Piper on Freedom, Discipline and Text Selection

October 31, 2007

Along with my fellow colleagues we are already beginning to prayerfully think about our preaching series for next calender year. Here at Charlotte we tend to be very structured in our planning: organising what will preached, when, and by whom, at least 6 months in advance. I know that other pastors, however, are much more relaxed about scheduling their series, intervening regularly with stand alone topics.


In this regard, I was interested to read John Piper’s comments on the principles of ‘freedom’ and ‘discipline’ in text selection, comments he made during a sermon preached way back in 1980. By the looks of his preaching series these days, I assume Piper still holds to this. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Two principles have to be balanced out. One is that we preserve the freedom of the Holy Spirit to interrupt and alter our plans. We must not be so locked into a verse-by-verse exposition of this book that he cannot hit us with another text from time to time that we may need to hear even more. That is the principle of freedom.

The other principle to keep in balance with it is the principle of discipline. Preachers are sinners who, like all sinners, tend to preach what they like and avoid what they don’t like. So we must find a way not to be so selective. Luke tells us in Acts 20:26f. what Paul said to the Ephesians when he left and what I want to be able to say to you when my work here is done: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” A preacher cannot say that, if he rides one or two hobbyhorses while avoiding other teachings of Scripture. One of the best ways to fulfill the principle of discipline is to preach through a book of the Bible.

These two principles, freedom and discipline, are in tension because it is not always easy to tell whether a desire to interrupt a series comes from the Spirit or from a fear of the next text. But there is no escape from this tension and so all I can promise is that I will do my best under God to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and to declare the whole counsel of God.



  1. Once again, great thoughts from Piper. Thanks, Colin.


  2. “At least 6 months in advance”?!

    Do you know something I don’t, Colin? 🙂

    James (one of Colin’s fellow colleagues)

  3. Ah, my imprecise wording! I should have said “6 months ahead” or “six months into the future.”

  4. I error on the side of freedom. Although I preach through books (Romans presently), I know too well the temptation to ride a hobbyhorse.

    Thanks for the needed reminder.

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