Things I ask myself…

11 Aug

A couple questions I ask myself before I preach…

Is what I’m preaching Bible-based and Bible-centered?

When I’m finished those listening 1.) should know what text of Scripture the preacher is proclaiming, 2.) should be convinced that the message he is teaching comes from the text not his imagination, 3.) should understand what the original author meant when he first wrote that text and the reasons why he wrote what he wrote, 4.) should be able to explain why they can be sure that he meant that, 4.) should see the basic biblical truth being taught by that passage and 5.) how that biblical truth fits in with the message of the book and of all Scripture.

Why am I preaching?

Every sermon should be guided by a consideration of the purpose of Scripture as a whole and the purpose of the text in particular.

Paul describes the purpose of Scripture as a whole in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17: teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. This means that in a very general way every sermon should be designed in some way or another perform these basic functions.

Every sermon should first, teach. The preacher should answer questions people are asking of the text and answer questions about the text that they didn’t even know they had. The preacher’s task is not to simply say what everybody knew before they came to church. Instead, people should go away from an expository sermon having learned something about the Bible.

Every sermon should secondly, demonstrate how people should change as a result of what is being taught in the text and also how exactly they can go about making those changes in their day to day lives. If people only learn more information about the Hizzites and the Jebusites, etc. in a sermon, but are not taught how what they learn should effect the way they think, how they feel, what they want, then that sermon isn’t accomplishing all God desires.

The sermon should not only be driven by the purposes of Scripture in general, but also by the purpose of the text in particular. Every passage of Scripture has a purpose. By purpose, I mean every passage is intended to effect the one reading it in some way. Jay Adams writes, “In every passage that He inspired, the Holy Spirit (unlike many preachers) had some intention, some purpose in view. It is the preacher’s task to discover not what He intended to do in the reader, but also make that same purpose his own in preaching to the listener. The preacher has no right to use a portion of Scripture for his own purposes; he must discover the Spirit’s purpose in a passage and preach from that passage to achieve that purpose and that purpose alone.”[1]

A sermon that does not explain the Spirit’s purpose in a particular text or that does not have the same purpose: misses the point, confuses the congregation, and lacks authority. Effective sermon structures work like a sling-shot. Through an orderly and logical sermon structure, the preacher puts the “purpose” in the sling-shot, swings and launches that single God-designed purpose at the heart of the congregation.”

Is this message gospel-saturated?

There are two fundamental questions every sermon should answer: 1.) what difference does Christ make on this passage and 2.) what difference does the gospel make on the way I respond to it? Tim Keller explains, “At the root…of all Christian failures to live right…is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ work. Thus every week non-Christians get exposed to the gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms, not just in a repetitious ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ way.”[2]

What difference does this message make?

Listeners should not go away from a message wondering what the sermon had to do with their life. Effective sermons clearly demonstrate how the biblical truths being presented apply either to the way in which the hearer thinks, how the hearer feels, or what the hearer wants. In the past, this has been called “experiential” or “experimental” preaching. As Joel Beeke explains, experiential preaching, “seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and what the goal is of the Christian life. It aims to apply divine truth to the whole range of the believer’s personal experience, including his relationships with the family, the church and the world around him.”[3]

This definition is important. Preaching must explain how matters ought to go, how they do go and what is the goal of the Christian life, and it must do so in terms of biblical truth.

In other words, there are two essential characteristics of good application: 1.) It is true to the text of Scripture. The preacher should be able to clearly demonstrate from the text why the application he is presenting to the congregation is reasonable. Too often, application fails here. Instead of making applications to life on the basis of the text of Scripture, the preacher uses the Scripture as a diving board for him to talk about his own personal opinion of how he thinks ought to go, how they do go, and what is the goal of the Christian life. 2.) It is true to real life.
I, for one, am tired of all the fuzzy generalities and worn out clichés that preachers often use
when trying to apply Scripture to the lives of those listening. By their careful exegesis, many
expository preachers make it clear they are familiar with the world of the Bible, but by their out
of touch applications, they make people wonder whether they have a clue about the world in
which their contemporary audience lives.

The expository preacher must not only exegete Scripture, he must think carefully about how Scripture exegetes people. Specifically he might ask himself: 1.) What does this passage teach me about the way people think, feel, or do? 2.) What does this passage teach me about what people need? 3.) What problem does this passage address? What are several different ways that problem expresses itself in our lives today? 4.) What comfort does this passage give? What does that comfort tell me about people’s real needs? 5.) What are some common objections people have to what this passage teaches? How does my own heart object to what this passage teaches? 6.) What are some specific ways people live contrary to what this passage teaches? What are some biblical examples of ways characters in Scripture lived contrary to the teaching of this passage? 7.) What are some specific ways people have applied this passage to their lives effectively? What are some biblical examples of ways characters in Scripture applied the teaching of this passage to their lives?

[1] Jay Adams, Essays on Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1983) p.10
[2] Tim Keller, Preaching in a Postmodern City,,, accessed Jan. 28,2005.
[3] Joel Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2005), p.425.

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