As a preacher studying a passage it is tempting to be purposeful in pursuing your own message, but to ignore the purpose of the passage. Maybe you are intrigued by the passage, or perhaps wondering how it could be preached. Yet somehow, in the mix, we seem to lose sight of looking for why the writer wrote the text. That is, rather than simply looking for what the writer wrote, we also need to ponder why the writer wrote it.
1. Look at the context – It is vital to look at any passage in its context. What is going on around the text you are focused on? What is the flow of thought or logical progression in the book? What does the book generally say about its purpose (perhaps in the introduction, conclusion or “letter-frame”)? If you have ever studied hermeneutics at all, you should be committed to the importance of context – not just for words, but also for sections.
2. Look at the content – This tends to bear the weight of our study efforts. What words are used? What are those words referring to? How are sentences structured? And so on. Content is very important, especially when it is understood in context. But combining contextual study with analysis of content is not the whole process. Don’t miss the next one for a fuller grasp of the meaning of any text:
3. Don’t forget to consider the intent! – Content in context will do a lot to explain the “what” of a passage. But unless we are deliberate, we can fail to recognize the “why” of a passage. This may seem circular, but unless we are alert to the “why,” then we can’t fully grasp the “what.” Look for clues in context, in content, in tone, in attitude, in the presence of imperatives, etc. Some of this is hard objective analysis, some of it requires more of a subjective feel . . . which is not license to impose intent, but recognition that we must really listen to a text and be gripped by it, rather than merely passing it under the microscope of our preconceived expectations.
Passage purpose is easily neglected, but if it is, our preaching may feel like analysis . . . without vitality. If we start to prayerfully get to grips with the intent of the original author, then we will tend to find the Divine Author getting to grips with our hearts through the passage. Once we find some clarity on the purpose of the passage, then we also have a great starting point to consider the purpose of our message. Pursuing the author’s purpose tends to fit with God’s purpose in my heart, and then helps with clarity on His purpose in my preaching that passage to others.