Look Wider to See Deeper and Higher

Interesting comment today.  After interacting with students’ sermon outlines on a passage I got the privilege of preaching the passage.  One participant observed afterwards, “we were looking at this passage on a very human level, but you went deeper to show us God and how He sees us, which made it so much more powerful.”  

Very encouraging feedback, but my point is actually this: they were looking at a list of instructions in an epistle.  I probably did dig a little more than they could in the passage itself.  But the God vision came from a wider lens, not a bigger shovel.  I looked at the passage in its context and saw God at work.  They looked at the instructions and felt pressure to obey.  I looked at God’s work and saw a privilege to participate in.

Sometimes we need to dig deeper in the text (actually, always).  Sometimes we need to look wider at the context (actually, always).  Always we need to make sure we are preaching God and not just human.

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5 thoughts on “Look Wider to See Deeper and Higher

  1. Excellent thought Peter. I don’t comment as much as I should but I enjoy your blog a lot. Being a Biblical Preacher myself, I’m encouraged by your insights and am hopeful more of this type of thinking will permeate the pulpit in years to come.

    Keep up your excellent writing.

  2. Amen! I really liked your explanation of what made your sermon more powerful and it wasn’t a bigger shovel but a wider lens. I think that it is a common problem to think that a bigger shovel would help us be better preachers. There is no doubt that a bigger shovel might give us more insights into the text but what often happens is that when we get a bigger shovel we might tend to deliver more earth in our message. I found the book by Bryan Chappel called “Christ-Centered Preaching” and his section on the Fallen Condition Focus to be extremely helpful to enable me to see through a wider lens. Here is a quote from that section of Bryan Chappel’s book,

    “Determining a sermon’s subject is half done when a preacher has discerned what the biblical writer was saying. We do not fully understand the subject until we have also determined its purpose. It is too easy to preach on a doctrinal topic or an exegetical insight without considering the spiritual burden of the text for real people in the daily struggles of life. In doing so, preachers relieve themselves of having to deal with the messiness and pain of human existence. The greater intellectual and spiritual task is to discern the human concern that caused the Holy Spirit to inspire this aspect of Scripture so that God would be properly glorified by his people.”
    Chapell, B. (2005). Christ-centered preaching: Redeeming the expository sermon (Second Edition) (48). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

    I think that understanding this principle has helped my preaching and assisted me deliver more God-Centered messages rather than a man centered.

    I always enjoy being spurred on to be a more effective preacher by your comments. Steve

  3. Hi Peter, I didn’t want to post this full quote but I did want to send this extended quotation to you from Bryan Chapell’s book as it sounds the same chord as you regularly do in your posts. Enjoy and keep up the good work, Steve

    Determining a sermon’s subject is half done when a preacher has discerned what the biblical writer was saying. We do not fully understand the subject until we have also determined its purpose. It is too easy to preach on a doctrinal topic or an exegetical insight without considering the spiritual burden of the text for real people in the daily struggles of life. In doing so, preachers relieve themselves of having to deal with the messiness and pain of human existence. The greater intellectual and spiritual task is to discern the human concern that caused the Holy Spirit to inspire this aspect of Scripture so that God would be properly glorified by his people. Consideration of a passage’s purpose ultimately forces us to ask, Why are these concerns addressed? What caused this account, these facts, or the recording of these ideas? What was the intent of the author? For what purpose did the Holy Spirit include these words in Scripture? Such questions force us to exegete the cause of a passage as well as its contents and to connect both to the lives of the people God calls us to shepherd with his truth.
    Until we have determined a passage’s purpose, we are not ready to preach its truths, even if we know many true facts about the text. Yet as obvious as this advice is, it is frequently neglected. Preachers often think they are ready to preach when they see a doctrinal subject reflected in a passage, though they have not yet determined the text’s specific purpose. For example, simply recognizing that a passage contains features that support the doctrine of justification by faith alone does not adequately prepare a pastor to preach. A sermon is not just a systematics lesson. Why did the biblical writer bring up the subject of justification at this point? What were the struggles, concerns, or frailties of the persons to whom the text was originally addressed? Were the people claiming salvation based on their accomplishments, were they doubting the sufficiency of grace, or were they afraid of God’s rejection because of some sin? We must determine the purpose (or burden) of a passage before we really know the subject of a sermon.5
    We do not have to guess whether there is a purpose for a particular text. The Bible assures us that every passage has a purpose, and it clearly tells us the basic nature of this purpose. The apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). The Greek terms that Paul uses to express our need to be thoroughly equipped convey the idea of bringing to completion. God intends for his Word to “complete” us so that we can serve his good purposes.6 That is why the translators of the King James Version interpreted verse 17 of the passage as “that the man of God may be perfect.” God intends for every portion of his Word (i.e., “all Scripture”) to make us more like him so that his glory is reflected in us.7
    Since God designed the Bible to complete us for the purposes of his glory, the necessary implication is that in some sense we are incomplete. We lack the equipment required for every good work. Our lack of wholeness is a consequence of the fallen condition in which we live. Aspects of this fallenness that are reflected in our sinfulness and in our world’s brokenness prompt Scripture’s instruction and construction.8 Paul writes, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
    The corrupted state of our world and our beings cries for God’s aid. He responds with the truths of Scripture and gives us hope by focusing his grace on a facet of our fallen condition in every portion of his Word. No text was written merely for those in the past; God intends for each passage to give us the “endurance and the encouragement” we need today (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). Preaching that is true to these purposes (1) focuses on the fallen condition that necessitated the writing of the passage and (2) uses the text’s features to explain how the Holy Spirit addresses that concern then and now. The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him.
    By assuring us that all Scripture has a Fallen Condition Focus (FCF), God indicates his abiding care and underscores his preeminent status in preaching. The FCF present in every text demonstrates God’s refusal to leave his frail and sinful children without guide or defense in a world antagonistic to their spiritual well-being. However, an FCF not only provides the human context needed for a passage’s explanation but also indicates that biblical solutions must be divine and not merely human. Since fallen creatures cannot correct or remove their own fallenness, identification of an FCF forces a sermon to honor God as the only source of hope rather than merely promoting human fix-its or behavior change. In technical terms, though an FCF requires a sermon to deal honestly and directly with the human concerns of the text, this focus simultaneously keeps the sermon from being anthropocentric. The acknowledgment of human fallenness that undergirds the text’s explanation and the sermon’s development automatically requires the preacher to acknowledge the bankruptcy of merely human efforts and to honor the wonders of divine provision.
    Because an FCF is a human problem or burden addressed by specific aspects of a scriptural text, informed preaching strives to unveil this purpose in order to explain each passage properly. Obviously, there may be more than one way of stating the purpose for a text since the biblical writer had various mechanisms for stating or implying his purpose. There may also be a variety of purposes within a specific text. Still, a sermon’s unity requires a preacher to be selective and ordinarily to concentrate on a Scripture passage’s main purpose. An FCF determines the real subject of a message by revealing the Holy Spirit’s purpose(s) in inspiring a passage.9 Ultimately, a sermon is about how a text says we are to respond biblically to the FCF as it is experienced in our lives—identifying the gracious means that God provides for us to deal with the human brokenness that deprives us of the full experience and expression of his glory.

    Chapell, B. (2005). Christ-centered preaching: Redeeming the expository sermon (Second Edition) (48–51). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

  4. Interesting observation. I think I understand what you are saying. Can you give us the differences between what they see and what you see in the same passage?

  5. Not sure what to say – the students were seeing a list of commands to be obeyed, sort of a legal list in the latter part of an epistle. I was presenting a set of specific examples of what God does in us as He builds His church (setting the paragraph more in the context of the flow of the book). In their view the instructions were mere duties. In my sermon, the instructions were part of the package of God’s greater work and therefore felt more like a privilege than a burden.

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