The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 41 Fall 2021
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching
Preaching Hebrew Poetry (Pt. 2)
In the last edition of this journal (Summer 2021), I introduced you to some of the literary characteristics of Hebrew poetry. We examined the following…
A. The types of Psalms
B. The rhetorical purpose and function of the Psalms
C. The rhetorical structure of Hebrew poetry
D. The literary devices in Hebrew poetry
In this edition, I will give a brief overview of two additional aspects preaching Hebrew poetry…
E. Preaching Applications From Hebrew Poetry
In general, make sure that you interpret and apply each Psalm in a way that is consistent with its theological and historical context. While the plight or complaint of the psalmist and God’s people in general may also be our plight or complaint, nonetheless we must make sure that we do not always try to make a direct transfer from the psalmist’s context to ourselves. For example, unlike the psalmist, we are not waiting in despair and hope for the future Messianic redemption – rather, from our place in redemption history, the Messiah has already come! This, therefore, gives us a different perspective, even though we face similar life-circumstances perhaps.
Nonetheless, preaching Hebrew poetry helps our audiences to gain a biblical and practical perspective in several areas of life application.
1. Hebrew poetry describes real events and experiences. Take, for example, David’s sin of adultery, following which his conscience tormented him day and night with a profound awareness of his guilt (Ps. 51:3). Indeed, he expresses the intense psychosomatic effect of inward silence and outward groaning as he tried, for a period of time, to cover up his sin (Ps. 32:3-4).
These Psalms describe a very raw and real experience. Though you may not have committed this kind of sin, nonetheless I think we can all testify to experiencing similar afflictions of the soul due to sin in our lives until we confess it, repent of it, and get right with God and those we have offended.
2. Hebrew poetry acts like poetic music, inspiring us to see our life situation from an eternal perspective. For example, Habakkuk 3:17-19 is a wonderfully poetic motivation for maintaining our hope in God, even when our lives and the future seem bleak.
3. Hebrew poetry activates our emotions by identifying with the writers’ personal experiences and responses. For example, we identify with the perplexity of the psalmist concerning the apparent prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 73 in comparison to his own situation.
In biblical poetic literature, the whole spectrum of human emotion is covered. It’s important to bring this out when you preach biblical poetry since we are emotional creatures and we need to know how to express our emotional responses to various life situations before God.
4. Hebrew poetry stretches our imagination. Not only has God made us with emotion but also with imagination. When you preach biblical poetry, try to close your eyes and mentally reconstruct the scene, appropriately and discreetly. Here are three poetic characteristics that will help you in this area:
a) Identify figures of speech - they help you to picture the situation of the writer. Psalm 40:1 describes the movement of the writer, as someone else described it, “From the mire to the choir.” In the way that the writer has expressed his situation, you can imagine him literally climbing out of the pit of despair and beginning to sing God’s praises (cf. also Ps. 42:1; Lam. 1:14). It’s important to be able to see and understand figures of speech, like personification, simile, metaphor etc.
b) Note frankness of speech – it helps you to grasp the seriousness of the writer. In Jeremiah 20, Jeremiah is in the stocks (20:2) as he recalls God’s promise to protect him. In 20:7-10, the writer is in despair, then in 20:13 he’s hopeful, and then in 20:14-18 despair again. This transparency in expressing the vicissitudes of emotional responses helps you grasp the seriousness of the writer’s life situation and his response to it.
c) Appreciate the fullness of speech – it indicates to you the subject of the writer. For example, after exhorting Israel to repent (Hosea 14:1-3), the writer describes the full range of God’s restoration of Israel – their renewal from apostasy, their revival to new life, and their restoration to God (Hosea 14:4-7).
5. Hebrew poetry helps us with interpretation. We are aided in our interpretation of Hebrew poetry by recognizing its use of various poetic literary devices, such as…
a) Parallelism. I already discussed this at some length in the previous edition of this journal (Summer 2021). Just to add to those comments, the essence of Semitic poetry is its parallel construction. Hebrew poetry is largely based on the echo principle – the writer calls out and it is repeated back like and echo. For example, Psalm 1:5, “The wicked will not stand up in the judgement (the call out)…. nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous (the echo).” Notice that “the wicked” equates to “sinners” (synonymous parallelism) and “judgement” contrasts to “the assembly of the righteous” (antithetic / contrasting parallelism). Thus, the writer, by way of poetic parallelism, is describing the truth that the wicked will not participate in the assembly of the righteous when they are raised for judgement.
b) Repetition. Here are a few examples:
Psalm 136, “His faithful love endures forever” (repeated as a refrain in each of the 26 verses).
Isaiah 5, “Woe to those who…” (repeated 6 times in 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22), culminating with “woe is me” (6:5). It’s easy to proclaim woe on others, but we need to include ourselves.
Amos 4: “Yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration” (repeated in 4: :6, 8, 9, 10, 11), culminating with the warning, “…prepare to meet your God” (4:12).
c) Word plays. Jeremiah 1:11 uses the symbolism of an almond tree. The almond tree was known as the “watching / awakening tree” because it was the first tree to bloom in spring. Hence, in a play on words, God says, “I am watching” (Jeremiah 1:12) – one letter different from the word used for almond tree. Every year Jeremiah saw the almond tree bloom, and God was still watching over his word to fulfill it.
Again, in Amos 8:1, God showed the prophet a basket of summer fruit. This was the last fruit of the season. Hence, God says, “the end has come” (8:2). Most of us read the O.T. in a translation in our own language, which makes it difficult for us to see and bring out word plays.
d) Figures of speech. Psalm 1 likens a godly person to “a tree planted beside flowing streams” (v. 3) in contrast to an ungodly person who is like “chaff that the wind blows away” (v. 4). Thus, through the use of simile, the contrast is clear – the godly person is morally and spiritually stable, strong, immovable, while the ungodly person is morally and spiritually unstable, fragile, changeable, and unfruitful (cf. also Isa. 17:12-13 re: chaff).
f) Acrostics. An acrostic is a composition that uses letters of the alphabet to form a word or phrase. This literary device acts as a memory system. Probably one of the most well-known of these biblical acrostics is Psalm 119, in which each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet serves as the opening letter of 8 verses about the Scriptures. Similarly, the book of Lamentations is composed completely in acrostic format.
6. Hebrew poetry enables us to…
a) Memorize the Word – e.g. walk, sit, stand (Ps. 1)
b) Meditate on the Word – “The Lord is my Shepherd”
c) Minister the Word by, for example, preaching either a single sermon (e.g. Psalm 23) or series (e.g. Psalms of ascent, 120-134) or by preaching one of each type of Psalm.
7. Hebrew poetry provides illustrations by...
a) Quoting a biblical writer to illustrate a point – e.g. “As the Psalmist says…” or, “As the Song of Solomon puts it…”
b) Explaining a figure, symbol, or picture – e.g. Ps 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
c) Applying a verse to another Scripture. E.g. Ps. 107:29 applied to Matt. 8:23-27.
8. Hebrew Poetry provides patterns for us to imitate, such as…
a) Confession of sin (e.g. Psalm 51)
b) Confidence in the Lord (e.g. Psalm 27:3)
c) Celebration of God’s glory – for example…
Ps. 19:1-6, God’s glory in creation
Ps. 106, God’s glory in history
Mic. 7:18-19, God’s glory in redemption
F. Two Helpful Hints For Preaching Poetic Literature
If you preach a series on the Psalms, it is useful to give an introductory sermon on the types, settings, structure, and theology of the Psalter. Then, as you prepare your sermon…
1. Look for the summary verse of the passage, a key verse that summarizes or puts into perspective the whole passage. For example, in Psalm 73, the psalmist observes the lives of ungodly people in comparison to his own life (73:1-14) and cannot understand why the wicked seem to prosper, “…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” (73:16-17). Everything came into perspective when he realized that God is sovereign and in control. He does judge the wicked.
You see the same development with Job. He complained that God’s power was visible in creation but that His word was only faintly heard and his actions hard to understand (Job 26). But later Job realized that God’s ways can only be properly understood when we hear him personally, which, of course, is exactly how he finally understood God’s ways in his life when God spoke to him out of the whirlwind (38:1).
2. Look for the theological emphasis of the passage. We learn much of our theology from the poetic literature of the Bible. Hence, we need to find the theological perspective of the book and of the specific passage within the book. Then, our job is to relate that theological perspective to the realities of life. As Graeme Goldsworthy points out, “The Psalms, then, reflect upon the saving deeds of God and upon human failings… Some of the psalms rehearse salvation history, others simply extol God’s greatness, and still others cry out in distress with a longing for restoration” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 196-197).
If you are going to preach theology from the poetic books, this will often require you to preach a theological topic, drawing on other texts to complement the particular passage. For example, the poetic books raise the big questions about life and articulate the complaint, but they don’t always give a definitive, enduring answer. Job certainly got an answer from God but it was only partial. It is one thing to say: “Job you need to trust my sovereignty.” That is true, but we are looking for a more concrete answer. For that, we, as preachers, must turn to the prophets and the N.T. where we find a definitive theology of the meaning and purpose of life, the apparent injustices of the human experience, and where God is in all this. There we find that the answer to the quest for meaning and deliverance from our circumstances is the provision of a “Messiah.”
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
“The Ministry Of Reconciliation, Pt. 2: The Reconciliation Of God’s People” (2 Cor. 6:1-7:16)
1. An Appeal For The Reconciliation Of God's People To God (6:1-2). “We then, as workers together with Him, also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1). Our ministry of reconciliation is not only directed towards unbelievers, but towards God’s people as well (cf. comments on p.10). The Corinthians certainly needed to be reconciled to God after the debacle that had occurred in their church – that’s the context (cf. 1 Cor.). In ministry, we are “God’s co-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), “working together with him” (2 Cor. 6:1a). It is his ministry and we work with him as his ambassadors, his spokespersons, his representatives.
As such, we not only proclaim a message of reconciliation to the world, but a message of reconciliation to God’s people. We plead with the world to “be reconciled to God” because their relationship with God is fractured, distant – they have never been reconciled to God. And “we also appeal to you (Corinthian believers), ‘Don’t receive the grace of God in vain’” (6:1b). They had at one time “received” the grace of God – i.e. been reconciled to God through his grace in Christ. But evidently these Christians were not now living like reconciled people. It seemed as though they had received the grace of God “in vain” – i.e. they didn’t look or act like people who had been reconciled to God.
How is it possible to receive the grace of God in vain? Is Paul insinuating that they had never really, genuinely been reconciled to God at all, that their profession of faith was disingenuous? No, there is never any question in the apostle’s mind that they were genuine believers.
Is Paul saying that they had once been saved but now were lost again? Hardly, since this would contradict the plain teaching of the N.T. as to the eternal security of the believer (e.g. Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jn. 10:27-30).
Is Paul still speaking to “the world” (2 Cor. 5:19) and not to believers? No, the wording of this verse (2 Cor. 6:1) indicates that he is turning his exhortation to a different audience than in the previous chapter, since (a) he now addresses “you” not “them” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19); (b) “also” would indicate that he is applying what he has just said to someone else; and (c) “receive the grace of God in vain” must surely have in view those who have already made a profession of faith – not “the world” who have not “received the grace of God” at all, much less “in vain.”
So, why does the apostle exhort them here to not “receive the grace of God in vain”? Well, I suppose because their behavior and theology were questionable. As to their behaviour, it was clearly worldly in nature - their divisions, boasting over sexual immorality, suing one another in court, divorcing etc. That would certainly call into question the sincerity of their faith. And as to their theology, the Corinthians appeared to be accepting a corrupted gospel (2 Cor. 11:3-4; cf. Gal. 1:6-9). That would make the apostle question the sincerity of their faith. They were living for themselves and not “for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). That would certainly render the gospel of no effect in their lives and testimonies. Their activities were like “wood, hay, straw” and not “gold, silver, costly stones” (1 Cor. 3:10-15). That would render the gospel practically void in their lives.
It seems then that the apostle Paul is questioning the sincerity of their profession of faith because of these things – their behavior and theology. Thus, he is urging the Corinthians to live in a way which is consistent with those who have “received the grace of God,” so that their faith would not be empty, void, fruitless; so that their behaviour and thinking would not contradict their profession; so that they would not to turn away now from what they had heard from him and previously received; so that they would not prove to be like Eve who was led astray by Satan’s deception “from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
It is so easy to turn the grace of God into carnality, lewdness and, thus, render your faith fruitless, empty, void of reality, power, and substance. It’s so easy to say you believe the gospel of Christ and then to act contrary to that belief. I suppose to some extent we are all guilty of that from time to time when we allow sin in our lives. But “if we confess our sins he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9), so that such sin does not become a practice with us, is not characteristic of us; so that we do not render the grace of God null and void, of no effect, mere vain words without reality.
And by way of reminder, Paul says: “For He says: ‘At an acceptable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (6:2). Quoting from Isaiah, Paul reminds the Corinthians that there was a day of salvation set by God when he would proclaim the good news to them; that “acceptable time” when God heard them and helped them; the time when the gospel had been proclaimed to them by Paul, God’s ambassador; that time when they responded to the message of reconciliation, when they “received the grace of God.”
“Now is the acceptable time.” “Now” means the present age of grace, the age in which they had responded positively to the call of the prophet Isaiah (cf. Isa. 49:8). “Now” is “The acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk. 4:18-19; cf. Isa. 49:8-9; 61:1-2). This is not the “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30) which God overlooked, but the time that God has appointed in which he “now commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). It’s the acceptable time because God has appointed it – “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…” (Gal. 4:4). That’s why it is the acceptable year of our Lord, the year of our Lord’s favor, because Christ has come and the fullness of the gospel has been made known.
“Now is the day of salvation.” It is the present period of God’s grace through Christ, when He is calling people to repent and believe the gospel. So, don’t forget the day of your salvation. It was a day appointed by God, a significant day on your calendar. We should always remember what God did for us in Christ and when that became reality in our lives as the result of God's sovereign appointment. Hence, don’t live now as though the grace of God was in vain. That’s the point!
So, first, Paul makes “An Appeal For The Reconciliation Of God's People To God (6:1-2). And then he makes…
2. An Appeal For The Reconciliation Of God's People To God's Minister (6:3-7:16). Not only did the Corinthians need to be reconciled to God by demonstrating that they had not “received the grace of God in vain,” but they needed to be reconciled to the one who had brought them the good news of the grace of God – Paul himself. The greatest commendation of the apostle is his authenticity in ministry (cf. 2:17; 4:2). So, firstly, he appeals for their reconciliation to him based on his commendable ministry, by reminding them of his exemplary life that commends the ministry and the minister. And, secondly, he appeals for their reconciliation to him based on his pastoral heart, by reminding them of his care, devotion, and sensitivity.
a) An appeal for reconciliation based on a commendable ministry (6:3-10). “3 We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. 4 Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything…” (6:3-4a).
If the Corinthians were living and thinking in ways that were contrary to the gospel, whose grace they had received, and if they were distancing themselves from the apostle for wrong reasons, then they must consider the life and ministry of the man who had preached that gospel to them. No pleading with his audience (6:1-2) is of any value if the minister of the gospel does not lead an exemplary personal life. No reconciliation with God's people would be possible if the minister himself is not authentic. Indeed, the authentic minister does not want anything in himself to detract from or hinder the work of the gospel. God's minister must not give “anyone an occasion for offense” that would hinder the reconciliation of God's people to him. “We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed” (6:3).
What good would it be for a minister to entreat the people of God to live lives that are pleasing to God (lives that show that the “grace of God” is authentic in them – i.e. not “in vain”) if the minister himself was not doing so? And what good would it be for the minister to appeal to his people to be reconciled in their relationship to him if his life and ministry were disingenuous in any way (i.e. not credible; hypocritical)?
Thus, Paul says, “Working together with him (Christ), we also appeal to you, ‘Don’t receive the grace of God in vain… We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense... Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything” (6:1-4a). Paul wanted to stress to the Corinthians that what he was expecting of them was first true of him. He had not given anyone an occasion for stumbling or to take offence or to denigrate the gospel. This does not mean that people would not take offense at what he said from time to time (for the preaching of the authentic minister of Christ is “offensive” in the sense that it hits people in areas where they fail, are weak, inconsistent; it pricks people’s consciences; it says what they do not want to hear).
Rather, “as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything.” The minister’s personal life (behaviour, speech, attitude, relationships etc.) must be fully consistent with the message of reconciliation which he preaches in order for those who hear (both believers and unbelievers) to not find anything that would obstruct their acceptance of the message.
Does your life and testimony commend you in all aspects of your ministry? Your preaching can be neutralized so easily by a wrong word, an improper relationship, questionable ethical practices, inappropriate humour, hypocrisy etc. You can be so easily characterized among those who are “holding to the form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).
A commendable ministry overcomes a diversity of circumstances, such as (i) physical suffering (6:4c-5), (ii) ethical standards (6:6-7b), and (iii) paradoxical realities (6:8-10).
(i) Physical suffering is characterized here “by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger” (6:4b-5). No matter what the circumstances (cf. 2 Cor. 4:8-11), Paul endured as “one who sees him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). He pursued as his goal “the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). He had his eye on the ultimate goal and on the One he served (not on people or circumstances). His focus was unwavering (cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Phil. 3:8-14).
Those of us in ministry can certainly attest to the demands of ministry which require “great endurance,” be it emotional demands, circumstantial trials, spiritual attacks, relational disruptions, physical demands etc. This is what is so commendable about Paul’s ministry in the face of so much suffering and opposition and hardship.
Our ministry is commendable when we endure physical suffering (6:4b-5). Physical suffering has three aspects - physical adversity, physical opposition, and physical deprivation. Such endurance of contrary circumstances is highly commendable and evidence of a minister’s authenticity, for who would endure such suffering if you weren’t genuine.
Physical adversity is described as “afflictions, hardships, and difficulties” (6:4b). This triplet uses three interconnected (almost synonymous) terms to describe the sufferings in general that attend ministry.
“Afflictions” connotes more than simply troubles. It seems to be a general term for suffering of all kinds. Vine defines afflictions as sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances or the antagonism of persons (1 Thess. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:6, 7). It seems to have an almost eschatological connotation (e.g. Matt. 24:9). Invariably, Vine says, it refers to “that which comes upon them from without” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words, 30, 31.) It seems to be closely related to anguish, distress, calamities.
Paul’s “afflictions” are recorded in Acts (e.g. 14:22; 20:23; cf. also 2 Tim. 3:11) and he makes frequent reference to them in his epistles (e.g. Rom. 8:35-36; 2 Cor. 1:4, 8; 2:4; 4:8, 17; 8:2, 13; 1 Thess. 3:3). Paul takes comfort that his sufferings were an extension of “Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). It is simply part and parcel of ministry life (2 Tim. 4:5). Jesus warned that “in the world you will have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33) and that is certainly true in ministry.
“Hardships” refers to dangers and difficulties that befall us, while “difficulties” conveys the sense of being pressed into a narrow place from which you cannot escape, So, physical suffering includes physical adversity and also…
Physical opposition is described as “beatings, imprisonments, and riots...” (6:5a) This triplet focuses on the mistreatment we may suffer at the hands of those who oppose us – suffering as a result of persecutions, violence, and hostility. “Beatings” obviously refers to whipping or blows, of which the apostle suffered many. “Imprisonments” are suffering as a result of false accusations - specifically, being thrown into prison for the sake of the gospel (cf. Acts 16:24; 24:23-27; 28:16, 30). “Riots” has to do with disturbances and mob attacks and the like, such as we read about often in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 13:45; 14:19; 17:5; 18:12-17; 19:29; 21:30; 22:22-23; 23:10).
So, suffering for the sake of ministry includes physical adversity, physical opposition, and…
Physical deprivations are “...labors, sleepless nights, hunger...” (6:5b). This last triplet describes the physical consequences that may befall one who is so wholly devoted to the ministry that he suffers from overwork in hard circumstances (e.g. strange, foreign places), and the deprivation of rest and food. “Labours” implies deprivation of rest, physical exhaustion from long hours and hard work (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9). “Sleepless nights” obviously is the deprivation of sleep, perhaps due to the places Paul had to sleep (e.g. on board ships), or due to his concern for the people, or due to the workload (cf. 2 Cor. 11:27), particularly of someone who was bi-vocational. “Hunger” is the deprivation of food and nourishment, again, perhaps because of his workload he didn’t have time to eat or, perhaps because he couldn’t afford to eat (cf. 1 Cor. 4:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:27).
So, the work of the ministry is one that requires “great endurance” for in it, from time to time, we will face and must endure physical sufferings in its various aspects, such as physical adversity, physical opposition, and physical deprivations. I will continue this study in the next edition of this Pastors Journal.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Learning from Jesus, Part 2, Confessing His Identity (Matt. 16:13-23)
Theme: When we know Jesus, we must be prepared to confess who he is and what he has done
Point 1: Jesus ask a question about his identity (16:13-20)
1a) “Who do people say that I am?” (16:13-14)
1b) “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15-20)
- Peter’s great confession (16:16)
- Jesus great revelation (16:17-20)
Point 2: Jesus prophesies about his sufferings (16:21-23)
2a) Peter’s rebuke of Jesus (16:22)
2b) Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (16:23)
Related Topics: Pastors