Paradoxical Preaching in the Age of Cohabitation

 |  June 30, 2017

Have you ever considered the way in which Jesus confronted the erroneous thoughts, attitudes, and actions of his day? The master communicator used variety. He loaded his communication arsenal with a plethora of rhetorical weapons to combat the evils of his age. He understood that one track approaches had their limitations. So, he incorporated dialectical diversity in communication.

At times, Jesus spoke plain truth. He simply “told it like it was.” Other times, he would take a simple story to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. He connected to his audience on their level by using their language. However, have you ever noticed the vast number of times that Jesus spoke in paradoxes?

Consider Matthew 5-7. Jesus filled his most famous sermon – The Sermon on the Mount – with paradoxical statements to undercut traditions that kept people from God. Jesus used the expression, “You have heard it said… but I tell you” in 28 of the 107 verses that comprise this renowned sermon. That is, he unmasked cultural contradictions through paradoxes.

Also consider Luke 9:23-24. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it” (CSB). Again, Jesus used a paradox to convey truth. He took a seemingly absurd and self-contradictory statement and showed its cogency. Simply put, he asserted that Christ followers gain by losing.

So preacher, do not miss the genius of Jesus’ communication strategy. He used a multifaceted approach when confronting the social evils of his day. And so should you. At times, you will need to oppose sinful thoughts, actions, and behavior by speaking the truth plainly and clearly. Other times, you will need to personalize your reproof through parables and stories. Get on your audience’s level and speak their language.  And then, other times, you may want to intertwine paradoxes into your preaching.

While there are many cultural issues that confront believers today, perhaps no issue has been as divisive recently as the issue of cohabitation.[1] Barna Research tells us that 65 % of adults in America either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married.[2] Christians who live in America seem perplexed on how to deal with the widespread acceptance of cohabitation in our culture. And preachers do too.

So, preacher, here are three suggestions on how to communicate the pitfalls of cohabitation to your congregation.

Tell them the pitfalls plainly. John Broadus said in his famous work On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons that “If the preacher is to speak for God, he must of necessity go to the place where God has spoken most clearly.”[3] Preacher, do not neglect the source of your authority. Stay tethered to the text. Lead your people to the feeding trough of truth. Preach the Bible so that your congregation imbibes the eternal Word of God. Tell them plainly what Jesus said about sexual purity. Explain to them from the Scriptures that long term satisfaction and pursuit of holiness outweighs short-term financial savings. Teach them that a surrendered life to Christ surpasses the flimsy commitments made by cohabitating couples. Remember, couples do not need “more commitment.” They need more Christ. And couples do not make each other whole. Jesus makes us whole. Therefore, preacher lean in to the text so that couples will lean in on Jesus.

Tell them the pitfalls pointedly. Parables are sharp. And cutting. They get right to the point. Jesus knew this and that’s why he spoke in parables. Parables drive home a point by bringing us into the world of a story. Stories connect us to the realities of life. We identify with them. So preacher, do not forget the power of the illustration and the pointedness of parables. Confront contemporary social ills by tactfully using stories, illustrations, parables, and testimonies that encourage and exhort believers to pursue the deepest riches of Christ.

Tell them the pitfalls paradoxically. Every sermon should aim for an intended result. Preachers know that every time Scripture is preached there is a heaven to gain and a hell to lose. Unbelievers move from death to life and, as a result, they gain by losing. Believers renounce sin and, as a result, they too gain by losing. This is the right kind of paradoxical intent. However, I’m afraid that many preachers are caught in an errant paradox that stems from selfish pride. The results are tragic. The preacher who wants to gain an audience will often lose his audacity. The preacher who wants to gain popularity will often lose his prophetic voice. The preacher who ushers in personal praise often undercuts his eternal reward. The solution to stem the tide against the sexual revolution and help couples see the dangerous undercurrent of cohabitation begins in the pulpit. The record of Christian history teaches us that a direct correlation exists between the health of the pulpit and the pew. Preachers must seek the boldness of God and not the “bravos” of men. We must practice and preach that we gain by losing. We must die to our personal agendas and speak out against the perversion of immorality.

Therefore, preacher, speak out again the social issues that permeate our culture today. But do so with variety. Jesus did. And so should you.

***Check-out other Southwestern Channels who have recently spoken to the issue of cohabitation at Biblical Woman and Theological Matters. 

About: Daniel Dickard serves as the Dean of Students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and teaches in the School of Preaching as a Teaching Fellow. He earned his MDIV from Southwestern in 2014 and is in dissertation stage of his PhD. Daniel is married to Cassie and they have two children, Conrad and Kesyd.

[1] Check-out other Southwestern Channels who have recently spoken to the issue of cohabitation at Biblical Woman and Theological Matters


[3] John Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, ed. by Vernon Stanfield (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1979), 18-19.

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