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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)