John Stott once declared, “All true Christian preaching is expository preaching.”
In my judgment, he is right. And yet there is more to preaching than expounding a text.
We need to know what God through the Bible is saying to us now. It is not enough to understand what God said hundreds of years ago.
God’s word must be brought to bear upon life as it is today. It must be applied creatively, sensitively and relevantly. That is the ultimate challenge for the preacher.
I preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) recently.
In my initial preparation, I wrote what I felt was a really good expository sermon, but it had no bite.
I had spelled out the two-fold lesson of the parable: first, that there are no limits to neighborliness – our neighbor is anyone we come across who is in need; and second, that action and not concern is required – for love “is not just ‘caring about,’ it is ‘caring for'” (to quote John Havlik).
Yet there was no application. The sermon was “interesting” but not “challenging.”
Thankfully, with just two days to go, inspiration came. It came as I reflected on my own experience of the past week and realized that God was laying on my heart one way of applying the parable.
I moved from exposition to application by sharing an example from my experience of life.
As I prepared to preach, I became very aware of those who have been “robbed” of their health and find themselves “incarcerated” in care homes.
The term “incarcerated” is a strong term, and yet that is the word that is used by a friend whom I visit most Tuesday afternoons. Let me tell you about him.
I have known him for almost 25 years. During my ministry at Chelmsford, he came to renewed faith, and I had the joy of baptizing him.
Although he has gone through tough times, for the most part life has been good to him.
A University of Cambridge graduate, he became a medical doctor and spent some time in Kenya before settling down as a general practitioner (GP) in the United Kingdom.
Blessed with an outgoing wife, as a couple they have had a wide circle of friends. But in the last five years or so, his world has been turned upside down.
When I first knew him, he was one of the strongest and fittest men I have known. Now, he can only walk with difficulty with a walker.
For the last two years, he has been “incarcerated” in a care home, where most of the residents are old ladies with degrees of dementia. Not surprisingly, he feels pretty “down.”
His life is now extraordinarily limited, and the future seems to offer no hope. And yet he would be the first to acknowledge that in many ways he is among the fortunate. His wife takes him out regularly, and his children visit him too.
By contrast, many in that care home receive no visitors. It’s tough growing old, especially when people are “robbed” not just of health, but of friends and family.
On Wednesday of that week, I visited another care home – this time to see my 95-year-old mother in Hove. She is in constant pain and is almost blind. She longs for God to take her, but she is still with us.
Thankfully, she has not been abandoned by her family. My brother in Liverpool visits her every other month, I visit her once a month, my sister in Romsey visits her every other week, and my brother in Hove visits her once or twice a week.
In addition, she has friends visit her too. She is the best visited lady in the care home.
By contrast, others there have no visitors. During this visit, I met one lady who has two sons: one lives in Germany, the other in New Zealand. Not surprisingly, they see her rarely.
Of course, it is not just people in care homes who have been “robbed” of health, friends and family.
There are many other older people, still living independently, who because they are not as fit as they once were live restricted lives, whose husbands or whose wives have died, who have lost too many friends.
This same week I visited an older couple whose circle of friendships is getting smaller.
It is all too easy for those of us who are fit and well, who lead busy lives, to “pass by on the other side.”
Yes, there are many other ways in which this parable of the Good Samaritan can be applied, but I know that Jesus wants us to care for our neighbors in need.
So, I asked the congregation that Sunday, “I wonder, is God calling some of us this morning to care for our older neighbors in need?”
Paul Beasley-Murray retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Living Out the Call,” a four-volume series on pastoral ministry. His writings can be found at PaulBeasleyMurray.com, where readers can register to receive his weekly blog post. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission.