There is a saying among preachers and teachers (sadly not among all of them), “If you have to preach a topical sermon, limit it to one per year and then repent of it.”
The point is that the Bible has a story, a narrative, and that topics have their meaning as they are pondered within the story – they unfold, they amplify, and they are integrated into all of Scripture with Jesus Christ as their focus.
Teaching a Biblical book verse by verse can be like watching a movie by stopping at each frame…you lose the flow and context and argument. Teaching topics by jumping from verse to verse in book to book is like watching a frame from this movie, then a frame from that movie, then a frame from another movie…and on and on. In the former it is a different thing to read and ponder the entire passage and then drop back and work through the ebb and flow of paragraphs, sentences, phrases, and words – but there is seldom justification for engaging in the latter practice of jumping here and there and everywhere as if the Bible were a “how-to” manual for our utilitarian use.
Little wonder we can’t read the Bible.
When we must refer to a verse outside a passage, let’s apologize for it and encourage others to explore the context, let’s point out that the reader or hearer must explore the context in order to truly understand the verse we reference.
For me, please, please; don’t quote me a verse from Romans, tell me about Romans; don’t quote me a verse from 1 Samuel, tell me about 1 Samuel. Only those who first know Romans and who are also talking to others who know Romans have the freedom to reference verses in context – with the assumption based on relationship that everyone knows the furniture in the room. But here’s the thing even with that…unless we refresh ourselves in the text and context and book of Romans we will miss things we would otherwise see. And there is nothing quite like exploring Romans with others.
Can I please find someone to tell me the story of Romans? Spare me the verses, tell me the story.