Let Me Illustrate

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables, and without a parable He did not speak to them… (Matthew 13:34, N.K.J.V.)

Several years ago, at the close of a funeral service we both attended, I talked with a friend of mine named Geraldine. Previously, I had given her some c.d. copies of a sermon series I had preached on the life of David, and she had listened to them. In commenting on them, she had just one question. She asked me, “Are you enjoying having Josh on your football team again this year?”

I have to say that the question caught me off guard, and I got a deer-in-the-headlights look for a moment as my mind began to race. I thought, “Josh? Josh who? And how does Geraldine even know that I’m helping coach youth-league football right now? What’s the connection that I’m missing here?”

Since there were currently two boys named Josh on my son Royce’s team, I stammered out something like, “Yes, I am.” I don’t think Geraldine could tell that I was trying to bluff my way through the conversation, but the truth was that I was still trying to get up to speed subject wise. But then she said something that made everything clear. It was something along the lines of, “I thought the way you used him as an illustration was just perfect.”

At last I knew exactly who and what we were talking about. In one of the David sermons, I had spent a couple of minutes talking about how “little Josh” was the best tackler on Royce’s football team even though he was one of the smallest kids on the team. Since Geraldine knew that I had preached that sermon about a year ago, she rightly assumed that I was helping coach Royce’s football team again that following year and that Josh, being the same age as Royce, would be on the team again. Once all that clicked in my mind, I told her that, yes, Josh was on our team again, and, yes, he was still our best tackler. We both got a good laugh out of that.

As Geraldine and I exited the funeral service and went our separate ways, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how she had remembered my Josh illustration. She hadn’t asked about a sermon title, an outline, or a finer point of some text. No, apparently the top thing that had stuck in her mind from all my preaching was an illustration that I had used, a personal one at that. I guess that Jesus, being the master communicator, teacher, and preacher that He was, knew exactly what He was doing when He spoke in parables.

The word “parable” comes from the Greek word parabole. Literally, the word means “a placing beside.” Therefore, a parable is a story that is placed alongside a teaching to help illustrate the teaching and make it more memorable. You see, Christ’s parables were what we would call sermon illustrations. Of course, His illustrations were of a significantly higher grade than ours!

The book Love Worth Finding is the biography of Adrian Rogers, the great Baptist preacher. His life certainly makes for an interesting read, but my favorite part of the book is its closing section, which is entitled “The Preaching Philosophy of Adrian Rogers.” Concerning the use of illustrations, Rogers says this:

One of God’s great ways of communicating spiritual truth so it is easily understood is by use of illustrations. I attempt to include an illustration with every outline point of the sermon.

Likewise, Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose Driven Church, writes:

Jesus was a master storyteller…In fact, the Bible shows that storytelling was Jesus’ favorite technique when speaking to a crowd (Matthew 13:34). Somehow preachers forgot that the Bible is essentially a book of stories. That is how God has chosen to communicate his Word to human beings…Long after a pastor’s clever outline is forgotten, people will remember the stories from the sermon. It is fascinating, and sometimes comical, to watch how quickly a crowd tunes in when a speaker begins telling a story and how quickly that attention vanishes as soon as the story is finished.

Now, I realize that every Christian is not a preacher. But I also realize that every Christian is supposed to share not only the gospel but also a multiplicity of nuggets of truth from God’s written word. So, how can we effectively do this sharing? Well, I don’t think there is a canned answer to that question, but surely one of the best ways is to incorporate interesting, relevant, thought-provoking illustrations into what we are saying. After all, if Jesus, who was God in the flesh, chose to major on this way of teaching, who are we to think that we can come up with something better?

This entry was posted in Communication, Evangelism, God's Work, Ministry, Personal, Preaching, Sunday School, Teaching, Witnessing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Let Me Illustrate

  1. Myron says:

    Well said. I am not sure I agree completely with Rick Warren’s idea that the Bible is “essentially a book of stories” but I get his meaning. I would say the Bible is an historical account of people, places, and events which are often accompanied by stories (parables, proverbs, psalms, etc.). I remember how important the parables of Jesus become in teaching in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and indeed all ages to instill a way to remember a Biblical truth.

  2. Myron says:

        I read my comment again, and I want to say I don’t really believe
    Psalms are “stories,” nor is Proverbs.  I’m going to stick with my
    comment about not agreeing with Warren that the Bible is a series of
    stories, but I should not have included Psalms and Proverbs with
    “stories” like parables.

    Thank you for your testimony and teaching in your blog.


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