The Homiletical Cart and the Hermeneutical Horse
Preaching what God said is profitable.
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It's as ironic as it is frightening—a biblical text that preachers are suitably familiar with, as well as celebrate, is also one they are tempted to butcher weekly. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Two words in this sentence are particularly significant, yet often ignored. What would happen if we took out the two words "by God"? It's merely two words. However, it changes the foundation of its assertion. No faithful preacher would deliberately exclude these two words, but often (maybe more than often) the preacher is lured to separate them from the rest of the sentence, as a butcher would separate the meat from the fat.
The application temptation
Why would any preacher be tempted this way? In a word, application. When application is the chief objective of the sermon, over and against correct interpretation, it becomes easy to overlook the, "by God" part. Here's how the sentence would read without "by God": "All Scripture is breathed out and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." This sentence is much more expedient when discerning how a particular text can be beneficial for the congregation. Paul asserts unequivocally, that Scripture is beneficial—that Scripture completes and equips. However, the two missing words make the difference between a preacher grounding his sermon in hermeneutics or homiletics.
I recently preached a sermon series titled "The Difficult Teachings of Jesus." All the passages selected were fairly well-known, but often misunderstood. One of the five passages I selected was Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." If I'm honest, I entered my study that week with the assumption that I already understood the meaning of the text, as well as the application for God's people. Why wouldn't I? It's the "Be Salt" passage. Everyone knows this about evangelism, right?
During my study, it became clear that my assumption was incorrect. If I wouldn't have done the hermeneutical work to first discover Jesus' intent and instead jumped straight to application, I would have taught God's people, whom I've been entrusted to teach and care for, the wrong meaning of the passage. I would've gone straight to "BE SALTY!" and "SHOW THE WORLD WHO CHRIST IS!" I would've missed that Jesus says "you ARE the salt of the earth." He didn't say "Go be the salt," He said "you already are the salt … I've made you salt, now act like salt." I would've overlooked the fact that salt can't really lose its saltiness, it can only lose its overwhelming effect by being mixed with other minerals. Jesus' teaching had a deepness to it that I had never seen before in my cursory study of the passage. After the hermeneutical work, I could see clearly what Jesus was teaching his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. You are different. I've made you different. If you are so mixed with the world and its ways, you will cease to be the influencer for the gospel that I have designed for you to be."