Preaching on 2 Timothy 3:16, Calvin notes the two crucial sides to proclaiming the Word. “Teaching on its own is not sufficient, for we are cold and indifferent to God’s truth. We need to be pierced. The preacher has to use vehemence, so that we may know that this is not a game.” (Parker, 1992, p. 12). Of course, adding vehemence or earnestness to preaching does not produce the effect of piercing the heart. In the same sermon, Calvin answers his question. “So what are we to do? We must apply the Word of God to our use, so that we may be woken up instead of being far too sleepy; we must start giving better thought to ourselves; we must no longer put God and the salvation of our souls out of our minds but be attentive to it” (Parker, 1992, p. 13).
Examining Calvin’s Preaching (1992), T. H. L. Parker zeros in on the expository method. He makes this pithy statement in which we see the two aspects mentioned above. “Expository preaching consists in explanation and application. Without explanation it is not expository; without application it is not preaching” (p. 79). A question remains. Does pointing to and moving toward application in a sermon and adding earnestness produce the effect of piercing the heart? No, not necessarily. There must be unction. The Holy Spirit must energize the preacher and permeate the message.
To move in the direction of preaching that does indeed piece the heart (Acts 2:37), take another look at the preaching event. In expository preaching, there is an appropriate preaching text, a pericope. The preacher derives his purpose from this pericope. When the preacher derives his purpose from the pericope, it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit. Preaching the purpose of the Holy Spirit yields a power or force that pieces the heart. All of this, of course, is under the unction and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
What is a pericope? It is a verse or set of verses, which forms a unit of thought. The key is unity. Haddon Robinson says, “Base the sermon on a literary unit of biblical thought” (2002, p. 55). W. G. T. Shedd (1867) puts it this way, “A text should be complete in itself … It should be single, containing only one general theme” (p. 166). R. L. Dabney (1870) counsels the pastor in selecting his preaching portion, “But the chief consideration to guide him here will be the unity of the topic” (p. 94). Dabney means there must be unity of subject or theme.
This unity implies another essential principle of interpretation. That is, “words and sentences can have but one signification [meaning] in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle, we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty” (Terry, 1999, p. 103). In other words, a unified preaching unit or pericope has a particular significance. Think of this significance in terms of purpose. Ask the question: Why does this text, this verse or series of verses, exist in its specific context? What is the purpose of this text, this pericope? Knowing this purpose reveals the Holy Spirit’s purpose. Selecting an appropriate pericope should lead to study that unveils the purpose of the pericope.
Remember, expository preaching means the explanation and application of a particular text of Scripture. Knowing the purpose of a passage leads to preaching the purpose of this text and to the purpose of the Spirit. “The importance of discerning and preaching according to the Holy Spirit’s purpose has not been emphasized in exegesis or homiletics courses. Yet nothing is more fundamental to solid biblical preaching” (Adams, 1982, p. 9). Therefore, Adams (1982) says, “In every passage that He inspired, the Holy Spirit (unlike many preachers) had some intention, some purpose, in view” (p. 10). He goes on to insist that the preacher should maintain “a focus on purpose as the controlling factor in the study, construction and delivery of the sermon … it is the unifying factor in all that is done … purpose is the controlling factor in preaching” (Adams, 1982, p. 10).
What is the upshot of following this course of thought? A unified pericope leads to the unveiling of the Spirit’s purpose in the text. Thus it also leads to the probability of preaching the text under the anointing of the Spirit’s power. Introducing a course deviation at the beginning of the process can mean missing the power of unction in the actual preaching moment. For example, determining the application ahead of knowing the Spirit’s purpose in a text introduces such a course deviation. The application becomes the objective. This course deviation results in missing the proper destination, the Spirit’s power in the presentation. Whereas first knowing the Spirit’s purpose in the text divulges the Spirit’s application and, thus the Spirit’s power in the presentation. Movement is from pericope to purpose to power.
Copyright © 2020
Adams, J. E. (1982). Essays on Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Dabney, R. L. (1979). Sacred Rhetoric. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Parker, T. H. L. (1992). Calvin’s Preaching. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.
Robinson, H. W. (2002). Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Shedd, W. G. T. (2000). Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock.
Terry, M. S. (1999). Biblical Hermeneutics. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock.