I am preparing to preach a series from the book of Ruth. This week I’ve been thinking out loud about aspects I need to keep in mind as I head into the preparations. I’ve thought about the unfamiliarity of the context for the listeners, as well as their perception of the irrelevance of something so far removed from today.
Today I’m pondering a temptation I know I’ll face in preaching the narrative genre.
It is always tempting to multiply applications. I suppose this is a response to yesterday’s concern with apparent irrelevance. The preacher can fall into the trap of turning every detail of the text into a point of application. “Look, Ruth isn’t an irrelevant book, we are only five verses in and here are four principles for keeping your family together!” Oops.
As a preacher with a desire to be relevant to the listeners, I have to guard against illegitimate application of details in the narrative. Just because a character demonstrates it, doesn’t make it an instruction for the reader. Just because it happened, doesn’t mean it should.
As a general approach, perhaps I should put it this way – (1) my effort in preparation should go into grasping the thrust of the whole passage, and then seeking to clearly apply that main thrust. And there will be ways to multiply the applications of that main thrust. This will be better than multiplied mini-thrusts based on particular details plucked out of their unique role in the passage as a whole.
That is, all the details matter, but not all the details need to be applied. Every detail in a narrative is working together to make the whole plot work. But not every detail is there as a teaching point. The plot as a whole (either the whole plot, or the plot of a scene if I preach it section by section), the plot as a whole carries a certain thrust that we would do well to open our hearts to and be changed by.
Tomorrow I’ll add a couple more thoughts on applying the narrative.