Over Qualified Sermons

As I have written before, one of the hardest things in preaching is choosing what to leave out.  And one of the sources of extraneous material is the qualifications we tend to add to every point in the message.  You know how it goes: the next point Paul makes is ABC . . . of course, we have to balance this with DEF from Paul’s other letter, and GHI from Peter’s second epistle, and JKL from Proverbs, and MNO from our general experience, and PQR to keep pressure group 1 happy, and STU to avoid criticism from fashionable trend watch group 2, and VWX to touch the pet peeve issue of in-church political group 3, and YZ to…  By the time you get through that nobody has a clue what the actual point of the message, or the text, actually was.  Over-qualified sermon.

So, here’s a principle (and, ironically, a gentle qualifying follow up):

Principle – Preach the passage with its full force.  Allow other passages to be preached another time.  Your job is to faithfully and effectively communicate this particular passage with relevance to the listeners.  Your job is not to cover every possible qualifying statement and pack so much material around all that you say that the cutting edge is not only dulled, but totally hidden.

Qualifying follow up – Preach the passage with fidelity to the whole canon.  This doesn’t mean you have to refer to the whole canon, or even any of the rest of the canon.  But you do need to think about whether the point could be misapplied or whether the truth, the gospel, etc., could be misunderstood.  Qualify as much as necessary.  Often the only thing that needs to be added is a brief statement such as, “what we are saying here doesn’t mean we should never do XYZ, but we’ll talk about that another time.  Don’t miss what this passage is saying . . . ”

How do you handle the qualifying issue in your preaching?

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2 thoughts on “Over Qualified Sermons

  1. Amen to that, only this morning I left a couple of things out because interesting though they were, they were not the main point

  2. I agree with your completely that it is best to preach the passage and not the whole canon, but this can be difficult to do with some of the tensions which are presented in the scriptures. This can especially be a challenge with some topics such as are we justified by faith (Romans 5:1) or whether a man is justified by works and not faith alone (James 2:24). I have found that usually imbedded in the passage is often imbedded a resolution for this tension for example in Romans, the Apostle has explained that his purpose is to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5 and 16:26) and so when we encounter that a man is justified by faith we need to understand that the faith that Paul is referring to is not a merely intellectual faith, but an active obedient faith. So there may be no need to go to James because as we examine the epistle of Paul to the Romans carefully, there is a balanced presentation of the topic but it just takes a bit more thoughtful processing of the text and context. So we see that Paul and James are not in conflict at all but are in agreement. I guess what I am trying to say is that if we carefully read a passage and examine the context carefully, we will probably be able to give a fairly full and balanced biblical explanation from the passage we are preaching from. While I don’t think that it is bad to go to the passages if necessary I think it is important to show the continuity between apostolic authors. This is how I try to solve some of the apparent tensions in the scriptures and there is much satisfaction from finding those resolutions right in the book itself.

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