In a recent discussion, my colleague made a passing remark that is well worth pondering for us preachers.
When the message ends, where are people focused?
Traditional preaching tends to leave listeners focused on themselves. After an introduction, compelling and gripping or otherwise, then comes the body of the message, followed by an applicational conclusion. So where are people looking as they leave? If we are not careful, they will walk out with gaze firmly fixed on self.
1. Is there a problem with fixing the gaze on self? After all, isn’t our goal to have people working harder to be good christians? I hope we have a more gospel-oriented goal than that! The turn toward self was the fruit of the fruit tasting back in Genesis 3 (take a look at the passage and trace the “nakedness” theme starting in 2:25, for example). The turn toward self is the constant tendency of our flesh in its autonomous rebellion. The teaching of the Bible should not be throttled down to a set of to-do items that leave us self-oriented and self-concerned. To get to that we have to evaporate the very life from the Bible!
2. So where could or should listeners be looking? The Bible is God-centred, and Christ-targeted. A healthy message will surely leave people more God aware and more Christ focused.
3. But what about getting better behaved believers? If all we have ever witnessed is pressured people striving to live up to the pressure of applications, perhaps it is time for an experiment . . . try getting some folks’ to gaze on Christ and watch the transformation that will come. The gospel really is not about work, at least, not our work. It is about Christ and His work for us. And I am convinced that while short cuts to conformity are tempting, the harvest will be meager. Try working messages to the point that the end stress is on God and not on the listener to perform. The results may be significant in behavioural terms, and so much more.
7 thoughts on “Final Focus”
This made me think again of a quote from Jonathan Edwards which I’ve shared here before: “God gives us preachers particularly to promote love for Christ and joy in Him.” How true that as our gaze is turned towards Christ, our hearts are transformed, which in turn, transforms our behavior. Thanks, Peter.
I am so blessed to have a pastor that always has his focus of every message to stay on Jesus and His perfect love, His perfect power, His perfect forgiveness. Pastor Kent Clark always reminds us that when we focus on ourselves, we focus on failure, that it’s just a matter of time when we again prove that we are not perfect. But when our gaze beholds what God does, and has done, for us, we cannot help but be amazed. Amazing grace.
Thanks to you and your colleague, Peter, for a great reminder of how important the application segment of our sermons are. I appreciate the strong call to Christ-centered interpretation and application. Despite technically being a progressive dispensationalist, I am learning to practice faith-first application (asking congregants to believe the gospel before asking them to behave better (as you put it in the third point). Thanks for sharing your insights.
Sounds like the comment came from Ron Frost to me. “Keep your gaze on Jesus!” is what he always used to say. I have thought a lot about how preaching must turn our eyes to Christ. I think also we all have miss conceptions of who Christ is. An important part of preaching is removing our miss conception of Christ, so that Christ can be seen clearly and fully. (In this way, Barth calls preaching the Word of God, that is weighty to think about it) For example, presenting the crucifixion as Jesus being made a clown, in his claim to be the King of the Jews, demonstrates how Christ’s Kingship is so different than our preconceived ideas of what a King is.
For the record, I have never been much in to application. 🙂
I enjoyed this reflection. As I thought about my preaching I realized that since we celebrate weekly communion – it is very easy for me to leave the sermon with a focus on Christ’s accomplished work – which participate in through faith in the supper. I am not arguing for or against weekly communion here – just recognizing that the practice certainly helps place the final focus of the sermon on the person and work of Christ, rather than on self.
Woe! I am challenged to think here. I generally look for an engaging introduction, bring the readers into the text, then I draw applications throughout or at the end. I appreciate the perspective here, yet, I still see the scriptures telling us to apply our relationship with God outwards towards men. Ex: “…that by seeing your good deeds they might glorify God.” I realize it’s about loving God first and yet it is also about the overflow of that love. Maybe I’m too focused on the overflow and need to be more focused on the Source? I think that’s what you’re saying. Thanks for the perspective.
Hi Gabe – the real issue here is how we operate as humans. Are we responsible independent agents who therefore need instruction and pressure, or are we responsive relaters who need to have a clear view of the One who stirs response from our hearts? And when the passage is giving instruction, we need to be careful to frame that as it has been framed biblically, in the context of His calling on our lives, rather than as a stand alone moment of pressure/instruction for us to self-move ourselves toward obedience. Important stuff to wrestle with!