Eureka: Mining Ephesians for Illustrations
My father-in-law loves to watch Gold Rush, the reality series that documents the gold mining efforts of various family-run mining companies. Although I am not a big fan, I have found myself perched on my in-laws’ couch watching people use modern equipment and tools to dig for gold. Sometimes they miss, but other times they hit it big. The key for them is to stay consistent, to keep digging regardless of the challenging terrain or the sometimes long periods of minimal discoveries. Even the minimal finds, when added up, have good results.
For those of us that seek to be exegetes of the text, we need to remember that the word itself carries with it the idea of “digging out” or “bringing up to the surface.” Like a miner, we must use our tools to dig, to unearth the gems that are inherent in the text with the intention of exposing our hearers to the beauties of God’s infinite word. There are many places to mine for illustrations. Preachers pan through books, magazines and movies, as well as a host of other places looking for illustrative gems. Could it be possible that one of the most unexcavated places to dig for illustrations is right under our noses?
As a pastor, I have preached through Ephesians. Paul’s little six-chapter epistle presents some unique challenges to the expositor. One of the challenges is that half of the book primarily deals with orthodoxy (correct belief) while the other half deals with orthopraxy (correct actions). This means that much of the book is highly theological, technical, even cerebral. As a former seminary student and professor, I personally enjoy the finer theological minutia that is presented in the first three chapters of Ephesians. My congregation, however, like most, is made up of “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.” The challenge is to be able to take the Biblical text and represent it to the hearers in a way that is both edifying and engaging. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary, especially while preaching through Ephesians, that one takes full advantage of the illustrative opportunities each text presents. Otherwise, the sermon, perhaps full of solid theological content, runs the high risk of being dry and unengaging, more of a lecture than an encounter with truth viewed through vivid word pictures.
Eureka! This is the cry of someone that has struck gold. Actually, the English word is based on the Greek perfect tense of heurískō meaning “to find.” If I were to come across this Greek word in a passage I was preaching, it would be very easy for me to express a word picture or even a full-blown illustration based on this single word. The book of Ephesians has some very obvious word pictures that one can easily draw illustrations from (i.e. Armor of God). Yet, I want to submit this idea, namely, that the book of Ephesians, especially the first three chapters, is chock-full of precious word pictures just waiting for you to discover and vividly reveal to your hearers. In order to discover them, however, you will have to dig. You will have to work. Yet, the good news is, there are some great tools to assist you, even if you have not had one class in Greek. Do not let anything hold you back.
When I preached on the single Greek sentence in chapter 1 (verses 3–14), I decided to spend 3 sermons on that single pericope. There are structural, grammatical and semantical arguments for doing it this way, rather than trying to cover all of the rich theological content in one sermon. One homiletical reason that should not be minimized is the fact that if I tried to justly cover all 12 verses in a single sermon, the sermon would mainly consist of explanatory material, highly informational in nature. There would be little time left to apply the text, much less vividly illustrate it for my hearers. Furthermore, each section has some delightfully loaded words that would help my hearers “see” if only I had the time to unpack them.
In the first sermon on that pericope, I remember having the time to illustrate the word “election” for my congregation, moving it out of the theoretical and philosophical realm and into the hearts of my hearers. In the second sermon, I had the time to illustrate the rich ideas of “redemption” and “forgiveness.” Dig into these two words with your study tools and you will find yourself racing to the surface in excitement over how you can illustrate them for your audience. In the third sermon, I cried “eureka” when I studied the word “pledge.” I was able to draw a powerful illustration from the world of real estate and earnest money for my modern audience. Adding the illustrations to the theological explanation really helped these sermons shine for my audience.
The truth is, Ephesians has a plethora of innate, text-driven illustrations just waiting to be discovered. Get a hold of every tool that you can find to help you. Dig. Do work. Get some dirt under your nails. Discover. Uncover. Reveal. Show. Shine. Do it all for the glory of God and the edification of your hearers.
Vern Charette is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Coweta, Oklahoma.