The Hazard and Joy of Picking Favorites (Bible Verses and Passages)

Through the years, one of my brothers has always claimed that HE was my parent’s favorite. “I am the favorite son,” he would say in front of other people, knowing that the very comment would make his three other brothers bristle and chaff!  So I know the hazard of picking favorites.  This childhood experience has made me a believer in the wisdom of telling my own four children that I love them equally.

Saying that one of your children is a favorite is about as hazardous as choosing favorites in Scripture.   When someone says—this or that passage is the best, there’s bound to be a protest.

Recently when I preached on what I called “the most stunning paragraph in Scripture,” I got that kind of response.  “Why this one?” said someone. “What about my favorite passage?” protested another.  Or….. “how can you say one passage is best from the Bible,” said another, “isn’t it all the Word of God, fully inspired and beneficial?”

“Well, yes—I believe that with all my heart,” I said.  But this is not to say that all parts of the Bible have equal weight. Does not Scripture speak about “the weightier matters of the law?”  Did not Jesus speak of the “great commandments?”  And is there not a new and better covenant?   Admitting this is not to become a Marcionite and dismiss the Old Testament.  Nor is it to dismiss what Paul said that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for preaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16, ESV).

Because of this, hazardous as it is, it is not surprising that people (and preachers) sometimes pick favorites.   Many people have a favorite Bible verse.   Do you have one?  I do.  I often ask  students, “what is your life verse?”  Preachers will talk about the greatest verse, paragraph or chapter of the Bible.

For example, early in the 20th century, the Bible teacher R.A. Torrey (1856-1928) preached a very popular sermon on John 3.16 called “The most wonderful sentence ever written” centered on the news that “God so loved the world…..”   It was picked up by others and preached in thousands of churches all over America for several generations.   He preached about the love of God for a perishing world, and the hope of having everlasting life. [Reuben Archer Torrey, introduction by William Culbertson, Great Pulpit Masters, Vol. 3, (New York, London and Glasgow: Fleming H. Revell, 1950, p. 13-27].  Even though Torrey held to more of a decisional view of regeneration than I do, many Christians would agree that John 3.16 is one of the Bible’s most important sentences.

Open up a Gideon’s Bible in any hotel room, and in the front pages it will say:  “There is a verse in the Bible which has been translated into more than 1,100 languages. It tells of One who loved us with an everlasting love.  The verse is here recorded in 27 languages of the world which are understood by more than three-quarters of the earth’s population.  The verse is John 3.16.” (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985)

In the 1980’s I remember hearing that John Piper, of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis,  preached  a sermon on Romans 3.21-26 called “The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible.”   It focused on that stunning statement in Romans: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  Perhaps Piper took his cue from New Testament scholar Leon Morris who said in his commentary on The Epistle to The Romans (1988, p. 173) that this is “possibly the single most important paragraph ever written.”  Why?  Because it gets to the heart of the gospel telling us about the meaning of the cross.  It focuses on redemption, atonement, propitiation and justification.   It too is a great text worth knowing and thinking deeply about.

And just recently I picked up a new book by Derek W.H. Thomas  (who teaches systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary) called How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Reformation Trust).  It is an exposition of Romans chapter 8, which he calls “the best chapter in the Bible,” because in those 39 verses Paul shows how the gospel brings believers all the way from “no condemnation” (vs. 1) to “no separation” (vs. 39), from death to life, from justification to glorification, from our salvation to the renewal of the cosmos in Christ.

So here we have suggestions that John 3.16–  is the most important sentence, Romans 3.21-26 is the most important paragraph, and Romans 8 is the most important chapter.

You might argue with these choices.  That’s fine.  Go ahead and suggest others.  I’m all ears. But as you think about it, don’t ignore the undebated significance of each of these Bible passages.

In fact, get to know them.  They are worth meditating on deeply. They are great texts to memorize.   They need to be preached on by every pastor some time in the preaching cycle. Even if we all know the hazards of picking favorites, they are a great place to start the conversation!