open book with heart shape made by pages illustrating 'the heart of the text'

Getting to the Heart of the Text

Haddon Robinson’s contribution to the preaching task of the church was his emphasis on getting to the big idea of the text.

Scholars may debate the appropriateness of such reductionism, weekly preachers and their congregations recognise the value of the big idea getting to the heart of the text.

Here are some steps which you may find useful to follow:

1. Context. What is the wider context of the book, why did the author write it, what was its historic context? How does it fit into the whole flow of the Bible’s narrative?

What is the immediate context, what comes before and after this section?

2. Content. What is the passage saying?

3. Big Idea. Ask two questions: what is the subject of the passage, what is the author talking about? This is usually a headline of the passage, not more than 3 or 4 words.

what is the complement, what is he saying about his subject?

4. State the subject and complement in one sentence.

5. What is the obvious or implied question which this statement answers?

6. How will I market this question so that my congregation will recognise the question’s contemporary relevance?

7. Application, how must this text apply to all, how must it not apply to any, how may the text apply to some?

Let’s work at it from Philippians 2:12-30.

Step 1. Context. The apostle Paul is writing from prison in Rome to a church he planted ( Acts 16).

The church is about 20 years old,had supported the apostle in his various mission trips and yet is a church with problems and divisions.

Pre context: Paul urges the church to live worthily of the gospel (1:27) by having the mind of Christ (2:2-3) and he then describes that mind (2:5-11).

Post context: Paul confronts those, who in this predominantly Gentile church, are adding circumcision to the gospel he preached (3:1-11).

Step 2. 2:12-30 urges the believers to see that their salvation shows itself in practise, so that they live as lights in the dark world (2:12-16).

Having described the mind of Christ, Paul now describes three servants of Christ whose lives are to be imitated, himself 2:17-18; Timothy 2:19-24; Epaphroditus 2:25-30.

Step 3. Subject: Worthy living.

Complement: Work out your salvation as lights in the dark world; imitate Paul who saw himself as a drink offering; imitate Timothy who took a genuine interest in others and served with Paul in the gospel; imitate Epaphroditus whose only distress was that his illness would cause the Philippians to be distressed.

Step 4. Big Idea.Live worthily of the gospel by making sure that your being saved shows itself in the way you live, imitating the lifestyles of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Step 5.  Obvious Question.How to live worthily?

Step 6. Marketable Question. How to live straight in a crooked world, or  enlightened  in a dark world?

Step 7. A simple choice, worldly or worthy?

Worldly: grumbling, questioning, crooked, twisted, dark.

Worthy: work it out in your lifestyle and God will be at work as you work, follow the pattern of Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and ultimately, Christ!

Must apply to all: work it out, follow the pattern.

Must not to any: let go and let God! God works as we set about following the patterned lifestyles, not in our idleness.

May to some: Home, workplace, leisure, church, suggest ways worthy living may be patterned.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour…

Worthy or Worldly? David Cook.