Yesterday morning, I preached the end of 1 Corinthians 13. Calvary Bible Church of Mount Joy, PA is a typical non-charismatic, revised dispensational church that expects to hear that the phrase, “when the perfect comes,” (cf. v. 10) refers to the completed New Testament.
You might recall from a recent post about preaching through the head covering section that I find it helpful to warn congregants up front as to what they won’t hear. That’s right. Won’t hear.
In yesterday’s case, I wanted to prepare them for my not spending much time on what “the perfect” is, when it “comes” and what “the partial” is that “will pass away.”
My reason: because that whole discussion is not vital to preaching the intention of chapter 13. And I am intentional about preaching the intention of the Text. I’m not so concerned about preaching the incidentals of the Text.
So, I was delighted to recently read Walton and Sandy’s, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority, and learn how the Bible is authoritative. Along the way of explaining how oral cultures passed down authoritative teaching, the authors review one main contribution of Speech-Act Theory: understanding “that communication is an action with particular intentions” (p. 41).
Speech-Act Theory provided us with three helpful categories of communication, all of which affect preaching God’s Word.
God’s Word involves:
- locutions–the genres, words, sentences, and grammatical structures
- illocutions–what God intends to do with those words (instruct or make a promise)
- perlocutions–the response God anticipates His hearers to experience as a result of His Word (think application).
The middle one–the illocutions–is most important when preaching difficult texts like 1 Corinthians 13:10. W and S write, “The important point is that if we misread the illocution, we are likely to also misinterpret, because understanding the illocution provides the doorway into interpretation” (p. 42, note 5).
So, when preaching difficult texts, texts with exegetical pitfalls, focus on the intention, not the incidentals. Imagine a congregation that “knows” what the perfect is, when it arrives, what the partial is that will pass away when the perfect arrives, and yet has no love.
Before Sunday, nail down the illocution, the intention, of your preaching portion so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).