The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 45, Fall 2022
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching: Preaching N.T. Gospels, Pt. 4
While preaching N.T. narrative is not nearly as complex from a homiletical standpoint as preaching O.T. narrative, there are still some pitfalls, which sound hermeneutical principles and homiletical methodology will help us avoid.
1. Text Selection. As with any text selection, always preach a complete unit of thought within its context and in line with what the original author intended to communicate. I recommend preaching through entire books of the Bible, rather than picking and choosing unrelated passages each week. In this regard, it is a good practice to write out the structure of the entire book. This gives you a road map for where you are going with your series of sermons and where each unit of thought starts and stops.
Since the Gospels are a collection of episodes, one way to find units of thought in them is to look for a change of place, change of audience, change of message or activity. Those are good indicators of the beginning and end of a unit of thought. Another approach is to ask yourself whether the passage you have selected has a specific, complete, and clear theme within its context.
Generally, it is best to preach an entire unit of thought in one sermon. But, if a unit of thought is too large to cover in one sermon, you might be wise…
Either: To subdivide the entire narrative into episodes and connect each episode to the previous one as you preach them.
Or: To highlight the main points in the passage
Or: To preach the message of the entire episode based on one particular verse or a few verses that encapsulate the idea of the entire passage.
However you decide to preach a unit of thought (whether as a whole or in smaller segments), be careful to still interpret and preach it in a way that is consistent with that entire section of the book and the larger framework of the book as a whole. This is where a structural outline of the book will stand you in good stead.
2. Sermon Series. In some cases, the Gospels can be broken down into separate sermon series very nicely – e.g. …
(1) The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).
(2) The three “sevens” of John’s gospel…
a) Seven significant dialogues (discourses) - Jn. 3:1-21; 4:1-42; 7:53-8:11; 13:1-17; 18:33-19:11; 20:1-31; 21:15-25.
b) Seven supernatural deeds (miracles) – Jn. 2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-47; 6:1-14; 6:16-21; 9:1-41; 11:1-44.
c) Seven self-declarations (“I am” statements) – Jn. 6:22-71; 8:12; 10:1-9; 10:10-18; 11:25-27; 14:1-6; 15:1-6.
This way, you can be faithful to the intent of the author but not feel obligated to preach the whole book.
As with any series which doesn’t necessarily follow the author’s sequence, care must be taken to still interpret and apply these messages in accordance with the Gospel as a whole. Goldsworthy suggests that “the structure of the Gospel should at least be in our thinking when planning a series. The series might aim to highlight this structure by showing the succession of emphases and critical points. A series on a group of parables or miracles should bring out their function in the overall plan and purposes of the Gospel” (Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 231).
3. Articulating the Theme. Narratives have themes, just as didactic passages do. The theme of a text is a statement that expresses the entire theological point of the passage, usually in a single sentence. The theme statement (sometimes called a propositional statement) of a unit of thought then directs the development of the sermon, keeping it consistent with the theme of the selected passage and the theme of the Gospel as a whole. Sometimes the Gospel writers explicitly state the point of a narrative (e.g. Lk. 16:13; Lk. 19:10).
4. The Gospel Narrative Sermon Structure. As with other genres, it is a good principle to structure your sermons in Gospel narratives in a way that respects the literary form of the text such that the literary form shapes your sermon form. Just as every biblical passage has structure, so our sermons must have structure. The structure of the text dictates the structure of the sermon. Thus, just as the form (in this case, narrative form) of the text controls the structure of the text, so the form of the text controls the structure of the sermon. As with other narratives in the Bible, Gospel narratives derive their structure from the “movements’ (or, “scenes”) in the text.
Whatever approach you decide to take in preaching Gospel narratives (including parables), I recommend that you structure your sermons in the same way that you structure any other expository sermon – i.e. with a theme statement that summarizes the narrative as a whole and a sermon outline that expresses the theological points of the narrative as it progresses.
5. Suggestions for Preaching Parables. There are different ways in which you could preach parables such as:
(1) Grouping them by type - e.g. …
(a) Evangelistic parables (e.g. Matt. 7:24-27).
(b) Life in the kingdom parables (e.g. Matt. 13:1-9; Matt. 13:24-30).
(c) Eschatological parables (e.g. Matt. 25 :1-13).
(2) Grouping them by a common theme - e.g. …
a) One’s preparation for eternity - as in the rich farmer (Luke 12:16-21) and the dishonest manager (Lk. 16:1-13).
b) God’s joy in saving lost people - as in the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Lk. 15:1-32).
(3) Parallel and contrasting parables – that is, parables with a common subject told from different perspectives. For example, the subject of serving God with the spiritual resources he has given us – e.g. …
a) The ten servants and the ten minas (Lk. 19:11-27).
b) The three servants and the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).
Your overall approach to preaching parables should be to duplicate the original intention of the parable (i.e. to illustrate a particular need or issue) by firstly drawing the audience into the story (i.e. by clarifying their understanding of the parable), and then applying the point of the story to your audience by exposing a contemporary equivalent need or issue with the intent of provoking an appropriate response.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when preparing a sermon on a parable:
(1) What is the overall point / thrust of the parable?
(2) What new perspective or truth does it expose?
(3) Who is the audience - the disciples, the crowd, the religious leaders?
(4) When and how do the hearers see themselves in the story and what reaction does it produce in them?
(5) What literary device does it use? Is it allegorical or metaphorical in its structure and, if so, what is its purpose?
(6) Does the parable present a contrast or comparison? If so, what is the contrast or comparison about and what is its purpose?
(7) What aspect of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God does the parable address?
(8) What are the interpretive challenges in the parable?
(9) What are the progressive scenes in the parable that help you structure your sermon? For example, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) develops through two contrasting scenes and discourses:
(i) The contrast of earthly lifestyles (19-21) and eternal destinies (22-23).
(ii) The contrast of eternal rewards and realities (24-31)
Another example is the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32) which develops through four scenes:
(i) The division of the inheritance and departure to a far country (11-13a).
(ii) The plunge into poverty and ignominy (13b-16).
(iii) The realization and return (17-21).
(iv) The repentance and reception (22-32).
(10) How is the story of the parable relevant to your contemporary audience?
After doing all your exegetical and hermeneutical work, start to prepare your sermon. There is great flexibility in form and style for preaching parables. All the options available for preaching narratives apply to preaching parables since they are a subset of narratives, progressing from the setting, to the problem, to the climax, to the resolution.
Given the complexity of parables (i.e. their context; their multiple levels of meaning both literal and allegorical; their purpose; and their application), and given the creativity of the parables themselves, it is wise to preach them with an open mind and some degree of creativity as to sermonic form – e.g. dramatic monologue; identification with a point of view; paraphrase in contemporary language.
Typically, the effectiveness of a parable is due to the fact that the “punch line” doesn’t come until the end, by which time those who might react negatively to its point have been drawn into the story. Because parables hold their “punch line” until the end, it would make sense to preach them that way.
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
“The Ministry Of Reconciliation, Pt. 4 (Continued): An Appeal For The Reconciliation Of God’s People To God’s Minister” (2 Cor. 6:11-7:16)
This is the final installment of our study of this passage. In the last two editions of this Journal we have covered 2 Corinthians 6:11-18 (Edition 43, Spring 2022) and 2 Corinthians 7:1-4 (Edition 44, Summer 2022) in which we addressed the first three sections of the passage:
1. A pastoral appeal of love (6:11-13).
2. A pastoral appeal of admonition (6:14-18).
3. The application of the pastoral appeal (7:1-4).
In this edition, we continue with the final section…
4. The Background to, and Outcome of, the Pastoral Appeal (7:5-16). It now becomes clear that the entire passage from 2:14 to 7:4 has been a digression in the flow of thought from 2:13. Let me illustrate it by putting the two sections together: “2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord opened a door for me, 2:13 I had no rest in my spirit because I did not find my brother Titus. Instead, I said good-bye to them and left for Macedonia” … 7:5 In fact, when we came to Macedonia, we had no rest…”. So, picking up the flow of thought from 2:12-13, Paul now explains that when he did not find Titus at Troas as he had expected and having no rest in his spirit, he left Troas for Macedonia hoping to find Titus there, which he did (7:5-6). Paul was anxious to meet up with Titus in order to receive news from him about his own well-being and that of the Corinthians, including, most importantly, their response to his “sorrowful / grievous letter” which Titus had delivered to them. He now recounts his reunion with Titus in Macedonia and the comfort he received from Titus’ report (7:7-16).
A question that arises is: Why did Paul take such a long digression from 2:14 to 7:4? Some have proposed that 2:14 to 7:4 is, in fact, an insertion from another letter, but such, I think, is not the case. Others argue that this is the way letters are written – they do not necessarily follow a systematic, logical pattern. While this is true, it is not, I think, the case here. While the extended passage from 2:14 and 7:4 is a digression, it is by no means disconnected, as some would assert, from the main flow of thought. Indeed, Paul’s account of his meeting with Titus forms the background for his appeals and instructions to the Corinthians in the digression. It helps our understanding of this digression to remember that it was written after the fact as this background to the pastoral appeal makes clear. Paul already knew what Titus had reported back to him when he wrote the digression. So, the digression shows us that, on the one hand Paul is elated by Titus’ report, but, on the other hand he evidently still had issues to resolve at Corinth. God certainly provides the minister with joy and victories in ministry, but at the same time victory in ministry is not without its challenges.
Ultimately, Paul learns from Titus that his sorrowful letter to the Corinthians achieved a wonderfully positive outcome as follows:
(a) Paul’s dejection about his circumstances turns to comfort by Titus’ fellowship (7:5-6). “5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the arrival of Titus.” Paul’s bodily and mental tribulations continued when he arrived in Macedonia (cf. 4:8-9; 11:22-33). He faced external “conflicts” (perhaps spiritual attacks; perhaps physical) and internal “fears” (perhaps anxiety about how the Corinthians may have received Titus and Paul’s letter, especially since Titus had not returned as expected.
Ministers are not immune to calamities, opposition, and worries, “but God” makes all the difference. He “comforts the downcast” (cf. 1:3-7; cf. Ps. 34:18) and he comforted Paul in this instance. In the midst of his external conflicts and internal fears, Paul was comforted “by the arrival of Titus” (6b) – by the knowledge of his safety and by the personal reunion with his colleague in ministry, especially in the light of the opposition and loneliness that he had experienced. It is a great encouragement in ministry to have colleagues from whom you can receive comfort in hard times and with whom you can enjoy fellowship.
Thus, Paul’s dejection about his circumstances turns to comfort by Titus’ arrival and fellowship with him. And…
(b) Paul’s sorrow about their sin changes to joy by their response (7:7-13a). “…and (we were comforted) not only by his arrival but also by the comfort he received from you. He told us about your deep longing, your sorrow, and your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more” (2 Cor. 7:7). Paul was encouraged by their response to Titus – “…by the comfort (consolation) he received from you.”
Paul was comforted (7:7a) by the fact that Titus and the letter he brought from Paul had been well received by the church at Corinth, that his colleague in ministry had been well treated by them, and that their response to Titus’ mission (viz. the delivery of Paul’s letter) was positive. This was a source of great comfort to Paul. And Paul “rejoiced even more” in their response to him.
First, he rejoices even more because of their response to him personally (7:7b) as indicated in:
(i) “…your deep longing… for me.” They wanted to see Paul and, presumably, put things right, renew relationships.
(ii) “…your mourning… for me.” They were evidently sorry for what had happened.
(iii) “…your zeal for me.” Now their relational distance from Paul is replaced by a zeal for him - to do what he had instructed them and, perhaps, even to defend him.
Second, he rejoices even more because of their response to him spiritually (7:8-12). Paul seems to have struggled with how to handle this: “For even if I grieved you with my letter, I don’t regret it. And if I regretted it—since I saw that the letter grieved you, yet only for a while – I now rejoice…” (7:8-9a). On the one hand Paul seems to have initially regretted writing them the “sorrowful” letter, for he did not want to cause them grief. Why is this? Perhaps he did not want them to respond the wrong way to his letter. Perhaps he was afraid of being overly harsh and losing their ear. Perhaps he struggled, as their pastor, with addressing the issue on the one hand, and yet not wanting to lose their relationship on the other hand.
These are always the risks of confrontation and the struggle that pastors face - knowing what needs to be done and yet risking rejection. That’s why we always need to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), never “lord it” over others (1 Pet. 5:3), never trample on people either in anger or in spiritual superiority. But once he had written to them, he was glad that he had done so because their sorrow was short-lived, “only for a while” (7:8b), and because their sorrow led to repentance - “I now rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance” (7:9a).
Why did their grief lead to repentance? “For you were grieved as God willed” (7:9b). Their sorrow over what had happened (in the sin that was allowed among them and in their relationship with Paul) was sorrow that was according to God's will, produced by God. This wasn’t just a momentary feeling of regret, but a deep work of God in them. The result of grieving as God willed was “so that you didn’t experience any loss from us” (7:9c). Sorrow that is according to God is not without purpose - it does not have a negative effect; it does not result in severed relationships (as Paul may have worried); it does not deprive them of anything but rather gives back what was lost. No, it is in every way beneficial – it gives hope, restores joy, reconciles relationships etc. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death (7:10). This is the ministry of reconciliation, which has as its object “godly grief” that results in “repentance that leads to salvation without regret.”
“Godly grief” has an entirely different cause and result than “worldly grief.” Worldly grief leads to death (cf. 2 Cor. 2:16) whereas godly grief leads to life. That’s the contrast. Worldly grief is caused by circumstances (loss, failure etc.); godly grief is caused by sin. Worldly grief results in severed relationships, despair, perhaps even death (e.g. suicide); godly grief results in salvation, life, peace of conscience, joy, restored relationships, reconciliation.
“Godly grief” is sorrow not for self but toward God. It is (lit.) “grief according to God” – “as God wills” (7:11a) - grief produced by God and in response to God. Hence, godly grief leads to genuine repentance for sin - a turning away from sin that causes disruption in our relationship with God and a turning toward God in faith - and it seeks reconciliation with God and with one’s fellow human beings. This type of grief and repentance is the foundation of our salvation.
“Worldly grief,” on the other hand, is non-restorative. It cannot restore what is lost. It cannot undo what is done. It cannot give rest of conscience and peace. It cannot give spiritual life. It only produces bitterness, guilt, despair, and regret. But godly grief is a sorrow over sin which produces repentance and leads to salvation, which one never regrets, because it results in a restored relationship with God. Moreover, the result of godly grief is that you do not live the rest of your life in a state of regret for what might have been. Rather, the salvation and restoration of your relationship with God and each other is of such a nature that you never regret making that decision.
But why does Paul speak of such repentance in terms of leading to “salvation” when he is addressing believers? He is speaking of the “repentance” of these believers, the nature of which “leads to salvation.” Though they were Christians and were saved, their repentance was of the same nature as that which they originally expressed when they were saved. Paul is not suggesting that they were saved and lost and now saved again, but rather that their repentance was a true indication of their salvation; it fully restored them to a right relationship with God.
A minister of reconciliation works toward and looks for godly sorrow expressed in genuine, saving repentance. He deals with confrontation in such a way that it produces godly sorrow which (i) does not sever their relationship; and (ii) effects a permanent, spiritual result.
Now Paul describes what grief according to God (in a godly manner) is truly like; what changes it produces; what the nature of true repentance looks like: “For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you” (7:11a). Genuine repentance produces an entire transformation in the way one thinks and acts. The Corinthians now have an earnestness to do what is right before God. Instead of passively observing sinful behavior among them and boasting about it, they are now energized to act for God. How is that earnestness, this diligence expressed in their practice and attitude? Paul gives seven characteristics…
i) “What a desire to clear yourselves” (7:11b) – the church is cleared of complicity in this sin.
ii) “what indignation” (7:11c) – anger at sin. They now saw it for what it was and they were righteously indignant that it had happened among them and they had tolerated it. That’s what we should be angry about – sin!
iii) “What fear” (7:11d) – fear of God's chastisement; fear that God's holiness had been offended; fear of what they had done to “God's minister”; fear of where their course of action may have led.
iv) “What deep longing” (7:11e) – a longing to be reconciled with God and with Paul face to face; to see him, to be submissive to him, and to be obedient to his teaching. They longed for the former days and their relationship with God and Paul.
v) “What zeal” (7:11f) - probably zeal for doing what they should have done in the first place, namely, eagerness to exercise discipline in the church; readiness to put things right; a passion for holiness and obedience.
vi) “What justice!” (7:11g) – the action taken against the sin done among them. This carries on from “zeal” to put things right in the church. This is consistent with Paul’s comment in 2:5-11 that they were so zealous of punishing the offender that now they needed to forgive him.
vii) Indeed, “in every way you showed yourselves to be pure in this matter” (7:11h) - probably the matter in 1 Cor. 5:1ff. but Paul does not state it explicitly. They had done what was necessary in the exercise of discipline in the assembly and this “cleared” them. They were no longer partakers of that man’s sin.
Picking up on his remarks in 7:8 about the sorrowful (grievous) letter, Paul now explains why he wrote it in the first place: “12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not because of the one who did wrong, or because of the one who was wronged, but in order that your devotion to us might be made plain to you in the sight of God. 13a For this reason we have been comforted” (7:12-13a).
First, he explains why he did not write the severe letter. He did not write the severe letter for the sake of “the one who did wrong” - the son who had committed incest with his stepmother; the one whose excommunication Paul had ordered (1 Cor. 5:13); the one who had caused so much pain but who had subsequently repented (2 Cor. 2:1-8). And he did not write the severe letter for the sake of “the one who was wronged” – presumably, the husband of the stepmother. Notice that, with pastoral wisdom and grace, Paul does not use names – the issue is over and there is no benefit in dragging people’s names through the mud. He merely refers to them as “the one who did wrong” and “the one who was wronged”.
Then, he explains why he did write the severe letter. He wrote the severe letter so that, in the presence of God, they might become aware of how much they really cared for Paul, their earnestness for him. That is exactly the result his severe letter achieved. And because of all this (his letter, their response, the impact on the church, Titus’ report etc.), “we have been comforted.”
(c) Paul’s boasting about them proves true by Titus’ encouragement (7:13b-16). “13b In addition to our own comfort, we rejoiced even more over the joy Titus had, because his spirit was refreshed by all of you. 14 For if I have made any boast to him about you, I have not been disappointed; but as I have spoken everything to you in truth, so our boasting to Titus has also turned out to be the truth” (7:13b-14).
Throughout this section, Paul is looking on the positive side of things (their response, Titus’ encouragement, his joy etc.), despite the underlying evidence that he still had issues to deal with at Corinth - e.g. their challenge to Paul’s authority etc. (see chapters 10-13). Despite all of that, Paul is comforted by what has happened at Corinth (particularly, their response to his severe letter) and even more comforted by Titus’ joy over the refreshment he received from them while delivering the letter.
Paul’s grace and pastoral love for the Corinthians becomes very evident. One would hardly expect him, in view of everything they had done and said about him, that he would actually boast about them to Titus. But rather than send Titus to them with a bad impression of them or to carry out harsh measures, he had sent Titus to Corinth with a positive commendation of them (boasting), which had proved true, just as everything he had said to them was true. As a result (i) Titus’ love for them is deepened: “And his affection toward you is even greater as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you received him with fear and trembling” (7:15); and (ii) Paul’s confidence in them is strengthened: “I rejoice that I have complete confidence in you” (7:16). After having strengthened their mutual relationship and expressed his confidence in them, he then takes up the matter of the offering for the poor believers in Jerusalem in chapters 8-9.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Learning from Jesus - The Treasure of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:44-46)
Subject: Discovering the eternal riches of God's kingdom
Theme: You discover eternal riches when you enter the kingdom of heaven through Jesus Christ.
Point I. Some people unexpectedly stumble on the treasure of Christ’s kingdom (13:44).
Point II. Some people diligently search for the treasure of Christ’s kingdom (13:45-46).
Related Topics: Pastors