If you’ve ever wanted to grow in your Bible knowledge but haven’t known how (short of Bible school or seminary), I have a suggestion for you: read devotional Bible commentaries.
What is a devotional Bible commentary?
When I say ‘devotional Bible commentaries,’ I mean commentaries on Scripture that aren’t primarily academic or technical, but rather explain and apply the text in an accessible way. They are books (sometimes published sermons) that are meant to be read cover-to-cover instead of referenced on occasion.
There are several reasons why I love reading devotional commentaries as part of my study routine:
1. I learn Scripture better.
If you’ve ever thought, “I wish I could read the Bible with a pastor beside me to explain it,” reading devotional commentaries grants your wish. God has gifted individuals today and throughout history to know and communicate His Word with depth and clarity. Why not learn from them? If you don’t take my word for it, maybe Spurgeon will convince you:
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others…A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences.”
We need both models and mentors to see the whole picture of Scripture, understand how all of Scripture points to Christ, and to apply it to our lives. The more faithful models we have, the better. If the commentator is from a different time or culture you get the bonus value of seeing how they apply Scripture to their context. Often the journey to another culture often helps us see our own (and its idols) with greater clarity.
2. I can drink deeply from parts of Scripture I am not otherwise engaging.
When was the last time you heard a sermon series on Ezekiel or the Minor Prophets? Probably not recently. Still, these portions of Scripture are God-breathed and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16–17). I agree with A.W. Tozer’s words, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
3. As I grow in my understanding of Scripture, it helps me minister to others.
The greater depth at which we understand God’s Word and apply it in our lives, the greater impact we will have in ministering to others. If you are a parent, Sunday school teacher, or preacher, dedicate yourself to God’s Word for the sake of your own soul and the souls of those in your care.
When you read the words of men and women who love the Lord and are gifted communicators, you can often grow as a communicator yourself.
Toward that end, I’ve made a habit of copying down helpful illustrations from what I read. In Kent Hughes’ book on Ephesians, he illustrated the need to take sin and temptation seriously in a way I’ll never forget. After a boy heard his mom tell him “No cookies until dinner,” the boy went over to the cookie jar, opened the lid, and put his hand in. When asked by his mother what he was doing, the boy said, “My hand is in the cookie jar resisting temptation!” Hughes’ conclusion is that we can’t resist sin with our hands in the cookie jar; we must take serious effort to distance ourselves from even opportunities to sin. Filing that helpful illustration away in Evernote and in the back of my mind has come in handy in teaching others (and now you).
Surely there are many more reasons to learn from the godly and gifted who have come before us. If you have more benefits of devotional commentaries or recommendations, contact me on Facebook or Twitter.
Recommended Devotional Commentaries
If you’re looking for a place to get started, here are some resources I recommend. (I don’t recommend books larger than 400 pages, it is simply too easy to get bogged down.)
[Before I share links to resources you have to buy, you might get mileage out of these free PDF resources from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, an evangelical church in the UK. I have used a couple and they have proven great guides. They aren’t verse-by-verse, but give you the main ideas and intent of the author.)
- Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series (edited by David Platt, Danny Akin, and Tony Merida, from B&H)
- Preaching the Word Commentaries (edited by Kent Hughes, from Crossway)
- Reformed Expository Commentary Series (from P&R Publishing)
- James Montgomery Boice Commentaries
- God’s Word for You Series (from The Good Book Co)
- The Bible Speaks Today (These are a little heavier, but technically ‘devotional,’ edited by Alec Motyer and John Stott)
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones series on Romans or Ephesians (take a chapter of Scripture at a time or read them all for a REALLY deep dive, or listen to the sermons for free)
- Focus on the Bible (especially Old Testament narrative books by Dale Ralph Davis, from Christian Focus)
- John Calvin’s sermons on various books
If I had to recommend one book to start, I’d go with Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Preaching the Word) by Kent Hughes. Ephesians presents a crystal clear view of salvation, the gospel, the church, and life as a believer. Hughes is also a great expositor and communicator.
Single Volume Bible Commentaries
If you want a more comprehensive resource, try one of these single volume commentaries:
- New Bible Commentary (edited by Wenham, Motyer, Carson, and France)
- The John MacArthur Bible Commentary
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary (free online)
- The New International Bible Commentary (edited by F.F. Bruce)
One Serious Caution
While I champion the use of devotional commentaries, chuck them across the room if they keep you from engaging the text of Scripture for yourself. Commentaries are optional and always must come after reading and meditating. We don’t want to develop dependency on them. We also don’t want to love the words of others about God’s Word to exceed our love for God’s Word itself.
I often don’t have time for a devotional commentary during my morning time with the Lord and do my best to catch up on reading later in the day. I also take breaks from devotional commentaries as I can easily be more focused on finishing them than engaging God’s Word. That attitude doesn’t honor God. Neither does reading to puff yourself up with knowledge in order to impress others (1 Corinthians 8:1).
In light of that serious caution, 21st century English speaking believers have so many resources available to us! Let’s use them wisely with thankful hearts.
 Since many devotional commentaries are published sermons, you can find equal value in downloading sermon series on books and listening to them.
 It’s probably worth mentioning that Lloyd-Jones wouldn’t have retweeted this post. He said in Preaching and Preachers, “I abominate ‘devotional’ commentaries. I do not want other people to do my devotions for me…” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯