Cut and run: Is it ever okay to skip over a passage in expository preaching?

On Sunday, our preachers were due to speak on 2 Samuel 12. It’s the Bible passage where King David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah is called out. The question got asked “How should we handle this?”

It was a baptism service, we were expecting guests, some young people among them, a good number who had probably not been to church or read the Bible before. The passage includes the particularly sensitive part I looked at in this article where David and Bathsheba’s child dies.  The questions raised were:

1.       How helpful would it be to throw newcomers in at the deep end with something like this? Would it be an unnecessary stumbling block to the Gospel

2.       If we didn’t tackle it did that mean we were ducking the issue and failing to proclaim the whole of Scripture?  Surely the point of expository preaching is that it forces us to tackle the bits we would rather skip over.

As it happened, we did not cover the whole chapter but not specifically because of the presence of visitors. Here’s why

1.       We firmly believe that all Scripture s God breathed and is useful for teaching etc. This means we cannot simply duck passages we are uncomfortable with.  At some point those who engage with the Gospel will have to engage with the most challenging passages. Generally speaking we will not skip passages and in this case it wasn’t that we skipped it so much as where we put the attention/focus.

2.       Just because all Scripture is useful for teaching does not mean that it is always right to preach it. We do need to think about context. We exegete the congregation as well as the Word.  In this case, it wasn’t that there would be visitors. It was because when we thought about the subject matter, we realised that for some people this would be very difficult to hear. Think about the person who has just had a baby or is expecting and who feels very anxious about that fragile little life. Think about the person who has suffered a miscarriage or the family where a little baby has died.  Is this the right context for them to engage with this Scripture? Will they be able to hear what God has to say to them through it. My gut feeling here is that the problem is not with the Word but with the context. They would be in an environment where they might feel trapped in an enclosed space (our building is quite small relative to the number of people coming in). They will not be able to escape the room easily, they will sense others eyes on them. We could end up with an emotionally intense and overwhelming experience. Again, the issue is not God’s Word but the risk that they will be hindered from hearing God’s Word because of the environment.

3.       We know that we cannot cover everything on a Sunday. This does not mean that we can’t cover everything at all. There may be other occasions and contexts in which to teach the passage. Note, this may mean that at other times we will make the judgement call to preach it, we may find that a Sunday Night Church style meeting provides a better context.  On this occasion we decided to provide the teaching for that section through our online faith-roots teaching hub. This is a context where people have the opportunity to read and engage at their own pace, in the privacy of their own home. They have the means to get in touch with someone if they need to talk and pray things through.

In other words, it is important that we submit to God’s Word not to our preaching model. The preaching model, even expository preaching must serve the proclamation of God’s Word, not control it.