The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 44 Summer 2022
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching:
Preaching N.T. Gospels, Pt. 3, Parables
Parables are not exclusive to the Gospels. Nathan, for example, used a parable to alert David to his sin (2 Sam. 12:1-10). Isaiah used a parable to indict the house of Israel (Isa. 5:1-7. Note that the parable is found in Isa. 5:1-6 and the application in Isa. 5:7). However, for the purposes of this article, I will deal with parables as a subgenre of “gospel.”
1. Definition And Structure Of Parables. A parable is a short story in which certain everyday experiences and characters represent certain moral or spiritual truths. Jesus frequently used parables to make a point. Typically, a parable begins by describing events or characters in a particular situation, and ends with a direct application or explanation of the story such that the hearers recognize its relevance to their lives. That’s why you often find strong negative reactions to Jesus’ parables, because they touch the consciences of the hearers.
2. Literary Forms Of Parables. In simple terms, a parable is a form of figurative language. Let me make the following distinctions…
(1) “True” Parables. By “true” parables I mean parables that follow the structure and definition that I have outlined above. Examples of “true” parables are: (1) The good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37); (2) The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Lk. 15:1-32); (3) The great supper (Lk. 14:15-24); (4) The laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16); (5) The rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31); (6) The ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13).
(2) Similes. Some parables take the form of extended similes where the subject and the thing with which it is being compared are distinct from one another and made explicit by using comparisons such as “like” or “as” - e.g. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matt. 13:44-46). Examples of parables in the form of extended similes are: (1) Leaven in the meal (Matt. 13:33); (2) The sower (Matt. 13:1-23); (3) The mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32).
(3) Metaphors. Some parables have features of an extended metaphor, in which, unlike an extended simile, the comparison between the subject and the thing with which it is being compared are implicit and inseparable – e.g. “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world,” (Matt. 5:13-14). While it could be argued that such statements are simply metaphors (and that would be true), nonetheless, in the context in which they are used I think it fair to classify some as having parabolic features in their structure and purpose.
3. The Purpose Of Parables. Despite the apparent simplicity of the parable form and content, there has been a lot of debate over what they mean. And indeed, there are parables which are difficult to understand, such as the parable of the dishonest business manager (Lk. 16:1-13). We read a story like that and ask ourselves: “What exactly did Jesus mean? Is he really commending the man’s dishonesty? Or, is there more to this story than initially meets the eye?” Even the disciples themselves questioned what some of Jesus’ parables meant (Mk. 4:10; Lk. 8:9).
Unfortunately, Jesus’ explanation of the significance of parables is itself a difficult statement to understand: “The secret of the kingdom has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven’” (Mk. 4:11-12; quoting Isa. 6:9-10). While this statement does not necessarily imply that this was the purpose for all Jesus’ parables, it does explain why he used some parables to present the divine secret concerning the nature of the kingdom of God, a secret whose meaning is revealed to those with divine life but withheld from those who adamantly refuse the truth.
Perhaps Jesus’ explanation is better understood in the context that his ministry had two diametrically opposite effects. As the apostle Paul puts it, for some hearers Jesus’ message in the parables was the “aroma of life leading to life” but for others the “aroma of death leading to death” (2 Cor. 2:14-16). Or, as the apostle Peter puts it, for “you who believe” Jesus is presented in the parables as “the stone that the builders rejected – the One who has become the cornerstone” but for unbelievers He is “a stone to stumble over, and a rock to trip over” (1 Pet. 2:7-8). In other words, Jesus’ parables forced people to take sides. You were either for him or against him. This was clearly the effect of many parables – they divided the people and in so doing revealed the truth of their hearts. As, Moises Silva points out, “The parables…when addressed to those who have set themselves against the Lord, become instruments of judgement. Thereby, ‘whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him’ (Mk. 4:25).” (Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 111).
Parables, then, serve the purpose of discriminating between those who heard Jesus - on the one hand to obscure the truth from those who rejected his words, and on the other hand to clarify the truth for those who responded positively to his words. For those who responded positively to his words, Jesus’ parables revealed God, his truth and his purposes for his people. For those who rejected Jesus and his words, parables were used by Jesus as instruments of judgement and a means of concealing the truth from them (e.g. Matt. 13:10-15; Mk. 4:11-12; Lk. 8:9-10). As Henry Virkler puts it: “The same parables that brought insight to faithful believers were without meaning to those who were hardening their hearts against the truth” (Virkler, Hermeneutics, 165). This is a similar teaching to 1 Corinthians 2 concerning the ability of the regenerate person to understand spiritual truth compared to the inability of the unregenerate person. The difference is that one has spiritual sight and the other is spiritually blind. Thus, parables have two objectives, or focal points – first to believers and second to unbelievers.
The purpose of parables is twofold: (1) to instruct the hearers about spiritual truths such as prayer, giving, etc. (e.g. Matt. 13:10-12; Mk. 4:11), and (2) to challenge them about improper, sinful, or hypocritical living (e.g. Lk. 7:36-50). In general, the purpose of parables is to reveal the truth about the listeners’ character and identity – who and what they are.
4. The Nature Of Parables. Probably the characteristic of parables that explains why Jesus used them so much in his teaching is that they were simple interesting stories about everyday life, which ordinary people could understand, with which they could identify, and from which they could learn.
Parables, therefore, reveal, clarify, emphasize, and apply spiritual truth to both the heart and conscience. The nature of parables is such that they make an impression on people’s minds and consciences which is far more dramatic, effective, and enduring than merely stating the point - e.g. the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Lk. 18:1-8), or the Pharisee and the publican (Lk. 18:9-14).
The nature of parables, then, is that they are a true-to-life short stories about familiar situations, persons, and events that compare one situation, person, or event to another in order to illustrate, illuminate, and teach an unfamiliar or unrecognized but important spiritual truth. By their nature, parables are indirect and demand a response from the hearers.
5. Understanding And Interpreting Parables. The parable is the message. It is told to address and capture the hearers, to bring them up short about their own actions, or to cause them to respond in some way to Jesus and his ministry. It is this feature that makes interpretation of parables difficult because it is somewhat like interpreting a joke - if you have to interpret it, it fails to be funny and intuitively obvious. As with the immediate appeal of a joke, the hearers of parables would have had an immediate identification with the points of reference that caused them to get the point of the parable.
Since we may not immediately get the point because of our distance from the time, culture, and language of the parables, they do not function in quite the same way for us as they did for the original hearers. However, by interpreting the parables properly we can understand what they understood.
Generally, the interpretation and application of the story comes at the end of the parable and is distinct from the story itself. For example, Luke 7:40-42, the three points of reference are: the money lender and the two debtors. The identification is immediate: (1) God is like the money lender; (2) the harlot and Simon are like the two debtors. The parable is a word of judgement calling for a response from Simon. The force of the parable is such that Simon could not miss the point. It should be noted that the points of reference themselves do not constitute the parable. They serve only to draw hearers into the story and to provide a point of reference with whom or with which they are identified. The point of the story is in the intended response. In this instance, a word of judgement to Simon and his friends and a word of acceptance and forgiveness to the woman.
Remember that all of Jesus’ parables are, in some way, the means Jesus chose to describe and proclaim the kingdom. Hence, we must be very familiar with the meaning of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus.
6. Guidelines For Researching And Interpreting Parables. When the parables were first spoken they rarely needed interpretation since their point was intuitively obvious to the hearers. But because we were not there and because they are only in written form, we lack the immediate understanding of some of the points of reference that the original hearers had. Through the exegetical process, however, we can discover their point with a high degree of accuracy. What we need to do is translate that point into our own context (as Matthew did – e.g. 18:10-14; 20:1-16). One way you can do this in your preaching is to insert into the story contextually and hermeneutically appropriate contemporary points of reference.
While all the normal, traditional exegetical tools, procedures, and principles must be used in studying the parables in their context in order to deduce authorial intent, the parable genre seems to be so fluid, to have such variety, and to contain such multiple levels of meaning that they leave a great deal of flexibility in preaching. We should remember that our congregations today love the parable stories and usually find them as fascinating as the original audiences undoubtedly did. This underscores the power of narrative.
The golden rule (as with all exegetical research in preparation for preaching) is to not make the parables mean something that they were not intended to mean. This is a common mistake in interpreting parables – namely, trying to make every detail have a parallel alternative meaning (i.e. to allegorize your interpretation). The problem with allegorization as an interpretive method is that it is so subjective. Ten different people could come up with ten different meanings for each detail. A general rule for understanding and preaching parables is that, as a pastor friend of mine used to say, we should not try “to make parables walk on all fours” – i.e. not try to assign meaning to every little detail unless it is obvious from the parable itself.
Furthermore, allegorization, by trying to assign meaning to every little detail, often misses the overall point of the parable. In order to counter the allegorization method of interpretation, some scholars allege that each parable only has one point and that the details are merely narrative window dressing. But this is surely an oversimplification. For example, in the parable of the prodigal son, do not the son, the father, and the older brother each represent a different person? Parables can make a single point or multiple points, just as they can have multiple purposes, forms, and applications. However, though a parable may have multiple points of reference, each parable (like any other passage of Scripture) only has one theological point or principle that it is conveying.
7. A Balanced Approach To Interpreting Parables (adapted from Craig Blomberg, cited in Duval and Hays, 260f.).
(a) Look for the main point for each main character. All other details merely enhance the story. For example, in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32), the prodigal son clearly represents sinners who turn to God in repentance and faith. The father represents God’s willingness to extend mercy and forgiveness. The older brother represents religious people – the Pharisees and scribes to whom Jesus was addressing the parable (Lk. 15:2), who think they alone are worthy of God’s grace.
Again, in the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-37), the man beaten by a robber represents the neighbor in need (this is the subject that Jesus is addressing, Lk. 10:29). The priest and Levite represent religious leaders whom you would expect to love their “neighbors” unconditionally but who may not truly do so. The Samaritan represents those whom you would not expect to love their “neighbors” with a different religious and cultural background but who may actually do so in a practical and public way.
(b) Determine the main point that the original audience would have understood. Do not read or interpret parables in isolation from what is going on around them. Check their literary context carefully. Invariably Jesus’ parables illustrate what was going on in the immediately foregoing issue or circumstance.
When trying to determine the main point of a parable, it is helpful to ask yourself some questions, like: (1) What response is being called for and generated? (2) Is there a surprise, a twist, a shock in the narrative? (3) How or what does the parable teach us about the kingdom – either directly or indirectly? (4) What is the Christological and theological focus and teaching? (5) What type of parable is it - a true parable, a simile, or a metaphor? (6) What are the various scenes and movements of the parable? (7) Who is the audience? (8) Who are the prime characters and whom do they represent? (9) What is the central theological point?
8. Some Further Hints for Interpreting Parables.
(1) Listen to the parable over and over. Identify the points of reference that would have been picked up by Jesus’ hearers. Try to determine how the original hearers would have identified with the story - what they would have heard and how they would have interpreted and applied it. Sometimes the meaning is stated explicitly in the parable; other times it is implied through the application (cf. Matt. 5:13; 18:21, 35; 29:1-16; 22:14; 25:13; Lk. 12:15-21; 15:7, 10; 18:1, 9; 19:11).
(2) Examine the context carefully. As with all solid interpretive methodology, examine carefully the context of each parable from the perspective that the writer has chosen to present his material. For example, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16) comes immediately after the story of the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-22). After making the point that riches can be a great obstacle to entry into the kingdom, Peter says: “See, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?” (Lk. 19:27). Jesus assures Peter that they will receive their due reward (Lk. 19:28-30), but follows that assurance with this parable about the “landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard” (Matt. 20:1), in which parable Jesus rebukes Peter’s self-righteous attitude: “See what we have done for you Jesus, how much we have given up for you…” Peter was talking like the laborers in the vineyard who thought they were entitled to more pay than those who had not worked as long as they had, rather than being content with serving Christ out of love. That’s the perspective from which the writer has chosen to present this parable.
First, look at the historical and cultural context – its specific setting. For example, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son specifically to reprove the scribes and Pharisees who murmured against him, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:1-2). Then, Jesus tells the parable in which the Pharisees and scribes are portrayed as those who “complain rather than rejoice when a sinner is ‘found’…The point to appreciate is the role of the elder son, whose only brother – not one in hundred or even one in ten – had been lost. This elder son represents the grumbling Pharisees, who seem unable to share in the joy of God and the angels of heaven” (Moises Silva, 112-113).
Understanding the cultural context requires that we study the first century customs so that we understand the impact of what is being said and done. For example, when the prodigal son requested that his father give him his portion of the inheritance, he was asking for something that normally does not take place until the father’s death. By doing so he is inferring that he wished his father dead. Understanding this makes the father’s love and grace in receiving this son back the more remarkable.
Ii. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
“The Ministry Of Reconciliation, Pt. 4 (Continued): An Appeal For The Reconciliation Of God’s People To God’s Minister” (2 Cor. 6:11-7:16)
We continue with this passage again in this edition of The Net Pastors Journal. Last time, we covered 2 Cor. 6:11-18 in which we addressed the first two sections of the passage:
1. A pastoral appeal of love (6:11-13).
2. A pastoral appeal of admonition (6:14-18).
Now we continue with the third section…
3. The Application of the Pastoral Appeal (7:1-4). “So then...” (drawing a conclusion from what has just been said), based on the promises contained in the O.T. (6:16-18) that God will be their Father, restoring His people to their proper relationship with him, if (notice that the promises are conditional) they separate themselves from evil (viz. pagan religious practices; in particular, idol worship) then Paul’s injunction is: “So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (7:1).
For Paul, the overriding principle of holiness among God's people is that we “not be yoked together with those who do not believe” (6:14), and the practice of such holiness among God's people is that we “cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit” (7:1). The principle is that “the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? (1 Cor. 6:9-10). God's people have been “washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11) and are, therefore, in principle and in standing cleansed “from every impurity of the flesh and spirit..”
The principle must be evident in their practice in order for it to be true of them. In other words, positional sanctification must be demonstrated in practical sanctification. We have been sanctified by God – that’s positional sanctification (e.g. Acts 26:18; Heb. 10:14; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:2; Eph. 5:26; Jn. 17:17) - and we must sanctify ourselves – that’s progressive, practical sanctification (1 Cor. 1:18; 1 Pet. 3:15; ) so that our union with Christ becomes more and more evident and real in our lives. Having been freed from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:11-18) and able now not to sin (1 Jn. 3:9), God works in us (1 Thess. 5:23; Tit. 2:14) so that we become more and more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 13:20-21; 1 Jn. 2:6; 3:7). The Holy Spirit particularly is the divine agent active in our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3; 2Thess. 2:13; Gal. 5:16-18, 22-23).
There is no conflict here in the twin concepts of passive and active sanctification. Not only is sanctification a work of God in us by which we are sanctified, set apart, called saints, holy ones (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1), and not only has God in Christ granted us sanctification (Rom. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13), but also we sanctify ourselves, striving to avoid sin (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Jn. 3:6-9), seeking to practise what God declares to be true of us (1 Cor. 7:34; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Rom. 6:19), and desiring to be more like Christ (Rom. 8:13; Heb. 12:1; Phil. 2:12; 3:13-14; 2 Pet. 1:5ff.).
The “impurity” (defilement, filthiness) that results from being “yoked together with those who do not believe” (specifically, in the worship of other gods) is total in that it defiles both the “flesh and spirit.” Therefore, the “cleansing” that is consequently required of the “flesh” (physical, outward cleansing - who we are on the outside) and the “spirit” (spiritual, internal cleansing - who we are on the inside) is also total.
“Bringing holiness to completion” certainly implies that our sanctification is progressive as we strive here and now toward holiness, all the while understanding that the perfection of holiness will only be actually experienced at our glorification. But even though the ultimate completion of this sanctifying process will take place in the eschaton (1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 24; 2 Cor. 11:2), nonetheless we still continue striving now to bring that process to completion. Again, the use of the phrase “bringing to completion” indicates that this is something that we must do for ourselves. As it applies to the Corinthians, they must perfect their holiness by separating themselves from any defilement by, or association with, unbelievers - specifically, but not limited to, idol worship.
Just as “the fear of God” was one of the motivating factors in Paul’s ministry (5:11; cf. 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:11), so it ought to be one of the primary factors in motivating God's people to holiness – “to cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit.” We live under God's all-seeing and all-knowing gaze. We cannot escape his scrutiny and judgement.
Continuing his flow of thought from 6:11-12, Paul continues with his pastoral appeal to the Corinthians. “Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, corrupted no one, taken advantage of no one” (7:2). He pleads with them to “make room in their hearts” for him. He had brought them the good news of the gospel in the first place, so their hearts should be open to him and, conversely, shut to the false apostles (who were gaining an influence over them) and the unbelievers whose pagan practices they were adopting (David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 344). After all, there was nothing on his part that would cause them to act towards him the way they had. Despite his harsh rebukes and strong directives, he had not wronged anyone, he had not corrupted anyone, or cheated anyone. So, why would they treat him this way; why would they close him out?
“I don’t say this to condemn you, since I have already said that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (7:3). Paul wants to be sure that they do not misconstrue his statement of defence in 7:2. Someone reading it, especially in the spiritual condition of the Corinthians, might infer that Paul was not defending himself but accusing them. Hence, he clarifies his statement with, “I don’t say this to condemn you” and he reconfirms his love for them, “you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.” He wants no misunderstanding on this.
The expression “to die together and to live together” could be translated “so that we die together with a view to (“εις” in Greek) living together.” Thus this is really a purpose statement in which Paul may have in mind here either a reference to his and their present Christian experience and devotedness (i.e. dying with Christ and living in and for Christ), or perhaps he is referring to their common future when they will die together as believers in Christ and be raised together in their common destiny of living together in heaven with Christ, such is the closeness to them that he wants to communicate to them.
“I am very frank with you; I have great pride in you. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in all our afflictions” (7:4). This verse could be construed as either the last verse of this excursus (2:14-7:4) or the first verse of the next section (7:4-16) which is a continuation from 2:13 concerning finding Titus and hearing his report about them. Rather than trying to decide where the verse fits, it is probably safer to consider 7:4 a hinge verse ending the one section and beginning the next since it relates nicely to both. It concludes Paul’s positive reinforcement of his attitude toward them (7:3) and it introduces his positive reaction to Titus’ report (7:5-16), which, in turn, relates back to the opening of the epistle (2:2-3 cf. 7:4, 13).
His former boldness of speech toward them (redressing them on various issues) had brought about the godly repentance and corrective action that he wanted and that was needed (7:9-10). Thus, his forthright speech for their rebuke and correction had achieved its intended result and produces now his “pride” in them. His boldness of speech that could have severed their relationship permanently (for no one likes being corrected) in fact turned out well through their positive response so that now he is able and delights to boast about them. Indeed, he is “filled with encouragement…overflowing with joy” even in (and despite) “all our afflictions.” The afflictions that he refers to are evidently what he encountered in Macedonia when he went there looking for Titus (7:5).
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: The Gospel According to Jesus (Matt. 7:13-14)
Subject: Two roads to eternity.
Theme: You must choose the narrow, hard way of truth if you want to enter into God’s kingdom.
Point 1: One road starts easy but ends hard (7:13).
1a) It starts easy because the entrance is wide and the road is spacious.
1b) It ends hard because its destination is eternal destruction.
Point 2: The other road starts hard but ends easy (7:14).
2a) It starts hard because the entrance is narrow and the road is difficult.
2b) It ends easy because its destination is eternal life.
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