One of the most effective teaching tools the Lord used was the parable. His parables have lasted through the ages and have been just as valid and valuable to audiences today as they were in the first century. However, many people seem to believe that Jesus was the only one to ever use parables and that he had the market cornered on them. That is simply not true. Many of the prophets used parables at various times, and there is certainly no statement prohibiting their use by others. On the contrary, I believe that the Lord’s multiplied use of them shows us their value and the need to incorporate such avenues of communication even today.
That being true, I believe preachers need to consider means by which they can use such figures as parables to convey to listeners principles of an eternal nature. Most people define a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” However, that is a rather simplistic explanation. Dungan more objectively defines it as, “a story by which something real in life is used as a means of presenting a moral thought.” I would like to offer the following parable for your consideration:
Living the Christian life is like a cyclist making a cross-country trip. He sets out on his journey with excitement and zeal, believing he has everything he will need for the excursion. However, he travels a distance and his bike develops a flat tire. The man realizes he has forgotten his air pump. He is about to give up on his journey when a young man in a work truck sees the rider’s predicament and stops to allow him to use his compressor. The man airs his tire and continues his journey.
As he goes a little further down the road a car side swipes him as it passes, sending the man careening into a ditch on the side of the road. The man’s ankle and wrist are injured in the accident, but the car continues travelling without slowing, leaving the man alone in the ditch. He is angry and bitter about his circumstances and does not know if he can continue; but as he is contemplating these things, an old man in a beat up pickup truck sees him and stops to help. He has a first-aid kit with him and cleans and bandages the man’s wounds.
Now able to continue his journey, the man goes further; eventually stopping at a roadside restaurant for a meal and a rest. While he is there someone steals his wallet, taking all his money and leaving him unsure of how he will settle his account and finish the remainder of his trip. Fortunately, a kind woman observes his obvious misfortune and gives him one hundred dollars to take care of his meal and get him to his destination. Once again, the man persists with his journey.
When he finally reaches his destination, the man thinks back on all of the things that occurred on his excursion. However, his thoughts are not focused upon the mishaps that overtook him; instead he remembers the kindness of those that helped him, and the way things always came out better in the end.
Passages to consider with this parable: 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Hebrews 12:1-2
The meaning of this parable is seen when comparing a Christian, seeking to live the servant’s life, to the cyclist. There will be many hardships that come to us along the way, but there is always provision (often from unlikely sources) to assist us on the journey. We are never alone when our desire is to serve God, there are always those (the greatest of which is God) waiting and willing to help in times of trouble. If we persist and finish the journey, we will look back on our lives and see, not all of the problems we had, but the people and means by which those problems were overcome and the blessings our lives received through them.
As with all parables, there will be the inclination of some to make everything represent something. Some would attribute each incident as a type of struggle in life, and each person as a type of rescuer. Though these are certainly possible applications, such details are not within the intended scope of the meaning of the parable. We must be careful to understand the difference between the intended meanings of parables and the applications that can be drawn, because not all “applications” will fully match up with the intended meaning; thus the utilizing of such can actually detract from the parable instead of accentuate it.
Parables are valuable teaching tools that we need to utilize with more frequency, whether they are ones that have already been presented in Scripture, or ones from our time that we create to emphasize the principles of the Bible. I hope this parable has been beneficial to you and that both the parable, and the thoughts concerning the use of parables, will give you something to think about as you go through your day.
Interesting! I’m not sure I would be any good at writing one – but maybe we should all think about it
Well written and encouraging article, Adam. Thank you for your insight.