Last time we looked at the importance of seeing all of a text in its context, rather than plucking out heads of command for instant applicational preaching. We also highlighted the need for seeing the wider context since instructional sections of books were intended to be heard alongside the doctrinal foundations. Here are two more points to ponder, especially for those of us who tend toward the harvesting of imperatives for our preaching preparation:
3. Impartial tone sensitivity. Not every imperative is a command. As I have mentioned before, a little Greek can be dangerous. Knowing that a word is technically imperatival in mood does not mean it is automatically a command as we tend to think of them. It could be a pronouncement, or an request/entreaty, or even a stereotyped greeting! While it would be nice if we could all know our Greek better, that is not the only key here. One thing we can all do is to develop a sensitivity to the tone of the text. Some preachers are able to turn any textual “tool” into a sledgehammer–not because the text is one, but because that is all they can see. Their personal baggage makes every invitation, every encouragement, every description, every single text into a sledgehammer that needs to be smashed into the consciences of their listeners. Personal baggage is hugely damaging in biblical preaching.
4. What kind of God is this? Here’s a final thought to keep in mind. As you are reading through the Bible, consider whether the God being described is really a power-hungry law-giver, or whether we might be projecting something onto Him with such emphases. After all, what if the consistent thread throughout the canon is God’s loving relationality and therefore the imperatives might be reflecting a jilted lover rather than a distant law-giver? Perhaps it is worth a read through to see if that makes a difference to how we see the imperatives.
These posts are not intended to deny the importance of imperatives. Thank God that the Bible does not leave us in the dark as to what a person brought into relationship with God will look like in everyday life. But let’s beware that we don’t make our role as preachers into a pressuring role when our task might be presentation. How lives are changed is so significant an issue that I’d invite you to take a sabbatical and ponder it at length.