That Message from That Text?

It is vital that the listener be able to see how the message comes from the text they are looking at. The credibility of the speaker matters, but the credibility of the Bible matters more. It matters that people listening to a sermon can look at the text before them and see how the message flows from that particular text. It is not good enough to preach truth, or to preach a sound idea. It matters that the truth and the idea come from the text presented to the people.

Some years ago my wife and I sat in church as the visiting preacher preached the gospel. The message was true, the gospel was clear. But the message was not true to that text, and the gospel was not clear from that text. His “clever” presentation of the gospel undermined the very credibility of the gospel he proclaimed.

Since you’re wondering, he preached the gospel using the three phrases from Job 41:8. First point was that we must identify with Christ (lay your hand on him). Second point, that we must remember what He did for us (remember the battle). Third point was that our salvation is not dependent on us, but on Him, there is no need to keep “getting saved” again (and you will do it no more). The text is not presenting the gospel, it is God telling Job to get in the squared circle and slug it out with leviathan.

May our listeners never leave saying, “Great message, but I don’t see how he got that message from that text!”

Peter has responded to comments on this post.

4 thoughts on “That Message from That Text?

  1. Yes, this is one of my pet peeves, too. Great message -wrong text! When we use a Bible passage just as a framework to present our own message, then the passage becomes secondary and we undercut the authority of Scripture, even if the message we preach is biblically sound.

    Ironically, a preacher would not even need to begin with a Bible passage in order to preach this way. He could use any secular story or poem as a framework for the message, e.g., preaching on the Trinity from the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Okay, that is an extreme example! 🙂

  2. I believe that the text should be in the drivers seat. If you have an idea for a theme for a sermon…go ahead and choose a text…but once you choose the text…the text is in the drivers seat…and if it means that you must let go of the theme that brought you to that particular text..then so be it…

  3. I agree totally with Sherman above.
    It can be difficult though. Say you are given a topic to preach on, and sometimes a passage as well that it is assumed will go with that topic. Or you pick a passage to go with that topic. But when you start to study, you find the topic is not really what the passage is about.
    So maybe you drop the topic, but you can be left with a sense that you are not doing what you were asked to do, i.e. preach on that particular topic.
    Perhaps you could do some posts sometime on topical preaching, which most of us have to do at some point, like it or not!!

  4. Couple of brief thoughts. First, amen to Sherman’s comment. The text is in charge. As someone who often preaches in different churches, I get assigned topic and text. If the topic is part of a topical series, then I might suggest a text change if necessary. Usually the text is part of a series (through a book), in which case the assigned topic or title is largely irrelevant. I’ve never had anyone complain that I didn’t preach what I was asked to preach, even though sometimes the text has taken me in a very different direction. I think the key is to preach the text faithfully, then people will be grateful. Sometimes as preachers we can get all bent out of shape about the assigned topic or title, but in reality they are often written down without massive amounts of thought (certainly less thought than we give to worrying about how to preach that topic from that text!) I suppose if you’re asked to preach on a subject, and then the text you chose shows itself to be less than ideal, then it is probably time to switch texts (although if it is too late there may not be time). Still, it is better to preach a text well that somehow relates to the topic, than to try to preach a topic well that doesn’t really relate to the text you’re using. I will certainly address the issue of topical preaching at some point, and I’m sure others have a lot to say in that area too. Preach the Word, that’s got to be the way to go.

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