So Why Can’t I Just “Preach The Word?”

Lately, we have written alot about understanding your direct ‘culture and context,’ which means understanding what has happened historically, what is happening currently, and what is likely to happen in the social, economic, and religious factors affecting the people’s lives in your immediate area.
Of course, some will say (and have said), “That’s too complicated. I’m going to just ‘preach the word’ like the Bible says to do. Because the Bible also says, ‘My word will not return void.'”
There are a couple of problems with that statement.
First, the Bible actually reads:
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Notice the term “careful instruction;” it denotes putting time and thought into exactly how one preaches the word, and exactly what one preaches when doing so.
Earlier in his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:
“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
Again, Paul is instructing Timothy to put a great deal of thought and effort into exactly how and what he preaches and teaches. Timothy is to carefully consider what his opponents are saying and directly address their arguments with a logical rebuttal that has the purpose of persuading them to the truth.
Second, concerning Isaiah 55:10-11, which reads:
“As the rain and the snow come down from heavens and do not return to it without watering the earth […] so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty; but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Just because I speak the same words that God spoke, does not mean they will have the same effect as when God spoke them; especially if I use them out of context.
For instance, many cults quote God’s words; and when they do, they are void and meaningless.
An even better example is when Satan quoted God’s words during the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11). Satan preached God’s word to Jesus, and his sermon was blasphemous.
Jesus Himself addressed this phenomenon when He stated:
“Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:13).
In other words, factors in your culture and context (your traditions) can work to nullify (render void) the word of God if they are not specifically and directly addressed.
Therefore, (as much as we hate to admit it) it is perfectly possible to quote Scripture while preaching a sermon, or while teaching a Sunday school class/small group; and it be completely meaningless if the specific factors that affect the lives of the listeners or participants are not directly addressed.
So, is there anywhere in the Bible that says we must directly address culture and context?
Well actually, all of it does.
Every book of the Bible was written to directly address specific issues with in very specific cultures and contexts. This is why it is written as 66 individual books instead of as one continuous work.
If we narrow it down to just the New Testament, it is still obvious. Matthew’s Gospel was wrtten to Jewish believers. Luke’s Gospel was written to a wealthy Gentile believer. John’s Gospel was written decades later to a new generation of believers facing new issues and thus includes a substantial amount of information not included in the first three Gospels.
Each of Paul’s letters are written to specific cultures and contexts and directly address specific issues within those cultures and contexts (except maybe Ephesians which was a circular letter).
Moreover, addressing specific cultures and contexts can be observed when the Apostles preach in the book of Acts. Peter, Stephen, and Paul all directly addressed the specific factors in the lives of their audiences that stood between them and becoming disciples of Jesus.
When Paul famously preached on Mars Hill, he did not preach the same sermon he would have preached in a Jewish synagogue; but instead he tailored his sermon to the specific culture and context in which he was preaching.
In fact, Paul explicitly wrote that he appealed to the specific culture and context of his listeners so that he might share the Gospel with them:
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
But most importantly, when Jesus preached or taught, He directly addressed the specific factors in the lives of His listeners that hindered them from becoming His disciples.
When Jesus spoke to the Jews, He addressed the specific issues that concerned them. When He spoke to the Pharisees, Scribes, or Sadducees, He specifically addressed the factors of their culture and context that seperated them from the kingdom of God.
Whenever Jesus spoke to a Samaritan or Gentile, He changed His approach to directly address the issues in their lives, culture, and context.
As disciples of Jesus, we are to imitate Him in every way possible. Therefore, just as He tailored His teachings and sermons to directly address the culture and context of His audience, so must we.
Thus, to fail to understand and address the specific culture and context of our immediate audience when we preach and teach, is to fail to be a disciple of Jesus.
I learned much of this the hard way.
It was around 5 years ago when I first began to understand what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. I was immediately eager to keep the Great Commission of Jesus and “make disciples […] teaching them to obey everything He commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20).
My first approach at doing so was to simply quote the Great Commission and some other Bible verses at people, and then wait for them to jump onboard.
It failed miserably.
What I did not realize at the time was that there exists some fairly significant factors in my immediate culture and context (traditions) that work to nullify the word of God.
Within my culture and context, one cannot simply stand up and preach “The Bible says we are to make disciples of Jesus…,” then quote some Bible verses, and expect everyone to immediately buy in without directly addressing the factors within the culture and context which are impeding them from being and making disciples of Jesus in the first place.
Not only did I fail miserably doing exactly that, but I have also watched other pastors and churches fail spectacularly doing the same thing.
The really interesting thing is having watched multiple churches doing it over and over again with a new group of leaders each time. For some reason, they think they can do the same thing that previous leadership did and it will turn out differently this time.
Over the last five years, I have tried to learn from my mistakes.
Whenever it seemed like I hit a wall, I began taking note of the specific factors within my immediate culture and context that were stopping people from fully buying in on being and making disciples of Jesus.
Then, every time I realized one of these factors, I would research Scripture and other resources to find the information that would “gently instruct my opponents.”
Finally, in order to keep track of all of this information, we began to organize and outline it all. Ultimately, we outlined all of the information into 4 principles in a logical order.
These four principles contain all of the information and arguments that we need in order to address the specific factors that hinders believers from buying in fully on being and making disciples of Jesus in our immediate culture and context.
Because of some of the specific historical, economic, and religious factors in our culture and context; it is perhaps one of the most complex (and thus difficult) places to attempt to make disciples of Jesus.
That is to say that it might not be as complex to make disciples of Jesus in your immediate culture and context. If so, these four principles might seem like overkill.
However, while you may not face all of the factors we face, you might face a couple of them; and thus, you might be able to gleen what you need from these 4 principles.
It is even possible that making disciples of Jesus is more complex in your culture and context (if so, I’d love to hear about it). In that situation, these 4 principles might give you a head start even though you may need to add to them or refine them.
We would simply like to offer to anyone who is running into the same difficulties in making disciples of Jesus that we did, the knowledge we have gathered while attempting to be and make disciples of Jesus in a culture and context that makes it difficult to do so.
To learn more about the 4 principles, start here: