We tend to be trained, both by Sunday school instruction and by NIV section headings, to separate out each individual story and treat it as a stand alone. But the Bible always presents plots in the context of larger plots.
I’ve been trying to get hold of a commentary series on the books of Samuel that does a stunning job of demonstrating the interconnectedness of the individual stories (a rarity in commentaries on narrative books!)
I’ve been pondering how the gospel writers wove together events and parables in a way that honoured their historicity, yet communicated their own theological emphases under the inspiration of God. The gospels are not simply four perspectives on a car accident, it’s much richer than that!
So as we engage a story, we must break open the blinkers of the section headings and get a sense of what is going on around our focus text. The context almost always sheds light on the point of our focus.
What is true on a local level, is also true on a macro level. To be effective preachers, we need to be whole Bible people. That is, we need to have a sense of how the whole fits together, not just historically, but as a greater plot.
The tension underlying every narrative is the fall of Genesis 3. The characters in every plot are people responding to God as they hear His Word. The resolution to the problem of Genesis 3 can never be the moral successes of particular characters, but rather the amazing intervention of God’s grace incarnated.
While we don’t need to always finish the macro story, we must always be aware of how our particular text fits into that larger narrative. Only then can we be sure to avoid the simplistic little niceties of sharing tips for successful living through ancient tales with moral morals. For whether we realize it or not, how we live this Thursday is part of the great narrative of God’s grace being spurned or celebrated in the epic of history and the annals of eternity.
So on a book by book level, on a canon-wide level, and on a history as a whole level, we must see individual plots as part of the bigger plot of God’s great story. As preachers we have the privilege of shining light both in narrow focus, and in broad illumination.