I am continuing to read Jay Adams book Preaching with Purpose (1982). Chapters 5 and 6 concern selecting a preaching portion, but point beyond stage 1 to the oft-neglected stage 3 in my process – passage purpose. Adams points out that a preaching passage has unity not because of literary convention, or by rhetorical fiat and received homiletical tradition. A preaching passage has unity because of the author’s purpose (“telically speaking” – major emphasis on the term “telos” and “telic” in Adams!)
Each book has an overarching goal, or perhaps several main goals. Some books state that goal (see John 20:30-31, 1John5:13), while in others it is through studying the whole that the goals become apparent. It is the preacher’s task to determine what that overarching goal is, then also to determine what the specific purpose in the indiviual passage is. This individual passage purpose will relate to the overarching goal(s). What was the author intending to achieve? Was this section to inform, to convince or to motivate? (Three developmental questions in Adams form)
So often preachers study the passage content, but give little or no attention to passage intent. Without the intention or purpose of the author, the passage remains a collection of content details. When we add in to the study process the critical element of passage purpose, then we are able to genuinely understand the passage, and hopefully, to beneficially preach the passage. Without passage purpose, a message is likely to pull a passage out of context and misrepresent the intention of the content. As I’ve written elsewhere, the message purpose does not have to match the passage purpose, but it does have to begin there and it does have some restraints imposed by the passage purpose.
Next time you are selecting and studying a passage, give some deliberate thought to the passage purpose – you haven’t really studied the passage until you do!