Part of the reason for preaching is because listeners need the text explained in order to actually hear it. The Bible isn’t some sort of religious ritual, a magical incantation that will somehow change lives merely by being “under the sound” of it. The Bible is communication. It is breathed out by God, inspired communication that, well, communicates.
At the same time, the Bible is two to three and a half-thousand year old material that was originally written to communicate in a different culture, different language, different situation. There is a huge gap in terms of religious and political culture, geography and topography and technology and familial structures and so on. Explanation is about helping listeners hear the message of the text.
This is why explanation matters. It isn’t enough to hear the words of the Bible and then attach some contemporary relevance or personal twist and then preach a Christian sounding message. Actually, that isn’t just not enough, that is downright dangerous!
No matter how clever you are, what you can make it say is not as good as what God made it say. We must be honest and try to communicate the text accurately, or else it would be better not to preach at all.
So a big part of preaching involves explaining. We explain what the author meant at that time in that context to those people. We explain what prompted the writing, what earlier Scripture was feeding into this passage (informing theology, in Walter Kaiser’s terms), as well as how this passage fits in the canon as a whole.
Preaching stripped of explanation is not somehow more relevant preaching. It is not preaching at all. It is confusion to think that we make the Bible relevant. We show its relevance, in part, by effectively explaining it. We’ll come back to emphasizing relevance later in the week.
I suppose it is obvious, but in order to explain it, we have to understand it. Is that a burden? Often hours of brain-tiring work in careful exegesis . . . I don’t see this as a burden at all. This is one of the great privileges of preaching. Studying the Bible in order to actually understand it (rather than to find a preachable outline), this is one of the greatest privileges I know. To prepare to preach is to enter into a personal audience with God in His Word, wrestling with the text while looking to the one who is such a master communicator.
Preaching requires explanation. Explanation requires understanding. Understanding takes time and effort in prayerful study of the Word. There is nothing negative in this package!