Same Kind of Boring as Me: Thoughts on Explaining a Text

The good news is that wrestling with tough texts always gives us more confidence when we preach. Tougher texts produce better sermons. We preach with more confidence and clarity due to the necessary grappling with the text.

Third, tighter is better. When explaining a text, the goal is to capture its essence with clarity and brevity. We don't want to slog the listener through an exegetical forest and demand that they admire the view. If we cannot explain what the text says in a few concise sentences, we probably don't understand it.

There are so many things that we learn in the preparation process that will never make the final cut into the sermon. We learn them because we want to know the text, and the exegetical nuances we unearth do influence what we say. However, they are the proverbial kitchen tools that are to be left in the kitchen so that others may enjoy the meal. Our fascination with how the meal is prepared will be good conversation for other contexts. For now, be tight. A few sentences to clearly communicate the meaning of the text are best.

Fourth, remember, this is your one chance to get the text right. There is the old joke about the two ladies who left church. One said, "Well, our preacher didn't really say anything." The other replied, "Well, yes, but didn't he imply a lot!"

Whatever else we do, we must get the text right. We are after more than clarity, but never less.

This whole idea of explaining a text may seem overly academic. "Why is the text so important?" The answer is purely theological. God has revealed Himself in Christ. Christ is revealed in the word. So, the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ reveals Jesus in scripture, and in turn Christ reveals the Father. God's design is for us to know Him through His word. Nothing less. If people do not know His word they do not know Him.

It is possible, even for those who hold the Bible high in their mind, heart, and hands when they preach, to so cloud the sermon with tertiary ambitions that we do not get to the point. And thus, our illustrations of the truth cloud the truth we want to illustrate.

Of course we do want to connect. This will be the subject of a future post. Indeed, there is much more to preaching, but there is no less. Whatever preaching is, it is at its foundation explaining a text of scripture. So, while we engage the emotions and the will, let's not trade one type of boredom for another. Let's not forget the mind.

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3/24/2011 4:00:00 AM
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    About Steven Smith
    Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.