Some of us remember Paul Harvey, a wonderful radio broadcaster and author who specialized in looking beneath the headlines of major stories or characters, and painting a context… a background… often surprising, that helped us better understand the story itself.
Most all those who read or follow this blog love the Lord, love the Bible, and seek to let the Word of God (in every form) grow our intimacy and relationship with God. That humbles me. Often, when I sit to type, it almost scares me. I want to know, with confidence, when I push that “Publish” button, that I’ve prayed, heard, and typed as clearly and cleanly as I am able.
Many of you, Gentle Readers, know this feeling very well. About half of those who follow this post preach or teach through the Word of God on a regular basis. THAT knowledge humbles me even more. One of the reasons I try to post here regularly is an interesting statistic I recently heard, but don’t know the footnote to.
Question: “What internet sites and search questions get the most hits on Saturday nights?”
(*No, it’s not pornography, which was my first guess when asked this question*)
Answer: “Sermon Notes. The highest traffic on the internet on Saturday nights, are from preachers seeking to draft their sermons for the next day.”
(This was told me by my homiletics professor, with whom I still take clinics from time to time. Learning this, I included the category “Sermon Seeds”, hoping to address some of that need.)
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Anyway, a couple years ago I preached a sermon that keyed on our freedom in Christ and our freedom from fear at the judgment. One of my key verses was this, Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is [y]appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…” and I put it in its place there, and went on with the rest of my structured message.
This particular sermon was very important to me, laying out a critical truth, so afterwards I forwarded a .wav file of the message and my notes, for comment and feedback to an old friend… The Pastor (you’ve seen referred to here in different posts from time to time). He was kind enough to reply, affirmed the point and teaching, giving generally positive feedback. But he also was kind enough to point out that there was a place he recommended that I consider a possible improvement.
(I cannot express to you how gentle… how many words he uses to “buffer, insulate, and soften”… anything he says that could possibly be interpreted as “critical'”, in order not to wound or offend the other.) Anyhow, in his reply, after dealing with the “softening introduction” to his critique, I found I had pushed one of his “Hot Buttons”… through my own lack of academic, intellectual, theological… rigor. I had “cut a corner”, and thus expressed less of the truth than I want to do.
Please note, my Hebrews snippet expressed an entire VERSE of scripture, yes. HOWEVER, I did NOT present the entire SENTENCE. In doing that, in that “Slice ‘N Dice” moment (as paulfg calls it), I failed to express the full meaning of the statement. I used the clause that bolstered my position, but I slanted the meaning of the words as originally expressed by Hebrews’ author.
I had used the phrase, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”…. to focus the listener on their own mental image of the judgment (and fear thereof)… for oratorical, homiletic, reasons. It was a “speaker’s trick”. This was dishonest. This was not the intent of the author, as is made clear when one finishes the sentence. The full sentence is this:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. [Hebrews 9:27-28]
Do you see it? Do you see my mistake? In doing what I did, I actually REVERSED the intention of the author. I used the clause to generate fear. But the author states the full sentence to generate confidence, hope, and assurance in Christ at the moment of judgment.
My friend did NOT accuse me of laziness, sloppiness, or dishonesty. None of that. He simply stated that there is a subtle trap inherent in quoting, teaching, or preaching from a scriptural sentence fragment, and that he had seen it done so often with this particular passage that it had become one of his pet peeves. He suggested (gently) that in my own teaching I consider a resolve never to quote or teach from a scriptural sentence fragment… especially when doing so changes the inherent meaning of the sentence. Either quote the entire sentence (even if that’s more than one verse)… or move on and find another passage.
Joyfully I embraced that resolve, and have tried never again to quote less than the scriptural sentence.
Why am I discussing this? Because Paulfg’s post this morning, again has brought it to my mind. It is a perfect example of this problem… and Paul did NOT do it, by the way. It’s in one of his quoted discussion passages!
I had, just yesterday, been discussing his very passage from Hebrews 10 as I wrote, “many preachers and churchmen LOVE to admonish and rebuke people about church attendance by repeating, ‘do not forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some’… laying a burden of guilt upon those who don’t come to the church building every week, Bible under their arm, all dressed up, checkbook in hand!”
In my writing I pointed out that this “scripture sentence fragment” in fact reverses the intention of the author, (just as I had done years ago). That the entire passage gives a totally different texture and feel to these words. Behold:
“ Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
See it? See the difference? There are those who quote the fragment as if to say, “we are doing CHURCH and we keep people in order because they come. You aren’t coming, so you are out of order.” While the passage actually talks about what keeps the CHURCH “in order”… the passage talks about the purpose of church in its fundamentals, why it is there, what it is supposed to do! What is that, you ask? Glad you asked.
We see three things here as the “purpose” of “assembling together”:
- stimulate one another to love
- stimulate one another to good deeds (love-in-action)
- encouraging one another
In my experience, there are very few churches who see this as their fundamental purpose. Rather, many churches focus on “repeating the rules, and pointing out all the places they are broken” either by their own sheep, or by all “those sinners out there”. Many churches engage in what some have called the “Preacher’s Lie” or the “Church’s Lie”, which is a control game… controlling the behavior, attendance, and money of a congregation through either the generation of guilt over their frailties, or the generation of pride and false camaraderie of pharisaical self-righteousness.
Sorry… had a “moment” there… but anyway…
And here, in Paulfg’s post this morning, “In every moment we are together“, I find this same Hebrews 10 passage blockquoted.
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So, fellow travelers, especially those of us who teach… I recommend Paul’s post to you there. I recommend Hebrews to you… (all of it). And I place before you a possibility to consider… that whenever you teach, consider always using the whole sentence, and never a clause alone. It’s often very important to hear The Rest of the Story.
Sometimes, it just changes everything!
Grace to you — The Little Monk