When it comes to discerning what we read, hear, and especially what we say, a necessary rule to use is this: “Does this line up with what the Bible actually says?” Notice the point – what the Bible actually says, not what you wished it said, or what someone else thinks it says. But rather, what does the text of the Bible actually say?
Primarily, this really matters in preaching because if we go beyond the text or below the text, we remove ourselves from our authority. Frankly, we, as preachers, have no authority apart from the Word of God. It is our sole basis for authority. So to have any “legs to stand on” (i.e., credibility), we must stay in line with the written text, always asking ourselves, “Is this what the Bible is actually saying?”
To go beyond the text is to say more than what is really there; it is to add elements or opinions to the Scripture, without any disclaimer to that end, and acting like it is part of Scripture. This usually happens when someone has a “soapbox” they insist on climbing upon week in and week out, or when they have an agenda to protect that is more personal than biblical. Conversely, to go below the text is to say less than the text says, usually out of fear of man. We generalize and neutralize the words of Scripture, trying to remove its offense or demands. This is equally as sad as it leaves us with wimpy preachers who waste our time.
Secondarily, this really matters to you as a leader and follower of Jesus, for if you are not using what the Bible actually says, you may be easily detoured into believing something that is nothing more than someone’s opinion. Not that opinions are bad; we all have them, right? But we all don’t have the right to pass them off as Scripture! You must be willing – and able – to let the media storm you encounter every day be “umbrella-ed” by Scripture. Use God’s Word to inspect, deflect, and reflect upon everything you hear, see, and say, asking yourself constantly, “Is this going beyond or below the actual text of Scripture?”
Incidentally, my informal research, after years of preaching (and listening to preachers), seems to indicate preachers tend to go beyond the text in areas of prophecy and politics. And we usually fall below the text in areas of morality and ministry. Just look around you at the host of books and messages that are thrown at you and you’ll discover that this is generally true. Whether it is in assigning dates and times to Christ’s second coming, painting pictures of heaven and hell with details foreign to the Bible, or giving a pass to any type of sexually deviant appetite, our culture abounds with people doing both – going beyond or below the actual text of God’s holy, authoritative Word.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t provide application. Sure we can; we must! But meaningful application is always rooted in solid interpretation, and that starts with the text – “what does it actually say?” As you interact with others, and as you discern the many messages that come across your life’s radar every day, use God’s Word as the final filter. It’s the only way to find out what’s beyond or below.