Epistles are often seen as the easiest texts to preach. After all, they tend to be logical, structured and, since they are written to churches, easy to apply. Here are some reminders that may be helpful for effectively preaching epistles:
1. Grasp the narrative. Hang on, I thought we were talking about epistles? Indeed. By exploring the historical setting, especially by paying close attention to the details in the epistle itself, plus any Acts context, we can start to get a sense of the narrative that lies behind the letter. The letter itself is one side of a conversation at one moment in time. “Narratives” can be preached with tension, with feeling, with imagery, etc.
2. Learn the background. Not just the specific occasion of the epistle, but whatever background understanding would help you. For instance, how much do you really know about slavery in the Roman Empire? What about proto-gnostic religions? And the geography? Take the chance to learn more, don’t just try to replenish what you once knew.
3. Familiarise like crazy. Don’t read a letter then preach it. Read it. Read it. Read it again. Each time through, the flow of thought will become clearer and clearer.
4. Focus on the frame. The “letter-frames” often get short shrift from expositors. They shouldn’t. Look at the beginning and end of the epistle: what is included, how conventions are followed or broken, each and every clue to the situation of author and readers.
Tomorrow I’ll share the next four…