In the previous post, I presented the first part of an article I wrote related to preaching and teaching narrative passages. Having focused on how to discover the main message of the passage, we now consider how to apply the main message to our contemporary situation.
Apply the Story As You Tell It
As we’ve already noted, the stories in Scripture are designed for our edification not just our entertainment. We preach and teach these stories in order to “correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Timothy 4:2). For this reason, as we teach narrative passages, we will want our hearers to learn both the plot and the point of the story.
Communicating a narrative’s plot and point can be done if we tell the story in an applicational way. This involves imbedding application into the presentation of the story rather than saving all the application until the end of the sermon. Don Sunukjian, one of my preaching professors in seminary, used to warn us that if we saved all our application until the end of the message, we would just teach people when to duck!
So practically speaking, how do we tell the story in an applicational way? While there are a variety of ways to do this, I’ve found it helpful to develop a sermon outline that has applicational lessons as its points.
Often sermon outlines are merely descriptive:
- Samuel’s assessment of Eliab and his six brothers
- Samuel’s anointing of David as king
But another option is to make the outline points applicational. Here’s how that might look:
- When we choose people for service, we often over-emphasize externals (1-10)
- When God chooses people for service, He gets to the heart of the matter (7, 11-13)
Using applicational lessons as the outline points clarifies the truth we are to learn as we journey through the sections of a story. Picture these applicational lessons as stepping-stones that follow the plotline and lead to the main message of the passage.
Having applicational lessons as the outline points helps me tell and apply the story at the same time. In the first section of the passage (verses 1-10), I would explain the events surrounding Samuel’s arrival at Jesse’s home and his assumption that Eliab would be the next king. Then I’d immediately point out how we often think the same way Samuel did. When selecting people for ministry service, we tend to over-emphasize externals. We focus on credentials and charisma. We get enamored with appearance and abilities. Now don’t get me wrong. These qualities are wrong in themselves—after all, David is described as having “a fine appearance and handsome features” (16:12). The point is that these qualities are superficial and insufficient for selecting spiritual leaders.
For the second section of the narrative (verses 11-13), I would begin by telling the story of Samuel’s anointing of David, circling back to the Lord’s statement in verse 7 that He “looks at the heart.” This would lead to the second applicational lesson: When God chooses people for service, He gets to the heart of the matter. I would remind my hearers (and myself) that God prioritizes the condition of the heart over capabilities and credentials. I’d cross-reference Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
Having worked through the passage and brought out two applicational lessons, I might wrap things up by presenting the main message of the story: When choosing people for ministry, God sees past the externals and goes for the heart.
The amount of time spent telling and applying the story would depend on how long I was given to teach. But whether I had fifteen minutes or forty minutes, this approach helps me highlight both the plot and the point of the passage. It helps me stay faithful to the flow the of the narrative and focused on the needs of my hearers.
But even after doing all this, there is still one more thing we need to do when teaching or preaching a narrative passage. That will be the topic of the next (and final) post in this series.