Jump Start # 2508
1 Thessalonians 5:16 “Rejoice always.”
I was reading through this section of Thessalonians recently and found something very interesting. It’s not what the text says, but what the text doesn’t say. The context reads as we’d commonly call today a list of bullet points. For instance, we find:
- Rejoice always (16)
- Pray without ceasing (17)
- In everything give thanks (18)
- Do not quench the Spirit (19)
- Do not despise prophetic utterances (20)
- Examine everything carefully (21)
- Abstain from every form of evil (22)
Simple and practical reminders of our walk with the Lord. But do you notice a few things that are missing?
First, Paul doesn’t go into detail telling us why we need to do these things. He just says to do them. Why rejoice always? Why pray without ceasing? Why give thanks for everything? It seems that the brethren knew. They didn’t have to be taught why. They just needed a reminder to do these things.
Second, Paul doesn’t bring up great examples from the O.T. showing the value of doing these things. He didn’t quote many verses, in fact, none in this section. He just gave a list of things to do.
Third, Paul doesn’t paint a picture of what life looks like if we don’t do those things. He doesn’t show the bitter consequences of life without rejoicing or prayer. He doesn’t use guilt to shame the brethren into doing these things.
I look at that list and think about how we preach these days. Most would feel the need to fill in the gaps, prove the points, back them up with Scriptures, and build and build upon these thoughts. When we were done, they would no longer look like bullet points. They would resemble paragraphs and lengthy sermons. Most of us would not dare get up on a Sunday and say, “I want to share with you seven thoughts that will make a difference in your week.” Then, read these seven bullet points as Paul wrote them and sit down. It’d take about two minutes to do that. The congregation would feel cheated. We preachers would feel embarrassed and would expect a talking to by the shepherds.
Could it be that Paul understood that the young Thessalonian believers knew and understood these things. Nothing more needed to be said. He wasn’t trying to convince them. They already knew. He was merely trying to motivate them and move them to action. “Why should we,” is not a reaction that would come from these people. They knew why. It was a matter of remembering to do these things.
All of this gets to the profound importance of knowing your audience. Jesus understood His audience. Paul, through the Holy Spirit, knew his audience. Possibly we are spending too much time trying to explain things to people who already know what we are saying. Rather than teaching, and trying to show, maybe we need to be motivating and moving some to action. Preaching the word involves challenging complacent people to do what they know they ought to do. They simply aren’t doing it. It’s not knowing, but the doing that needs to be worked on. We must know our audience.
And, all of that leads to the idea of application. A sermon without any application is nothing more than sharing information and a college lecture. Knowing dates, facts, words about the Bible is extremely helpful, but after all of that, what’s the point? A sermon ought to persuade a person to action. It ought to bring a sinner to Christ and cause a disciple to step a bit closer to the Lord. Have you noticed how Jesus preached? Simple. Practical. Plain. Understandable. Memorable. Useful. Helpful. Life changing. If anyone could have lowered the nets on knowledge, it would have been Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus saying, “I’m going to take five minutes and tell you what We did on the first day of Creation. Here’s how it all came about.” He didn’t do that. As He spoke, He could have traced the common Greek language back through other languages to what the original language was. He could have explained how words came about. He didn’t do that. He could have explained the history of the Egyptian gods and how they were borrowed from other civilizations. He didn’t do that. Look at the sermon on the mount. Pointed, but practical. Plain, but powerful. Look at the model prayer. Short statements. Simple words. Who was Jesus preaching to? Fishermen. Housewives. Slaves. Common laborers. Not dumb, but not intellectual elites, either. God chose a common language fit for a common people. The message, although from Heaven, was something that the common man would understand.
This is not a call to dumb down the message, but rather to speak to audience. Who is in the audience? Nurses. Retired people. Housewives. Mechanics. Engineers. Doctors. School teachers. Busy people. Good people. Common people. Are we speaking their language? Do they understand and more so are we handing them things that they can use? What are the things that are keeping these people awake at night? It’s their families, worried about them. Thinking about money and if there will be enough in the future. Health. Life. It’s those kinds of things that Jesus took to the people. Showing how trusting in God, they can be righteous people. It’s those same things that we need to be preaching these days. It’s where the people are at and it’s what the people are needing.
A series of simple bullet points. How simple. How profound. How powerful. They understood what Paul meant. They got it. He could say in brief statements what some of us are trying to say in 45 minutes. Maybe we ought to learn from these things. It’s not the length, it’s the content. It’s knowing the audience and it’s speaking to them in such a way that it will make a difference in their lives.
The Gospel needs to land on everyone’s front porch! That’s the key.