maT = Text

Few among our number doubt the authority of God’s Word.  We’ve gotten our theology right.  We even hold our theology passionately.  Who among us does not feel a bit emotional when he recalls that he is called to “preach the word”?  But, if our only authority is that from God given us in the text of Scripture, how does that guide us in our actual preaching?

Our bibliology must inform and govern our homiletics.  Our exegesis must govern our sermon crafting.  The text must govern the entire process of sermon preparation and delivery.  Today there is great want of text-driven preaching.  The rage is for market-driven preaching.  The result is often a psychologizing of the text of Scripture that reads it first through the lenses of my experience rather than that of the original readers.  Rather than being bound to the sacred text and governed by it from start to finish, the text often becomes a springboard that provides little more than a theme that then launches the preacher off on his own fancied flight.  The danger is to become what David Potter asserts our nation’s advertizing agencies have become, communicators intent not on “finding an audience to hear their message but rather with finding a message to hold their audience” (David M. Potter, People of Plenty, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954, p.183).  In such a pursuit the structure of the message too often bears no resemblance to the structure of the text itself.  This problem is not new.  Even Luther lamented the problem in his day.

This is the way it has gone with preaching. . . . After the text of the Gospel is read, they take us to fairyland.  One preaches from Aristotle and the heathen books, another from the papal decretals.  One brings questions about blue ducks, another about hen’s milk . . . In short, this is the art in which nobody sticks to the text, from which people might have had the Gospel. (quoted in Henry Grady Davis, Design for Preaching, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958, 91.)

If we want authority in our preaching, we must expose the authoritative text of Scripture.  We must leave people looking with appreciation at their Bibles rather than in awe at us.  Luke spoke of those who were “servants of the word” (Luke 1:2), and he used the title as a badge of honor.  Run that phrase through your mind again, “servants of the word.”  The word of God gives the orders.  The word of God dictates.  The word of God governs.  The word of God rules, commands and directs.  Does it do so in the study as we craft our messages?

Our goal is to preach what the Bible says.  But our goal must be more than simply this.  Our goal must be to preach what the Bible says, in the way the Bible says it.  Do you discern the difference?  A man may preach from I Samuel 17 about David’s confrontation with Goliath.  He may wax eloquent about five smooth stones needed to slay the giants in our lives.  He may select as his “stones” homiletical gems such as Bible reading, prayer, obedience, fellowship and witness.  What he says may be Biblical, but has he been a servant of the word?  Or has he made the word serve his purposes?  He may have preached Biblical truth, but did he present it as the Bible presents it?  In other words, is that the point of the story of David and Goliath?  Was it God’s intent in breathing forth that Scripture that we should focus on the stones David put in his pouch?  Or is there another meaning, that, if discovered through sweaty exegesis in the study during the week and allowed to mold the structure and substance of the message, will yield divine authority in the pulpit on Sunday?

Some preach textually, some topically, and still other expositorily.  If we, who are responsible for the ongoing diet of the people committed to our charge, are to nourish them and build them up over time we must make our preferred form of preaching that of expository preaching.  While any of these forms of preaching may be deemed Biblical in a given instance, it is expository preaching that most ardently guards us from imbalance and personal preferences.  A commitment to expository preaching drives you back again and again to the text of Scripture, modeling for our people how to handle a passage so as to come to God’s intended meaning and application.  When we faithfully preach expositorily we not only expose them to the meaning of that passage, we open, over time, a method of approach to other Scriptures they will encounter in their own walk with God.  This is especially so when we are committed to lectio continua (systematic preaching through books of the Bible).

I define expository preaching as that form of proclamation which, in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, arises from and is delivered through a study of the grammatical, syntactical, literary, historical, contextual, theological and cultural elements of a given biblical text and seeks to convey the abiding and authoritative principles that are inherent in that text and were primary in the author’s intention in such a way that the enduring relevance of the Scriptures are made plain for the contemporary listener. Note again the words: “arises from and is delivered through.”  Though the pulpit is not the place for the dumping of unprocessed information gained in the study, the preacher by means of selectivity and homiletical crafting nevertheless guides the people to discover what he has already discovered as he has been before God.

This means that the main points and my sub-points of my message should arise from the text itself.  I need to not only gain my main points from the text before me, I must wrestle with the text until I can sufficiently support that main thought from it with sub-points.  Then, and only then, am I ready to add supportive Scriptures that may add weight to the argument of the Divine Writer of Scripture in the text before me.  It has been suggested that cross referencing while preaching is the lazy man’s way to fill time. Though I may not like it, this is probably correct more often than I care to admit.  Developing the selected pericope holds me close to the sacred text in the development of what I say on God’s behalf.  In addition it is more likely to assure that I am saying what God is saying, and that I am saying it in the way He has said it.  I must discover the mood of the passage and make that the mood of my message.  I must labor to reflect the symmetry of the passage in the symmetry of my message.  Few of us would ever preach a sermon that was not Scripture-based.  Yet we must strive for more than simply being Scripture-based, we must wrestle until our messages are Scripture-shaped.  In all things and in every way I must strive to be text-driven.  This will build believers on the words of God.

At root in our homiletics from start to finish are these two questions:

  • Do I trust the Word of God?
  • Do I trust the God of the Word?

Having answered both questions in the affirmative, then there is plenty of room for creativity, growth, improvement, learning and personality.  But in the end do I trust the efficacious and living word of God or am I relying upon my ingenuity, cleverness and creativity?  If I trust the latter, I may tickle ears, but people will leave hungry and with bloating stomachs.  If I rest on the former, people will be nourished, built up and established in the faith.  I must ask myself:  Am I text-driven and market-sensitive or market-driven and merely text-sensitive?