A lot of people in our churches read a lot of the Bible as filler and waffle. They wouldn’t state that overtly, of course. After all, it is the word of God! But actually, in practice, a lot of the Bible is read without real engagement. Consider the epistles, for instance. Why does this phenomena occur?
1. Because of complex sentences. It can be hard for any of us to truly track a sequence of sentences from Paul.
2. Because of unfamiliar words. Stewardship. Saints. Manifold. Rulers. Not necessarily unknown words, but not words most people tend to use in normal life.
3. Because it seems to lack direct relevance. We can’t help but look for what it is saying “to me,” which means the rest can seem distant or theoretical.
4. Because of familiar words. Hang on, didn’t we say unfamiliar words were the issue? Actually, Christian terms can grow too familiar – grace, given, revelation, promise, gospel, church, wisdom, boldness, confidence.
I am looking at Ephesians 3:1-13, for an example. Paul begins a prayer in verse 1 and then gets distracted before returning to the prayer in verse 14. Why does he get distracted? Because he mentions his imprisonment for the sake of “you Gentiles.” This triggers his explanation of why those Gentiles in Ephesus shouldn’t feel the way they probably do feel – i.e. losing heart. (Actually, it was Trophimus, sent from Ephesus, who indirectly led to Paul’s arrest and imprisonment in Acts 20, so they probably felt an extra burden over Paul’s imprisonment!)
So to lift their hearts regarding his sufferings for them, and therefore to make clear their glory (i.e. their value expressed in his sufferings as part of God’s plan), Paul goes off on a theological digression that should thrill our hearts as well as it did theirs!
But instead most people read it as “blah blah blah…Gentiles…blah blah…grace…blah blah…wisdom…blah blah blah”
Enter the biblical preacher!
The preacher’s role, is, in part, to slow people down in this text and to help them make sense of what Paul is actually saying. No word is wasted, and no word should be lost under an indiscriminate “blah blah” flyover reading. So?
1. God gave Paul a key role in unveiling new news – God gave Paul a key role in his forever plan for the sake of the Gentile believers, which was to reveal the momentous new news of the Gentile co-equality in the gospel!
2. God gave Paul grace to preach Christ and explain the news - God gave the ultimate-sinful-nobody, Paul, grace to do two things – first, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ; and second, to make clear God’s great plan, the new news about the Gentiles. Why? So that the church can be God’s trophy cabinet to show off his multi-coloured wisdom to the spiritual realms!
3. God’s plan gives us Gentiles stunning boldness! – God’s plan in Christ means that we Gentiles have ridiculous boldness when it comes to entering God’s presence (don’t forget the temple imagery in the previous section)!
So, the Gentiles in Ephesus shouldn’t lose heart, but instead they should be thrilled at their glory/value demonstrated in Paul’s suffering for their sake!
This is true for us too, just as the scars of Christ are beautiful to us because they show God’s love for us.
(I wouldn’t preach these three points as they stand, but I would make it my aim to help listeners hear the content of a section like this, turning the blah blah blah into Wow! after Wow!)