Here’s a subject I haven’t heard a lot about—and I have read quite widely on the subject of preaching, sermon development, and the practice of exposition. Have you ever noticed, especially within the preaching and oracles of the prophets, that at times what is preached affirms the goodness, the vitality, the obedience, the elected-ness, the security, and the perseverance of the audience (Israel) and sometimes there is simply calls to repent, descriptions of disobedience, and ultimate destruction of what seems like the same audience (Israel)? If one pauses long enough before these two different types of text, a response is warranted: what is going on here? Perhaps you read over them to fast and don’t notice. Or, perhaps the assumption is one text (describing Israel’s obedience and total submission to Yahweh) points to occasions when they ALL are in total submission and faithfulness, and the other text (describing Israel’s disobedience, etc.) points to times when they ALL are in total disobedience and being unfaithful to Yahweh. However, both assumptions are correct at the same time—sort of. Within the framework of Old Testament preaching, the audience is always a blend of, what I like to call, visible Israel and invisible Israel. Paul alludes to this when he says at the beginning of Romans 9: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Within the body of Israel, the one’s being preached to (as well as the ones being referenced, living and working, and worshipping) there is a visible Israel and an invisible Israel. The visible community of Yahweh and the invisible truly elect people of God—and the prophets preaching assumes that. (In some places in the OT, the invisible Israel is called or referred to as the remnant.)
In the same way, the church has these same components: there is the visible church and the invisible (truly elect) church of God. And this is equally true within each local congregation as well. Our preaching should take this into consideration: On the one hand affirming the elect, drawing them to the security they have in being God’s elect, and reminding them of His ever presence and future hope; and, on the other, warming of certain destruction (okay, that’s a little stern, but I risk hyperbole here for the point), promises of being cut off from His presence, and calls for repentance.
Each time one preaches, consideration should be given in how the text of Scripture (and there I go again assuming good expositional preaching from a text of Scripture) speaks and applies to both the visible church before the preacher and the invisible one. How the text speaks to the wider visible church in and throughout the community and the truly, elect community of God?
Just a thought…examples to following (some day)