Proper Context (Pt 2)

Not every aspect of a preaching text’s context must be preached. However, it is crucially important that the preacher is diligent in his study so that he is aware of the full context of his text so that such knowledge informs his preparation and delivery. Wisdom will dictate what portions of the full context ought to be verbally articulated, what can be safely implied, and what can be passed over in silence. The makeup of the congregation will determine how the preacher ought to balance his presentation of the context. For example, a biblically literate congregation may not need to be reminded that Israel had come to Egypt to escape a famine only to be enslaved many generations later. A biblically illiterate congregation, on the other hand, will require this information in order to properly understand the Passover.

Immediate and broad context is a vitally important component to preaching. Every text must be properly rooted within the bigger whole. As biblical literacy drops, more time and energy will be required by the preacher to establish proper context. Not only that, but context will also require a greater percentage of the sermon’s final product. It may be constructive, therefore, to preach methodically through large sections of the Bible. A yearlong series on the Torah, for example, will minimize the amount of context required at the outset of any given sermon. There is no way around these realities unless the congregation has a strong grasp of the Bible’s big picture. To shortcut the context is to confuse the congregation, misrepresent the preaching text, and reinforce biblical illiteracy in our pews.

In summary, selecting and contextualizing a preaching text is the first step toward sharing the Word of God. It is critically important that the text is carefully chosen so that it can speak to people in its proper light. If the text is too short or too long, or if it is mismatched with other passages, then its voice will be distorted. If it does not contain a full thought or a full unit, it will misdirect, leading people into error. If it is presented out of context, or if it is presented in a limited context, then it will confuse and shroud the truth. Therefore, every text must have carefully chosen borders and must be properly situated within the greater flow of Salvation History. When all this is accomplished, a preaching text will build up the Church and bring great glory to God.

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