Why the Main Point Matters
Can you imagine pouring yourself into your study of a passage, only to discover you were missing the main idea?
I (Lincoln) had that experience a few months ago. After reviewing my notes for an upcoming sermon, my ministry supervisor asks me straight out: “What would you say is the main point of the passage?” And upon hearing my answer, he holds nothing back. “I don’t think that is the main point of the passage.” Though it is hard to hear this, I know he is right. I can’t even justify my proposed main point to myself. And now I feel like a total failure. Will I ever be able to understand or teach the Bible accurately?
While finding a text’s main point is not easy, it is crucial. Consider what happens if we teach the Scripture without grasping the main ideas. At the very least, the message (even if it has some real truth) doesn’t arise clearly from the page to stick in your listener’s hearts. At the worst, you could be working at cross-purposes with what God actually wants to communicate through the passage. But finding the main point empowers you to access the boundless power of God’s transformative word. Whether you lead Bible studies, teach and preach, or study the Bible on your own, finding the main point of a passage is foundational to understanding and communicating who God is.
A Crucial Question
If you’re familiar with OIA Bible study, you’ve probably experienced the challenge of finding the main point. After observing, you ask questions, especially “why” questions. You consider the context. You try to figure out the author’s intentions. But often, you feel stumped.
We find one particular question to be crucial when it’s time to identify the passage’s main point:
Why did the author write the passage this way?
It’s not a flashy or revolutionary question, but it usually gets the job done. And it does so by causing us to examine a few more specific questions.
- What gives the passage its shape?
- What does the author emphasize?
- How did the author get from beginning to end?
- How does the structure of the larger section, and the book as a whole, help us see what the author is trying to get across in this passage?
For example, notice how the shape of John 6:60-71 reveals much about the author’s main point:
- This relatively short passage concludes a long discourse between the Jews and Jesus. These final verses show the responses to Jesus’ teaching.
- The passage begins with many disciples following Jesus but ends with few. John 6:66 says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” This statement serves as a turning point in the narrative.
- This turning point raises the following questions: 1) “Why did so many people turn away?” and 2) “What was the difference between those who turned away and those who continued to follow Jesus?”
- The disciples who turned away gave a reason: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Jesus also knew they were grumbling and asked if they took offense at his words (John 6:61).
- After many turned away, Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks if they want to go away as well (John 6:66). Peter explains their reason for staying: “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69-70).
Do you see how both groups of disciples comment on Jesus’ words? The first group turns away because they are challenged and offended by Jesus’ words. The second group keeps following because they hear Jesus’ words and receive them, knowing them to be the words of eternal life. This text reveals a lot about people by their response to Jesus’ words, and by the inherent contrast in the structure.
Here’s where we think John is going: People’s responses to Jesus’ words demonstrate whether they’ll follow him or fall away. There is our main point.
You could state the main point in many ways, but the passage clearly highlights both Jesus’ words and what we do with them. May the Lord help us to hear and love the words of eternal life found in the Scriptures!
Do you see why structure matters? The passage has a significant change (the number of people following Jesus) from beginning to end, which shows us the author’s intentions: to demonstrate the impact of our response to Jesus’ words. This insight arises from examining why the author wrote the passage this way.
Finding the main point of a passage is not easy, but it’s worth it. The main point is your front-row ticket to the revealed glory of God, and it will equip you to think and speak with clarity and power when you teach the word.