Skip to main content

The Big Idea


Ever wonder, "What is your point? What are you actually trying to say?"

Imagine I'm preparing a sermon... Hopefully I'm working on a chapter or two of the Bible or at least at decent-sized chunk - the story or argument or poem or vision. Hopefully I've read the context all around it too, even the whole book or letter. Now - here's the test - can I sum up the whole passage in 8-15 words?

It's what's sometimes called the 'Big Idea'; the heart, the core, the punch of the passage. And it’s worth finding it for at least four reasons:
  1. Good human communication (and the Bible is certainly that) has a certain coherence to it.  It is about something.  Mark’s Gospel is clear what it is about: Mark 1:1: The gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God - that is what the following 16 chapters are all about; that is the Big Idea.  Or going back to the prophets of the Old Testament (as we'll be doing at Raising the Bar next week) they received a ‘Word of the Lord’ – not words (plural) but a ‘Word’ (singular) – a message, a burden. If you like, each passage of the Bible has a 'topic'. So really expository preaching is topical preaching it's just that the topics come from the Bible, from God himself, not from the preacher's head. They're not necessarily the topics we would chose and they don't necessarily make the points we'd like to make but every portion of the Bible is saying something about something.
  2. In practice it is hard for most of us to remember more than one thing from a talk.  This is particularly true of children’s work but it's true of all of us really.  So it's loving to think how I can say one thing as clearly as possible.  As David Jackman has said, the real test of an effective talk is when your hearer is asked a few hours later, “What was the preacher saying this morning?” And, as someone pointed out at an Utumishi Taster Day last year, once you’ve got the One Thing you can then preach it for 5 minutes or 1 hour – depending on how much time you’ve got – because you're clear what is the one thing you've got to communicate.
  3. Looking for the Big Idea will help us to give truths their proper weight relative to one another.  It is quite possible to preach a minor point of a passage and neglect the main point.  You could preach on Luke 24 and make your central message 'It's good to go out two-by-two' or 'It's good to meet for church on a Sunday' or  ‘We are allowed to eat fish’.  The sermon is not wrong it’s just missing the point (that the chapter is about knowing the risen Jesus through the Word).  Instead of seizing on a favourite verse or a favourite truth in the passage we need to see what Scripture is majoring on and make that our emphasis.
  4. To get to that one thing the passage is saying is very hard – and that is good for us!  In our preparation we’ll need to read the passage over and over and over again.  Live with it.  Let it get inside us and work on us.  We’ll need to ask it a pile of questions – Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?  It will probably take us hours of hard digging to get to the treasure.  And we’ll need to pray desperately for light from the Father of lights who has hidden spiritual truths from the proud.  We’ll need to pray to the Lord who opens our minds to see deep truths of himself throughout the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-47)
Once we’ve see the Big Idea of the passage we've got the Big Idea of our sermon (or Bible study or children’s talk).  The message of the passage is our message to communicate, its burden is our burden, its ‘punch’ will be the ‘punch’ of our talk.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What to do with the Song of Songs?

There seem to be two extreme positions on interpreting the Song of Songs in our context – either it’s purely about Christ and the Church, or it is purely about human relationships. And the second of these seems to be much more common. And perhaps more common than either is a reluctance to even attempt to preach from the book. And then the other day I was reading a Christian book on marriage when the author suddenly felt the need to argue strongly at some length against the idea that the Song of Songs can be interpreted allegorically of Christ and the Church. So maybe it’s worth going through the key arguments the author made there against what is the traditional interpretation through church history that the Song is primarily to be taken as referring to the relationship between Christ and the Church. 1. The topic of the Song of Songs is obviously sex. Solomon is plainly writing about human, romantic relationships. That is his theme. Not Christ and the Church. In answer: That’s

The sluggard and the gospel ant

Fruitfulness = (A) Knowing the good + (B) Considering how to do it + (C) Doing it + (D) Divine action The actually doing it bit is important.  I always find the description of the sluggard in the book of Proverbs convicting. In particular I'm convicted that his problem is lack of implementation and fruitlessness. "The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns…" [Prov. 15:19] He knows the way but he's not walking in it. His procrastination has allowed the thorns to build up. And the more they build up the more daunting the task of walking down that path is going to be. Sounds a lot like an email inbox.  "I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins." [Prov 24:30-31] Thorns again. The reminder of Genesis 3. Without sweat the weeds grow. The sluggard is not actively seeking to do wrong. He's just not taking care of what

Psalm 119 podcast: mouthfuls of Bible delight

Christopher Ash's Bible Delight is a wonderfully rich, pastorally sensitive exposition of Psalm 119. Taking a section at a time he slows us down to hear the music of grace in the background of what at first listen might sound strident; slows us down to dig up beautiful gems in apparently unpromising ground; slows us down to take in the nuances and carefulness of what might at first sight seem thrown together. If you haven't got a copy, check it out - it'll do your soul good.  I recently read through Bible Delight a second (or maybe third) time and did a series of 22 little audios for my church small group. In this strange lockdown time many of us have been finding it hard to concentrate, hard to read more than a sentence, hard to pray. So this was intended as bitesize encouragement a few times a week. The format is simple: I read the section of Psalm 119 (almost always using Christopher Ash's own translation of the Hebrew); spend two or three minutes going through the