It happened again.
As preachers, we often approach a text expecting that it will express a truth we think our congregation needs to hear. That’s not wrong. When mapping out a sermon series, I often do enough research to get the general sense of a text so that I can guess at the big idea and how the themes fit together.
Frequently, though, my guess is wrong, and Scripture says something different than I wanted it to say.
It happened last week. I’m preaching on friendship within the church using a series of texts. And I’d selected Ephesians 4:7-16 as my text, hoping that verse 15 (“speaking the truth in love…”) would allow me to talk about the importance of candor in our relationships.
It didn’t. I began the wrestling match that happens so often and surrendered to the text. I’m convinced that Clinton Arnold is right: that Paul is talking about “accepting the truth of the gospel, speaking it out loud in the corporate gatherings of worship, talking about it with fellow believers, and upholding it firmly.” He’s talking about the importance of speaking the truth of God’s Word to each other, both formally in our corporate worship and informally in our relationships, rather than saying hard things in loving ways.
In other words, Paul didn’t say what I wanted him to say. He said something better. I was a better preacher, and my sermon was a better sermon, when I laid aside my agenda and preached what the text says. But I’ll be honest: it’s still a struggle.
I was reminded of two things last week.
First: that the continual task of life and ministry is ongoing submission to God’s Word. It’s important for us to model this in our preaching, and to model submission to Scripture when it says something different than we thought.
Second: that God’s Word is much better than anything that we could say ourselves. I walked away grateful for a message that was more robust and helpful than if I’d preached what I wanted.
The wrestling match continues, and I’m better for it.