Not a Fig

Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with this great quote – “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity, but I’d give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

Preacher, where do your sermons sit?

Cheaper than a fig – This is preaching that is simple because it is shallow.  The preacher hasn’t wrestled with the text, hasn’t entered into the complexity of the passage, it’s theology, the interface between ancient text and contemporary listener, etc.  The preacher is just demonstrating shallow incompetence.  Technical commentaries have been ignored.  The text has received only scant attention.  The sermon is simple because it is simplistic.  It doesn’t engage listeners.  It doesn’t shed light.  It doesn’t stir hearts.  It has the nutritional value of a burger bun.

Complexity – This is preaching that has gone beyond the fig stage.  The preacher has started to wrestle with the text.  The preacher may have engaged in dialogue with some technical commentaries.  The preacher has mapped out some or all of the complexities of the theology and its interface with contemporary life.  It may be complex because the preacher hasn’t cut out unnecessary detail.  Or it may be complex because the preacher hasn’t really got to grips with the details.  Or it may be complex because the preacher is trying to impress.  Whatever the cause, it is complex.  Hard to listen to.  The listener has to really work to benefit.  Much nutrition, but as hard to digest as day-old steak.

Costly as a right arm – This is the goal.  The preacher has gone beyond the shallow into the depths.  The preacher has studied, and wrestled, and prayed, and thought themselves through to a place of clarity.  This isn’t simplistic, this is profound, yet accessible, relevant, clear, engaging.  They often say that the very best sportsmen and women make hitting the ball, shooting for goal, playing the game look so easy.  It isn’t because they are just natural at it.  It is because they have endured the work necessary to get to the other side of complexity.  That’s why we pay so much to watch them.  Too many preachers are worth less than a fig because they are simplistic, or so complex that the gold seems hard to mine.  If only more preachers were right arm types – having thought themselves through to a level of clarity that is blessing to all who hear.

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One thought on “Not a Fig

  1. This is good, I have always found the best preaching to be that which takes difficult concepts and makes them easy to understand!

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