Preaching a Text with a List

What should you do when your passage includes a long list? For example, I recently preached 2nd Timothy 3:1-9, which includes a list of almost twenty elements in verses 2-4. With a list this length, to preach through it one element at a time would probably border on torture for the listener; “And my sixteenth sub-point is that people will be…treacherous.” Somehow the list needs to summarized effectively:

Firstly, it is important to keep a clear view of the purpose of the list. Don’t get so stuck into the exegesis of the terms that you lose sight of why the author put them there. The purpose will be determined by context. The context of the section, as well as the context of the whole book. A list is not typically dropped into a text without some form of introduction, but notice also what follows its conclusion. What was the author’s purpose? Discern the purpose and keep it clearly in view.

Secondly, within the list, notice the places of emphasis. These are almost always the start and end, as well as the middle on some occasions (especially if the structure is clearly chiastic). Notice any repetition of terms, or clustering of concepts.

Thirdly, seek to summarize the content of the list in a way that is accurate to the content and fitting with the author’s purpose. Using some form of summary or selective emphasis is important because you do not want the sheer volume of content in the list to overwhelm the main idea of the whole passage.

Finally, make sure that your summary and teaching based on that list demonstrates clear connection to the text. It would be both wasteful and dangerous to present summary and teaching on a list that bears no resemblance to the text the listeners are looking at!

So in reference to 2Tim.3:2-4? I decided to preach the list by highlighting the first two and last two elements. In this case they form an inclusio (bookends) that gives shape and meaning to the other elements: “lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” So the spiritually dangerous characters to avoid are discerned by their character in these first five verses; they are motivated by misdirected affections (vv2-4) and marked by missing authenticity (v5).

3 thoughts on “Preaching a Text with a List

  1. I once heard a great sermon by Fred Craddock in which he covered the list of people Paul mentioned at the end of Romans and kept saying it was just a list, but then as he discussed the list he referred to people in his own life and ministry and told stories of ways they had been a blessing to him, just as Paul did in his list. Great message and applies the above concepts beautifully. Look for it at Preaching Today Sermons.

  2. Fred Craddock is a very compelling communicator. When dealing with a list of names such as this one it seems that the author’s purpose must be a critical concern. Why did Paul include the list in chapter 16, and why did the ultimate Author choose to have that section in the canon? I would probably prefer a stronger connection to the text than this, but Fred Craddock’s messages are worth listening to . . . he is a major influence on preaching practice in our day.

  3. Pingback: How to Preach a Text With a List | SoulPreaching.Com

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