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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Preaching


I was recently huddled in a discussion group with other ministers, and – no surprise – we began talking about preaching. The conversation narrowed itself down to the way we preach each Sunday. There were some great sentiments voiced and out-loud-thinking presented, but there was also an uncertainty with regard to expositional preaching (where you preach through a passage, and deal with its content). Some of the guys started rummaging around for biblical examples or standard patterns for preaching. This got me to thinking: is there any evidence in Scripture for what we call expositional preaching?

I quickly noticed that the few specific sermons recorded in Acts are predominately outside-of-church sermons. They are presentations of the Gospel in open-air (Acts 2 and 4), synagogues (Acts 13), amphitheaters (Acts 18) and courtrooms (Acts 22 and 26). The only episode we have that depicts inside-the-church preaching is Acts 20.7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, ( . . . ) [Paul] prolonged his speech {pareteinen te ton logon} until midnight.” This phrase ton logon drew my mind to Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapters 3 and 4. Toward the end of chapter 3 Paul reminds Timothy that he had known the Holy Scriptures [which at this point of time would have been the Old Testament] from childhood, which are able to make one wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (3.15). Then in verse 16 and 17 he declared that these Scriptures are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. Paul next charges Timothy (4.2a) to “preach the word” {karuxon ton logon}. The connection from Acts 20.7 to 2 Timothy 4.2 seems decidedly legitimate; a Scripture based presentation inside-the-church that reproves, rebukes and exhorts (2 Timothy 4.2b).

This, then, brought me to ask, do we have any examples of what that Scripture based preaching might look like. And quickly my mind fell on the book of Hebrews. It has long been the contention of numerous commentators that, based on the internal evidence, Hebrews was actually a sermon or set of sermons woven together. Assuming this is the case, then Hebrews would be a useful example of inside-the-church preaching. This “brief word of exhortation” runs thirteen chapters and takes about 30 to 45 minutes to read out loud. It is Jesus-centered and Jesus-saturated. But also it is tightly argued in its logic; the writer obviously didn’t come up with this late one Saturday night in a hurry to present it the next day. Going deeper and further, the book of Hebrews is full of Scripture references, quips, and supports. But what is interesting is that the writer actually unpacks and expounds three Bible passages: Psalm 95.7c-11 (chapter 3-4); Genesis 14.17-20 with Psalm 110.4 (Chapter 6.19-7.28); and Jeremiah31.31-34 (chapter 8.1-10.18). Though the writer doesn’t squeeze every drop of juice out of his primary texts, he does unpack them focusing on their main point, exposing how Jesus is the central meaning of those texts, and drawing the reader/listener to a series of applications from those Scripture passages and its Gospel connection. If Hebrews is a sermon or series of sermons, then we have a good biblical picture of New Testament preaching for inside-the-church.

Yet we should not overlook the rest of the New Testament letters. Most, if not all, were written for the purpose of being read in churches. To a greater or lesser degree, they expound Scripture passages (almost all are Old Testament), teaching us how to read the Old Testament with Jesus as the interpretive grid (the very thing Jesus taught the apostles to do – Luke 24.44-45), and drawing the listener to application. The internal arrangement of the New Testament letters goes along with the general form of the letter to the Hebrews.

To put it in a nutshell, it does appear that we have a Biblical pattern for preaching that is instructive for parishioners. It is Scripture based (quoted and expounded), is Jesus focused, and draws hearers to application. The consistency of this model would also give congregants help in learning how to read/hear the Scriptures.

Therefore, fellow preachers and ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I encourage you to karuxon ton logon- preach the Word!
{You might be interested in some other posts that sit behind this one:
One Book, One People
Billings: “The Word of God for the People of God” - Pt 1
Billings: “The Word of God for the People of God” - Pt 2}

Mike

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