As a teenager, it was tough to be cordial to some people. When I was a teenager, ‘some people’ was Ross. Ross was a tough guy to understand. He had a disability and couldn’t speak clearly. (He also smelled because his family owned more cats than their house could hold. They didn’t clean up after them.) But Ross went to our church, so I needed to a plan to be both cordial but keep conversation to a minimum.
My plan? I would say “That’s great!” to everything he said. That worked for a few conversations. Then it failed. And when it failed, it didn’t just fail. It exploded. My foot has never been farther in my mouth.
The time it failed? Ross wanted to tell me his mom had died.
I can still remember Ross trying to correct me. He was actually very patient as he tried again and again to tell me his mother had passed away. It took me 3+ times to get his message through my all-knowing teenage intellect.
I have no doubt that Ross was wondering “That’s not what I said at all!”
There are times when God must look at the preaching of His Word and go “What’s with this person? That’s not what I said at all!”
In preaching, context wins. Always. A text cannot say what it does not mean. How many times have you heard “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18: 20) as a reason to keep holding Wednesday night prayer meeting? Or what about “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1: 5-6) as a promise for how God will bless? The problem is that the context of those passages is not prayer meeting attendance or amazing international miracles.
You’ve got to know the context of the text. The context acts as an umbrella to the specifics of your chosen text. It acts as a set of bookends to keep the focus of your study on track. If you don’t get the context correct, you will say what the text never said.
How can you allow the context to guide your preaching? Determine the subject.
What is the subject of the text? Love? Sacrifice? Thankfulness? How to bake chocolate chip cookies? Once you nail the subject, you can be certain that the individual verses will not deviate from that subject. Once you get the subject, put that at the top of your notes. Your main idea will say something about that subject. It probably won’t say everything about that subject, but the idea of the text will be guided by that subject.
If you can figure out the subject, it will guide you to the context. Finding the context will ensure that you don’t say what it doesn’t say.
What do you think? How do you ensure that your preaching stays true to the context?