Changed by God's grace
There has been a long ongoing debate among those who teach and study the craft of preaching sermons.
Some say it’s good to use personal illustrations and stories to try to better explain a Bible verse or concept. Those who believe this would argue that personal stories can bring greater connection between the preacher and congregation. Or they might say personal stories are best because we know them the best.
Others discourage the use of such stories to illustrate a point. They argue that the personal stories distract from whatever Biblical concept or point is trying to be made by causing hearers to think more about the preacher than what is being preached.
One longtime preaching instructor who has written several books even claims that once a personal story is told, nothing said after that will be remembered.
In my own preaching over the years, I have gone back and forth on this. I have found that sometimes personal stories just fit better to illustrate what I am saying than anything else I can find. Other times, I enjoy sharing something discovered elsewhere.
This coming Sunday there is a good chance you will hear I Timothy 1:12-17 read in your churches. It is one of the readings matched with Sept. 15.
In this passage the Apostle Paul gets autobiographical. He brings up his past as a persecutor of the church and points out how greatly the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ have changed him: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord ... because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy … and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 1:13-14).
Paul leads with this personal reflection because he knows that he is an extremely powerful illustration of what the grace of Jesus Christ can do.
Most of us have never been extreme enemies of the church or of Jesus Christ, but many of us have stories to tell about what the forgiving and renewing grace of God mean to us. I invite you to consider what Jesus Christ means to you as you read Paul’s words.
Also, as you read and hear I Timothy 1:12-17, notice that Paul’s ultimate purpose is to point us to larger principles of faith. In one place he writes: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15).
Notice that this is something larger than one person. Jesus Christ came into the world! And further note that Paul closes this section of Scripture with one of his great benedictions: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Paul’s great purpose is to point toward the glory of God! Our purpose, as well, is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”