Preaching

 

Feb

22

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Difference Between “Near” and “Far” Application in Preaching

near___far_by_sareidia-d70p5c1Helpful counsel from Zack Eswine:

Consider sermon application as near and far.

As a boy I watched the children’s television show Sesame Street. A fuzzy and smiling, Muppet character scampered close to the television camera, as if to look at us viewers, and then says, “Near.” Then the Muppet scampered way back from the camera so as to create distance between itself and the viewer and says, “Far.”

Treating Joseph’s pit as an actual hole in the ground into which an innocent man is betrayed by his family is to promote a near application. Near application asks, “Does physical betrayal, separation from family, and wrongful enslavement happen to God’s people? Near application seeks closer resonance between our world and the features, conditions, and situations found in the biblical text.

Once near application has been addressed, the preacher then holds the rope between near and far. Picture a line of kindergarten children walking down the street for a field trip to the Sesame Street studio. A long rope connects those nearer and farther from the teachers at the head and back of the line. Each child holds on to the rope in order to stay connected with the line and not get lost from the group. Whenever preachers move from near to far application, they must help their listeners hold this rope in order to stay connected to the biblical context and not get lost from the intended meaning of the biblical passage.

One method for helping people hold on to the rope is, after exploring the near application, the preacher can say, “For Joseph and for many believers in the world, the pit from which we require God’s deliverance is physical. For others, there is no physical pit, but deliverance from God is nonetheless required.”

Once the preacher shifts from a physical pit and its resonance in our lives today, he has moved to a far application. Helping people hold the rope is necessary so that they learn to read and apply the Bible.

Far application exposes the dissonance between the original situation in the Bible and ours. Joseph was unique in his role with God; we are unlike him in many ways. For some of us that includes our inexperience with physical injustice.

A steady diet of far application, especially without holding the rope, leaves large regions of reality unmapped for people. It also teaches people to read and apply the Bible in a solely spiritualized way. If a preacher is discussing marriage from a passage such as 1 Timothy 1, we may be blessed by the sermon because true and biblical things are said. But it is still legitimate to ask, “Is Paul talking about marriage in 1 Timothy 1?” The answer is no. So how did the preacher get to the subject of marriage from 1 Timothy 1? To discuss marriage from 1 Timothy 1 is to veil the near application. Paul is talking about something that we are not hearing applied to our lives.

Perhaps a far application to marriage exists if we hold the rope. “Timothy was facing a struggle that he could not overcome by himself. For Timothy that struggle was his call to the ministry in the presence of physical threat and spiritual unbelief. That is what the struggle was for Timothy; what is the struggle for you?”

I tend to believe the near application is more important and the far application less necessary than we tend to think. The more we move toward far application, the more we need the practice of explicitly helping people hold the rope. We also have to account for the primary issue in the text that we are leaving unexplored for our lives.

 
 

Feb

10

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Pastor, Are You Speaking in Tongues During Your Sermon?

preacherToo many preachers are speaking in tongues.

No, I don’t mean the kind of tongues Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14 when he encouraged the early Christians to have an interpreter so that all could be edified. As far as I know, there isn’t a movement of pastors standing up in front of the congregation and giving ecstatic utterances.

But I wonder if, in a different way, we might as well be speaking in tongues. I’m referring here to our religious jargon.

Here’s a question we should ponder: Do we rely on biblical concepts or phrases in ways that fail to make sense to outsiders?

Let’s ask this another way. Would an unbeliever or a believer unfamiliar with the Bible be able to understand the basic message you are communicating in a sermon? If the answer is no, then we might as well be speaking in a foreign language.

The Need to Understand

I find it fascinating that Paul’s concern for the Corinthians is shaped by his desire for everyone present to be edified. When he regulates the speaking in tongues going on in that church, he appears to base his counsel on the need for biblical instruction to be comprehensible:

But now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in other languages, how will I benefit you… (v. 6)

Unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air. (v. 9)

If I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker will be a foreigner to me… Seek to excel in building up the church. (v. 11-12)

In the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10,000 words in another language. (v. 19)

Now, I admit to stretching the application of this passage beyond its original intent. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is contrasting the gift of prophecy with the gift of tongues, claiming that the miraculous gift of tongues is a sign to unbelievers, and prophecy is a gift for the edification of believers.

But I wonder if there isn’t an application here for those of us who want to be faithful proclaimers of God’s Word in a different context. After all, the underlying reason for Paul’s concern about the situation in Corinth is this: People aren’t able to understand the message, and therefore, they are not edified. 

As a missionary theologian, the apostle Paul wanted people to hear and understand God’s Word. Anything that got in the way of that process of understanding and edification (even miraculous gifts!) must be dealt with. The message must be comprehensible.

Being Seeker-Comprehensible

Evangelism and edification do not need to be at odds with one another. Commenting on this passage, Tim Keller writes:

[Paul] insists that the Christians should change their behavior so that the worship service will be comprehensible to nonbelievers…

My thesis is that the weekly worship service can be very effective in evangelism of non-Christians and in the edification of Christians if it does not aim at either alone but is gospel centered and in the vernacular. (Center Church, 302)

This doesn’t mean that our worship services must be “seeker-driven.” But we should always seek to be “seeker-comprehensible,” which Ed Stetzer links to “contextual preaching”:

At the heart of effective preaching is a solid missiological perspective. Are you communicating in such a way that your words actually convey biblical truth to your audience? Or does your preaching float right past your hearers because it’s not delivered “on a frequency” that they listen to?

Not long ago, I was invited to preach somewhere. I sent the pastor my manuscript ahead of time to see if he had any suggestions. He and his leadership team marked it up and sent it back, adding all sorts of nuance to my language. Their suggestions didn’t change the biblical points I was making, but they did affect the delivery. The exercise was enormously beneficial to me. It caused me to stop again and consider how people in the congregation may “hear” the message or miss the main point due to religious jargon I didn’t realize I had.

Becoming Comprehensible

In his book, Preaching to a Post-Everything WorldZack Eswine offers some practical ways we can be understood by believers and unbelievers alike. Here are two of his suggestions:

1. Don’t assume that people are familiar with the Bible. Help people find the Bible passage.

“Turn with me to the right,” “Find the New Testament and then go to the fourth book,” or “Turn to page 567 in the Bible on your chairs” are helpful phrases. When trying to find a less-traveled book such as Joel or Obadiah, acknowledge that this book is not always easy to find: “So let’s give ourselves a bit of time to find it.” Sometimes you might humble yourself and remind people by saying: “If you are unsure where Ecclesiastes is, don’t worry. With time your familiarity with the Bible will grow. There was a time in my life when I didn’t know where any of the books were except for Genesis and Revelation. Give yourself time; it’ll come.”

2. Speak as if non-Christian people are present.

Christians need to hear how a follower of Jesus speaks to non-Christians. Non-Christian people need to feel what it’s like for a follower of Jesus to speak to them in Jesus’s name. Use phrases such as: “Maybe you’re here this morning and you are not sure of what you think about God,” or “Sometimes those who are not churchgoing people feel frustrated by the lack of love they see in church people. Jesus shared this same frustration,” or “Even if you aren’t a follower of Jesus, you know what it is to feel guilt, to have regret, to long for healing,” or “If you’re not a Christian and you’re listening, this might sound a bit strange to you. But what I’m about to say might help you understand why Christians think the way we do on this subject.”

I’d add one more suggestion from Tim Keller:

Always show respect and empathy, even when you are challenging and critiquing, saying things such as, ‘I know many of you will find this disturbing.’ Show that you understand. Be the kind of person about whom people conclude that, even if they disagree with you, you are someone they can approach about such matters.

Along these lines, it’s best to use “we” more than “you” when preaching. If you constantly use “you,” you can create the impression that you as the speaker are without fault, giving to others commands that don’t apply to you. The use of “we” implies that everyone (including the pastor) is in need of spiritual growth.  

What about you? How have you sought to become more comprehensible to believers and nonbelievers alike?

 
 

Oct

29

2013

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Free E-Book from The Gospel Project: Christ-Centered Preaching & Teaching

ebook

Serving as the managing editor of The Gospel Project has been a rewarding experience. One of the aspects I’ve most enjoyed has been seeing the passion that so many have for teaching that focuses on the gospel and is centered on Christ.

That is one of the reasons why I wrote Gospel-Centered Teaching. I wanted to provided a resource for those who want to preach and teach Christ consistently, but are overwhelmed at the thought.

Sharing this passion, Ed Stetzer, general editor of The Gospel Project, recently asked several leading pastors and theologians to examine and discuss Christ-Centered preaching at his blog.

Due to the overwhelming response to that series and other events we have sponsored, The Gospel Project has released an e-book entitled Christ-Centered Preaching & Teaching. Ed served as the book’s editor and invited the participants of his blog discussion to share their viewpoints on Christ-centered perspective.

The writers include:

Our hope is that this book will advance the conversation. The contributors all approach the biblical text with a Christ-centered hermeneutic, but disagree as to exactly what that entails. In the book, they look at both the strengths and weaknesses of their various positions.

Having this conversation in evangelicalism is a good thing. We can all benefit from hearing the varying perspectives represented in the e-book.We hope this free resource will encourage you not only as teachers, but also in your daily walk with Christ – that you will better appreciate Him as the focal point of all Scripture and your life.

Click here to download our free e-book, Christ-Centered Preaching & Teaching.

 
 

Sep

02

2013

Trevin Wax|3:04 am CT

2 Recent Sermons on Engaging the Lost

Last month, I was invited to speak twice at The Fellowship of Two Rivers, a church in Nashville. The sermons were part of a series about developing a posture of openness toward those who need Christ.

I like it when churches ask me to preach on a specific text because it causes me to dig deep into passages I may not be inclined to go to otherwise. These two sermons were from Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus – please no “little man” jokes about my lack of height) and Mark 5:1-20 (the Gadarene Demoniac). Special thanks to the teaching pastor there, Philip Nation, for the invitation.

I rarely post audio or video of my sermons, but the Lord really challenged me in a special way through the preparation and delivery of these two messages, and I hope they may be an encouragement to you.

Seeking the Seeker from The Fellowship on Vimeo.

Loving the Outcast from The Fellowship on Vimeo.

 
 

Aug

27

2013

Trevin Wax|3:09 am CT

The Brainy Benefits of Being Bilingual

I remember the first time I read an entire book in one afternoon.

It was a few months after I’d moved to Romania. My experience of being totally immersed in Romanian culture and my daily exercises in learning Romanian grammar and vocabulary had begun to pay off. I was growing more conversational, though I was still a few months away from fluency.

One afternoon, I checked out Loving God by Chuck Colson from the library on campus, went back to my dorm room, and read 320 pages within the span of a few hours. Afterwards, when I put the book down, I remember thinking to myself, What just happened here? I just finished this book and I can recall what I read. I don’t ever remember being able to read this fast.

I tried it a few days later, with an English book that chronicled the Romanian Revolution. Same experience. Then again, with a novel. I probably read more that week than I had read in several months put together.

What had changed? I wasn’t sure, but I started to wonder if my ability to read quickly in English had something to do with my acquiring of another language.

The Bilingual Brain

I haven’t seen any data that links speed of reading in one’s native tongue with knowledge of another language. Last month, however, TIME featured an article by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Power of the Bilingual Brain” that seeks to demonstrate how fluency in a second language produces a nimbler mind.

The article piqued my interest, particularly since my wife and I speak only in Romanian at home, and are raising our kids to be bilingual. Aside from the benefits of our kids being able to talk to their grandmother and aunts and uncles in Romanian, I’ve long suspected that there are other benefits to knowing more than one language. The article in TIME describes the most recent science and some surprising results:

Research is increasingly showing that the brains of people who know two or more languages are different from those who know just one – and those differences are all for the better. Multilingual people, studies show, are better at reasoning, at multitasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. They work faster and expend less energy doing so, and as they age, they retain their cognitive faculties longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.

Lest you think that it is simple a matter of bilingual people being smarter, the article goes on to point out that the issue is not related to intelligence, but the brain’s speed and agility:

A bilingual brain is not necessarily a smarter brain, but it is proving to be a more flexible, more resourceful one… It is the knock-on effects – not how the brain looks but how it functions – that argue most for learning additional languages, and it appears that the bilingual brain is simply more efficient.

The Bilingual Preacher

Charles Spurgeon, in Lectures to My Students, claimed that learning another language brought benefits in speaking:

The acquisition of another language affords a fine drilling for the practice of extempore speech. Brought into connection with the roots of words, and the rules of speech, and being compelled to note the differentia of the two languages, a man grows by degrees to be much at home with parts of speech, moods, tenses, and inflections; like a workman he becomes familiar with his tools, and handles them as everday companions.

Spurgeon then applies this insight to sermon preparation, not just sermon delivery:

Who does not see that the perpetual comparison of the terms and idioms of two languages must aid facility of expression? Who does not see, moreover, that by this exercise the mind becomes able to appreciate refinements and subtleties of meaning, and so acquires the power of distinguishing between things that differ – a power essential to an expositor of the Word of God, and an extempore declarer of His truth.

So, according to Spurgeon, the mastering of the biblical languages or the ability to speak another language fluently isn’t in translation work alone. Instead, the benefit is becoming more at ease with your own language the more you know how it works, and nothing shows you how your own language works better than learning another one.

Learn, gentlemen, to put together, and unscrew all the machinery of language, mark every cog, and wheel, and bolt, and rod, and you will feel the more free to drive the engine, even at an express speed should emergencies demand it.

Your Thoughts?

I’m sure there are readers of Kingdom People who know the biblical languages or who can speak Spanish, German, French, etc.

Has anyone else noticed a correlation between learning a new language and efficiency in reading or writing?

Those of you who have learned English as a second language, do you find your agility in your native tongue to improve as you get better at English?

 
 

Jul

16

2013

guest|3:31 am CT

Don’t Let Your Passion Miss the Mark

Adam Mabry is the Lead Pastor at Aletheia Church in Boston.  He blogs at AdamMabry.TV.

Missions and church planting is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever done (which means I’ve made plenty of mistakes!). Space doesn’t permit me to share all the occasions where my zeal stiff-armed wisdom. For many in ministry, this is a job hazard.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only passionate pastor though. Every ministry conference I attend, I find dozens of other wild-eyed church planters, pent-up preachers, and inspired ministers – all adrenalized by visions of revival in their cities.

But lurking behind passion is danger—ways in which we, the impassioned proclaimers of the gospel can muddy the message. If we are truly passionate about Jesus and his Kingdom, then we must become passionate about making the message of that kingdom as clear as possible to our hearers.

Here are four common ways I see us missing the mark and muddying the gospel:

1. Bad Language

I’m not talking about cussing in the pulpit. Our problem is the tendency of the theologically-minded to use language that your neighbor who’s never come to church before doesn’t understand. So cloistered can we become in our own reformed, or baptist, or charismatic, or (fill in the blank with your favorite Christian subculture moniker) language that we’ve lost the missionary edge to speak to everyone else.

I’m not just talking about the pulpit speech. I’m talking about all your language—website, bulletin, announcements, etc. If you’ve got a bad website that can’t be viewed on a mobile device in 2013, you’re using bad language. If your church artwork looks like a poor imitation of Hollywood, you’re using bad language. It’s the essential equivalent to preaching in New York using Elizabethan English. People may understand you if they really try, but you’re not making it easy on them.

2. Biblical Shallowness

Just because you know how to make a few vague redemptive-historical connections in your preaching does not make you biblically deep. We need to know the Bible inside and out. The rays of light which beam forth from the Scriptures burn away the fog which veils our gospel. That’s why we need to more deeply saturate ourselves in it.

Laxity with language is a sign of biblical shallowness. If you read the Scriptures well you can’t help but notice all the great many ways God has set about telling His redemption story. Denying ourselves the richness of God’s literary genius and creative narrative is death to the minister—the sodium pentothal of our preaching.

Why? Because the minister must be more than literate with the Scriptures, he must be fluent. If you’re fluent in the language of the Scriptures, then translating their message into the language of the culture becomes second nature. But if you’re foggy on the Bible, then you’ll fog up the lens of the onlooker, making it impossible for him to see and savor the gospel.

3. Idolatry of Preference

We are masters at enforcing our preferences as if they were biblical norms.

  • You like hymns because “they’re biblical, after all.”
  • You prefer your music quiet because you read in a book it should be that way.
  • You prefer your music loud because you’re pretty sure worship at the head of the Israelite procession was loud, right?
  • You like your pastor in a trendy shirt, or you don’t.

My point here is that when we make dress code, music, style, meeting times, graphics, and carpet color objects of great concern, we elevate them to a status of importance beyond what they deserve. These are preferences that must be subject to the Scriptures and our mission to clarify the gospel to the culture.

We must be vigilant to resist our preferences in ministry. We mustn’t look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). Jesus did ministry this way. We probably should too.

4. Moral Duplicity

Pastor, you are not called to be edgy, but holy. When our tongues speak too loosely or our eyes wander too freely, we become guilty of moral duplicity.

Test yourself in this. Is there behavior that you engage in regularly throughout the week that you’d be embarrassed to tell your church about? That feeling you’re having right now probably says enough.

The world doesn’t need worldly ministers. The world needs heavenly ministers who speak their language. Jesus is our great example.

Conclusion

Passion for Jesus should translate into a passion for clarity. When we get out of the way, the world can see the Gospel clearly.

The simple question is, are we willing to agree with John the Baptist that Jesus must become more, and we (with our preferences, problems, and proclivities) must become less? For the sake of the gospel, I sure hope so.

 
 

Jul

11

2013

guest|3:55 am CT

The Pastor as Apologist

Dayton Hartman is Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Judson College and Lead Pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, NC.

It is no secret that American culture is becoming increasingly post-Christian.

Recent research reveals that only 23% of millennials believe that Scripture is truly the Word of God. Another 26% have adopted a liberal interpretation of Scripture by  believing that it may contain some of the Word of God but should not be taken literally. In short, less than half of the next generation have any respect for the text of Scripture and only a small minority of that group believe that it is authoritative.

Consider this data in light of William Edgar’s observation that “…Christians have grown so used to their own language, terms, and culture that they have become isolated from those who surround them.” (Reasons of the Heart, 12).

There is a two-fold problem at hand:

  1. In our proclamation we have assumed a Christian worldview on the part of our listeners, and this is a false assumption.
  2. As we are communicating poorly, our audience isn’t even listening.

Recovering Apostolic Apologetics

The solution to this growing problem is to recapture the apostolic method of preaching. The first sermons of the apostles do two things: (1) make much of Jesus and His gospel and (2) defend the truths contained in the gospel.

  • In Acts 2, Peter preaches the gospel message, explains the Scriptures, and defends the claims contained therein by referencing the miracles of Jesus.
  • In Acts 17, Paul reasons with the men of Athens through preaching the resurrection of Jesus and utilizing philosophical language that his listeners understand.
  • In the very next chapter (Acts 18:24-28), Apollos preaches about the ministry of Jesus and refutes those who would deny that Jesus is the Messiah.

Beyond the sermons preached by the first Christians, much of the text of Scripture itself is written as an apologetic.

  • The first chapters of Genesis are both a Scriptural account of creation and an apologetic against Ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies.
  • Even many of the miracles recorded in Scripture are meant to serve apologetic purposes. These miracles range from the plagues in Egypt demonstrating the futility of Egyptian gods to the healing miracles performed by Jesus, revealing that He is the Messiah.

The text of Scripture is so littered with apologetic elements, I would argue that it is difficult to preach the whole counsel of God without incorporating apologetic elements into one’s sermons.

Why Apologetic Preaching?

How does incorporating apologetics into our sermons work itself out practically? Quite often, apologetics should be included out of necessity.

For example, in an age of increasing skepticism and ever-present access to materials from men like Bart Ehrman, we need to provide basic arguments at the onset for every new book series. When introducing a sermon series on II Timothy, it would be beneficial to briefly mention some of the evidence that leads us to believe this letter was written by Paul. Why? Because many in our audience are being influenced to believe that we have no idea who wrote the books of the Bible. Are there some texts for which authorship is difficult to concretely ascertain? Absolutely! Nonetheless, the Scriptures are hardly anonymous in authorship.

Some texts of Scripture easily lend themselves to apologetic application (such as I Cor. 15), while others are more difficult (i.e. Song of Songs). Yet, in today’s culture even the most innocuous of passages requires an apologetic.

For instance, when speaking of the gospel picture housed in the relationship between a husband and his wife, we must preach (even briefly) an apologetic for God’s definition of marriage. The marriage covenant is one of the clearest pictures of the gospel and it has practical applications for Christian living. However, it is under assault. So, when preaching on marriage or the picture of the gospel it provides, we must include apologetic elements.

It may seem that what I am proposing actually falls outside the context of corporate worship and should instead be considered as part of personal evangelism. The reality is that when the church gathers to worship through Word and song, that time is specifically for the instruction and edification of the saints.

However, we can never assume that every self-professed believer is actually a believer. Further, we cannot live under the assumption that the person in the pew is free from the influence of our culture and battles with doubt. Moreover, whether recognized or not, most Christians adopt as their own the interpretation and application of Scripture that which is taught by their pastor.

Therefore, if we model an apologetic-free approach to the biblical text, that is what our people will practice. Thus, in an effort to edify and build up the body of Christ, we must “Contend earnestly for the faith…” (Jude 3) from the pulpit so that the pew will be a place of confidence and a place of preparation for cultural engagement.

Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting. – Francis Schaeffer

 
 

Jul

01

2013

guest|3:03 am CT

Preaching Christ and Commending Virtue

Kyle Worley blogs at The Strife and is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed.

The first time I ever heard the phrase “preaching Christ,” was underneath Dr. Joseph “Skip” Ryan while attending a Gospel Communication class at Redeemer Seminary.  As “Skip” led me to drink from the wells of Greidanus, Goldsworthy, and Clowney, I watched the Old Testament open up before my eyes.  I found myself on the road to Emmaus “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to [me] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Lk. 24:27)

While traveling the Emmaus road, stories that had simply been “morality myths” began to bust at the seams with Gospel glory! God had entrusted me with this multi-faceted gem and it didn’t matter what angle I turned, in every light, Gospel was shining forth.

I rejoice that there has been a renaissance of preaching Christ every time we preach. Like the Greeks who came to worship at the feast, our people come to the humble servants of Christ and beg us, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (Jn. 12:21)  How dare we tell them to behave like shadows when they could feast on He who is the substance!

A Caution

During this season where those who preach are being encouraged and challenged to preach Christ, may I raise a caution?  It is both possible and necessary to preach Christ and commend virtue.

Truly, there is no Christian virtue without Christ, and, there is no true Gospel impact upon a life without the blossoming of Christian virtue. The person and work of Christ must be the identity in which we live and work to imitate Christ.

Hebrews 13:7 challenges the Christian:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Surely this admonition is not a veiled moralism. The author of Hebrews tells the believer to: remember their leaders (those who preached the Word) and to consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

So, the writer of Hebrews might suggest that when we come to the story of David, we tell our people that the story of David and Goliath is not about going out to “defeat our giants,” because Christ is the greater David who has defeated the giant of sin, death, and Satan on our behalf, with his victory imputed to the people who cowered in fear behind the lines.  Yet, while we can never defeat the giant in front of us, we have a hero who has defeated the giant on our behalf and we can be like the Israelites who “rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron.” (1 Sa. 17:52)

We must encourage our people that since Christ has won the war we can fight the daily battles in light of His glorious victory. If you don’t commend virtue while preaching Christ, where do you hope your people will turn to see and imitate that which is virtuous?

How do you commend virtue without preaching moralism?

Christian virtue emerges when the Gospel has taken root in a person’s life.  Moralism is virtue without satisfaction in Jesus. Licentiousness, or selfish living, is satisfaction in everything but Jesus without the pretense of dutiful obedience.

Preachers can commend virtue without preaching moralism by applying the Gospel to the human heart.  Use the Gospel to ask heart questions.

For example, racism is disgusting and evil.  How do we preach that Christian’s must not be characterized by racism?

Well, if one was preaching through the book of Jonah he could direct his congregants to the truth that Christ, who is the greater Jonah, came through his own people and they did not receive Him. Not only did Christ come to save some from the nation of Israel, but some from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”  (Rev. 7:9) Where Jonah’s racism filled Him with abominable hate for the people of Nineveh, Christ’s love led Him to empty himself and endure righteous wrath for people from “every nation.”  The preacher could then ask his audience, “In light of the Gospel, what is the posture of your heart towards your neighbors?”

I think the flow of thought that we observe in Hebrews 11-12 indicates a great pattern for commending virtue from Old Testament stories while preaching Christ. Notice how the author of Hebrews 11 begins by pointing to the role that faith has played throughout salvation history and then he begins to recount these great stories of faith from the Old Testament. Yes, Abraham’s listening to the voice of God to “go” was commendable, but it was rooted in faith. Yes, Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” Why? Because “he was looking to the reward.”  The courage and perseverance of those who “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” should silence our grumbling tongues, but they did not suffer “stoning and being sawn in two,” to merely serve as an example but to see Christ!

As the author concludes Hebrews 11, Hebrews 12:1-3 emerges as the denouement.  We are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” but instead of looking solely at their examples and virtue we are “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In the same way that we must tether Old Testament narratives to the person and work of Christ, after letting the floodlight of the Gospel shine on all of scripture, we must then move back and demonstrate that all true virtue emerges from the fruitful work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have placed their faith in God.

 
 

Jun

26

2013

Trevin Wax|3:20 am CT

Let the Tone of Your Sermon Match the Tone of the Text

A good suggestion from Calvin Miller’s Preaching

A brief word about genre: it exists; honor it. Paul’s letters are different from the Psalms, from the minor prophets, from the Pentateuch. Preachers should not handle the Bible as though there is no difference between the various kinds and styles of biblical writing.

When preaching any passage, get in touch with the author.

  • When you preach Jeremiah, find something of the melancholy in it and let the tone suffuse the sermon.
  • When you preach Ecclesiastes, do it wistfully.
  • When you’re in the Psalms, let there be a hint of melody about it.
  • Let the fire out of the Apocalypse and let courage bleed from Esther;
  • let the wind blow in Acts.

Further, find ways of illustrating every individual sermon text with insights and moods that communicate the genre.

  • T. S. Eliot will better illustrate the Psalms than will Billy Graham. Billy might do better in the book of Acts.
  • Let the poets speak to Genesis 1, and the newspaper to 1 Thessalonians.
  • Archibald MacLeish would do better commenting on Job than a prosaic commentator.
  • Let Shakespeare’s sonnets speak to Ruth and Frodo Baggins to the Christ-redemption passages.

Above all put on your touchy-feely wardrobe and pick up the agony and ecstasy and every nuance of form that rings through the various writers of Scripture. To understand this—to feel this—is to give a great gift to your auditors. The gift is one of tone, relationship, and the subliminal.

To fail to honor genre is to give your people the fuzzy notion that the Bible, like the Golden Plates of Nephi, was handed down from heaven as a single piece, and all of it is pretty much alike. But the biblical heroes were immensely different.

  • Ezekiel borders on the neurotic,
  • Isaiah on the elegant,
  • Jeremiah on the morose,
  • Micah on the visionary.

The task will not be easy. It is difficult work to make a genre live. It is like the studious work of an actor, who will study for weeks the part he wishes to portray before he ever steps out on stage to portray it. Then when at last he interprets the part, he is captive to it. The role alters the player’s complete personality, and the actor cannot easily shuck what he has worked so hard to gain.

Even within a single writer there will be various tones.

  • Moses is a furious zealot in Exodus, but in Deuteronomy he is a reflective old man. Don’t preach both passages the same way.
  • Paul is firm and tough in 1 Corinthians, but he is moody and tender in 2 Timothy.
  • Jesus is full of parables in Luke, but full of prayer and philosophy in John.

Giving these various moods and tempos, styles and emotions will bring to your people a rich sense of the varied nature of how God speaks through human agency. Let the Bible become as variegated to you as you would like it to be to them. God does after all speak in various ways his wonders to perform.

 

 
 

Jun

18

2013

Trevin Wax|3:35 am CT

Audio from the Christ-Centered Teaching – Panel Discussion at the SBC

For me, one of the highlights of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting was participating in a Gospel Project-sponsored panel discussion on Christ-centered preaching and teaching.

Ed Stetzer, Eric Hankins, Jonathan Akin, and I were joined by more than 300 pastors and church leaders for a breakfast meeting devoted to discussing the New Testament’s use of the Old, the appropriate ways of leading people to Christ from Old Testament stories, and the difficulties and dangers of applying this hermeneutic in irresponsible ways.

The audio from the panel discussion is now available. (The microphones are not all of equal setting, so you may have to adjust the volume on your speakers a little.) I hope it is beneficial to those of you who seek to preach and teach the Scriptures faithfully each week.

Christ-Centered Teaching and Preaching – Panel Discussion, SBC 13

Also of interest, Ed Stetzer is hosting an ongoing blog discussion on Christ-centered preaching with Daniel Block, David Murray, Bryan Chapell, and Walt Kaiser. The first installment is now available.