Getting the Gold from the Text
How to capitalize on the inexhaustible riches of Scripture in your preaching without sounding like a Bible commentary.
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Foundational to all good exposition is the conviction that where the Word of God is faithfully taught, the voice of God is authentically heard. In a generation demanding a "now" word from God, as though that would be in some way separate from, or even superior to, the living and enduring Word of Scripture, the expositor believes that everything God has said he is still saying. The preacher's task is not to try to make the Bible relevant; it is relevant, precisely because it is the living Word of the unchanging, present-tense God. Nor is the task to "do something with the Bible," so as to make it palatable to the contemporary scene. Rather, the task is to let the Bible do something with the preacher, so its truth is incarnated in the expositor's life, as well as words, which become the channel of its powerful message to the hearers.
Such foundation principles are derived not only from classic biblical, theological propositions about the inspiration, infallibility, and authority of Scripture, but from the logical derivative that such a revelation will also provide its own authoritative key to its interpretation and usage. If the Bible is God preaching God to us, then, as has often been said, the Bible is an interpretation. Our part is to be willing both to discover and apply it. We must be prepared to preach the Bible the Bible's way.
That means being governed by the way in which God has put the Bible together, as 66 separate but closely integrated units of composition, each with its own specific purpose and major themes. Each constituent sentence of each paragraph or chapter is carefully constructed to play its own role to convey its divinely-intended meaning, in relationship to all the other sentences around it. The same pattern is true of the individual words within each sentence, in their order and emphases, as well as their meaning, so that nothing can be changed without the probability of a change of understanding. It is the same principle that underlies accurate Bible translation work.
These basic convictions in turn lead to the expositor's concern over the purpose and direction of the text, its context in the book of which it is a part and of the Bible as a whole, the distinctive features of the literary genre to which it belongs, and the nuanced meaning of individual words, metaphors, rhetorical devices, and so on. For the expositor's challenge is always to preach his text as "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," and that is a much harder tightrope to walk than we often recognize.
At Proclamation Trust conferences, a number of "instructions" have been devised and developed to enable participants to sharpen their Bible-handling skills, so that the text is attentively heard and faithfully explained.
We might describe observation as learning to listen by opening our eyes. The problem with a written text, increasing with its familiarity, is the skim-read approach that lacks attention to detail. The Bible is often read publicly and studied privately with nothing more than a wash-over effect. A general idea is gained of its contents, but acquaintance with its meaning is bland and superficial. To be good expository preachers we have to cultivate the skill of reading with our antennae up, to practice not just textual analysis, but the dying art of listening intelligently to an urgent and meaningful communication as the living God addresses us in his Word.
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This article appears in The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching, a comprehensive encyclopedia of preaching. Click here to purchase a copy of this book to have this invaluable resource on hand as you preach the Word!