Saturday, May 24, 2008

Keep It Simple

The other day my brother Tom and I were talking about preaching. We talked about one of the problems that many preachers run into is making things more difficult than they need to be. Preachers, sometimes, get so enamored by little things that they discover in commentaries or in theology that they feel the need to work these captivating tidbits into their sermons.

Take baptism for instance. There are many different opinions on what baptism is and its importance for the Christians. We debate about the mode, place, and significance of baptism in a Christian's life. While we are outlining our position we miss the simple truth that Jesus wanted us to know: Be baptized! I like what Malcolm Smith wrote in The Lost Secret of the New Covenant:
"Is a person save if he or she is not baptized? Questions like this turn the grace of God into law. It is a pointless question that any Pharisee would have loved! God commands it; so do it, and stop discussing how many angels can stand on a pinhead" (pg. 52).
Sometimes we make things more complicated as we seek to understand how things work.

One the compliments that I have recently received about my preaching is: Your sermons are understandable and usable. They have meaning for us in the middle of the week. Isn't this the goal of preaching? People are hungry for truth that is relevant for their lives, and instead preachers offer them definitions for Greek words that effect their lives one bit.

I believe that part of the problem is that we want everything to make sense. We want our questions answered and we want to know how things work. In the process of knowing the details we muddy the clear waters of truth because so much of the details comes down to speculations and opinion. While God has revealed Truth to us, much of who God is and how He works is covered in mystery. It is impossible for us to figure out God.

Rather than getting so worked up and concerned about the "signs of the times" we should rest in the knowledge that Jesus is coming back. Rather than debating about the place of baptism in a believers life we should simply encourage all believers in Jesus Christ to be baptized. By making things complicated we ensure that people remain immature in their faith because they will come to believe that the Bible is a complicated book only understood by people with degrees.

There is a place for Biblical scholarship, for understanding the ancient languages and cultures, and for studying theology, but these things should not make up the bulk of a sermon. A sermon does a person little good if they are unable to understand it. The job of the preacher is to take the relevant truth of the Scriptures and make it understandable for his listeners.

It is simple to preach a complicated sermon, and people might even go away marveling at the preacher's knowledge even when the truth of God's Word remains obscure to them. It is more difficult to preach a simple sermon making sure the Truth is exposed for all to find. People may not marvel at the preacher's knowledge, but they will be eternally blessed. As you communicate God's word don't muddy it with a bunch of speculations and opinions or with complicated theology and Greek, but keep it as simple as it can be. In this you will bless both yourself and your hearer.


Donna J. Shepherd said...

I've read several of your "ponderings." Good ministry. I agree with you about keeping a sermon simple and to the point. Bless you. - Donna

Paul said...

Thanks Donna for the encouraging words. I need to hear them from time to time when I wonder if this blog is doing any good.

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