Expositional Preaching on Narrative Passages

July 4, 2017
Gary McBride

Much of Scripture is narrative, that is, the stories or accounts of events. The challenge for the preacher is to make the story relevant for today. There is a need to develop a lesson or lessons from the account with meaning(s) and application(s) for today. Much of Scripture is narrative, that is, the stories or accounts of events. The challenge for the preacher is to make the story relevant for today. There is a need to develop a lesson or lessons from the account with meaning(s) and application(s) for today.

Narrative as a writing style is different from poetry, found in Job to Song of Solomon, and doctrinal portions, such as the teaching in the Epistles. The stories in Scripture, whether in the Old Testament or in the Gospels or Acts, are factual historical accounts of events. These events were either known to the author or revealed by the Holy Spirit, but they are from a different time, culture, and setting than today.

Dangers in Preaching from Narrative

Preachers may be tempted to use a narrative which is not explained by the Lord or instructed by the Holy Spirit to make a point. This process may take the text far beyond what the Lord intended it to mean and outside the original purpose. Without a “thus says the Lord,” one must use care in the development of a message from the passage.

There is also the danger of allegorizing by taking the text out of the context and making it fit a pattern or support a point. Several examples from recent history may serve as illustrations. A number of years, ago some believers allegorized the story of the capture of Jericho. These people felt that if they marched around a city or a neighborhood and prayed against the forces of evil, the walls of opposition to the gospel would come down and they could claim the area for God.

Another example is The Prayer of Jabez, a bestselling book, which was based on 1 Chron. 4:10.  Jabez prayed that God would enlarge his boundaries, that God’s hand would be upon him, and that God would keep him from evil. These requests are commendable and God granted what Jabez requested. However, there is no indication that all believers of all time should pray the same prayer with assurance that God will grant their requests and prosper them.

Some preachers have invented “assembly truths” from narrative. There is a danger in developing New Testament truths from Old Testament stories. The rebuilding of walls in Nehemiah was not about assembly life, nor was the story of the rebellion of Korah. There is a vast difference between illustration and interpretation.

Developing Points from Narrative

Narrative supplies illustrations for New Testament truth. The story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel chapter nine is a wonderful illustration of Ephesians 2:11-22, where Gentiles who were aliens and strangers become fellow citizens and members of the household of God. The travels of Israel illustrate the leading of God in the lives of His people. Some narratives are specific illustrations, such as the days of Noah, the destruction of Sodom or Balaam as a prophet for hire.

There are lessons applicable to Christian living within Old Testament narrative. We can learn from the choices made by Old Testament characters and the positive or negative consequences that ensued. Some good examples are Abraham choosing to go down to Egypt during a time of famine, Lot choosing to live in Sodom, and Ruth choosing to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem. The various kings of Israel and Judah provide similar life lessons. Paul states in I Corinthians that there are accounts written for our instruction, admonition, and learning (10:11).

A number of Old Testament narratives reveal the person of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Himself pointed out some of these, specifically on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. There are people and events referred to as types of Christ in the New Testament. The serpent in the wilderness, the water from the rock, and the ministries of Moses and Elijah all speak of Christ. There are other stories that remind us of Christ – the life of Joseph, the person of Boaz, Joshua leading the people, and many more such accounts. Devotional teaching on Christ from the Old Testament can “warm” the hearts of God’s people and make the Old Testament come alive.

An Example of Teaching from Narrative – Exodus 35:4-35

This account is not about us, and in a primary sense is not for us; it is from a different time, place, and circumstance and for a different people. It is a great illustration of what is important to God and what is a desired response from His people. This account as an illustration is a reminder of the priority of worship for us individually and collectively at the Lord’s Supper.

  • A Command – v. 4, the Lord Jesus commanded us to  “Remember Me in …” (I Cor. 11:24)
  • A Heart Response – v. 5, 22 – a willing heart; – “whose  heart was stirred” – vv. 21, 26
  • A Spiritual Exercise – v. 21- a willing spirit
  • A Response of Love – v. 21, 24, the Lord’s offering; a  freewill offering… (v. 29)

There are Offerings:

  • Everything the people gave in some way spoke of Christ
  • What they gave was precious to them and, for the most  part, limited in supply
  • Everything they gave came from the Lord when they left Egypt
  • No one person had all the needed supplies
  • Some of the items were more precious and costly
  • All these items became part of the Tabernacle under the  direction of the Holy Spirit

Conclusion: Making an Application

This passage is an illustration. God is not asking believers today to bring physical items. It is a picture of a spiritual response to the Lord’s command. For us it may illustrate “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Giving can be forced and compliance enforced, but worship in spirit and in truth must come from the heart. God seeks worshipers but does not force this on His people. True worship is the response of a willing heart and is a matter of spiritual exercise. Any thoughts presented to the Father concerning His beloved Son come only from what the Father reveals to us. We are merely giving back what He gave to us.

No one person can ever exhaust the glories of the Lord Jesus. Each one can bring aspects that they enjoyed during the week. The thoughts presented and offered up by the Holy Spirit form a fuller picture of Christ.

There may be other devotional thoughts drawn from meditation on this passage, such as, what they brought and who it was that brought various items. Beyond that, the items are suggestive of various aspects of the person of Christ.

Remember this is narrative – it tells the story of the physical preparation for the construction of the Tabernacle. It is not about constructing a “church building,” nor is it about people in this age giving for a project. It is a story that reveals the desire of God and the appropriate response from His people.