Engaging Exposition (16): Getting at the Main Idea of the Text (MIT)

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The main idea of a text (step 3) naturally derives from our studying of the Scriptures (step 1) and our structuring of the Scriptures (step 2). Having prayed over the entire process, we have: 1) tracked and identified the key verbs and parsed them; 2) looked for key words needing definition; 3) identified repetition of words and phrases; 4) located the seams in the text, which inform us as to the proper division of the passage; 5) noted the context; 6) searched for helpful and supporting Scripture; 7) written out any and all observations and applications discovered in the discovery process; 8) examined our study aids and commentaries for helpful insight, as well as a check and balance to our interpretation.

The MIT is the text’s heart. Every text will usually have several ideas that need to be studied and developed. Still, each text will also have a main idea that all other ideas support and amplify.

There are three key questions that help us identify and clarify the MIT. They are:

1) What was the main point then? (Idea)

2) What was the biblical author talking about? (Theme)

3) What was the biblical author saying about what he was talking about? (Complement)

The main idea is the single idea around which the details of the text are woven. Since we want to communicate one major point for the people to hear, understand, and obey, we seek to communicate the major idea of each Scripture text in contemporary terms.

The main idea of the text is the single unit of thought that binds together and gives meaning to all the particulars of a text. In some manner it should relate to your title.

It should always be in the form of a full grammatical sentence, stated clearly and concisely. It places a laser beam focus on 1) what the author is talking about and 2) what the author is saying about what he is talking about.

In order to get the main idea of the text, put the content of the subjects, themes, main points, or summaries together. In arriving at the MIT you are looking for accuracy and adequacy. The MIT should precisely reflect your particular text and must cover the assertions of the text.

Now, here are some practical steps to consider in this stage of your work in the study.

1) Give a tentative title to the text. This could well be the “theme” of the MIT.

2) If possible, write a personal translation or paraphrase of the text reflecting the flow or argument of the text.

3) Write out the main idea of the text. Put the theme and complement in full sentence form. The full statement does not need to be long, but make it adequate. You will most likely refine it and even shorten it as you work with it.

If you really desire to be an expositor of the Word of God, you will seek to impress on your people what the author stresses-the truth of this text. Remember, God is the ultimate author of the text. We want to honor what He put there. A good message should have a one sentence statement that summarizes the passage being taught.

The task is not always easy, but if undertaken, it pays rich rewards. Here are a few of those dividends:

1) The preacher will avoid the often-heard criticism that expository sermons/teaching lacks structure.

2) The discipline gives the preacher a better understanding of the truths he will share with his people.

3) It will assist those hearing the message to understand the message.

Unless we find the right words to identify the MIT, how will we ever teach that idea? Carefully locate the theological themes in the text. This will provide insight into its main idea. You can usually recognize the theological themes in the text by looking at the significant words you see there. Some words in Scripture bear enormous theological weight (e.g. justification, sanctification, reconciliation, repentance, calling, faith, election). Consider the plain and obvious meaning of the text for indications of the main idea. Look for a pivotal verse in the text which may contain the main theme. Though every text does not have a pivotal verse, many will. It will be the one verse which seems to capture the idea and summarize the meaning of the entire section.

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