve forgotten!). It’s the charter of God’s people on assignment for Him.
Look at what He promised us as we go forth to serve Him:
–we should expect difficulty and opposition. “I send you forth like sheep among the wolves.” He assumes we know what that means. In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas told the new believers something similar.
–that as we go, we are representing Him. Is there a greater honor? We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20).
–that people will treat us the way they treated Him. It is enough for the disciple that he be like the master. (10:25) We cannot say He didn’t warn us!
–that He will use us, even in our weakest, darkest moments. “It is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (10:20). Acts 16 shows how God used Paul and Silas in jail. With their backs bleeding from the whipping they had received, and their feet locked into stocks, they sang hymns and prayed. In the middle of their pain, they were faithful. We read, “And the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). This is such encouragement for believers who suffer for Christ.
–and that we will not lose our rewards. (10:42) The Lord pays His bills and honors His promises. Hebrews 6:10 says if God were to forget those who have labored long and hard for Him, it would be sin on His part.
Every time I encounter pastors who have been mistreated, I encourage them to move into Matthew 10:16ff. and set up residence there, just before moving on to Luke 6:27ff. Jesus did everything He could to prepare us for just this very thing. There will be no room for bitterness; we are given no license for anger. By being faithful during our mistreatment, we often shine forth more brilliantly than ever. (By the way, I am well aware some ministers are women. Please do not be distracted by the pronouns. Thank you for your faithful service to our Savior.)
Four. Luke 18 is my favorite “prayer chapter.”
I particularly love how it begins and the way it concludes. Jesus “was giving them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to faint.” (Lose heart and quit.) He gave two parables here, followed by other insights about prayer. Even though it may not be immediately obvious, this chapter is all about prayer.
The jam-packed chapter concludes with the story of the blind beggar of Jericho. When Bartimaeus learns that Jesus of Nazareth is arriving, he begins to call on Him, which is the essence of prayer. He continues to call loudly when others try to quieten him. He perseveres, demonstrating his faith. Finally, when he is brought before Jesus, the Lord asks him to get specific. “What exactly do you want?” Enough with the generalities, Bartimaeus. What are you praying for? (Up to this point, Bartimaeus had been asking the Lord to “have mercy on me.” That’s a broad category.) “Lord,” he said, “I want to receive my sight.”
The Lord wants us to call on Him, to remain steadfast in praying in spite of discouragement, and to pray specifically.
Five. The entire Second Epistle to the Corinthians is a huge favorite.
There are so many riches in this epistle, I’ll mention just two.
I’m impressed by the various metaphors Paul uses to describe believers in Christ. We are a fragrance for Christ (2:15), living letters (3:3), earthen vessels containing precious treasure (4:7), our bodies are earthly tents (5:1), we are ambassadors for Christ (5:20), and we are the temple of the living God (6:16).
I particularly stand in awe of Paul’s reverse resume’ given in chapter 11. In establishing the authenticity of his apostleship, instead of trotting out his degrees and accomplishments, he points to his scars. “Imprisonments, beaten time without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked….”
Wonder what would happen if a prospective pastor handed something similar to a search committee: “I was run off from three churches, nearly lynched in a business meeting, beaten up by a distraught church member….”
Six. The 20th chapter of Acts is Paul’s valedictory message to the pastors of Ephesus.
After reminiscing about his time in their city bringing the gospel of Jesus and informing them of the trial awaiting him in Jerusalem, Paul reminds these servants of the Lord of their call. That’s verse 28. Here, we are given three terms for pastors–elders, pastors (shepherds), overseers. We have a high Christology here–in dying on the cross, Jesus shed the very blood of God. Pastors are appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church. And the pastor’s priority is established: he is to be on guard for himself first (his health, his spirituality, his family) and for the flock second. Pastors who put care of the flock ahead of their own health, relationship to Christ, and concern for their family often end up losing their ministry. The flight attendant tells passengers, “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, the air masks will drop out of the ceiling. If you are traveling with a child or handicapped person, secure your own mask first.” Take care of yourself so you can help others.
Verse 28 is followed by a warning of two problems the church of the future will face: ‘savage wolves’ from outside and ‘perverse’ people from inside. “Therefore, be on the alert.” To our dismay, God’s people keep getting blindsided by the group from inside the church. I hear them say, “But these were good people. How could they do such a thing?” Answer: Read your Bible. Be prepared for anything.
Since Paul will not see these beloved friends again, their visit ends with this: “He knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more.” So emotional, so tender. Oh, that every minister were so well-loved.
Seven. In John 3, the Lord’s discourse with Nicodemus, the verses most people rush past to get to verse 16 have special meaning to me.
Before the great John 3:16, Jesus establishes His credentials. That’s critical, because before making such a grandiose claim as this gospel-in-a-sentence, it’s important to know how He is able to do so. What is His authority?
–verse 11. Jesus says, “I know what I’m talking about. I’m telling you what I have seen.”
–verse 12. “But,” He says, “If you don’t believe when I tell you earthly things–which are verifiable, observable–how can you believe when I speak to you of heaven?” That question pops the balloons of those who say Scripture is reliable only in spiritual matters, but cannot be trusted regarding science, history, etc. We are not given the option to pick and choose.
–verse 13. “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, Myself.” Wow. Think of that! Jesus says, “I am a native of Heaven. You can believe me when I talk about my home country.” After all, who should know more about a country than a native. Everyone else speaking on heaven has just read the brochures; but Jesus knows!
–verse 14. Then, Jesus points to the cross. He does this by pulling out the single most obscure story in the Old Testament, the “snake on a pole,” and shows how it points to the cross. The little incident takes up only four verses in Scripture (Numbers 21:6-9). Interestingly, not one word of commentary or explanation is given after the incident in Numbers. The first indication the story had any spiritual value whatsoever came many hundreds of years later when Jesus spoke these words. That snake was the symbol of their sin. And we read, “He who knew no sin became sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Oh, one thing more. All the Israelis had to do was look at the snake and they would live. Is that ever grace or what? No works whatsoever. I’m recalling that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted to Christ when he heard a layman preach on Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth.” Amen!
Eight. I revel in I John 3:1ff.
What manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God! And such we are.
For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (That’s reminiscent of Psalm 17:15.)
And everyone who has this hope in Him keeps himself pure, even as He is pure.
Confession: I don’t always quote these verses exactly right. But I do not obsess about it, and here’s why…
Throughout Scripture, other scriptures are often quoted. Interestingly, they are almost never quoted perfectly. In fact, not a single time that I know of. The wonderful self-revelation of God in Exodus 34:6-7 is quoted by Moses, David, Nehemiah, Joel, Jonah, and others. But no one quotes it perfectly or fully. No doubt, this is because they did not have written copies of the Word in front of them, whereas we do. But the point still stands, I think. In preaching, we must not be shackled by a slavish devotion to what “the original” says, but to stay with the sense of it.
Nothing profound about my love of I John 3:1 and following. It’s just wonderful in every way.
Nine. Ephesians 4-5 on the subject of unity in the Body of Christ.
Chapter 4 describes and defines the unity. And chapter 5 gives the means to it, specifically verse 21. “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”
I have long suspected that the people in churches I know place small value on unity. In fact, some seem to glory in their varied opinions and divided votes. I’ve worked with deacons who would insist on their right to oppose the recommendation of their leadership on the floor of the church because “I’m an American.” Such thinking is shallow and contributes to the troubles of those churches. “Is Christ divided?” asked Paul (I Corinthians 1:13). In Ephesians 4:3, leaders are told to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Why unity? Because the reputation of the Lord depends on it, the work of Christ is more efficient with it, the enemy is defeated by it, and fewer Christians are injured by the harshness of fellow believers in a unified church.
And where does unity come from? From loving believers submitting to Christ, their Head, and to each other. That’s all over Ephesians 5. Submission to Him is easy, but submitting to one another is another story altogether. “Why should I submit when I’m in the right?” asks someone. Answer: So, when would you submit, when you’re in the wrong? That’s not submitting, but simply admitting you were wrong. To submit has to mean one thinks his position is the correct one, otherwise it’s a meaningless concept.
Two motorists met on a one-lane bridge. The first guy leans out and yells, “I never back up for fools!” The second throws his car into reverse and says, “I always do.”
Only the strong can submit and yield. The weak are unable to do something requiring such strength and self-control.
In I Corinthians 6:7, Paul asks a divided congregation, “Why not rather be wronged?” My opinion is that only the spiritual mature can handle such a concept. God help His church to be led by the mature.
Ten. I Thessalonians 4:14 brings tears to my eyes every time.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
I have loved ones–dear, dear beloved family members who mean everything to me–who are with the Lord. I miss them every day. My heart aches with their absence. In the words of Psalm 27:13, “I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But we have His word that we will see them again. Thank God for His promises. Thank God for the Lord Jesus Christ, our risen and living and returning Savior!
That’s my list. I’ve worked on this lengthy article for a week. And in that time, have thought of a dozen other scriptures which mean everything to me and which cry out to be included on this top-ten list. But, let’s send it forth for the time being in hopes that it will encourage pastors to share with their people the texts which mean most to them.