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Preaching: Harvest the Imperatives!

In our natural desire to make our preaching applicable and relevant, we may be tempted to simply harvest imperatives. That is, to find the instructions in a passage and make them the preaching points. That surely avoids all the baggage and allows us to get to the point and preach with potent relevance. Here are four thoughts to keep in mind if you tend toward this approach:

1. Content, context and colored fonts. Some people are huge fans of red-letter Bibles. These Bibles use different colored fonts to allow the reader to spot when Jesus is speaking. Maybe that is helpful. And maybe, for some, it creates a level of confusion. After all, surely more than one or two folks have fallen into the trap of thinking something Jesus said is therefore more important than the fully inspired packaging of Matthew or Mark’s gospel writing around the quote? All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful, including the bits around what Jesus said. Same is true of imperatives. If we were to get an “orange letter” Bible with all the commands highlighted, we would be in danger of elevating imperatives in an unnatural manner. In our preaching, we can effectively do the same. We need to be sure to study and present the meaning of the passage as a whole. All the content matters, all the context is relevant.

2. Wide, wide as the canon. The context of an imperative is not just the immediate setting of the sentence, paragraph or section. We need to develop sensitivity to the wider context. For instance, in the epistles we need to be sure to view the letter as a whole when we are looking at the imperatival sections in detail. That is to say, Ephesians 4-6 assumes Ephesians 1-3. It was meant to be heard all at once. If we dive into the latter part of the letter (same with Romans, Colossians, etc.) without the first part, then we can turn description of God’s mercies and calling, presented in real life terms, into stand alone burdensome commands and duties. Let’s be sure to read imperatives in the context of the whole book, and with the assumed context of the theology of the writer as informed by earlier Scripture.

I will finish the list on Monday …

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Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014).