Preaching Proverbs 3: Full-Length Single Saying Sermons

Jon provoked this series of posts by asking if it is possible to preach longer than five minutes on a proverb (particularly the two-line kind), without preaching topically through a whole subject.  I believe it is.  Not just in theory, but based on my experience as a listener.  Two, perhaps three messages stand out to me, that have been on a single two-line saying, and have warranted the full sermon length they were given.  So, two ways to pursue fully orbed Proverb preaching:

The Every Angle Jewel Explanation Approach.  The message I have in mind is one I head a few years back from Dr Haddon Robinson.  Seemed like a simple saying, until he started probing it.  Like a connoisseur of fine jewels, Robinson took up that little saying and methodically turned it in every direction, probing each facet to gradually determine the richness of the meaning of the proverb.  Technically he used carefully developed paragraphs of thought.  Experientially it was like sitting at the feet of a wise sage giving a guided tour of a fascinating thought.  In the process of explanation I learned about metallurgy, about Hebrew culture, about the language used, and most importantly, about myself as the light reflecting from that jewel shone into corners of my life.  There was no bony structure sticking out, or jerky transition into time for an application.  It was relaxed, it was measured, it was well-crafted, it was a message that marked me.

The Every Direction Intersection Application Approach.  Ok, so my label is almost as long as a proverb, but I’m not Solomon.  The message I have in mind is one I heard in seminary chapel over a decade ago.  Dr Gene Curtis preached a masterpiece of a sermon that still influences my ministry today.  A typical two liner.  A full length sermon.  A lot of marked listeners.  How did he do it?  He explained the proverb, which didn’t take long, but then he applied it.  Then he applied it again.  Then he applied it again.  Multiple situational applications, all driving home the same point, the main point of the proverb.  In this particular case he also used the first line of a children’s Sunday school song to reinforce the point and offer a musical memory marker along the way.  If you can imagine a busy intersection in the centre of a large city, a roundabout/rotary with multiple roads leading off it, that was his sermon.  He left the world of the Hebrew sage and entered the office of the pastor, the conversation of the spouse, the lap of the parent, the phone call of the friend, etc.  Each time showing the relevance of the proverb, each time reinforcing the same point, each time returning to the text and then heading off on a different exit point.  I would love to have preached a sermon so effective.

I was impressed recently with a sermon by Andy Stanley on a single proverb, which was excellent, but despite the impressive feats, perhaps it didn’t quite attain to the two I’ve described.  (Or perhaps it had the strengths of both!)

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3 thoughts on “Preaching Proverbs 3: Full-Length Single Saying Sermons

  1. Thanks, Peter. Thought-provoking.

    I’m not even sure I’m capable of the first approach. I’m not sure I even understand it. I wrote a three-part piece on Prov. 13:22, is that the kind of thing you are talking about, but expanded into a full sermon? (it has links to the next two parts).

    My thinking has been more along the second approach. It seems like your warning against moralism has to be really very carefully heeded when we go that way….

    • Thanks Jon – I wish I could find a link to the message I have in mind as an example. What he was doing was making sense of it by probing it. It was almost like a journey of discovery, except he knew where we were going, and he knew how to make sure it touched our lives and hearts along the way. So he started by making sense of the dominant image in the proverb, smoothly moving into the full proverb, then noticing the key connective being used, then pondering the implications of it if that is what it is saying, etc. It was like a verbal presentation of the value of close biblical observation.

      On the second approach, you are so on target when you note the importance of the moralism warning. I suppose the why? underlying the what? of the instruction needs to be carefully protected and emphasised. On the other hand, we can’t be so frightened of moralistic teaching that we end up never actually offering the instruction that constitutes the specific proverb. Hence the need for continual awareness of the tightrope being walked!

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