Sermon Preparation Part 1 – Text Choice and Exegesis – by C. Matthew McMahonSermon Preparation and Guidelines for Expository Preaching
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“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Choosing, then Parsing the Text
Aside from reliance on the Holy Spirit, deep prayer and eminent piety of the minister, the first step in preparing a sermon or series for preaching, is not to start looking through your commentaries in hopes of being inspired by something somebody else said 200 years ago. Nor is sermon preparation part of soap-boxing, rendering the congregation bound to listen to your current personal study on a certain vain and finer point of your own biblical devotion. The pastor’s commission is to preach God’s word, God’s intent, to the congregation in the place and time in which they live, which considers their current spiritual need of Jesus Christ.
In initial preparation (see Ezra 7:10 for Ezra’s disposition before he preached), the first step is the Pastor’s reliance on the Holy Spirit in personal piety. In his communion with God, certain spiritual dimensions are opened to him. He has a specific line of communication with God in his prayer closet, biblical meditation and study time, and there he presses God to illuminate his understanding in choosing the best course of action for preaching on behalf of the people. He will need to be spiritually sensitive to the needs of the congregation (not simply choosing a text he would like to preach on or about), and spiritual sensitivity does not mean that he has a fear of men. In choosing his biblical text, certain circumstances should be considered: the current fallout of God’s providence with the church, the needs of individuals and families, the various economic situations of those in the church, the varied spiritual circumstances and climate of the church, and the like. The pastor should have a solid grasp of the current spiritual temperature of the church. He should have, so to speak, his finger on the pulse of the congregation. Consideration of this is in part a help to the sensible use of biblical material in setting forth a series or topic for consecutive preaching. In more special occasions the pastor will consider preaching a single sermon even while he is amidst a series of sermons currently. Maybe he is preaching through Ephesians, yet, a sudden providence in the church concerns the need for the wise stewardship of financial resources, or the need for special prayer, or the need to for cheerful giving, or a funeral. He may pause on purpose from series “A” to give one specific sermon, or maybe two, on a particular topic which is immediately needed. Again, the pastor will determine the need for this in his spiritual circumspection.
Once he has prayed and considered those generalities mentioned above, he will come to be impressed with a particular text of Scripture where he will in no way offer something new or novel to the congregation. Instead, his intention is to preach God’s intention found in the text. He is to knit the mind of the congregation to the mind of God. In finding out God’s intention, there are certain exegetical tools which ought to be placed in the forefront of study.
First, whatever passage has been chosen, and for our example, we will use Luke 16:1-8, the parable of the unjust steward, we want to read the context that the passage is found. In this case one “might” consider that “chapter” 16 is all we need, but no, it is in a greater context of Luke 15, and may even stretch as far back to chapter 14. Consider, “He also said,” in the beginning of the passage. There is more to this passage, and such things must be looked into. It is the responsibility of the exegete to keep the passage in context. If the text were Proverbs 16:1, such considerations would radically change the overall context. But for this example, the chapters before and after should be read to keep the idea and flow of the thought of the writer. Some homiletic works will suggest reading the entire book (such as the Gospel of Luke in this case) to keep a full orbed view of whole purpose of the chapter, and or passage in Luke’s intent.
Once we’ve read the chapters before and after a few times, we then focus our attention on the original language of our passage. If the exegete is unfamiliar or does not have the ability to work in the original languages, there is a need to become familiar with them, and at least in the interim, he should have aids that will help him consider, not simply word studies, but syntax and grammar. I would suggest a solid software program such as Bibleworks. See some of work that can be accomplished this way in the images to the left.
The passage should parsed out by its structure both in the original language and current language of the exegete if possible. It should in fact be translated. Current English translations often have deviations, liberally, that change the meaning of the text in very nuanced ways, or good translation work will also open up something not readily seen. We want to be sure we know what those are.
Once we are satisfied in our translation, we want to find out the point of the passage, its key concepts and its direction, flow or structure. This is not necessarily something the exegete finds by simply reading through the passage. It must be broken down.
In the images provided, there are two examples of parsing out the text, and in this case, the text is Luke 16:1-8.
” He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. “So he called him and said to him,`What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ “Then the steward said within himself,`What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. `I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first,`How much do you owe my master?’ “And he said,`A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him,`Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ “Then he said to another,`And how much do you owe?’ So he said,`A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him,`Take your bill, and write eighty.’ “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”
As you can see from the illustrations on the right side, the breakdown of the passage in that way gives the exegete insight into key concepts, subjects of the narrative, flow of thought, and the manner in which the passage was initially laid out in the intended structure by the Holy Spirit. In the particular case of Luke 16, this passage is set up as a parable, but it is also set up as a ballad, or a type of poetic structure. Not only do we find it to be laid out in a parallel fashion, but it is typical in the way Luke deals with his parables. In Old Testament Hebrew poetry we often find parallelism as its chief characteristic for emphasis. We can generally see parallelism when two or more lines “parallel” each other for the intended purpose of making a point. Generally we find a synonymous parallelism, antithetic parallelism, and synthetic parallelism. Synonymous parallelism shows the same teaching or point in different ways. For example, “Turn in your account of your stewardship…” parallels, “for you can no longer be steward.” (If it were an antithetic parallelism it would contrast two or more lines, and in a synthetic parallelism one line intensifies the other.)