Summary: The value of a pericope in preaching
In this lesson I want to encourage the use of pericopes in preaching.
Have you ever sat through a Bible flipping sermon, where the preacher turns to several Scriptures, ripping them out of their context. The only relationship between the Scriptures is that they all contain the same word that the preacher looked up in a concordance while watching Saturday Night Live. Then to cover up the sermon's total lack of integrity and his incessant twisting of the Scriptures, the preacher starts putting on a theatrical show with yelling and sweating and pacing up and down, constantly asking for an amen which he doesn't deserve, and using other manipulative gimmicks such as telling you to turn to a neighbor and make some trite comment.
Sincere enthusiasm is good and highlights quality preaching. Insincere theatrics is an attempt to dress up an otherwise awful sermon. This kind of bad preaching is empty-headed fluff and far too common. It is not worth the money you put in the offering, and not worth your time. It deeply grieves my spirit to sit through a sermon like that. How can we overcome this kind of rubbish in the churches?
In this lesson I propose to explain what a pericope is, why the use of a pericope is a superior preaching method, how to choose a pericope and how to make it come alive.
1. What is a Pericope
What is a pericope? Did I mean periscope? No, a pericope [puh-RICK-oh-pee] is a section of scripture that has a natural beginning and ending. It may be large or small, but it must be a natural unit.
A chapter may contain several natural pericopes. Chapters and verses are far from perfect breaks in Scripture. They were added in much later centuries and sometimes are inserted in awkward places. For this reason, some natural pericopes actually overlap the beginning and end of a chapter. The number of pericopes chosen from any segment of Scripture can vary greatly. Depending on your emphasis, a particular chapter may contain one, two or dozens of pericopes.
How large should a pericope be? The size of a pericope can be as small as part of a verse or as large as several chapters but is most usually chosen from part of a chapter. A lectionary reading is a good guide to a natural pericope. The headings that are inserted in many modern translations also form a suggested pericope, but may or may not be the specific pericope that God leads you to expound for your sermon. For instance, each of Jesus’ parables forms a natural pericope. Some are a dozen verses long, while others are only one verse.
2. Why Use a Pericope
Pericopal preaching is superior preaching because it keeps everything in context. Not that it is wrong to use several scriptures. That is what forms the basis of systematic theology, but systematic theologians go to great pains to take care to consider the context of each verse. However, even theologians get themselves into trouble.
Consider the raging debate between Calvinists and Arminians. Each has their string of verses to support their side of the issues, and each has "difficult" verses, which are challenging to explain. That's probably why most theologians end up somewhere in the middle of that debate.
Most preachers would squirm if they had to preach regularly to a group of expert theologians, who knew way more about the Bible than them. It would feel like you were on the spot every week. I know a theologian who just doesn't bother to "help" his pastor because it would be too discouraging for the man. Most of the time, he just overlooks the fellow's less than perfect theology. However, there is a way for most of us to keep ourselves out of theological trouble. That is having the habit of preaching pericopes. By preaching pericopes most of the time, we are treating scripture in its context, and we might even impress a real Bible scholar from time to time, not that that is the most important thing. It is a very important thing to handle the Bible with integrity and honesty.
Let's look at an example of what can happen when we string verses together willy-nilly without a care or concern about their respective contexts. The Bible says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8), but Jesus Christ came in the flesh (1 John 4:2). This could confuse people because the same Greek word for "flesh" is used in both verses. However, the context would clearly show that the same word is used to mean two entirely different concepts.
Context is very important. Too many false ideas are preached because the preacher ignores the exegetical process of considering the context. Too many Scriptures are twisted out of context to drive home the preacher's pet ideas instead of God's.