Have YOU ever said something in a sermon that you regret? Plenty of pastors have done so. Recently, I’ve heard different pastors make claims they ought to regret, because what they said wasn’t true. For instance:
- The Texas flag doesn’t have to be subordinated to the American flag, because Texas was once a republic, i.e., an independent country.
- Abe Lincoln bought a slave in Louisiana and set her free. He said she could go anywhere she wanted, and she said, “I’ll follow you.”
- Climate change is a myth.
So, I’ve been in a judgmental season of trying to catch pastors in less-than-true statements. And one Sunday, as I sat in a congregation and listened to another’s sermon, I suddenly found my mind wandering as I crafted my own unbiblical and untrue interpretation of what the pastor was saying. You see, the pastor had a lot of children. I mean a LOT! As he bragged about that, I thought, “He doesn’t need an award for this, he needs a restraining order!” Then, the pastor shared his biblical justification to support his many offspring AND to practically demand that everyone follow his example. He read:
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
Ps. 127:3-5a [NIV]
Here’s what came to my mind. I imagined a support group of struggling, middle-aged parents. They had spent an hour sharing their conflicts, disappointments, and failures. At the end of the hour, the guest expert, a motivational speaker (the preacher mentioned above), pontificated to inspire the group.
The first cynical parent whispered to her neighbor, “’One’s youth?’ Yeah, that’s right. When I was young, I had energy, and these kids didn’t wear me down, like they do now.”
Another, a dad, whispered to anyone close enough to hear. “In our youth, the kids were little and cute. But they sure haven’t stayed that way. The older they get, the more there is to worry about, and the more they break your heart!”
And finally, an exasperated couple shouted in unison at the pastor, “A quiver-full? You realize, preacher, that a quiver can only hold one baby, don’t you? Or, two . . . max!”
The preacher was tongue-tied and stood in silence. Sensing it was time to end his sermon, he thought he might recover with a Q&A session where he could apply his wisdom to specific situations. The first question came only after a long, awkward silence.
What does the second part of that last verse (5b) have to do with a quiver of children? “They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”
Suddenly, I snapped out of my day dream, as the congregation stood for the invitation. As I stood, I realized my life-based interpretation of those verses, built upon the difficult family situations I’ve tried to help with (but certainly none of my own, because my family is perfect!), was totally incorrect. My fantasy interpretation wasn’t what the verses meant at all. They meant exactly what they said: “Thank the Lord and enjoy the years with your children.”
The point of this blog is that responsible, ethical preaching means we can’t just say what we want. We must stick to what the Bible says and what it meant when it said it. Otherwise, we can suddenly change what the Bible has meant for 2000+ years, just because we want it to mean something else.
George Martin (sometimes called “The Fifth Beatle” for his production work on the Fab Four’s music) quoted the painter Vega as saying, “The Artist doesn’t paint what he sees, he paints what he wants the viewer to see.” In the same way, Martin explained, “The Musician plays what he wants the listener to hear.” If we do that with preaching, we are guilty of Eisegesis. . . reading INTO scripture what we want it to say, and not what it says or means.
Be careful when you preach—in your interpretations and your illustrations. You don’t want to lose credibility by saying things that aren’t true. And you certainly don’t want to be cast into the sea with a milestone wrapped around your neck.
And do let me know what successfully contending with your adversaries in court has to do with a quiver full of children, before I try to make it mean something it doesn’t.