Perhaps in your preaching ministry, you have been working your way through a book of the Bible or preaching from a lectionary, and the next passage you come to isn’t as exciting, interesting, or easily applicable as other passages of Scripture. You may not come across these sorts of texts often—but when you do, they can leave you wondering, “How am I going to preach this?”
(What I have in mind are the lengthy genealogies, the more specific and/or seemingly bizarre Old Testament laws, obscure narratives or prophecies, and purely didactic texts. Some examples might be Genesis 5, Leviticus 19, Judges 3:7-11, Ezekiel 38, or Galatians 3:15-18.)
How do you preach these—dare I say it?—seemingly “boring” or “inapplicable” bits of Scripture?
One effective approach I’ve found to preaching these portions of the Bible is to ask a specific set of three questions of the text, which helps me connect them to the theological foundation of the Scriptures and the overarching drama of redemptive history.
The Bible, while being filled with diverse genres, characters, and stories, tells one primary narrative concerning God, humanity, and its redemption through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If the Scriptures all ultimately testify to God’s redemptive work in Christ to rescue humanity from sin—which is the most important and interesting part of the Bible—then finding how a particular text connects to this story is the way to generate interest and unlock a path forward for application.
The first question I ask of passages like these, then, is “What does it say about God?” This question orients us to the theological dimensions of the text: What does it reveal about God’s nature, character, or actions?
The second question to ask is “What does it teach about humanity?” This query turns our attention to its anthropological aspects: What does it reveal about human nature—typically, some dimension of our createdness or fallenness?
Finally, and most importantly, you have to answer the question, “How does this particular portion of Scripture fit into the overarching redemptive arc of the Bible?”
Depending on whether your passage is in the Old Testament or the New Testament, this final question shifts slightly. For a seemingly “boring” or “inapplicable” Old Testament text, the question may be, “How does your particular passage fit into the story of the Old Testament, which is leading to, pointing toward, and foreshadowing the coming of Christ?” On the flipside, if you have a similarly difficult New Testament text (which is probably rarer, but not unheard of), you have to ask, “How does your passage fit into the story of the application of Christ’s work in and through his body, the Church, in the world?”
If you can answer these three questions about your text, you should have several insights that will help you preach it in a more interesting and applicable way.
Take the story of Othniel in Judges 3:7-1, for instance. At face value, this text is a brief historical narrative about Israel’s oppression and the Lord’s deliverance of them through Othniel, one of the judges. A brief application of these three questions to this passage, however, yields some insights to aid in exposition and application:
- Concerning God, this text demonstrates the Lord’s holiness, his wrath against sin, his mercy towards the repentant, and his involvement in the world around us.
- In regards to Man, this passage shows us the reality of human fallenness, its consequences, and the need to acknowledge it.
- Finally, this story aligns with the narrative arc of the Bible as it mirrors the basic pattern of fall, redemption, and restoration. This story, like so much of Israel’s history, is a microcosm of the Bible’s larger story. (For example, the use of Othniel to rescue Israel prefigures the Lord’s work in Christ to rescue his people.)
With these three questions, we can gain insight into even the most obscure or seemingly inapplicable passages and help ourselves rightly divide the Word of Truth.
Bob Sparks is the pastor of Sardis Baptist Church, a rural congregation in Sardis, Tennessee, and an 8th-grade English/Language teacher at a local public school. He holds a Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married and the father of three children.