“Pastor, I’ve never heard anyone explain the meaning of that word,” Mrs. Norma said. The word was glory. I had just finished preaching from
Toward the end of the sermon, I paused to unpack the word glory, a very important theological term. Immediately after the service, Norma hustled to the front of the worship room to express how surprised and grateful she was for the definition. She went on to tell me that although she had heard the word glory repeatedly and used the word countless times, she never had really understood the term.
I was shocked. After all, this was no novice in the faith telling me this. Norma had been involved in the local church for 50 years! For 50 years, she had sung “To God be the glory, great things He hath done.” For 50 Christmases, she had heard the angelic words of
My fellow pastors, Norma serves as a reminder of the challenge before us: We must help others comprehend the words of Scripture. Perhaps you are thinking you only have 20 to 30 minutes for your sermon, and you can’t possibly stop to define and explain every single word in the passage…and include illustrations…and mention the implications for belief and practice.
You might be surprised to see just how little time it takes to unpack the important words if you preach with precision. Let’s use the word glory as an example. Glory literally means “heavy.” In general, glory is that asset which makes people and objects impressive or important, winning them respect. People have glory, some more than others. God’s glory is infinite; He is more impressive and more important than anyone or anything else in the universe.1
So, to glorify God or give glory to God is to make God heavy in one’s life, to point to God as that which is most impressive and most important. Now, in more than 100 words and less than one minute, we have unpacked an extremely important theological term. Surely you have 60 seconds to spare.
In closing, allow me to offer two challenges to all of us who handle God’s Word. First, don’t shy away from theological terms. We should use words such as glory and atonement in our preaching because the Bible uses these words—a lot. People need to know what they mean.
Second, don’t assume the average person in the pew knows (or remembers) the meaning of theological terms. Terms will need to be defined—again and again and again. Many of the words of Scripture are foreign to folks of the 21st century. When was the last time you heard someone use the word propitiation while drinking a cup of coffee at Starbucks? Many of the words of the Bible are complex. We pastors will need to break open our toolboxes and do some serious word studies; but in the end, there is a simplicity that can be found on the other side of complexity. A biblical word can be explained in such a way that anyone can understand it. So by all means, use words such as glory in your sermons; just unpack these words so parishioners will know precisely what they mean.
1I am heavily indebted to my former professor Dr. Allen P. Ross for explaining a number of theological concepts to me and for doing so with great precision. This definition of glory is not original with me, but is an adaptation of Ross’ articulation.