EFAC Australia


Finding the central ministry purpose of a book of the Bible
Part Two – 2 Corinthians

In Part One, I tried to show the general principles and practice of finding the central ministry purpose of a book of the Bible. In Part Two, I will show how this applies to a difficult example, that of 2 Corinthians.

There are two preliminary questions that need to be answered when tackling 2 Corinthians.

a. Are 1 and 2 Corinthians one unit of meaning, and so mutually explanatory?
Traditionally these two letters have been regarded as one unit, in that it has been assumed that they both tackle the same issues, that they refer to each other, and that 2 Corinthians flows on naturally from 1 Corinthians.

by Paul Barker

In 2005 I preached a series of sermons on the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. That focused my thinking to reflect on the nature of preaching to bring about change in people's lives. I looked at the ethical injunctions in the epistles and considered how they indicated a move from sin to virtue can happen.

The doctrine of mortification of sin is not considered much. I don't recall a lecture on it when I trained for ministry. However this article is not so much a theological argument. Read John Owen for that.1 I am addressing preachers. It seems to me this is a crucial doctrine for preachers to grasp if our preaching is to be truly powerful under God.

The issue is, how do we put sin to death? If preaching is, in part, to train in righteousness, where does the power to change come from? Can human beings change themselves to be more righteous? Paul says in Romans in 6:12 "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions". And, in Romans 8:13 "If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live".

Finding the central ministry purpose of a book of the Bible - Part One

by Peter Adam


We should always try to find the central ministry purpose of a book of the Bible. The central ministry purpose of the book is its ministry aim, its pastoral intention. It is the answer to the question that we could ask of the author of the book 'In one sentence, why did you write this book?' Or the answer to the question we could ask of God 'Why did you cause this book to be written?' It should include what the readers should do, and why they should do it. It regards the book as an extended speech-act, and seeks to clarify what the author wants to happen as the result of people reading the book. The central ministry purpose is more than the central theme, because it includes what the author wants the readers to do as a result of that central theme. It does not focus on topics, but on actions. It is not the language of analysis, but of action.

Here are some examples of 'central ministry purpose':


About two years ago now I came to preach on Genesis 3, and I found myself thinking again about how it points us to Christ. I'm convinced it does. But in what way? So I found myself pondering again the ways in which I've heard others answer that question. Because on many occasions, at least in the circles I move in, I've heard people explain the Biblical Theology of Genesis 3 in a way that I'm not sure is right.

I'm referring to the idea that Genesis 3:15 is the first explicit statement of Messianic expectation in the Old Testament. From that moment on, so people say, the narrative invites us to await the appearance of the Serpent Crusher- the one who will crush Satan under his feet and thus reverse the effects of the fall. Furthermore, as Christian readers of the Old Testament, people have taught that we should see in this verse God's plan to send his Christ to deliver humanity from themselves. Jesus is the Serpent Crusher of Genesis 3:15. Or so the story goes . . .

A Sermon
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us

The Bible is full of people needy for forgiveness.

A man and a woman. Rapturously in love. They share some fruit. Disaster.

A king and another man's wife. A moment of passion. A child conceived, a husband despatched. The prophet speaks - a lie exposed.

Two friends. Three years of shared life - of learning, of laughter, of wonder. Denied. Denied. Denied again. A rooster crows - deceit uncovered.

Adam and Eve. King David. The Apostle Peter.

The Bible is full of people needy for forgiveness and, my guess is, so are our churches.

Sometimes we have acted with such deliberateness and calculation and even anticipation that we know we need to be forgiven even before we have sinned. Sometimes we know it as a word slips from our mouth or a thought rises in our heart and we regret it instantly. Sometimes we are completely oblivious of the wrong we have done and it is not until the photograph of our car arrives in the mail that we are aware of our need for forgiveness! Sometimes we are reminded on an annual basis that there is much that remains unforgiven. In many families, everyone knows that there can be no happy anniversaries until someone says 'sorry' and someone else says 'I forgive you'.

If we think the job of a preacher is easy and glamorous then we will never last the distance. If we are going to grow and persevere as preachers we need to be prepared for hard work. Paul's exhortation to Timothy was by implication to fight the good fight and to run the race. This article seeks to remind preachers of some basics in persevering and growing as a preacher for the long race and the hard fight.

Be prepared for hard work.

Paul calls his own ministry "hard work" (2 Corinthians 11, for example). It is hard because it takes a lot of time to prepare and preach sermons. I still know that I ought to spend at least eight hours on a new sermon if I am to do thoroughly what I need to do in both understanding and applying the text and shaping the sermon. In the busyness of pastoral ministry, it is tempting to cut preparation time. That temptation grows the longer we have preached for we may begin to feel competent and confident.

However long we have been preaching for, we have got to be prepared to spend a long time preparing sermons well. Often for me that means, sadly, Saturday night even though I am always thinking about my sermon during the week.