Lord willing I will step into the pulpit of my church this Sunday and I will continue my journey through the book of Acts. I will be in Acts 26 and as of last night, I’m not sure how far I will get into Paul’s defense before Agrippa. I have been saturating myself with the text, doing word studies, background, translation and all the good stuff that comes with Bible exposition done well.
As a part of my study, a small phrase in Acts 26:3 stuck out to me that is helpful to think about more, not only as we prepare to preach, but as we think about the overall ministry of preaching to our congregations. The phrase that Paul says is this, “Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently” (ESV). There are a lot of reasons that Paul says this, and I can’t go into them here, but I do want to say this–expositors need to learn to develop patience in their listeners and we need to be such skillful expositors that people are willing to be patient when we preach.
You see, Paul was well aware how critical sound doctrine is, particularly in preaching the gospel. He is about to expound on the differences between traditional Judaism as practiced in his time and how they differed from the gospel message of Jesus Christ. To the Jews, Paul had committed sins worthy of death while Festus couldn’t figure out why everyone was so upset. It all sounded the same to him!
Agrippa was a Jew and he knew Judaism well (Acts 26:3), and yet Paul still begged for patience from him as he laid out this complicated doctrine of the gospel. Paul didn’t abandon sound doctrine, but he also didn’t abandon his listeners either!
Brother preachers, let me be candid for a minute. Sometimes people don’t reject sound expositional preaching because it is not informative, but because we have not done all our work to be clear and concise. The church is not a seminary and your pulpit is not a seminary lectern. We cannot dump raw meat on our congregations and expect them to digest our poorly assembled sermons. We can ask and expect patience, but we must deliver on feeding the sheep! They cannot digest raw exegetical data. Reject the false dichotomy that our preaching must be raw meat (unrefined doctrine) or baby food (little or no doctrine). We have been called by our Lord to dig deep, understand the text better than anyone else in our church, and then to assemble a sermon that imparts much of what we have learned in a way that does not choke them because it is too far over their heads or factual but unhelpful.
As you prepare, go deep but go patiently, walking with the weak and the babes. Recommend further reading and study for those that are more mature. Add in scholarly insights at appropriate places to entice deeper thinking, but return to the average maturity level of your congregation for most of your exposition. Let them up for air after a long explanation of a particular concept by showing them why this doctrine is so important to their lives and how it can be put into practice to the glory of God.
That is how you develop patience in your listeners. You are a shepherd. Lead them, don’t drag them or abandon them. Ask for their patience, but deliver the goods every time you make them work to understand. Reward thinking by showing the soaring heights of spiritual truth. Then the next time you open your Bibles, they will have grown a little more and able to keep a little faster pace with you.