How much do you get out of the preaching you hear each week? The word “sermon” is derived from a Latin word which means “a stab or a thrust.” It is also a relationship between the preacher and the listener. The preacher must spend considerable time in sermon preparation, in prayer and in conditioning his own heart to deliver God’s word. Nevertheless, if the sermon is to be helpful and effective, it requires some input on the part of the listener. Some things are necessary for the listener to do if he is to benefit from a sermon.
* Pray. Spend some time praying for the preacher and ask God to give you an open mind to receive the truths that are presented.
* Have Your Bible in Hand. Using your Bible will help you keep your mind on what is being said. It will also be helpful to make notes in the margin as you listen. You will be doing the same noble work as the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
* Take Notes. If you write the main points and key scriptures it will keep you focused on the sermon and help you better remember what you hear.
* Stay Awake and Alert. A failure to do so will cause loss to you as the hearer and may result in a misunderstanding of the message and the messenger.
* Listen Attentively. Samuel Johnson said, “The true art of memory is the art of attention.” It truly requires a lot of hard work to develop the art of listening.
* Judge the Content. Don’t waste your time criticizing the preacher’s mistakes in grammar, inflection, voice quality and style, Concentrate on what he is saying.
* Discuss the Sermon With Others. Discuss the sermon with members of your family or with friends, not critically but with a desire to profit from the discussion. Determine that you will put the things learned from each lesson into practice in your own life.
The word “passion” is defined in a variety of ways, depending on what dictionary you consult or which person you ask. There is, of course, the romantic sense of the term as it relates to physical attraction. And I’m sure glad God built that beautiful capacity into us when he created man and woman. But that’s not my focus here.
People are passionate about lots of different kinds of things. Sports and competition. Work and career. Art and music. Health and fitness. Service and volunteerism. Church and worship. Politics and power. Recreation and hobbies. Cars and trucks. You name it, someone out there is all eaten up with it!
Our personal passion motivates us and drives us toward excellence. It can give our life a greater sense of meaning and provide much-needed direction.
Recently, Mr. David Shannon, the newly appointed 16th president of Freed-Hardeman University, addressed the student body, faculty, staff and board of trustees in chapel. He issued us with a challenge: to live with passion.
Whether it comes to our academic pursuits or personal goals, we were encouraged to work passionately at it. To pour ourselves into it. Give it our very best. However, to do it all for the glory of God. President Shannon, in speaking to the faculty and staff the day before had posed the following evocative question: Out of all your interests and passions, if you could only put one of these in a box — representing the top priority — what would it be?
For me, that’s a tough question to answer. I love my wife and kids, my teaching, preaching, counseling and writing career, the pursuit of outdoor adventure, and so much more. My life can often feel divided and — to be perfectly honest — pretty compartmentalized at times. I wanted to put all those things in my “box.” But I pushed myself to choose one only: Jesus Christ.
President Shannon challenged us to keep our eternal God as the top priority in our lives, the one Person who shapes the way we think, informs what we believe, and influences how we behave and respond in everything we do.
So, what are you truly passionate about? What’s the one thing that sets the tone and trajectory of your entire life? Solomon put it this way in Ecclesiastes 12:13 “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Everything in our life must point to God. Our dreams. Our goals. Our aspirations. Our talents. Our resources. Our relationships. Our achievements. Absolutely all of it! You see, it all ultimately belongs to our eternal God and is because of him.
As Christians, we share some general callings, such as evangelism, worship and benevolence. However, we also have individual callings, things quite distinct to each one of us. God has wired you uniquely. There’s no one else on earth exactly like you. You have no carbon copy. The Creator has endowed you with special gifts, talents, and provides you with unique opportunities to use them while you grow and serve.
Mediocrity is not an option for Christians. Neither is average. President Shannon told us his mother once said to him that, “Average is just as far from the top as it is from the bottom.” We have a higher calling and a higher standard, precisely because we belong to Christ. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for me, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Here are some more questions to ponder:
• Does your passion show? In other words, can those around you tell without a shadow of a doubt what you are passionate about?
• How does your passion influence your thoughts and actions? How does it drive your behavior? In other words, what real difference does it make in your life?
• Are you channeling and harnessing your talents to do not just good things, but the best things in serving God? In other words, to what degree are you mobilizing your passion to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ?
Jesus encouraged his followers to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6) and to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
A preacher, a missionary and an elderly woman arrived at the pearly gates of Heaven. To their surprise, they did not find the apostle Peter there, but another gatekeeper. Though the heavenly being was different, the question was one that they all had anticipated and were eager to answer: “Why should I allow you to enter Heaven?” The preacher replied, “Well, I was in the ministry more than forty years; I planted churches, evangelized and wrote many books and pamphlets.” The heavenly gatekeeper then asked, “Yes, but do you know Jesus?” Somewhat irritated, the minister answered, “Would I have done all these things if I had not known Him?” The gatekeeper then asked the missionary, “Why should I allow you to enter Heaven?” The missionary sighed, “I worked among a Stone Age tribe for years. Through my ministry, the whole tribe was converted. I taught the people to read, did translation work, and treated their sick.” “Yes, but do you know Jesus?” The missionary replied adamantly, “Could anyone have achieved this without knowing Him?” Finally, the gatekeeper posed the same question to the woman: “Why should I allow you to enter Heaven?” Her achievements were not that impressive. She went to church, read her Bible, prayed and helped in her own little way wherever she could. “Do you know Jesus?” the gatekeeper asked at last. Suddenly, a radiant smile flashed across her face: “Yes, of course, Lord! I recognized you right away!”
At the very least, this fictitious story does make us think. While getting lost in doing many good works is entirely possible, they should spring forth from a true and deep knowledge of God. In John 6:44-45, Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall be all taught of God.” Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
Hosea said that God “…desired…the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). Jeremiah writes, “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”(31:34)
Paul apparently thought it was important when he penned, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Phil. 3:8). Jesus rebuked the lawyers when he stated, “Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” (Luke 11:52). If a knowledge of the truth will set us free (John 8:32), and Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), then a knowledge of Jesus Christ is imperative!
However, there is another aspect. The final question is so important—“Does Jesus know us?”
Matthew records His sobering words: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (7:21-23)
To go through life thinking that we are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ, and then to hear the words, “I never knew you” is a frightening thought. The Hebraistic usage of the word “knew” has the sense of approval and of knowledge favorable to the person in question. More important than the question, “Do we know Jesus?” is the question, “Does Jesus know us?”!
There are different approaches to expository preaching and it is beneficial to familiarize ourselves with them. First and probably the most effective approach is called sequential exposition. This approach is a consecutive, verse by verse series of sermons through entire books of the Bible. I have used this method in times past and this is what David has been doing in recent times on Sunday nights with 1 Peter. In sequential exposition, the expositor [preacher] would teach a book of the Bible beginning with chapter one verse one and unit by unit, read the text, expose the meaning of the text and make application of it to us today. This type of expository preaching should be the meat and potatoes of a preacher. Think about it. Almighty God gave us the books of the Bible with the material of each book in the sequential order that it is. What could be “better,” or more effective than studying and teaching it exactly the way God gave it to the original recipients? How is it possible that we could improve upon such an approach? I’m not saying that any other way is sinful necessarily; I’m saying what approach to studying and preaching could possibly be superior? This type of expository sermon is the exact opposite of regularly “skipping” around through the Bible, quoting verses from many various places and leaving the assembly in a head-spin. When a preacher preaches sequential exposition, every truth of that book will be given, every sin recorded will be exposed and every promise given will be taught. This will deepen the life of the congregation more than any of the other types.
Second, there is sectional exposition. This is when a sermon(s) covers a section [a unit] within a book of the Bible. For example, the expositor might do a series of sermons from Matthew chapters 5-7 - the Sermon on the Mount. Other examples could include: John 13-16, 1 Corinthians 13, or even The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
Third, there is topical/thematic exposition. These are sermons regarding certain truths. With this approach, the preacher/teacher will select a particular doctrine of Scripture such as “repentance” - he will then gather the key texts and put them on a strand. When this type of sermon is taught, the preacher still strives to preach said verses with their original settings and contexts in mind. The benefit is to consider what the totality of God’s word teaches on a particular subject. “The entirety of Your word is truth.” (Psalm 119:160).
Fourth, there is biographical exposition. This is a very beneficial type of sermon where people from Scripture are studied carefully. There is much to learn from the people recorded in Scripture - both godly and wicked people. For example, a study of Genesis 11-26 could focus on the father of the faithful - Abraham or by preaching Genesis 37-50 one could teach about Joseph.
Fifth, there is the single stand alone exposition. This type of sermon is rooted in a passage of Scripture where the expositor preaches an isolated text that meets a particular legit need and not be a part of a series. Such can be great for the Sunday after a faithful sister in Christ died the day before and the preacher preaches 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. The title of the sermon could be “The Comfort of His Coming.” The thesis and the outline/points of his sermon might be that we are comforted by the: (1) Fact of Revelation [4:13, 15a] (2) Fact of His Return [4:14-15] (3) Fact of the Resurrection [4:15-16] (4) Fact of a Reunion [4:17-18].
In all of these, the contextual meaning of each verse is of first importance, then an application to our lives today. Each type of sermon can bebeneficial in many ways. Ultimately, may Jesus Christ be glorified!
What is expository preaching? Expository is an adjective that describes the kind of preaching; its root word is exposit, a verb which means to explain, to expound, to inform, to describe, to define, to expose information and its meaning. An expositor of God’s word reads the Bible text, explains the text and exhorts with the text. Paul wrote “until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13 NASB). To exposit God’s word is to open up the meaning of the text and show its relevance. “Preaching” is a noun and it stands on the shoulders of teaching. Preaching meddles with peoples lives, it reaches higher than mere teaching in tone and trajectory. Preaching involves: declaration, application, confrontation, edification, persuasion, conviction, correction, invitation and affirmation with passion. Exposition without preaching is all content with no challenge which creates a congregation that is stoic, cold and lifeless. It results in all hearing and little doing - a congregation with little personality and passion. Preaching without exposition is all hot air. It is loud, but has no life. It’s shallow, superficial and is surface. Preaching without exposition is all style with no substance; all theatrics with no theology. The result will be unconverted people. The Holy Spirit commanded “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Expository preaching is communicating the real and essential meaning of a passage of Scripture as it existed in the mind of the Bible author, considering it as it exists in the overall context of Scripture.
Marks of Expository Preaching
First and foremost, expository preaching is text driven! It starts with the text of Scripture, stays with the text, explaining it and applying it. Such preaching says what the text says, goes where the text goes, warns what the text warns and promises what the text promises [where applicable].
Second, expository preaching is a commitment to the Bible. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..” (2 Timothy 3:16). God is speaking this present hour, through His written word and we need to hear it!
Third, expository preaching is commitment to inerrancy. “In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2). Every word of Scripture is flawless and without blemish (cf. Proverbs 30:5).
Fourth, expository preaching is based on the infallibility of God’s word. Isaiah wrote “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God stands forever” (40:8). Jesus taught that the word of God cannot be broken (John 10:35).
Fifth, expository preaching rests on the authority of Scripture. The psalmist wrote, “the law of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7). Note, the law of the Lord - not His suggestions. The authority is in the fact that it is God’s word not mans.
Sixth, expository preaching relies on the sufficiency of Scripture. God’s word will do all God intends it to do within His will - “…so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
Seventh and finally, scripture is immutable. It is forever the same. It is settled in heaven and cannot be altered - “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalms 119:89). I would encourage you to expect and demand this type of preaching. To be continued...
Generally speaking there are three types of sermons: Topical, Textual and Expository. The most popular and probably the most used of these is the topical sermon. Unfortunately this is the most dangerous of the three types of sermons. What is a topical sermon? Usually a topical sermon is when the speaker/preacher thinks of a thought/topic and then goes to the Bible to find that particular thought/topic. If the preacher is not careful, the Bible becomes a “jumping off place.” They start with a particular verse and then go from place to place in the Bible to “prove” their point. To be truthful, this style is often preaching about the Bible not preaching the Bible. The great danger with this type of preaching is imposition on the text; putting things in the Bible that are not there to begin with. This is easy to do seeing that we live 2,000 years removed from the events of the New Testament books. We first must try to understand the books of the Bible in their context and then make an application to our day and time. The topical sermon is most common among “TV evangelist,” where, intended or not, they take a verse of Scripture or two out of it’s context and make it say things to people today that God did not intent. However, a topical sermon does not have to be completely bad given that the preacher/speaker makes sure that verses that he presents are true to their context (More will be said about this at a future time).
The second most popular type of sermon is a textual sermon. This can be a good approach, but again, as with the topical sermon, it often turns into an imposition on the text. A textual sermon is characterized by the use of one or two verses but again, perhaps with little to no consideration being given to the context and historical background. Neither of these types of sermons is the best way in my judgment.
The third type of sermon is an expository sermon. Before we consider what an expository sermon is in detail, let’s identify what right preaching is not. Right preaching is not:
(2) an essay
(3) a theological discourse
(4) a running commentary
(5) exegesis [this is done in personal study]
(6) a homily [read through and talk about it as you read it]
(7) necessarily structured by three points
(8) an alliterated outline
(9) Seeker sensitive preaching [begins w/a felt need, not with the Bible]
(10) Improvisational preaching [casual, laid back where the preacher is the actor and the message is the script]
(11) Imaginative preaching [Beyond the Scripture like Rob Bell]
(12) Positive thinking preaching [Robert Shuller and Joel Olsteen]
(13) Culture Driven preaching [D. James Kennedy and Jeremiah Wright]
(14) Just moralistic sermons [No exegesis, just application; just alist of do’s and don’ts]
(15) Psychological preaching [Syndromes and complexes; No theology, it’s theory]
(16) Narrative [Long emotional content, personal stories with no propositional truth]
(17) Text spring boarding [Something you hear at the beginning but never hear again, where the text is not handled nor explained]
(18) Data Dumping preaching [Where sermon becomes a lecture of disconnected thoughts, a digest of word studies, no challenge, appeal, passion or summons]
(19) Decision-istic preaching [John 3:16 every Sunday, 20 minute sermon with 20 minute invitation just to get someone to walk the isle].
What then is right preaching? It’s “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Simply put, right preaching is to preach the word of God, nothing more, nothing less. The expository sermon is the most effective way to relay the word of God in the way God gave it. Stay tuned for more regarding expository preaching.