Category Archives: New Testament

With Me: Luke’s Easter Narrative

3CrossesbI have just written a blog that underlines one of Luke’s tools in his Gospel writing – he loves to use pairs.  Actually, he uses them for two reasons and if you are preaching from Luke this Friday or Sunday, you should be aware of this key feature in his wonderful Gospel.  To read the article, click here.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 6

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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And to finish off the list . . .

6. Be aware of who is truly wise. Step back and think of wisdom literature as a whole genre for a moment, consider the dynamic that is going on. In it’s simplest form it is this – a wise person is offering his wisdom to someone who is less wise. Remember this is not the same as knowledge or information, it is personal not abstract, it is applied in the complex situations of life, and we all stand alongside Rehoboam while the offer is made – who will we listen to – wisdom or folly?

The wise person comes to us in the written word, as a person of authority, of greater wisdom, or greater experience of what it means to live in God’s world, and in God’s way. That wisdom runs right through Proverbs, it is what is being searched for in books like Ecclesiastes. Think of the massive climax towards the end of Job when God breaks into the discussion with His wisdom – it’s huge, isn’t it? In wisdom literature, the wise person offers their wisdom for us to benefit from, freely. Can you see where this is going? Wisdom finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26-31:-

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

That’s why I said earlier in the week that when we get into wisdom literature, it can seem as though those big themes of the Bible have been laid aside for a while. They haven’t been, but we might need to work a little harder to see them and we need to need to be very wary of preaching wisdom in a way which is purely focused on temporary benefit for us. Proverbs are too often preached as “super-tips” for a better life now only. Be wary of approaching Song of Solomon in a way which only celebrates human sexuality in this life. Watch out for an understanding of Job that gives answers to suffering in this life without lifting our eyes to eternity. Let’s not preach wisdom in a way which only celebrates His gifts without lifting the eyes of our listeners to the wonder of the giver.

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Filed under Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, New Testament, Old Testament, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Review, Specific text, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 8 - Message Detail

Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 2

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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2. Know why it is important to preach wisdom

With the exception of the Psalms, wisdom literature is very often neglected by Bible teachers and readers alike. Why is this, and what do we miss out on when we neglect wisdom literature?

Firstly, we miss out on the necessity of reflection. Now of course, all scripture requires us to reflect on it, and to meditate on it. But think about it for a moment, I was preaching recently on Luke 14 and an incident of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. It was a narrative passage, and so none of us in the room had much of a problem with what the passage was saying in the immediate sense – a sick man came to Jesus on the Sabbath, and Jesus healed him. I suspect that sadly, not everyone hearing that sermon believed that the miracle actually happened, and sadly, not everyone understood the significance of what Luke was saying about who Jesus is, but do I think that at the very least, everyone present understood the passage in it’s immediate sense – that Luke says a sick man came to Jesus and that he got healed by Jesus.

But imagine now that I am preaching this Sunday on Proverbs 30:18-19:-

18 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,

four that I do not understand:

19 the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

and the way of a man with a young woman.

What is the immediate meaning of this passage? What is it saying, in order for us to reflect on it? That’s a bit harder, isn’t it? And I suspect that many of us stop reading at this point, and flick over to Philippians to find something with a clearer immediate meaning. But this is the point – wisdom literature underlines to us the necessity of reflection. This proverb is inviting me to stop what I’m doing, to reflect, to take time to think about what this could possibly mean, what the connection is between these four “ways” and in doing so, to get a little wiser.

Many of us don’t like reflection. We live in the internet age of social media and immediate information, preferably in 160 characters or less. But wisdom literature defies that approach to life and demands that we slow down, maybe even that we stop what we are doing, and that we consider. Sadly one of the reasons why we neglect wisdom literature, is that we have lost the art of reflection.

Think of the book of Job – it’s a long book. Who of us hasn’t struggled through some of those passages and wondered if it will ever end? Again it’s tempting to turn forward a few hundred pages in order to find something a little easier to understand – but that is kind of the point and it’s all wrapped up in the genre itself. We might be looking for an easy answer to the problem of suffering, something we can post on Twitter or Facebook, but God refuses to give us that kind of answer, He gives us a proper answer, He gives us the book of Job. And it is a cosmically-proportioned book, to discuss a cosmic struggle.

So let’s know why it’s important to preach wisdom. Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the specific challenges.

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, New Testament, Old Testament, Preaching, Specific text, Stage 1 - Passage Selection, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose

Three Versions of Divine Marriage

divine-marriage-300x300The Bible’s favourite analogy for the relationship between God and His people is marriage.  We have certainly mentioned this before on this site.  God’s great plan is to call out a bride for His Son from a fallen and sinful humanity.  God’s great promise throughout the Bible is that you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

It is a beautiful image.  I want to ask, though, what image comes to mind when we consider the Christianity we are presented with and experience?  I want to offer three human level pictures to highlight the variety of versions of Christianity . . . click here to see what they are.

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Worldly Church

Worldly-Church1-300x225Another recent post on the Cor Deo site:

On a normal street in a town near somewhere, there is a church.  I won’t describe the building in any detail because this may cause you to either disassociate yourself from it and start pointing the finger at others, or to feel like I am pointing my finger at your type of church.  Let’s just say it is a church not unlike yours or mine.

This post presents an analogy that may be more than a bit relevant to how we preach on sin in our churches.  Click here.

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Life-Giving Love

lifegivinglove-256x300Another post from the Cor Deo blog, this time from 1John:

As you read 1 John it is clear that John was profoundly marked by Jesus’ commandment in the upper room to love one another.  He grasped that this was more than a pragmatic suggestion, but that it went to the very heart of what it was to be a disciple of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

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Jesus the Nazarene

Jesus-the-Nazarene-300x252Just catching up on Cor Deo posts, in case you missed any:

Why does Matthew end his great Christmas narrative with a whimper?  Other sections of his gospel finish with strong summaries, so why not the first two chapters?  Why have a great story end with some geographical details, an obscure reference to an unidentified prophecy and a comment about Jesus being called a Nazarene?

 This post ponders the impact of this great enigma of biblical interpretation in the gospels.  Click here to go to the post.

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, New Testament, Preaching, Religion, Specific text, Stage 2 - Passage Study

Don’t Stain Glass the Bible Folks

StainedGlassLots of Christians have a habit of “stained glassing” Bible characters.  Sometimes it seems like pretty much anyone other than Jezebel and Judas Iscariot will get a free pass and find their actions vindicated by believers.

Why does this happen?  Perhaps it is the result of Sunday School training that can sometimes turn the biblical narrative into myth-like stories with morales based primarily on character behaviour.  Perhaps it comes from too easily assuming that faith in God is a binary reality whereby any faith in an individual equates to full faithfulness, rather than recognising that God patiently works with people who are in the process of learning to trust Him rather than themselves.  Perhaps we are just nice people who assume almost everyone in the Bible is a nice person too (i.e. you have to be overtly evil to be anything other than laudable).  Perhaps it comes from forgetting that the primary character to focus on in the Bible is God, rather than the people, so that the people become models for our actions where perhaps they shouldn’t.

So where does this happen in the canon?  There are countless examples, but let me prod our thoughts with a few characters that tend to get “stain glassed.”

The Patriarchs – Abraham responds to a call from God, but when does he really trust God’s promise?  Sure, he moves with his family a long distance, but it is only after he separates from his family that God follows up with him.  Then it is another while before Abraham seems to finally trust God’s promise about his seed.  So between his initial call and his being declared righteous by faith there is the bizarre incident with giving his wife away in Egypt.  Abraham is on a journey, a faith journey.  And if we try to sanctify his decisions and affirm it all, then we may upset the wives in our congregation, and misrepresent the text.

Other OT Characters – Ruth was amazingly godly, but was Naomi acting by faith when she setup a very compromised situation?  Do we want to affirm everything about Mordecai and Esther?  Heroic and courageous?  Certainly.  But deeply faithful?  Worth pondering.  Nehemiah always gets lauded as the ultimate leader, but what legacy did he leave in respect to the hearts of the people, as well as the building project?  Was Jonah just reluctant, or was there a heart issue with him, in contrast to the character of the God he ended up somewhat representing?

Disciples – This is an interesting category.  Perhaps it is an anti-category.  That is, often I hear the disciples being treated like dunces when we treat them as if they should have fully grasped the content of all four gospels before the gospels were even written!

The Bible is full of real people with real issues and real messy mixed up faith responses, and for that we should be profoundly thankful.

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Filed under Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, New Testament, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Preaching Tones and Texts

ToneHead2This series is not about “adding tone” to lifeless letters and words.  It is about recognizing the tone of the text, and then being sensitive to the impact of our tone as we preach that text.  Here are a couple of example contrasts:

1. Tone of writer: Galatians and 2 Timothy.  This is perhaps the two extremes in Paul’s writing.  In Galatians Paul is very upset about the false teachers.  He forsakes convention to deliver a stinging astonishment statement in 1:6 instead of the standard thanksgiving opening.  In chapter 3 he is questioning who has cast a spell on the believers who he obviously loves deeply, but is so concerned about.  And by chapter 5 he makes the strongest remark in all of his writings, again about the false teachers.

Compare that with the sensitivity of Paul in his later letter to Timothy, beloved Timothy.  He writes about false teachers there too, but the tone is completely different.  He is concerned, he is deliberate, he is urgent, but he is gentle at the same time.  Paul wanted both letters to get through – one as a wake-up call, the other as an encouragement.

2. Imposed tone of preacher: Hebrews and Ephesians.  One example of how we can impose a tone that contradicts the material we are preaching can be seen when we think about these two letters.  Hebrews is a sermonic message designed to encourage and warn.  It startles.  It urges.  It paints pictures and explains a small number of specific Old Testament texts in such a way as to urge the believers on.  But preachers can bring in a foreign tone – one of theologically dense intensity that loses the energy of the original letter/sermon.

Or think about Ephesians.  The opening sentence in 1:3-14 is abundant in language choice.  The grace of God seen in the choosing, the giving of the Son, the giving of the Spirit, is lavished on believers.  And what might we do with it?  To be honest, too many of us turn it into a sterile detailed presentation of a theological doctrine triggered by one or two key words in the passage.  I wonder if the Ephesian elders would recognize our presentation of it?

Tone matters.  The tone of the text.  And the tone of the preacher.

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Filed under Christianity, Delivery, Homiletics, New Testament, Preaching, Religion, Specific text, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Webinar: Preaching Tones

logoNext Thursday I will be leading a webinar on “Preaching the Tone of the Bible” with a special focus on epistles.  The details are to be found here.

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Filed under Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, New Testament, Preaching, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 5 - Message Purpose