Friday, October 23, 2009

Illustrations of Conduct and Preaching

Sometimes the Reformed world of preaching in our zeal to root out moralism we can make too much about not using the Bible stories of characters as illustrations and exhortations for conduct. We almost state or imply that it is unequivocally wrong in all occasions to preach Scriptural events as examples. What is the model in Scripture should be the question we are asking. As a whole the Reformed use of the Old Testament, and its application for preaching, as illustrated by Graeme Goldsworthy, Sidney Greidanus and other such names, is right but sometimes our zeal takes the rhetoric dangerously to contradicting Scripture itself.

Sermons and Bible teaching that center on and end with "dare to be a Daniel" and "fighting your giants just like David fought his" miss the redemptive historical nature of the text. If you could preach the same sermon in a synagogue, an AA meeting, and a Christian church without anyone batting an eye--then, Houston, you have a problem.

However, let's be careful that our rhetoric doesn't go farther than Scripture. Speaking of the OT, Paul writes:
"1 Corinthians 10:6 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
1 Corinthians 10:11 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
Consider Hebrews 11--before trotting out the faith of OT heroes, we read: Hebrews 11:2 2 For by it [faith] the men of old gained approval.

He rightly shows us then by example the Godly and Christ-directed faith of the heroes of old. It is evident to Hebrews that their faith looked beyond themselves and had a proper object and also a greater reward that unfolded in the eschatology of redemption:
Hebrews 11:39-40 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
But we are also given this charge based upon the example and illustration we have from the saints:
Hebrews 12:1 NAU Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Character studies on Scripture are important and vital. They instruct, illustrate and rebuke. Do not shun Scripture examples. Heed the emphasis in Reformed preaching but don't through out the baby with the bathwater.

Examples from Scripture must be properly condition and brought to light.
"1 Corinthians 10:11 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
What most lose site of today in using the Scriptural characters as examples, is the location of them versus the location of us in redemptive history. I have found that the more I meditate on this clause ("upon whom the end of the ages have come") when pondering a Biblical character example (or counter-example) the more I am guarded from a 1:1 moralism in my application of the Biblical text. Reformed teachers are right both doctrinally and practically to warn against using the Bible as mere moral example without gospel power.

While the courage of Daniel is a tremendous example and encouragement, I should not end or center my message on "dare to be a Daniel" even while a make exhortations about Daniel's example. Why? Because the end of the ages has come upon us. We live in the already/not yet tension. I cannot rob the gospel power that brings moral transformation at the same moment I am exhorting people to live transformed lives. It is wrong both doctrinally and practically.

Thus, we have seen the climax of God's plan. We have seen Christ our representative. Redemptive history has reached a climax. If you miss this, then you can tend to have a moralistic approach to your exhortations from Scripture. So examples: yes; Gospel-centered end of the ages: yes. The balance is proper and Biblical.

A little later after Paul uses the example of the OT, Paul even says: "1 Corinthians 11:1 NAU 1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. " Character witnesses do give us something to imitate--but the goal is ultimately Christ and Christ formed in us. Mere human effort to imitate doesn't bring Christ into us--but by the same token, as Christ is formed in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, we will do nothing less but imitate Christ--and those in Scripture who were walking on the same path to imitate Christ.

On the one hand: don't neglect the richness of examples the Scriptures give us. On the other hand, don't neglect the redemptive historical shape of the text. This shape must guide the thrust of the message. This shape should cause us to think about the relationships between indicative and imperatives in such a way that all our preaching is shaped by the gospel and not other a priori we impose on the text.

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