The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 39 Spring 2021
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching
“Preaching Hebrew Narratives” (Part 2)
In this edition of The NET Pastors Journal I am continuing (from Issue 38, Winter 2021) the subject of preaching Old Testament (Hebrew) narratives. I will attempt to outline an approach to preaching narratives by answering the questions: How do we preach a story? Do we simply re-tell the story and make application at the end? Do we break the story into parts with principles for each? Do we approach it essentially like a N.T. epistle, deriving from it general principles and applications?
In preaching narratives, I would argue that…
1) We must respect and be sensitive to the genre of the text both in our exegesis and preaching while, at the same time, recognizing that preaching a narrative is not simply re-telling the story with some application. Rather, the primary purpose of a biblical story is to communicate theology. Biblical stories are not merely description; they are also prescription.
2) We must derive universal principles from biblical narratives, just as we do from N.T. epistles. The difference is that, in our preaching style, we must follow, reflect, and respect the story form of the text. We do this (a) by changing our preaching style to reflect the narrative genre; (b) by following the sequence and substance of the story line; and (c) by modifying the structure of our sermon outline to correspond with the narrative genre.
We can learn a lot about preaching O.T. narratives from the book of Acts. For example in Acts 7, Stephen re-told the O.T. redemptive story about (1) God’s deliverance and redemption of his covenant people; (2) Their sinfulness and rebellion; followed by (3) The application of the story to the present audience – namely, that they too were rebellious, resisting the Holy Spirit, killing the Just One etc. In fact, the application to them of the redemptive story was so powerful and direct that they murdered Stephen (cf. also Paul, Acts 13:16-41).
God has told the story. Our task is to explain its universal, theological, abiding principles and apply them to our audience. Just as we analyze a passage from an epistle for its central, theological principle along with its related truths and applications, so we should analyze a narrative for its central, theological truth and its related applications. Finding the central truth is the same process whether you are preaching narratives or epistles. If re-telling the story were all that was necessary, you wouldn’t have to be a theologian to preach. You could simply have a dramatic narrator or an actor recreate the story in contemporary language and terms. I maintain that while we must re-tell the story, we must also enlighten our audiences as to…
1) What it meant back then and what it means now (bridging the historical gap).
2) What its theological truths are.
3) What its implications and applications are to our Christian lives.
This necessitates both re-telling the story (so that it comes alive to today’s audience) and exposing and applying its central, propositional truth. This process is, therefore, didactic and propositional, just as it is when we preach epistles. One difference between preaching epistles and narratives is that with epistles you analyze and preach paragraphs, whereas with narratives you preach “scenes.” Scenes reflect the movement of the story and each scene must be interpreted in the light of the total story, because the total story reveals its central, overarching truth.
A. A Procedure For Studying A Narrative
As with any other sermon texts, the goal is to determine what the narrative reveals about God (his nature, his will, his ways etc.). The first step is…
a) Determine where the story begins and ends. If it is a sub-story, determine where it fits into the bigger story. Gather data from the context (i.e. the surrounding narratives and descriptions). Discover the plot. What are the sequence of events that unfold in the story? Is there a reversal in the course of the story? If so, where and why?
b) Identify the textual structure by dividing the story into scenes. Examine the scenes and images within each scene. Make a chart for each paragraph or scene, noting exegetical observations, questions etc. related to each scene.
c) Note how the story unfolds scene by scene. Often the context is given first, followed by scene by scene action. The action typically exposes a dilemma (conflict, tension) which leads to a climax (how is this dilemma going to be resolved?). Then comes the resolution to the dilemma and the conclusion. All stories involve a certain point of tension that leads to a climax. So, as events unfold, be sure to identify the climax and answer the questions: How is the tension resolved? What is the conclusion? This is the dynamic aspect of stories.
d) Examine the characters. Note how the characters respond and act as the story progresses. Identify their strengths and weaknesses and their role in the drama (e.g. the star of the story, the antagonist, the protagonist, a bystander etc.).
e) Analyze any speech or thoughts. Is the central truth expressed through speech or thoughts? Particularly, identify the statements made by the narrator. Often without these statements the story would not make sense because motives, hidden actions, and the like would not be known. Remember, the narrator is omniscient - he knows thoughts, intimate and private conversations, hidden events, even the mind of God. These statements are really God’s entrance into the story as the ultimate storyteller - e.g. “The thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Sam. 11:27b).
f) Identify the various literary structures and devices used. For example, is it written in third person or first person? Is the emphasis on plot or on character development? Is there chiasm, repetition, contrasts, parallelism etc.? If so, how do these literary devices add to the story?
2. Determine The Central, Theological Truth
After analyzing and summarizing the story as I have described above, you should be in a position to determine (a) the subject of the overall story; and (b) what the author says about that subject. The subject of the story is the central, theological truth that the story is communicating. What the author says about the subject constitutes the main points (or, scene by scene sections) of your sermon.
The next task is to write out the central, theological truth (sometimes called the “big idea” or “exegetical idea”). One way to approach this is to start with a single word that captures the subject of the passage and formulate the question about that subject that the writer seems to be answering. Then, write out the all-encompassing answer to that question.
Once you have done that, simply summarize the story in a single descriptive sentence that succinctly states the answer you came up with above. This assertion becomes the central truth of the sermon – i.e. the summary of your sermon stated in a sentence.
B. A Model For Constructing A Narrative Sermon
This is generally the procedure that I follow. I try to interweave my theologically focussed sermon outline with the retelling of the story, making application during and / or at the end of each scene. This is really the identical model that I use for preaching epistles, except that instead of explaining the doctrine in the epistle I am explaining the theological story line in the narrative.
1. The Introduction Of The Sermon
In the introduction, include any background and other material needed to set the story in context and to explain ancient terms or cultural practices.
As I have noted above, it’s important to state your sermon in a sentence in the introduction so that your audience knows the primary theological point of the narrative, a point that you are going to demonstrate in your sermon. Try to state this truth in such a way that it reflects the historical accurateness and literary intent of the story, while using terms that create a timeless theological proposition.
When stated properly, you will end up with an abiding theological concept that is true for God’s people at any time or place. This becomes your preaching idea that governs how you present the rest of the material. The preaching idea is the answer to a specific need, problem, or difficulty in life.
The preaching task is to describe for your audience (1) how people in the narrative related, interacted, and struggled with spiritual needs, problems, diseases etc.; (2) that their struggles were the same as ours; and (3) that their solution is our solution.
2. The Body Of The Sermon
Retell the story scene-by-scene. This is where you show how the theological point comes out of the story.
a) Create a theologically oriented sermon outline that reflects the flow of the story.
Every narrative has a clearly defined structure. Because it is narrative does not imply that there is no structure. There is movement in every story scene-by-scene. That is its structure. One of your first tasks is to find the textual structure, just as you would in any other genre of the Bible.
Therefore, construct an outline that follows the scenes of the story (their movement, flow of thought). Narrative outlines are like music symphonies - one piece with several movements. Scene changes are your key to moving to the next section in your sermon outline. Each scene of the narrative that you uncover in your investigation needs to have a theological point (i.e. a statement of a universal truth or principle). To uncover these statements, ask yourself…
1) What does this scene tell us about God (his ways, purposes, judgements etc.)?
2) What does this scene tell us about ourselves (our relationship to God, our spiritual condition etc.)?
The answers to these questions, when stated as a complete sentence, will form your scene-by-scene statements of theological principle. Just make sure that each theologically focussed, universally true statement for each scene relates to and develops the overall theological truth of the entire story - i.e. your “sermon-in-a-sentence” which is usually stated in your introduction.
Do not create an artificial outline in which the points reflect the scene-by-scene description but do not reflect the flow and development of the theological point of the story. Rather, create a theologically oriented outline, which consists of statements of principle that not only follow the flow of the story but also reflect the message of the story. By stating your scene-by-scene titles as theologically focussed principles, you develop the points for your sermon outline in a way that is consistent with and respectful of the overall theological point and intent of the narrative.
Sometimes it is helpful to blend scene-by-scene descriptions with theologically focussed, universal truth statements for those scenes. This approach not only breaks the story down for your audience, making it easier for them to grasp, but also integrates the story with the principles. To illustrate what I mean, here is an example I developed from Genesis 21:9-21…
Universal truth of the passage: “In God’s providence, trouble often precedes triumph.”
Gen. 21:9-10. Sarah’s resentment (scene description): Trouble often finds its source in our bad attitudes (universal truth).
Gen. 21: 11-14a. Abraham’s predicament (scene description): Trouble often finds its source in our bad decisions (universal truth).
Gen. 21:14b-16. Hagar’s banishment (scene description): Trouble often finds its source in our bad circumstances (universal truth).
Gen. 21:17-21. God’s intervention (scene description): Trouble always finds its solution in God’s goodness (universal truth).
Sometimes (as in this example) I might use the scene description as my paragraph (scene) heading and state the universal truth (principle) as my application heading. In other words, I have two headings within each scene, one that describes the action of the scene and the other that describes the principle derived from the action in the scene. What this does is give the audience clear direction through the story by way of descriptive scene headings as well as clear principles that apply to us today by way of application headings. The one then flows from the other naturally as you preach through each scene.
Thus, in Genesis 21:11-14a for example, my action (scene) heading is: “Abraham’s predicament” (i.e. what to do with Hagar and Ishmael in response to Sarah’s complaint). And my theologically-focussed universal principle that I state in my application is: “Trouble often finds its source in our bad decisions” (or, “short term decisions sometimes produce long term predicaments”) – that’s the lesson for us.
You can guard against artificial structures in narrative sermon outlines…
1) By not imposing “points” on the sermon, thus making a narrative sound like a science text book.
2) By making sure that your principles come naturally out of the narrative.
3) By wording your principles as theological statements for each scene, just as you would any other literary genre.
Make sure your sermon outline is faithful to the narrative by…
1) Following the flow of the narrative;
2) Exposing the conflict, complication / tension, climax, resolution, and conclusion of the narrative; and
3) Proving the theological point of the narrative.
b) Make your applications during or at the end of each scene.
This way each scene of the story is directly connected to the life of your audience. But you need to be careful, when preaching O.T. narrative, not to automatically make a direct transfer of the story line to your contemporary audience. Just because they did something back then does not mean that we should do that now. It is very easy, when preaching O.T. narrative, to fall into the trap of either moralizing the story (so that you end up telling your audience that because so-and-so did it, so should they), or allegorizing the story (so that the physical realities take on spiritual, hidden meanings). To guard against this, you have to be sure to apply the theological point of the text rather than the direct story line itself.
3. The Final Remarks Of The Sermon
Be sure that the remedy to the problem has been clearly stated. Summarize the implications of accepting or rejecting this remedy - show how acceptance brings spiritual blessing, while rejection brings further spiritual disease, decline, and distance. Appeal to the audience to choose blessing (health, life) over judgement (disease, death) – i.e. call for a response.
C. Some Comments About Preaching Narratives This Way
1. Preaching narratives this way enables your people…
a) To feel the story as drama.
b) To grasp the theological idea (which their cursory reading would not expose).
c) To understand the implications for their lives.
d) To respond to your applications of the story to their contemporary life.
2. Preaching narrative this way ensures that…
a) You have been faithful to the narrative form.
b) You have brought out the enduring theological idea of the story.
c) You have shown the people how the ancient story relates to contemporary life.
d) You have forced the people to wrestle with the tension and complication of the story.
e) You have forced them to consider the resolution (remedy) for their own lives.
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
“The Motivation For Ministry, Part 3: Christ’s Love” (2 Cor. 5:14-17)
In 2 Corinthians Paul develops the topic of ministry and biblical leadership, which, a few years ago, I began to explore in this journal as follows…
1. Confidence in Ministry - God’s direction and provision (2 Cor. 2:14-3:6, Spring 2013)
2. The Nature of Authentic Ministry:
Part 1, The nature of the message – it’s not about us; it’s about Him (2 Cor. 4:1-6, Summer 2012).
Part 2, The nature of the Christian life– power in weakness (2 Cor. 4:7-16, Summer 2013).
3. The Motivation for Ministry:
Part 1, Our future transformation (2 Cor. 4:16-5:9, Fall 2013).
Part 2, Our accountability to God (2 Cor. 5:10-13, Winter 2014).
In this issue, I would like to continue my exploration of Paul’s exposition on “The Motivation for Ministry” - Part 3, Christ’s sacrificial love (2 Cor. 5:14-17).
Christ’s sacrificial love, which was most fully revealed in his substitutionary atonement, compels us to serve Him. Essentially, Paul’s point here is that Christ died for us, therefore we serve him (not ourselves), specifically in preaching a message of reconciliation.
Having established a prospective motivation for ministry (accountability to God) in 2 Cor. 5:10-13, Paul now establishes a retrospective motivation for ministry, the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-17). Indeed, he insists, “the love of Christ controls us” (5:14a). The overriding motivation in the life of the authentic minister is the love of Christ. For Paul, it didn’t matter that some thought he was mad (2 Cor. 5:13). Whatever he did and endured was motivated by Christ’s love. And that same love “controls us” in that it sets the parameters of our ministry. This is the practical effect of Christ’s love for us and in us - it causes us to do what we do for him in our ministry.
What, then, is the nature of Christ’s love that so controls us? “14 The love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:14-15).
The context of this paragraph is this: Because we understand the “fear of the Lord” in coming judgement, “we persuade others” (5:11) to believe the reconciling truth of the gospel (5:19-20). And the motivation for such a message and ministry is the compelling and controlling love of Christ (5:14-15).
The principle is this: The death of one person (who did not deserve to die because He was sinless) on behalf of others (who did deserve to die because they are sinners) renders the whole group (the “all” for whom he died) to have died also, because the sinless One died in their place, paying the penalty for their sins.
The application is this: The nature and extent of the love of Christ (as demonstrated in his atoning death) motivates us to do what we do in Christian ministry. It’s easy to get distracted with the theological debate about the nature and extent of the atonement in these verses and miss the application in Paul’s argument. Certainly these verses do tell us a lot about the nature and extent of the atonement - I will discuss this below - but primarily Paul is applying the sacrificial love of Christ, which motivated him to die for us, to our motivation for serving Him.
Paul then states two universal conclusions (2 Cor. 5:14-15)…
The first universal conclusion of Christ’s death is that all have died. “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore, all have died.” (5:14). Because Christ died for all humanity, then all humanity in principal has died. We can readily understand that Christ died for all, since that concept is supported in Scripture elsewhere. But what does he mean that “therefore, all have died” (5:14b)? Clearly, in some way Christ’s death involved the death of everyone. As R.V.G. Tasker says, “Christ’s death was the death of all, in the sense that He died the death they should have died; the penalty of their sins was borne by him (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:20); He died in their place” (Tasker, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, TNTC, Eerdmans, 1958, 86). He died for everyone - whether they ultimately receive him or reject him is a different matter. The penalty for their sins was paid by his death. He died the death they deserved. Therefore, in principal, “all have died.” That’s the conclusion that Paul is making here – the death of one on behalf of a group infers that the group (through that one who died) also died. This is a simple statement of the status of every human being in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross - He died for them, therefore they all died. The penalty was paid for all.
By saying this, Paul is not advocating universal salvation (since clearly not all have spiritual life), but he is advocating the universal provision and availability of salvation through the death of Christ. Because he died their death, they, in principal died, and through faith in him they can turn to Him if they so chose – i.e. the death of Christ on their behalf made it possible for all humanity to be saved, but only those who believe are actually saved. Christ died on behalf of and for the benefit of all humanity - this is indeed the central truth of the gospel (cf. Col. 1:20; Rom. 8:32).
So, the first universal conclusion of Christ’s death is that “all have died.”
The second universal conclusion of Christ’s death is that some live, not all. “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for their sake and was raised” (5:15). “Those who live” are clearly a different category of people from the “all” for whom Christ died (5:14b). As Robert L. Dabney puts it: “If we make the all for whom Christ died mean only the all who live unto Him – i.e. the elect – it would seem to be implied that of those elect for whom Christ died, only a part will live to Christ” (Dabney, Lectures, 525). Good observation!
The effect of Christ’s death in “those who live” (i.e. believers, the elect) is their moral transformation and renewal. All people have not undergone such a moral transformation, only Christians because of their new life in Christ. The death of Christ becomes effective for them alone (not for all) because of their faith in Christ, as a result of which they have a new motivation in life, a new way of life. The purpose of Christ’s death was that those who believe (those who have died to the flesh because of his actual death for them) should have morally renewed lives; lives with a new moral purpose and motivation. Thus, “those who live” are believers only, who, as a consequence of Christ’s death on their behalf and their belief in him, now “no longer live for themselves but for him” (which cannot be said of unbelievers) “who for their sake died and was raised.” As a result, they are new creations in Christ (5:17).
In sum, what Paul is saying is that on the basis Christ’s substitutionary death for us (5:14b), and our acceptance of his death as payment for our sins, Christians have a completely different motivation in life than we previously had – namely, not to live for ourselves but to live for him who died for us and was raised again for us (5:15). Thus, Paul’s application of this truth is plain and simple - since Christ died for everyone without exception and since He loved everyone with selfless love, then our motivation in Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Christ to everyone without exception out of selfless love. Not everyone, however, will accept His offer of salvation, but those who do (“those who live,” 5:15a) receive new life in Christ and from then on live for Him. Consequently, Christ’s love is the compelling basis for how we should now live our lives for him and, thus, conduct our ministry. Just as Christ gave his life for us, so we now give our lives for Him. His love for us should be reflected in our love for others, most particularly by sharing the “ministry of reconciliation (5:18-21), the gospel. Because we live in Him, we are “ambassadors for Christ” (5:20).
So, the nature and extent of the atonement is certainly the basis of Paul’s argument here, but we should not become so engrossed with that debate that we lose sight of Paul’s overall and primary point. We do not serve in ministry for selfish motives but solely for Him, to be his ambassadors on earth.
As a result of Christ’s death for me, I now live in and for him and, thus, my life is changed in its behaviour, purpose, and activity. This teaching is consistent with the entire Scriptural teaching on the Christian life - it is an exchanged life (Gal. 2:20), the old self is put to death and the new self lives for Christ (Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:17ff.). Ours is a radically different life than before. Instead of living a self-centred life (Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17-19) we live a Christ-centred life (Eph. 2:4-10; 4:20ff.). Thus, we who have died and risen with Christ are not only able but, more particularly, are called to preach the message of reconciliation (5:18-21), which is evident and powerful in our own lives. We are called to live a renewed life through our authentic ministry, motivated by (1) the power of the message in contrast to the weakness of the messenger (4:7); (2) the scrutiny of God on our ministry (5:10-13); and (3) the love of Christ (5:14-17).
From Paul’s argument (5:14-15) he states two consequences (5:16-17).
Consequence #1: “From now on (from the time he began to live for Christ and not for self), therefore, (the first consequence) “we regard no one according to the flesh” (5:16a). Paul no longer assesses and values people based on external appearances, or on subjective, superficial, human standards and relationships (e.g. riches, race, position etc.; cf. Gal. 3:28). Rather, his estimate of and relationship with other people is based on the spiritual values of one with a renewed mind, such that one’s brothers and sisters are not those of the natural family but of the spiritual family (cf. Matt. 12:46ff.). He no longer relates to people at a fleshly level but views others differently now, not according to the flesh but as “new creations in Christ” (5:17).
“Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (5:16b). Paul’s knowledge of Christ prior to his conversion was “according to the flesh” - based on a misinformed, misconceived, carnal mind, and merely human assessment. But subsequently his relationship with Christ was totally different. He no longer esteemed Him from an outward, human perspective, but for who Christ really is, which he knows through the indwelling Spirit. Christ cannot be truly known “according to the flesh” (i.e. with the carnal mind, based on human values). That’s why unregenerate people come to false conclusions about him. It takes a conversion experience through the Spirit to know him, and thus to apprehend him as God and Redeemer. Many who knew Christ “according to the flesh” didn’t know him through the Spirit, who alone enlightens our understanding of who He is. “Paul, like Peter and like Thomas, had to learn that it is not having seen Christ, nor knowing about Him that matters, but loving Him and believing on Him (1 Pet. 1:8; Jn. 20:29)” (Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 201).
Consequence #2. “Therefore” (a further consequence of 5:14-15) not only does he no longer regard anyone according to the flesh (including Christ himself), but “if anyone is in Christ” he regards them as “a new creation” (5:17a) for that is what they truly are. Anyone who is born from above is “in Christ” and thus has a new identity, new relationships, new family, new values, new objectives. He or she is viewed as “in Christ” not “according to the flesh” – when we see them, we see Christ, not the outward, sinful flesh.
To be “in Christ” implies security (now and in the future), identity, relationship, divine nature, a completely “new creation” (cf. Eph. 2:10; 4:24). “The old (the person in the flesh, the old nature with all its predisposition to sin etc.) has passed away (perished; disappeared into history); behold (suddenness, surprise, and great joy) the new has come” (5:17b). We are new creations with eternal life, all because of who we are “in Christ.” And what has been done in us (which will be finalized when we are glorified) is a precursor and guarantee of the re-creation of all things.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Letters to the Seven Churches – Faithfulness to Christ (Rev. 3:7-13)
Theme: If you are faithful to Christ, He will transform your feebleness into a pillar of strength.
Point 1: Christ encourages us with His sovereign power (3:8-11)
1a) He sovereignly controls our access to him (3:8)
1b) He sovereignly constrains any opposition to him (3:9)
1c) He sovereignly keeps us from judgement by him (3:10-11)
Point 2: Christ encourages is with His sovereign promise (3:12-13)
2a) To those who are feeble, he promises divine strength (3:12a)
2b) To those who are faithful, He promises a divine name (3:12b)
Conclusion: “He has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (3:13)
Related Topics: Pastors