When I was a little boy, my Grandma and Grandpa bought a book of Bible Stories for me to read while I was sick. That book of Bible Stories was very common in the mid-sixties and it became very precious to me, keeping it for years after. I suppose the reason I liked it so much was that the book was illustrated, and I could see, at least to some degree, what it must have been like during what I considered to be, “Bible Days”. It also helped for me to understand the “story” in the stories. Because it was designed for children, the main message and the theme, the main point behind the stories, were especially emphasized, so that I could understand what they were really all about
Making sure we hit the main point, the theme, of sections of scripture as well as the Bible as a whole, is always important. To a certain extent, I think sometimes as a Pastor and preacher of the scriptures, I’ve missed that, and it seems to me that’s true of other Pastors as well. We often want to bring out nuance and details in the Bible, getting to stories in the story, and that is important, but not at the expense of telling the story the way God inspired it to be written, and told. This means that we need to make sure we understand the story and its theme.
Almost all of the Bible relies on Story and Theme in order to communicate Biblical Truth. They help us to understand that others have also dealt with these issues. Story is the description of the people and events with the intent of communicating something deeper. Most stories have a “moral”, but Biblical stories have been inspired to teach us something that God wants us to know, not just a moral, but a truth about God’s nature, his character, or how he wants us to relate to him.
Theme is the specific truth that the story is trying to communicate. It’s the reason the story is recorded for our benefit.Story helps grab that truth to learn how to understand it, why it’s important, and then apply it correctly.
When we preach, we are retelling the story so that we can explain and emphasize what God inspired the writer to tell so that the people to whom we are preaching.will understand it as well. That means we retell the story in such a way as to keep the main point of the story, the theme, as the main point. We need to understand the structure and flow of the story so that we are explaining the story, the exposition, in the way it was meant to be told. This should be the first step in any study of the Bible, but it often gets neglected when we try to pull out smaller details.
When we do that we miss connecting with people on an emotional level, and that is what motivates people to change. People “feel” the lesson and this helps them to understand their own relationship with God, desire to be transformed into the type of person God desires us to be, which is really the goal of every good preacher.
For example, when Joseph eventually reveals himself to his brothers the way the story is told is meant to be an emotional moment, a moment of reconciliation after years of separation. I believe this is recorded this way so that we can feel the joy of that reconciliation but also the pain of the sin that caused the separation. This pain and joy helps the people we are preaching to connect to the theme of the story, the main point, maintaining faithfulness in difficult circumstances. The emotion of the moment helps us understand the need to be transformed so that we can receive joy of reconciliation and avoid the pain of sin. If we miss how the story was inspired to be told, we likely will miss the emotion of the moment, and the opportunity to communicate the need of transformation for our listeners. That means we’ve missed one of the main goals of preaching that passage.
This is just one example of the importance of story and theme, there are many others. Hopefully in the future we will discuss the elements of story and structure and why they are so important to our preaching.