So we’ve thought about making biblical truth memorable, and making it known, but what about making it understood. Is that what preaching is? Yes. And no.
1. Contemporary listeners need help understanding the Bible.
There is a significant distance between today’s world and the world of the Bible. As the preacher, you have a key role in helping to bridge that divide. This means overcoming differences in culture, in language, in politics, in religion, in worldview, in geography, in customs, in perspectives, etc. When you preach the Bible you need to help make sense of a very different world for the sake of those in yours.
This means we can’t just read the text and then apply it. We have to make sense of what is going on. This means plumbing not only the historical setting and context, but also the literary setting and context. We have to help people make sense of not only a strangely different world, but also an unusual collection of texts. People need to understand the canonical structure, the development of thought, the informing theology feeding into a passage, the shape of the story beyond the passage, the nature of the genre of the passage, the forms of literary design within the passage, etc.
And all this means that as preachers we have to make value judgments. We can’t just dump all the information we know and learn into a message. This would make it overwhelming and too long. So we must decide what needs to be said, this time, to make sense of this passage.
2. Your listeners need more than just understanding, but not less.
Just to make matters worse, understanding is not the only goal. It is the foundational step. That is, without understanding, then we cannot build effective application, and we cannot expect genuine transformation. It is no shortcut to bypass understanding and go straight to application, pressing for compliance or hoping for transformation. Application and transformation must be built squarely on clear understanding of the text. God is not into radically new revelation. He has given us His Word to transform lives. He invites us to engage Him there, and as we do so, He also encounters us to change us now. God hasn’t appointed us to simply explain the truth of His Word, nor to simply seek transformed lives by means of pointed application. He has appointed us to put it all together – explain, apply, pursue transformation.