Sermon illustrations


Challenging What We Know

We can “know” something to be true, and then find it is not true after all. I recall confidently assertive to a student that, of course, the name of the region Perea (to the east of the Dead Sea) appears in the Gospels. Despite what I knew to be true, it turns out I was wrong. With a bit of research I discovered that we get that name from other sources. I reported to the student my error.

Some people “knew” the earth was flat or that the sun revolves around the earth. It is very easy to assume something or to follow the received wisdom about the way things are, or about how something has always been done. Perhaps we accepted the word of authority figures—whether parents, teachers, politicians, or preachers—who told us the right way to think or to act. We did not question their word; we thought they were the experts. But then we run into something that calls that wisdom into question. We have to rethink things and investigate the issues thoroughly for ourselves. Ultimately, we may affirm, alter, or completely discard what we formerly accepted as true.

In his sermon [on the mount], Jesus challenges the way his Jewish disciples have been thinking about the kind of life that pleases God. They knew what the religious leaders were saying; but Jesus asserts that what they had heard was not true after all. As we listen in on his challenges, we may need to revise our own thinking about how well we are doing in our spiritual formation-being and doing the “righteousness” that allegiance to him requires. Grasping what he said to his followers, we can translate his principles into our own contexts and pursue this kind of life ourselves.

William W. Klein, Become What You Are: Spiritual Formation According to the Sermon on the Mount, 2006.

Get the Knowledge

Muhammed Ali served as a role model to many young people during his boxing career. When one student had the opportunity to question Ali, he asked him whether he should continue his studies in college or try and make his fortune in the world. Ali’s response was nothing if not unique: “Stay in college, get the knowledge,” Ali said. “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can make something out of you!”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

An Expert in Biblical Trivia

The prince of Grenada, an heir to the Spanish crown, was sentenced to life in solitary confinement in Madrid’s ancient prison. The dreadful, dirty, and dreary nature of the place earned it the name, “The Place of the Skull.” Everyone knew that once you were in, you would never come out alive. The prince was given one book to read the entire time: the Bible.

With only one book to read, he read it hundreds and hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion. After 33 years of imprisonment, he died. When they came to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls.

The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter J; the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible; no word or name more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.

This individual spent 33 years of his life studying what some have described as the greatest book of all time. Yet he could only glean trivia. From all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ. He simply became an expert at Bible trivia.

Leonard Sweet, AquaChurch: Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture, p. 59.

The DKIW Pyramid

According to Martin Doyle, CEO and founder of DQ Global, a data quality software company, “In essence, data is raw. It has not been shaped, processed or interpreted. It is a series of 1s and zeros that humans would not be able to read (and nor would they want to). It is disorganized and unfriendly. Once data has been processed and turned into information, it becomes palatable to human readers.

It takes on context and structure. It becomes useful for businesses to make decisions, and it forms the basis of progress.” Scientists even developed a hierarchy for processing data called the DIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) pyramid.

At the bottom, the most unformed and unsorted, is data. Next is information, which is data that has been processed. Knowledge is data that has been processed into information and then organized into some sort of structure. And finally, wisdom (which is what God says we should pursue) is at the very top of the DIKW pyramid.

Taken from Hayley Morgan, Preach to Yourself, 2018, p.71-72, Zondervan.

The Monk and the Cup of Tea

The story is told of a learned professor who went to visit an old monk who was famous for his wisdom. The monk graciously welcomed him into his temple and offered him a seat on a cushion. No sooner had the professor sat down than he launched into a long, wordy account of his own accomplishments, his own knowledge, his own theories and opinions. The monk listened quietly for awhile and then asked politely, “Would you like some tea?”

The professor nodded, smiled and kept right on talking. The monk handed him a teacup and began pouring tea from a large pot. The tea rose to the brim of the cup, but the monk kept right on pouring while the professor kept right on talking. Finally the professor noticed what was going on, leaped to his feet and demanded, “What are you doing? Can’t you see that the cup is overflowing?” To which the monk replied, “This cup is like your mind. It can’t take in anything new because it’s already full.”

Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Transformation Does Not Simply Come from Information

The goal is not for us to get through the Scriptures.  The goal is to get the Scriptures through us. Some churches give people the idea that the only way to transformation is knowledge.  There is an assumption that as people’s knowledge of the Bible rises, their level of spiritual maturity rises with it.

… Knowledge about the Bible is an indispensable good.  But knowledge does not by itself lead to spiritual transformation.  When Paul urged the Christians at Rome to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” he was thinking of far more than just the acquisition of information.  “Mind” refers to a whole range of perceiving, understanding, valuing, and feeling that in turn determines the way we live

…While knowledge is vital and should be prized, it also poses some dangers.  It often demolishes humility.  The sobriquet “know-it-all” is never used as a compliment.  The Bible itself contains some warnings: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Both human experience and the Bible teach that increased knowledge – even knowledge of the Scriptures – does not automatically produce transformed people.

John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, expanded edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002, pp.188-189).

See also Illustrations on The Brain, Growth, Learning, The MindThought/sWisdom

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Knowledge. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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