Preparing to give a teaching on a Sunday morning requires a variety of people to consider. There is the Biblically well-read, the theologically astute, the ‘been-walking-with-Jesus-a-long-time’ person who figures he or she has heard it all a hundred times before, the ‘I-grew-up-in-the-church’ who can feel a bit vaccinated to the message, the ‘I-don’t-know-where-the-books-of-the-Bible-are’ new believer, the 7th grader and the 70 year old, the person for whom English is a second language and also comes from another cultural context, plus a whole range of denominational upbringings – Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.
Whether you believe this or not, I keep all these people in my mind as I am preparing a message. Of course, this is an impossible task. I take some comfort in the fact that Jesus’ immediate followers didn’t always get what He was saying, and likewise for the Apostle Paul, as Peter says, “As also in all [of Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand” – 2 Peter 3:16.
But my prayer is always that each person will get something from the Holy Spirit. That is my hope and my reward. I am always encouraged when someone tells me they felt like I was speaking to them in the message. Of course, I know it was not as much me as it was their tenderness of heart to receive from the Lord.
I am also encouraged when I hear of those in their home groups or Bible studies discussing what was taught on Sunday. It allows people to learn that there are a number of insights that are gleaned and that different individuals hear different pieces of the message. I also expect that people will discuss how they can apply the message at their particular stage of life.
The one thing that is of most importance to me in any message is my desire to never let us settle on what we think we know and become so overly familiar with a truth that it doesn’t move our hearts. To speak of God, to give any attempt at explaining His sovereignty, His plan of salvation and its unfolding, His work in our lives is a holy, mysterious, humbling endeavor.
There is so much more to our Bibles than what we read at face value. There is so much more to what is being said than a linear application. Each piece is connected to the other. There are times when the Apostle Paul seems to digress in his line of thinking and venture into a sidebar of mystery, praise, and loss of composure as he considers the greatness of the salvation and message that he was commissioned to proclaim.
He knows he is speaking of things that are unfathomable in the natural. The human mind can go only so far, and then it must humble itself before the One who knows all things.
The Bible never gives us systematic theology. No book, gospel or epistle is systematic. No one verse can say it all. God in His essence cannot be summarized, systematized, or reduced. At best we get glimpses, and flashes – metaphors, symbols, and typologies.
So by all means seek to understand, but never seek to reduce. Seek to make application, but never seek to reduce the Gospel to a simple application.
The message of the Gospel should always take us higher, push our limits, cause us to see things in fresh and life-giving ways.
To God alone be all glory!