Every time I prepare a sermon, I face the same temptation. I open the text and want to make a headlong rush to application. I should know better but it happens way too often. And, when I give into the temptation, it leads to all kinds of mistakes including anthropocentric preaching that leaves everyone feeling that something is wrong somehow.
Underneath this rush to application is an assumption that is dead wrong: that the Bible is a book about me. I can see how one would get to this assumption. We are, after all, included in the Bible. But it’s important to realize something important: the BIble is not about me. We are in the story, but we are not the point of the story. I’ll get to what the story is, and our part in it, in my next premise.
To paraphrase Carly Simon, “You’re so vain. You probably think this text is about you.” Grasping God’s Word says, “We should not be so arrogant and prideful as to think that God cared nothing about the original audience but was merely using them to get a message to us.”
The Bible is not written so we can have a slightly better versions of the same life. It is not a self-help manual written so we can be ourselves only better. That is far from the point of the Bible – yet I have preached sermons that probably gave that impression.
The Bible isn’t a fortune cookie that you can crack open and get out a pithy little message that’s going to help you through the day. Instead it is a collection of books, poems, histories, tragedies and more and if you want to “apply it to your life” you’ve first got to consider how that particular message was meant to apply to someone else’s life. That’s right, the Bible wasn’t written to you. It was written to the people of Israel, and Philemon, and Theophilus and the church at Corinth. But that ain’t you. So you’re reading someone else’s mail. Or listening in on one half of a phone conversation. If you want to apply it to your life, first you’ve got to approach the text carefully, even humbly and ask, “What was the original author saying to the original readers and why?” That’s not an easy question. You won’t be able to answer it in just five minutes of Bible reading a day. You won’t be able to answer that question by jumping from one section of the Bible to the next as you go through your Bible reading plan…
The Bible isn’t meant to be treated like a bag of “trail mix” where you fish out all the sweet parts that you like and leave the rest. There are treasures in “the Book” but only if you’re willing to receive the message in the way it was intended.
The Bible is not about us. We are in the story but we are not the point of the story.
I’ll continue on with some more premises, but I’ll finish here with a suggestion. In preparing a message, we have to stop whenever we want to run directly from the text to application. That’s harder than it looks. The main reason to do this is that when we rush directly to application, this makes the text all about us, and that completely messes up our focus. Actually, it can easily lead to a focus that is anti-Biblical and self-absorbed. You’re almost guaranteed to miss the meaning of the passage if you don’t stop the rush directly to application. I described two examples in an earlier post.
Instead, we need to run directly from the text to something much bigger, which is what I’ll look at in the next premise.