Use Contrast for Full-Bodied Preaching
- Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Grady Cook, an artist in Central Mississippi, told me how he had improved his technique. "The picture you bought from me last time," he said, "was all right. But I still had a lot to learn." I assured him Margaret and I thought it was fine and that it was hanging in our living room.
"Since then, I've studied under a wonderful teacher," he explained, "and have learned how to add darkness to my work." He said, "Here. Look at this." Pointing at the picture I would buy from him a few minutes later, he showed the shadows and the blackness of the undergrowth of the forest. It made the picture far more three-dimensional than the first one. The trees stood out. It looked like someplace I'd like to explore.
We still have both pieces of art on display in our home, but since he explained the difference, I've enjoyed the last one far more.
"There's something missing in this sermon," I said to myself. On the surface, it seemed to work just fine. The "fruit of the Spirit" passage of Galatians 5:22-23 is a familiar and well-loved one. I'd studied it numerous times over the years and had preached it on several occasions. I like what it says about the effect of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer who abides in the Lord, that in time one may observe all nine qualities of this "fruit" in his life. I have enjoyed pointing out to the members of my congregations that all nine qualities are the "fruit," not "fruits," and that we do not specialize on one or two, but the indwelling Spirit may be expected to shine forth in all of these ways.
And yet, studying my notes and trying to put myself in the place of my people and listen to my own delivery of the message, I felt it was rather blah. It just lay there. In short, it was boring me -- and if I was bored, how much more the poor hearers would be.
Something was wrong.
"The dark side is what's missing," I said to myself. Or perhaps that was the Holy Spirit speaking.
What is the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit? Immediately before, in the Galatians 5:19-21, there they were. Paul had not studied art under Grady Cook, but he knew that a well-rounded message needed to present both sides of the subject, the light and the dark.
"But the works of the flesh are evident," Paul says, and then lists quite a number of them: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, and so forth. You get the impression that the works of the flesh -- in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit -- is an endless list. These nine godly qualities will shine forth from the life of the Spirit-filled believer, but the carnal person's life may be any of a thousand versions.
Someone once said that all happy homes are alike, but unhappy homes are unhappy in their own ways. Same point, in a way.
Once we present the contrast between the flesh and the Spirit, between the works and the fruit, and between the kinds of product we get from each, we get a better picture.
I probably had thought of it as positive preaching, the way I omitted the dark side of the message for many years. I would bring a message on faith, for instance -- the source of it, illustrations of it, examples of it, reasons for it, proofs of it, the blessings of it--but never once touch on the other side: what is its opposite, what lack of faith means, what failing to believe produces in people's lives, how it insults the Savior, and why some people never seem to have faith.
In a similar vein, I have figured out why most memoirs are so boring.
People who reach a certain age sometimes decide that their descendants would like to know what life was like when they were growing up in the Depression or the Nifty-fifties or whenever, that they have family stories to tell, and memorable characters to pass along to their grandchildren, and so they write their memoirs. These are almost self-published, and I fault no one for that. They spread the books around, selling a dozen and eventually giving away the other 488. In a few instances, people read the entire book. But almost never. For one big reason.
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