“Insightful preaching comes from . . .
depth of research and
— Tim Keller on Preaching
There are some speakers who stand out because they provide some very insightful understandings of Scripture. As you hear them address a particular passage you say, “WOW – that was an interesting thought that I had never entertained before or heard someone point out.”
It is not that the speaker pushes the envelope of novelty, but that he has provided some very thoughtful commentary on the passage. One of those individuals is Dr. John Mac Arthur. Mac Arthur is a quality Bible expositor who does his homework on whatever biblical book, passage, or subject he speaks about. I have often read and heard him speak and went away with some insightful thoughts about a passage of Scripture which came out of solid exposition, a broad grasp of the Scriptures as a whole, and an understanding of the many inter-related truths of God.
Now I need to separate insight from novelty and crackpotism. Some of these “novelists” and crackpots claim that a right understanding of biblical history, which they have, yields new and different understandings of the Scriptures. Apparently, few to no others have realized or understood what they now understand.
This may be a good guide to filtering out some of the “novelists” and interpretive extremist . . . .
What is the common and consistent understanding of a biblical passage by those closest to the days of Jesus? – the early church fathers.*
Check out what Bible commentators have consistently maintained as a proper understanding of a passage. It is amazing to me at times how no other Bible commentator from the last 100 years (literally) ever came up with that-or-that understanding. It wasn’t until now, or until this writer came on the scene that we now can understand this-or-that passage.**
Ask this question, “Would any average reader ever come up with “that writer’s understanding” by just reading the passage. The Bible was written for the average person to read and understand. That is where we ought to start in our thinking when we come across so-called commentaries which purport to offer insights no one would have ever guessed by just reading the passage.
There are “Christian Crackpots! There are speakers who try to be novel and give the impression that there are hidden truths that they alone have come up with, unseen before by the average Bible teacher. Today, one of them is Doug Greenwold who has discovered understandings nestled away in the historical manners and customs of biblical times which no one before him has seen.
“Novelty, for novelty sake” — ABSOLUTELY not. That will lead to crackpotism! It is as we better understand the nature of biblical insight and/or what a person (such as John Mac Arthur and others) does when he catches our minds by an insightful biblical thought, that we can work toward doing that in our messages.
Can I suggest what typically constitutes biblical insight?
√ Identifying what a passage actually says, not what one thought it said.
Just recently I heard Pastor Travis Smith preach on the woman at the well – John 4, and he caught my attention when he said that we do not know anything about the first four marriages of this woman. No information is given, even though many assume that they were all immoral relationships. I thought about that insightful comment and was again reminded how such insights catch the thinking of the audience — “Wow – I don’t believe I have heard anyone make that point before!” Let me summarize and add to his insightful commentary on the passage . . . .
The passage does not say that she had four immoral relationships, and is now living with a man who is not her husband. It states that she was married four times, and is now living with a man to whom she is not married. Any and all of the previous marriages could have ended because of the death of her husband, in which case she then repeatedly became a widow. If some ended in divorce due to her infidelity, we are not told. One may surmise whatever they wish, but the Scriptures are silent and that silence communicates that the Spirit of God has no interest or purpose in getting into the causes. What is certain is that she has had a difficult life having gone through the end of a relationship four times. Perhaps the point is her pain and lost hope in life, and therefore now her willingness to just live with a man and ignore a legal marriage. Whatever, at the end, there is only one example of immorality living.
— Ted Martens
√ Connecting biblical truths which the audience had not / has not / would not have connected.
I tried it for a period of time but never reached my goal of reading through the whole Bible every month for the entire year. The average reader can do that by reading 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evening. Interestingly, what happens when you do that – in fact very close to the beginning of doing that – is that you are reminded of so many biblical truths, accounts, characters, events, etc. in such a short period of time, AND you begin to connect truths which were unconnected in your thinking and biblical storehouse.
I believe that this is why some individuals such as Mac Arthur repeatedly provide so many interesting insights in their books and messages. They spend so much time in the Scriptures and/or have prepared so many lessons and sermons that more and more connections are made. With us, those connections are often “the luck of the draw” – sorry for the metaphor. For us, it happens at random. Our minds kind of trip over a connection, perhaps due to recently working on another passage of Scripture.
Here is an example of “connecting” two passages. Deffinbaugh connects David (Psalm 34 – through its superscription, which is typically believed to also be part of the inspired text), with Abraham and Isaac (in Genesis 12 and 20). He not only connects the passages together through their common reference to “Abimelech,” but he states that the reason for the superscription’s reference to Abimelech is because the psalmist wants you to think back to Genesis and see that David, Abraham, and Isaac all experienced fear in trial.
He will also connect that fear to deception which is present in both the Abraham account and in the life of David (To see the connection he makes to deception you can listen to the whole message as linked below.)
Bob Deffinbaugh – Full Message Link To How To Pray When You Have Really Messed Up:
[Abimelech in the superscription of Psalm 34] The question is, Why is that title used? Let me make a suggestion. Where else has the term Abimelech arisen in Scripture that might have a little flag for us – to remember? Think of any instances? Genesis chapter 20 – remember – Genesis chapter 12 and the early part of 13 – Abram has come to the promised land. Now he goes down to Egypt in the time of famine. And he’s afraid because – Sarah’s pretty good looking gal. He’s afraid somebody’s going to bump him off and take her.
So he passes her off as his sister. And as they’re escorted back out of the land by Pharaoh. You know I suppose – maybe Abram said to himself – I’ll never do that again. But he does. He ends up in chapter 20 – He goes and he stays with Abimelech – that is the King – like the Pharaoh – he stays there in this Philistine place and – and he passes his wife off again, as his sister. And God has – warns Abimelech in a dream and says “Don’t you touch this woman or you’re dead meat. And – And Abimelech calls him and says, “Man – What are you trying to do – get me killed — you know.
Anyway, Abraham said, “I was afraid.” “I was afraid.” In effect what he’s saying is – I know God is God in the promised land. I wasn’t so sure He was God here. I thought maybe this wasn’t God’s jurisdiction and therefore I was on my own. So I did what I did because I was scared. Scared before Abimelech and so he deceived.
Sounds familiar to me as I read Psalm 34
Then you remember in Genesis 26 – Isaac does virtually the same thing – afraid – and so he speaks deceitfully.
Now, the way I look at then then – when I look at the superscription – it not only reminds me of the particular event that stands behind this – it also reminds me that this is a general problem that we have seen before in Israel’s history – and it even more strongly suggests – if these great men – Abraham – Isaac – and David – have all acted deceitfully because they were afraid — then there is just a fighting chance that you and I may have the same problem. . . . .
Fear of men rather than fear of God may lead to deceitfulness.
√ Pointing to the context of a passage
Sometimes the insight into the passage is found in a context which hitherto has not been properly seen as the preface to the passage which we are teaching or preaching. Here are two examples . . . .
Connect Mark 8:16 – 21And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve.And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven.And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?
With Mark 8:22ffAnd he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.
Part of being effective as a teacher or preacher comes from stirring the minds of the listeners. As I flip through the pages of a book and as I am thinking about whether I ought to spend the money to purchase it, my criterion is usually just that . . . .
Is the author insightful?
Or is it just a running commentary on the obvious!
Many a so-called “e-book” offered through an email or blog is rarely insightful. Typically, it is just general thoughts on the passage or principle which are general, obvious, and trite. Why? — Because insight takes time and work.
Calling up other places, passages, events, characters may only be that — citing other examples of the same thing. Those kinds of references “may be” necessary to add needed information, but such “cross-referencing” is not necessarily insightful or even helpful. Any good concordance or topical dictionary can list out for you other places where the word or the concept can be found.
What determines if the point or connection, which you are making is helpful, useful, and/or insightful depends on how you develop and finish the following phrases. What do you say after this typical phraseology? Else, it may just be filler and/or content you want to dump from your time of study — “If I learned it, they might as well or are going to hear it.”
- This word is also found in Colossians . . .
- There is a parallel account of this found in the Gospel of . . .
- We also see Timothy mentioned in the book of Acts where he . . .
- Notice the terse phrasing in Psalm 32:5 – “confess . . . and you forgave”
- This word is used in Romans to describe . . .
- Another example of courage is found in the book of Daniel, chapter . . .
Now, any one of the above could become insightful, depending on what you then go on to say. For example. Deffinbaugh on Psalm 32 makes this connection (in my summary wording) . . . .
Notice how quick and terse the statement is in Psalm 32:5 – “and you forgave” –It is like the response of the Prodigal’s father who wasn’t interested in anything more than seeing the return of his son. He didn’t need to hear all the words of the son’s practiced confession. The son needed those words, but the father knew what returning meant. Because that is the Father – “It’s over when you come back home!”
Any speaker can call up the same word found in another passage. However, that does not mean that such a reference provides any insight into the truth, principle, present passage, or word. It just means that “it” is found other places.
Insightful References ADD.
They produce a third thought or a deeper understanding!
Just as I am mentally caught by an insightful thought included within a message, our audiences are as well.
What catches our minds is what catches their minds!
Part of speaking and preaching is thinking about truths, the framing of truths, the connecting of truths in a way that catches the minds of the listeners. No, not in a forced sense of trying to come up with ideas which are novel-to-crazy, but in a way that we think about other biblical truths, principles, verses, accounts, characters that capture the mind.
Here are some “templates” which have the potential of framing and/or generating an insightful reference . . . .
This can be seen in the life of Saul. It is when it is seen in this account that you begin to understand what cultivates jealousy . . . .
This word is the word used in Hesitations 4:5. The fullness of this word is illustrated in this Hesitations because it uses this word to describe . . . .***
If you want the see the Old Testament counterpart (the New Testament Counterpart) to Barnabas, it would be Ruth because she too . . . .
This phrase is the most common description used the Bible to talk about Jesus – Jesus the Nazarene (or Rahab – Rahab the Harlot), and there is a reason for that . . .
Notice that a common thread of the above examples is the thought or the actual word “because.” You need to make or explain the point of the connection, not merely point to another place where the word, truth, principle, person, or event is recorded.
Insightful thinking takes a good amount of mental work!
*Recently I wrote an article supporting the position that Joseph and Mary indeed were located in the stable of a commercial inn during the birth of Jesus. One of the arguments I make is that the early church translators and writers consistently understand the word for “inn” to be a commercial inn.
** Push-Back: I understand that there are archaeological discoveries which have given some insight into our understanding of Scripture. I understand also understand that there are Hebrew and Greek scholars who have and are able to go back to ancient sources of literature and gain a better understanding of the words used in the Bible.
*** Careful! See What Does That Word Mean