Making It Understandable

It is sometimes frustrating for preachers, and members of the church, who are trying to teach the Bible to others.  People can think technically, and deeply when they want.  If the job, or school demands that they learn something new, i.e. – learning a new operating system, people apply themselves, and learn what they need to.  But, they won’t think very deeply when it comes to the Bible.  They want to be spoon-fed.  This frustration is not new (Hebrews 5:11-12).  Oh that men would think more deeply, and seriously!  Oh that they would use their God-given brains! (none of us use more than a small percentage of that grey matter that we are capable of using!).

On the other hand, there are some preachers and teachers that make things more difficult and technical, than needed.  Sometimes in teaching others, we assume that the listener knows certain things, when they do not.  We assume, and even take for granted, that they know what we know, and we forget all those many hours and years that we’ve spent studying.  In such cases, the listener may be awed by our knowledge, but, still comes away not really understanding what we were trying to get across.  They may be impressed with the messenger, but they miss the message.  I heard someone say after listening to a well-known speaker, “I don’t know what he said, but it sure must have been good.”  Let’s be honest.  If the message is not understood, no matter how fine a sermon it may have been, the preacher, or teacher, really has not accomplished what he needs to.

Now, having said this, let’s consider how some great Bible teachers, and even how the Master teacher Himself, presented their lessons.  By so doing, perhaps we (each and every one of us) might become better evangelists for the Lord.

First, let us consider the manner of presentation of the Apostle Paul.  Do we realize how many times Paul quoted from uninspired sources, and even pagan religious material, to relate himself to his audience, to lay some common ground that might be built upon, and in order to make a point?  In Titus 1:12, we find the words, “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’ This testimony is true.”  Understand, that Paul here-in, is quoting Epimenides, a Cretan poet who lived in the 6th century B.C..  Why does he do this?  He does this, no doubt, to show Titus what he is up against; And, he may have done this to demonstrate to those at Crete just what their reputation was, a reputation that had been well-known for 600-plus years.  In 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul reasoned: “…If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'”  Paul’s point is this, “If men think that they’ll, in the end, die like beasts, then they’ll live like beasts; And, if there is no hope of an afterlife, then why do we endure the things we do?  Let’s not hold to the hardships and demands of first century Christianity; Let’s just enjoy life.”  Again, I ask you to understand that in making this point, Paul quotes from an uninspired source.  He quotes  an Epicurean maxim that had been around since the 4th or 3rd century B.C. Greece.  Also, by implication he refutes such a philosophy by arguing for, and producing proofs of an afterlife.  Next, let’s go to Acts 17:28a: “for in Him we live and move and have our being.”  Paul is in the middle of his great sermon on Mars Hill (or the Areopagus).  Right in the midst of that sermon he quotes from Epimenides (a 6th century B.C. poet).  Epimenides’ actually originally applied these words to Zeus, who was supposed to be the “father of gods and man.” The entire context of the original quote reads: “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one… But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, For in thee we live and move and have our being.”  Was Paul, by appealing to this quote, saying that these Athenians were right in their worship to Zeus?  Certainly not!  But, he was showing them that he was familiar with what they believed, and that certain concepts that they had about God were correct.  He is alive.  He is the originator and propagator of Heavenly beings, and mankind.  He is the sustainer of life itself.  Finally, look at Acts 17:28b, “For we are also His offspring.”  This line is a quote from the poem Natural Phenomena. It was written by Aratus of Cilicia.  His poem is dated from the 3rd century B.C..  It was a poem about Zeus.  Watch the words:

                        “Let us begin with Zeus; never leave him unmentioned, O mortals.                                                      All roads are full of Zeus and all men’s meeting places;                                                                                the sea and the harbours are full of him.                                                   In all our ways we all have to do with Zeus; for we also are his offspring.”

Now what Paul is doing by quoting this is saying, “I am familiar with what you believe, and what you teach about Zeus, some of those things are not so different from what I teach about God.”  Paul is laying out common terminology, and common concepts to reach his audience, and teach them about the true God.  F.F. Bruce has said, “It is, in fact, quite consistent with Paul’s outlook to allow that these writers’ expressed thoughts which, despite the pagan context in which they were conceived, indicated a real, if limited apprehension of the true God.”  Paul always tried to relate himself to his listeners.  He even used native language to do so (Acts 21:37; Acts 22:2).

Second, let us consider the preaching and teaching of the Master teacher – Jesus Himself.  We are told that “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37).  The word “common” means literally “much varied, manifold” according to Thayer or “much diversity” according to Arndt-Gingrich.  It is a word that is used of the masses.  Now watch the fact that when Jesus spoke, His sermons were not directed to just the intellectuals, but to the masses.  His sermons had wide appeal in spite of the fact that those people were from a diverse background.  How did He do this?  He did this by using illustrations that were of familiarity to them.  He spoke of sheep (e.g Luke 15:4-5).  He spoke of sowing seed (e.g. Luke 8:5-ff). He spoke of fig trees (e.g. Luke 13:6-ff; 21:29-31).  He spoke of fishing (e.g. Matthew 4:19; 13:47-ff).  The Bible also is filled as a whole with illustrations from agriculture (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:6; James 5:7), and sports (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1).  Jesus built  upon truths that He knew they already accepted to help make His greater point (e.g. Luke 15:4, 8; Luke 14:5).

Third, consider the example of Ezekiel.  He used visual aids in his teaching.  Just read Ezekiel 4:1-3, or Ezekiel 12:1-7; or Ezekiel 24:1-14.  This method of teaching was not limited to the Old Testament.  The prophet Agabus uses the same method under the New Testament period (Acts 21:10-11).

Now here are some lessons from these three examples that we might apply when teaching others.  (1) It may help to know what other people believe.  It may make teaching them so much easier. It is good to know what others believe, and how they use their terminology. (2) It may help to try to couch your words in language and illustrations with which they are familiar.  (3) We should not make it more difficult than it has to be. Try to keep thing simple. Unless they are intellectuals, or scholars who want to get technical, and are making technical arguments.  (4) We do well if we find truths that they accept to build upon, and drive home the point being taught.  (5) Sometimes visual aid helps get the point across. It is acceptable to use such.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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2 Responses to Making It Understandable

  1. Bryan, to me this fits those who hold the KJV only argument, with a generation of young people who are unfamiliar with its language and find it hard to understand. Good thoughts.

  2. W. Wayne Hodge says:

    This is a great lesson for anyone trying to share their faith with another. Very well organized, very helpful, Thanks, WW

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