The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 42 Winter 2022
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching
Preaching N.T. Gospels, Pt. 1
In this edition of the NET Pastors Journal, I will begin to explore the topic of preaching Gospel narratives. The four Gospels, which comprise almost half of the N.T. on a percentage basis, are centered on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:1; Matt. 1:1; Acts 1:1-2; Jn. 20:31). Since Jesus Christ is the central figure of all four Gospels, it makes sense that our interpretation and preaching of the Gospels reflect that Christocentric priority.
In the Gospels, Jesus Christ is portrayed as the fulfillment of the Law, the second Moses, the Coming One of whom the prophets wrote. Therefore, when we approach any Gospel passage, we need to ask first: “What does it tell us about the good news of Jesus Christ, His love for us, His mission, His suffering, death, and resurrection, His coming kingdom, His will for us and society?” (Sidney Greidanus, “Preaching in the Gospels”, 333).
In addition, we need to ask what role other characters play in the Gospels? I think it is fair to say, that, whenever other characters enter a narrative scene in the Gospels, such characters are there to enhance and advance the message and ministry of Jesus and our understanding of him. For example, if you were preaching on John 6:1-14, what Andrew and Phillip said and did in response to Jesus’ question (6:5) is important from the perspective of the story. Thus, we need to explain that in order to properly understand the story. Nonetheless, the focus of the narrative is on who Jesus is and how he manifests himself in the narrative event. We learn that Andrew and Phillip really didn’t know Jesus, because if they had known him they would not have said and done what they did. The point of the narrative is that since Jesus is God, (1) he could make loaves out of stones (to feed the crowd), or (2) produce money from a fish’s mouth (to buy bread), or as they discovered (3) he could multiply five small loaves and two fish to feed a multitude. The answer to his question is that Jesus didn’t need to buy bread because he is the Creator God. That’s what I mean by the Christocentric interpretation of that episode.
While the primary focus of the Gospel narratives like this one is to record the Gospel writers’ theology about Jesus’ divine nature and character, is that everything they want to teach us? Or, are there practical lessons that we learn from them that we can apply to our own lives? I would argue that the secondary characters, like Andrew and Phillip, in the Gospel narratives play a very important role not only in highlighting Jesus’ life and ministry, but also in recording human limitations, need, sin, unfaithfulness etc., especially in their relationship to, and understanding of, Jesus. While we must be careful not reduce these Gospel narratives to merely moral lessons, nonetheless, surely the authors also recount the details about these secondary characters with the intention that in them we see ourselves (our unbelief, limited understanding and distrust of Jesus) and in them we see real life examples with whom we can identify in their spiritual and theological struggles to understand who Jesus truly is. While this may not be the primary function of the Gospels it is, nonetheless, an important one.
Jesus’ ministry centered on “preaching the gospel of kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:43), a kingdom that is “near you” (Lk. 10:9, 11), has “come upon you” (Matt. 12:28), is “at hand” (Matt. 3:2;10:7) and “within you” (Lk. 17:21), because the King was present. Likewise, Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the same message (Matt. 10:7; Lk. 9:2), a message which they wrote in their Gospels for our benefit. This Gospel message, of course, continued to be preached by the apostles as recorded in the Acts (cf. Acts 28:31) and the epistles.
In the Gospels the long looked-for redemption in the O.T. finally arrives. All the types and shadows of this redemption (in the sacrifices etc.) come to their fulfillment in Christ. This final, once-for-all sacrifice is placed in historical context in the Gospels – the prophesied message and event actually unfold in history (i.e. become reality) beginning with the announcement by the last of the O.T. prophets (John Baptist) that the Messiah was coming (Matt. 3:1ff.), and continuing with his birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension. Now, we look back on those events, and our preaching task is to bridge the gap of time, culture, and theological perspective.
A. The Gospel genre: Its literary style, structure, and characteristics.
The “gospel” means good news, the good news about Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1) and proclaimed by him (Mk. 1:14-15).
1. Literary Style. The Gospel genre is unique to the four Gospels and, to some degree, Acts – at least, Acts continues the basic episodic literary style as it reports on the growth of the Christian church after Jesus’ ascension. Notice the following literary characteristics of the Gospels…
a) The Gospels are narratives (collections of short stories). That’s the form the Holy Spirit chose to communicate the message about and by Jesus, undoubtedly so that we enter into the story and not just to learn a set of historical facts. Hence, they communicate the sights, smells, sounds, imagination. Each Gospel, therefore, is comprised of a series of short stories, some of which are linked together to form a section on the same theme.
b) The Gospels are biographical, although perhaps not in the form that we might be used to. The Gospels were written to communicate theological history, centred in Jesus Christ. Hence, they are Christological, theological, and biographical.
c) The Gospels are “sermonic” (homiletical) in style, reflecting the preaching of Jesus and his disciples.
d) The Gospel writers chose their historical material selectively. Each Gospel presents its own unique account of Jesus’ life and ministry, by narrating certain selected episodes (i.e. not every episode) of Jesus’ life and teachings from a particular perspective. A comparison of the differences in each record of the same event is a good indicator of the evangelist’s perspective.
e) Each Gospel writer wrote to suit his particular theological purpose. For example, in John 20:31, while John’s aim is evangelistic, it is not solely evangelistic in that once one believes in the Son of God, one must then live with him and in him and for him. Thus, the gospel writers recorded the historical facts and presented those facts in order to convince us to believe and “have life in his name.”
f) Each Gospel writer wrote to present his particular theological perspective about Jesus – his life, teachings, and mission. Thus, Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah and his kingdom. Mark presents Jesus as the perfect, suffering Servant. Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus’ perfect humanity). John presents Jesus as the Son of God (i.e. Jesus’ deity).
Because each writer presents a different perspective, their stories begin at a different place. Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy and birth. Mark begins with the message of John the Baptist (no birth narrative). Luke begins with John the Baptist’s birth and then Jesus’ birth. John begins with Jesus’ pre-incarnate existence.
g) The Gospel writers arranged their material differently. Each gospel event is not necessarily chronological in arrangement - sometimes it is topical. This explains the different sequence of material in each gospel. They also have variations in wording, which reflects the fact that these accounts are not made from tape recordings - i.e. not necessarily word-for-word but paraphrased or condensed. Nor did they report everything that Jesus said or did (cf. Jn. 21:25). This explains how Jesus could sometimes speak for hours but what is recorded only takes a few minutes to read (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount).
h) The common emphasis in each of the Gospels is on the last week of Jesus’ life. This topic comprises the largest amount of material on a percentage basis. For example, the last week of Jesus’ life in John’s gospel begins in chapter 12. Thus, we conclude that the Holy Spirit directed the Gospel writers as to what to include and how to arrange it.
i) The Gospel genre is not a carry-over from the O.T., but there is continuity with the O.T. - for example in the following ways:
(i) The continuing topic of salvation history.
(ii) Both the O.T. and the Gospels, broadly speaking, contain narrative history, parables, law, apocalyptic, miracle etc.
(iii) The Gospels record the fulfillment in Christ of the O.T. expectation and, thus, the prophetic sayings. Nonetheless, as far as genre goes, I would argue that “gospel” is a unique genre.
2. Literary structure and characteristics. Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are called “synoptic” (literally, “seen together, look alike) Gospels, because they contain similar material, whereas John’s Gospel is entirely different.
The Gospels are compositions of short stories each of which says something about Jesus, some of which are linked together in series to form bigger stories, and all of which constitute one large story. Hence, when reading the Gospels, ask yourself:
a) What does the short story tell us about Jesus?
b) What is the writer telling us in the bigger story (i.e. the combination of short stories), taking into account the context of went before and what comes after.
For example, take the series of three short stories recorded in Luke 10:25 to Luke 11:13 (see Duval and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 248-249)…
a) Luke 10:25-37 recounts the episode about the lawyer who wants to inherit eternal life.
The context of this interaction begins with the lawyer’s question to Jesus: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:25) and is carried along by his second question: “Who is my neighbor?” (10:29). Jesus answers this second, self-justifying question by way of a parable concerning “a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (10:30-35).
The theological principles that we learn from this episode are:
(i) Our neighbor is anyone in need.
(ii) Love for our neighbor is not limited by race, religion, money, nationality.
b) Luke 10:38-42 recounts the story of Jesus’ visit in the home of Mary and Martha.
The theological principle that we learn in this episode is that sometimes we can be so busy working for Jesus that we neglect our relationship with him.
c) Lk. 11:1-13 recounts Jesus’ teaching on prayer in answer to the disciples request, “Lord, teach us to pray” (11:1). Here we learn the theological principles that…
(i) Prayer is directed to God the Father and is an expression of reverence of God (11:2).
(ii) Prayer includes requests to God for our daily needs, the forgiveness of our debt of sins, and the request for protection from temptation (11:3-4).
(iii) We can be bold in our prayers (11:5-8).
(iv) Prayer is an expression of trust in God as our Father to answer when we ask, guide us as we seek, and open the way when we knock (11:9-10).
(v) As a loving Father, God delights to grant our prayer requests (11:11-13).
The common thread running through these separate but theologically and topically linked short stories is “relationships.”
a) Lk. 10:25-37. Love and serve those in need (i.e. our “neighbor,” our fellow human beings) regardless of who they are and our preconceived hang-ups about them.
b) Lk. 10:38-42. Always put your personal relationship with, and devotion to, Jesus ahead of religious (ministry) activities.
c) Lk. 11:1-13. Talking to God in prayer is a wonderful privilege, expressing our love of God and our dependence upon Him for our daily needs.
I hope that this introductory article on preaching Gospel narratives is a help to you in understanding “Gospel genre: Its literary style, structure, and characteristics.” Next time, I will continue this study by providing some interpretive hints and principles that will help you further in your understanding and preaching of Gospel narratives.
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
“The Ministry of Reconciliation, Pt. 3: The Reconciliation of God’s People” (2 Cor. 6:1-6:10)
We continue our study of the wonderful pastoral instructions that Paul writes to the church at Corinthian. The passages in this series that we have covered so far are structured as follows…
2 Cor. 2:14-3:6, Confidence in ministry (Spring 2013)
2 Cor. 4:1-16, The Nature of Authentic ministry:
Pt. 1, The nature of the message, 2 Cor. 4:1-6 (Summer 2012)
Pt. 2, The nature of the ministry, 2 Cor. 4:7-16 (Summer 2013)
2 Cor. 4:16-5:17, The Motivation for Ministry
Pt. 1, Our future transformation, 2 Cor. 4:16-5:9 (Fall 2013)
Pt. 2, Our accountability to God, 2 Cor. 5:10-13 (Winter 2014)
Pt. 3, Christ’s sacrificial love, 2 Cor. 5:14-17 (Spring 2021)
2 Cor. 5:18-7:16, The Ministry of Reconciliation
Pt. 1: The reconciliation of all people, 2 Cor. 5:18-21 (Summer 2021)
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, 2 Cor. 6:1-2 (Fall 2021).
2. An appeal for the reconciliation of God’s people to God’s minister (6:3-7:16).
a) An appeal for reconciliation based on a commendable ministry, 2 Cor. 6:3-10 (Fall 2021 and Winter 2022).
b) An appeal for reconciliation based on a pastoral heart, 2 Cor. 6:11-7:16 (to come in subsequent editions).
In the last edition of this Journal (Edition 41, Fall 2021) we ended our study at 2 Corinthians 6:5, part way through the section 2a (above): “An appeal for reconciliation based on a commendable ministry.” We noticed that a ministry is commendable by the way it …
(i) Sustains physical suffering (6:4-5).
(ii) Maintains ethical standards (6:6-7).
(iii) Endures paradoxical realities (6:8-10).
Last time, we covered (i) a commendable ministry sustains physical suffering (6:4-5), so we will continue this study with…
ii) A commendable ministry maintains ethical standards (6:6-7). Ethical standards serve to identify and affirm “God’s ministers” (6:4) who display a commendable ministry. Ethical ministry is marked 6...by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left” (6:6-7). When duly exemplified and upheld, these ethical standards characterize a commendable minister and ministry. As God’s ministers, the apostles had “commended themselves in everything” (6:4) by overcoming a diversity of physical suffering (as we noted last time, 6:4-5) and by enduring in their ethical standards.
Let’s examine these ethical standards by which a commendable ministry is known…
“…by purity” (6:6a) means that we, as God’s servants, maintain our ethical standards by upholding and practicing holiness of life. We are to live beyond reproach, having nothing in our lives for which we can be justly discredited. We are people of moral integrity. This, obviously, is fundamental to making our ministry commendable.
“…by knowledge” (6:6b) refers to our understanding, especially of spiritual things, that undergirds our ministry. Our knowledge of God's truth must be the basis for our ethical standards and behaviour.
“…by patience” (6:6c). Ministry takes a lot of patience especially with those who oppose us and who often do not have a sound, biblical knowledge base from which to argue. Paul himself was dealing here with those in the church at Corinth who criticized and opposed him. He knew all about the test of patience.
“…by kindness” (6:6d) is the mercy and grace and gentleness of Christ. Patience and kindness undoubtedly enabled Paul to handle and respond appropriately when he suffered physically from those who opposed him, and when he suffered emotionally from those who knew him and should have treated him better (e.g. the Corinthians). It has been pointed out that “patience is reactive, kindness is proactive.” (P. Barnett, cited in David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 308). No doubt these two moral qualities described Paul’s example in all circumstances, whether facing opposition and persecution of the enemies of the gospel, or the criticism and rejection of God's people. He demonstrated the same example of Christ who “when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).
“...by the Holy Spirit” (6:6e). Some suggest that this refers to the human spirit. But to the contrary, the Holy Spirit is often connected to the qualities of holiness, patience, kindness, knowledge etc. (cf. Rom. 14:17; 15:13; 1 Cor. 12:8; Gal. 5:22). The Holy Spirit is, after all, the One who enables us to display these ethical graces. Paul certainly exemplified the fruit of the Spirit in and by the power of the Spirit.
Proper ethical standards can only be adequately manifested by those who are “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and, thus, empowered by him to live and minister for God. Indeed, the ensuing phrases “the word of truth” and “the power of God” and “the armour of righteousness” (2 Cor. 6:7) would further support the view that Paul is here referring to a divine person, the Holy Spirit, as the divine agent who empowers us as ministers to live out these behavioural qualities.
“...by sincere love” (6:6f). Genuine love is another building block of a commendable ministry. Sincere love is love without hypocrisy, unfeigned love. Indeed, perhaps Paul had in mind a sharp contrast with the Corinthians whose love for him was hypocritical, conditional, and occasional.
“...by the word of truth” (6:7a), the Scriptures. Possibly, Paul may also be referring to the Word spoken in truth. But probably he is speaking here of the Word of God which is the truth and declares the truth.
“...by the power of God” (6:7b). Just as a minister who upholds ethical standards in his ministry is enabled to behave in exemplary ethical ways by the power of the Holy Spirit, so also “by the power of God.” We have no strength of our own to be able to live exemplary lives for God in ministry. We can only do so to the extent that we walk “in the Spirit” and are propelled “by the power of God” not our own strength (cf. Rom. 1:16; 15:19; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:5).
“...by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left” (6:7c). We are not only empowered by God (6:7b) for ministry, but we are also protected by God in the spiritual warfare of ministry by the spiritual “armour of righteousness” which he provides to us (cf. Eph. 6:11-17). “On the right hand and on the left” seems to indicate that we are protected for every situation no matter where the attack comes from, no matter what circumstances the attack occurs in, and no matter what form it takes, whether we are the subject of “glory” or “dishonour,” “slander” or “good report” (6:8).
Thus, Paul in these eight ethical characteristics has contrasted genuine ministers to the frauds, the false apostles who were criticizing him. The genuine minister of the gospel maintains his ethical behaviour and standards without wavering.
So, a commendable ministry is known by how it (i) overcomes physical suffering (6:4-5), (ii) maintains ethical standards (6:6-7), and...
(iii) A commendable ministry endures paradoxical realities (6:8-10). Here Paul describes nine paradoxical situations through which he perseveres and despite which his ministry was still commendable. With the word of truth, the power of God, and the righteousness of God as his weapons of warfare for attack or defence, he is able to withstand any situation, whether true or untrue, whether complimentary or uncomplimentary, whether encouraging or discouraging.
“...through glory and dishonor; through evil report and good report” (6:8a). Paul certainly knew what it was to endure diverse and contrasting appraisals of himself and reports of his ministry. One moment people were falling down to worship him as a god; the next moment they were stoning him to death (e.g. at Lystra, Acts 14:8-19). Some reports were praiseworthy of his ministry; others were discrediting. Some reports were just plain evil and misrepresentations; others were good. But, no matter whether others honored him or dishonored him, spoke well of him or evil, Paul endured with his ministry because his focus was on being commendable to God.
The list of continues but now there are two antithetical paradoxes – i.e. antitheses between how others viewed him and who he really was…
“...regarded as deceivers, yet true” (8:b). Despite the accusations of his enemies who considered him a deceiver, and despite the inferences of the Corinthians that he was not telling the truth (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:17-20), the reality was that he spoke the truth in love. Others (presumably the false apostles) may consider him (and accuse him of being) a deceiver, leading people down the garden path, but the truth is that what he proclaims is true. So, don’t let the accusations of others deter you from the ministry.
“...as unknown, yet recognized” (6:9a). While he did not strive for fame or public acclamation, nonetheless, he was undoubtedly known by reputation if not direct contact. More specifically, those who were not near to him (or actually opposed him) didn’t really know his pastoral heart and his upright character. To that extent he was “unknown.” And furthermore, he wasn’t the kind of person who easily exposed his inner thoughts and feelings (as he does in this epistle). But to those to whom he ministered in tangible and personal ways, he was well known. His motives were well known, his message, his ethics, his principles, his way of life, his devotion to God, his unswerving preaching of the gospel.
Now the antithetical paradoxes switch to complementary paradoxes…
“...as dying, yet see – we live” (6:9b). Death was always a imminent reality in Paul’s ministry - it was a vocational hazard. It was the consequence of the hardships which he faced (2 Cor. 4:8-10; Acts 11:24-25; 16:19-26). It was also the reality of living in the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Phil. 3:10; 2 Cor. 4:11).
“…as being disciplined, yet not killed” (6:9c). The hardships and opposition and persecution that Paul had experienced throughout his ministry are regarded by him as God’s “discipline” (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:6). These trials which God caused him to pass through, severe though they were, stopped short of death itself. In the context of this passage, it seems that Paul is citing these extreme experiences as those in which “commendable” ministers demonstrate who they are by their distinctly Christ-like response, accepting such circumstances as the chastening hand of God for their benefit and growth.
“...as grieving yet always rejoicing” (6:10a). Despite Paul’s positive outlook on life and ministry, that does not mean that he did not experience sorrow. (e.g. 2 Cor. 2:1-3; Rom. 9:2; Phil. 2:27). But he was able to face grief with an unshakable joy.
“...as poor yet making many rich” (6:10b). Paul plied his trade of tent maker in order to live. No doubt such a trade did not make him a rich man. Nor did he get rich from preaching the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; cf. Phil. 4:12). In fact he chose to be poor in order not to be indebted or a burden to anyone (2 Cor. 11:9;12:6) nor to discredit the gospel (Acts 20:33-35). But he made many others rich spiritually through his ministry to them (1 Cor. 4:8; 2 Cor. 1:6).
“...as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (6:10c). Despite his poverty, he isn’t crying foul. He possesses everything in Christ. He is rich (Phil. 4:12).
The purpose of Paul’s description of these characteristics of a commendable ministry and a commendable minister is that “the ministry will not be blamed” (6:3). Commendable ministry can withstand the light of scrutiny by anyone because such ministers conduct themselves admirably in a variety of difficult and oppressive circumstances, such as sustaining physical suffering (6:4-5), maintaining ethical standards (6:6-7), and enduring paradoxical realities (6:8-10).
By inference Paul is contrasting genuine and commendable ministers with disingenuous and fraudulent ministers. As one commentator puts it, “Paul assumes that the gospel is discredited by those ministers who are lustful, impure, ignorant, overbearing, indignant, rude, unkind, and hypocritical in their love, cultivating those whom they think can benefit them in some way. Such ministers have neither the Holy Spirit nor power of God” (David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 310).
May we be challenged by this study to ensure that our own ministries are blameless and without offense by conducting ourselves in a way that brings glory to God.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Learning from Jesus, Being Influential Christians, Pt. 1 (Matt. 5:13)
Theme: Influential Christians are those who make a difference for God in the world
Point 1: We fulfill our mission when we influence the world for God (5:13a)
“You are the salt of the earth.”
1a. We are to be a life-giving influence in a corrupt and dying world
(i) … by preserving the world against the decay of sin
(ii) … by purifying the world from the infection of sin
1b. We are to be a distinct influence in an immoral and irreligious world
(i) … by permeating the world without losing our identity
(ii) … by flavoring the world without being distasteful
Point 2. We fail in our mission if we become unusable in the world by God (5:13b)
“But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet”
2a. We can become unusable if we lose our purpose for God in the world
– i.e. by becoming like salt that “loses its taste.”
2b. We can become unusable if we lose our value for God in the world
– i.e. by becoming “good for nothing.”
Related Topics: Pastors