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How to prepare an expository sermon.
Preaching is not about sharing one’s opinions. It has to do with the infallible truth of the text of Scripture and making known the message it seeks to convey.
Expository preaching is going through something of a mini-renewal in our days and today I want to offer ten tips about how to prepare an expository message.
Praying must accompany the preacher in every step of the message. It is vital to maintain an ongoing spirit of prayer before we get into the pulpit, once we are in the pulpit and even when we have come down from the pulpit. Every great preacher in the annals of Christian history has dedicated much time to prayer.
So preachers should intercede continually before the Lord for the Word sown to penetrate the hearts of their people. “Lord, enlighten their understanding! Open their eyes and ears so that they may see and hear wonders in your blessed Word!”
2.- Read and re-read the text
It is important to read the text from which we are going to preach time and time again. In fact, it is also a good idea to learn if off by heart. As well as honing in upon the immediate context of the verses surrounding our text, we do well to read the previous and following chapters so as to grasp the line of thought of the biblical author. We cannot preach from Romans 3 without taking Romans 2 or 4 into account.
3.- Take note of the literary genre
Another point worth noting down is the literary genre of the book. Is it a historical book like Chronicles or poetic like the Psalms or wisdom literature like Ecclesiastes or is it a doctrinal epistle? Understanding the literary genre of our text will help us to interpret the passage more faithfully.
For instance, we cannot interpret apocalyptic literature or poetic literature in the same way as we do a historical text. Generally speaking, it is a lot easier and less dangerous to preach upon a doctrinal letter than a poetical text because epistles tend to be much clearer and less symbolic in nature.
4.- Study the historical context
It is almost impossible to fathom the depths of Scripture without taking its historical context into serious consideration. Not only is the historical context vital but any extra information about the author of the book also comes in handy. All of these observations can help us appreciate a book’s distinctive features and produce a richer sermon.
If we compare Matthew’s Gospel with Mark’s one, we can see immediately how the latter emphasizes the dynamism and power of Christ as his Gospel is sent to the Romans whereas the former is a lot more concerned about how Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Scriptures because Matthew was writing for Jewish converts to Christianity.
5.- Analyze the central idea (and the grammar) carefully
If you know your passage quite well, it will be a lot easier to identify the central idea and the subordinate ideas that turn up in it. In almost every case, the most important words of any verse are the verbs. Now, adjectives, nouns, adverbs and conjunctions also have their part to play; but the real meaning of biblical verses are contained in their verbs: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” (John 3:16).
It is always worth jotting down the verse on a loose piece of paper with the central idea at the top and the subordinate ideas below, connecting them with arrows, pictures, symbols, etc.
6.- Connect your passage to biblical theology
Each text finds itself in a given book, but it also has a place in the grand overarching scheme of salvation history. The evangelical preacher should always seek to connect his passage he is studying to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the text will make explicit mention of Christ therefore this step is unnecessary; but more often than not, above all in books where Christ is not explicitly named, one should think about how the passage relates to Him (without abusing the text of course!)
7.- Draw up an outline
After settling the central idea of the text, we can now move along to draw up our outline. The outline helps a lot whilst we preach. Sadly, many contemporary sermons go in scores of different directions and when the message is over, nobody has understood a word.
This, in all honesty, is not the congregation’s fault but the preacher’s. We may have done a wonderful literary, historical and grammatical study; but if our thoughts are not clearly structured, many of our listeners will leave the church confused.
The goal of the preacher should be to make sure his people understand his message clearly so that when they get home they know exactly what has been preached from the Word.
8.- Add illustrations and applications
Illustrations and applications are two very simple ways that Protestant preachers have always used to make their sermons easier to grasp.
Illustrations are great because they teach deep truths in simple fashion. If there are philosophically-orientated folk in your church, they will get your key message right away because their world is the realm of concepts. But most folk learn by means of illustrations.
A good example when speaking about the doctrine of double imputation is that of a judge declaring a guilty criminal as innocent because someone else pays the debt in the sinner’s place.
Applications are also important as they prevent the sermon from being a mere flowery discourse. The doctrine of the Word preached must be pressed home into the hearts of our hearers.
9.- Read other books
After studying a text, there is no harm in finding out what other preachers have said about the passage in question. Bible commentaries are always a good idea. Before I preach, I usually read what John MacArthur and John Piper have said about my text. Sometimes they give me new ideas and at times they correct false ideas I had read into the passage.
Once everything is in order, there is nothing more to do but to wait for the meeting to begin and to stand up in the name of the Lord to preach the mighty Word. If we know that we have been faithful to the text in our preparation time, we will surely enjoy the blessing of the Lord as we preach for the Lord has promised to honour those who honour His Word.
The same Spirit who inspired the Scriptures will accompany us as we preach. We will be aware of a power that is not our own as we open Sacred Writ. Such moments are unforgettable and we pray for them week after week.
Then, time will come to get down from the pulpit, filled with the Spirit and with one’s heart full of peace until the next time we start to prepare another message...