Whatever passage you are preaching, there will be opportunity to make passing comments about relatively minor details. Of course, all Scripture is God-breathed and there is no such thing as a non-essential word in the Bible. But a high commitment to verbal plenary inspiration (i.e. the words are inspired, all of them), does not mean every word can become a preaching point on a whim.
So what sort of insightful incidental comments are best left unsaid altogether? Tomorrow I’ll address the potentially appropriate ones, but for now, just the baddies:
1. Distracting moralisms – For example, the preacher is working through the story of Zaccheus’ encounter with Jesus. The setup is finished, Jesus has just called Zac down from the tree and there is an interim comment before the big scene in his house. The interim comment is about the crowds grumbling. Cue preacher going off on a gentle tirade about grumbling and how bad that is for a church. A couple of wilderness quotes, the threat of excessive quail dinners and then the diversion is over, back to Zac’s dinner table. Oops. And then some. This story has nothing to do with whether people should grumble or not. Actually, if the preacher had observed more closely, it would have become clear that the comment by Luke is not wasted at all. The crowds grumbled at Jesus! Here is the key point in the story, the moment when Jesus diverts anger onto himself to free up sinner Zac. By looking for a moralistic application point, the preacher has missed the transformational gold of grace in action. Chances are, after missing that, the same preacher might go on to make Zac’s proclamation of distribution into part of his salvation negotiations, rather than the pure response that it actually is.
2. Errant critiques – For example, the preacher is working through the story of the blind man healed in two stages. In this case he hadn’t given any attention to the preceding content in Mark 6-8, which is so critical to understanding this unique story. Getting to the end of the passage, his eyes are drawn by the red ink of Jesus’ words in verse 26. “Do not enter the village.” Voila! Preaching point. We don’t do follow-up these days! We need to learn from Jesus. Jesus didn’t just heal, he also gave instruction. Don’t go back into the world. Just follow me. Etc. Etc. Meanwhile the more astute listeners have their eyes on the text wondering how the preacher missed the first half of the verse. Did Jesus ask this blind man to follow him? Or did he actually send him to his home? It is perilous to be looking for preaching points, rather than really reading the passage to understand it.
3. Personal soapboxes – I’m out of words, but you know what I mean. The slightest hint in a passage and off goes the preacher on a personal crusade.
So easy to preach in vague connection to a text. So much safer and better to preach the message of the text.