Imagine a scale from 1-10. It measures the redemptive force of the content of your sermon. 10 is a full presentation of the Gospel: the full plan of God being worked out on the cross by Jesus’ death as our substitute, demonstrating God’s love, inviting us to trust in him and what he has done. At the other end of the scale there is 1, which points towards the gracious heart of God toward sinners and sufferers, but does not make the journey to Jesus and the cross. Let’s call this the Redemptive Force Scale.
Question: How far along the scale should you go in your sermon?
Some would immediately say it has to always be a 10 – after all, Paul’s teaching in 1Corinthians 2:1-5 points to the need to preach Christ and him crucified. But others might hesitate. What if the preaching passage doesn’t naturally allow a 10? Depending on our school of thought, we might feel another value has to be considered too.
Two great values – I feel there are two great values that have to be kept in view.
(1) One is the value of preaching the Gospel – that is why we preach, it is critical for every listener.
(2) The other is the value of preaching the text – we need to handle the text well, this is also critical for every listener. I do not believe we should abandon good handling of the text in order to get to the good news. It is not wise to imply God is not a good communicator by discarding the Bible in order to get to the Gospel.
Two common mistakes – I also feel there are two mistakes that are made much more than we’d like to believe.
(1) One is not preaching the gospel at all. Perhaps we think that the gospel is only for evangelism and there is a different type of preaching for believers. Or perhaps we don’t realise how much our preaching is really pointing people back to their own resources and their own efforts. We may not preach salvation by works, but too many of us inadvertently preach sanctification and spiritual maturity by works.
(2) The other mistake is when we sacrifice the integrity of the text in order to jump to Jesus. A tenuous link, a stretched analogy, a missing stepping stone . . . it is too easy to slip from our passage straight into the shadow of the cross and leave our listeners wondering how we got there from this passage? If we have to do preaching parkour to get to Calvary, perhaps we have pushed it too hard.
Seven suggestions to ponder:
- If the occasion is primarily evangelistic, pick an appropriate passage. A message on John 3 or Ephesians 2 will naturally yield a Redemptive Force of 8, 9, or 10 without any need to compromise on textual handling in order to preach the gospel. If the occasion is primarily evangelistic, don’t preach on Ezekiel 38-39 or Nehemiah 7.
- If you are preaching a regular church sermon, be sure to get on the scale. Your listeners all need to feel the redemptive force of the text. They do not need a moralistic coaching session that puts their focus back onto themselves.
- Every text allows a legitimate sermon with redemptive force. Bryan Chapell points out that every text in the Bible was written after the fall of humanity, and every text was inspired after God had stated his plan to rescue humanity in Genesis 3:15. Therefore, every text is, in some way, redemptive in what it reveals, what it points to, or how it works in its context.
- You can develop the hermeneutical and homiletical ability to move up the scale. To put this a different way, most texts are not just offering a 1 or a 2, but you need to learn how to handle the text well and move legitimately toward the other end of the scale.
- You will not be able to hit 10 every week. Sometimes the text only yields a 6, or even a 3. Sometimes a congregation is not able to track as you make a complicated link to level 8, but they will grasp the level 5 version (for example, when knowledge of the original language is required to see the level 8 connection, it may not be possible to effectively lead people that far). Sometimes the sermon time is not long enough to give enough explanation to get to the 9, but a 7 works well. The text, the congregation, the timing, as well as the occasion, and even the preacher, might limit where you can get to on the Redemptive Force scale without sacrificing good handling of the preaching text.
- A church diet with some variety of redemptive force will not hurt people at all, but generally get as far up the scale as you legitimately can. If you consistently hit 10 in every single sermon, you might give the impression that every biblical text is only there as a launch point to get to the cross. This may even diminish the rich revelation of God’s heart through the canon of Scripture, if people start to think that every text is only included to launch us to the same presentation of the gospel.
- However you show the redemptive force of the text, let the text still be in charge. To put that in other words, each message should be shaped by the text you are preaching. You should not simply launch from the text and end up giving the same pre-packaged presentation of the gospel at the end of the message. The text you are preaching is the boss of the whole message. You want the gospel presentation to have the implicit authority of God’s Word driving it, not just the sense of authority that comes from your presentation.
I think this Redemptive Force scale could be helpful to us. Let’s always be sure to get on the scale, and let’s preach with as much redemptive force as the text, the occasion, the listeners, and our communicative ability will allow. Let us preach the Gospel clearly as we carefully handle God’s inspired Scriptures with precision and integrity. And let us always remember that only God can give spiritual life to those that hear!