Disciplines for Expository Preparation – Part 3

Theological Instruction in the Preparation of Sermons

Preaching is a message from God; therefore, it is theology. Since theology is always present in preaching, it is “God talk.”[1] Peter exhorts his readers always to be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15), and this requires a foundation of doctrinal certainty. In other words, Peter encourages those to whom he writes to defend the gospel to which they have devoted themselves. It is from this word defense (apologia) where our English word “apologetics” comes.[2] Therefore, a defense of the gospel necessitates theological knowledge. If pastors are to correctly interpret and understand the doctrinal truth of which is contained within the biblical text, the only result when one preaches is “theology coming through a man who is one fire.”[3]

Lloyd-Jones states that the chief end of preaching is to give people a sense of God and his presence.[4] Since God and his presence are understood and experienced through His Son, Jesus Christ, preaching must be Christological. For preaching to be Christological, it must be centered upon and solely focused on Christ.This was the message the reformers proclaimed, Solus Christus. Joel Beeke affirms that if one loses any sense of Christ in their preaching, the substantial tenant of Christianity is forsaken.[5]

Such theological instruction in preaching requires an attitude of devotion to God and his Word, focusing upon learning all truth contained within Holy Scripture. It is similar to Packer’s method of theologizing which involves developing one’s theological framework from the Scriptures rather than from another scholar’s work.[6] Therefore, theological knowledge does not only come from Bible colleges or seminaries – though such formal education is beneficial to those who can obtain it. Instead, theological knowledge should begin with one’s study of the Bible. Hence, this knowledge that comes from one’s study of the Bible should translate into every facet of one’s preaching. Tom Nettles offers a similar approach in his principles for preachers: 1) preaching should propagate doctrine, and 2) preaching is the product of doctrine.[7]

In other words, Nettles is suggesting that preaching is doctrinal from its beginning. Doctrine and theology fuel the sermon and fill it with content. Thus, an absence of doctrine is no sermon worth preaching. The propagation of doctrine is the beginning of the pastor’s efforts to develop and construct a sermon. However, the development of doctrine in the exegetical stage of preparation does not fizzle out as the process moves forward; instead, it stays the course throughout until the pastor closes his Bible on Sunday evening. Thus, the necessity of theological instruction is to instruct a congregation in the knowledge and truth of God.

Pastors do their congregation a disservice when there is an absence of theological instruction in their preaching. Many pastors spend their time looking into cultural trends and fads that, they believe, aid in their preaching. However, they neglect the notion that God’s Word is sufficient to fill the content for their sermon. Yet, many congregants do not understand the weight of theology, so they ignore it altogether. They ignore the reality that knowledge of anything at all is knowledge of God.[8] Consequently, what many Christians they do not understand is that the very nature of Christian truth is theological. This reality does not imply that preaching ought to be incomprehensible. Instead, it aims to strengthen its content with biblical truth rather than stories or material from popular culture. The Bible is sufficient to fend for itself; therefore, pastors must do, as Spurgeon says, “give a clear testimony to all the doctrines which constitute or lie around the gospel.”[9]

The centrality of the gospel in theological instruction must be the goal of every pastor as he proclaims the message of God in Christ each week. However, the reality one must realize is that theological instruction is gibberish without application.

Application in the Preparation of Sermons

If a pastor’s sermon lacks application, his sermon is void of the characteristics necessary for Christian proclamation.[10] Expository preaching in general is absent unless there is application of exposed truth to the hearers. York explains, “Our job is more than just explaining the text. Our job is to make it vibrant, fresh, and accessible.”[11] Application is accomplished best by having a central idea in which to communicate the entire sermon in one short sentence. Some scholars call this a central theme,[12] while others name it the big idea.[13] Regardless of one’s terminology, the sermon should have one main proposition explaining how the passage of Scripture relates to the listener.

An important exhortation to aid pastors in applying their sermons is to preach from their hearts to the hearts of their hearers.[14] The application of the biblical text should affect the pastor before it ever applies to those under his proclamation. The pastor’s heart must be like the psalmist who declares, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24)! Only truth that applies to the heart of the pastor will more readily apply to the listener.[15] The Puritan preachers embody this principle in the most substantial ways. They were conscious of every single effort to reach the heart of their congregation by the format of which they proclaim the gospel.[16] Thus, the goal of preaching is so the Word of God will be at work in the pastor, which will translate to the working of God in the hearts of the congregation (1 Thess. 2:13). However, for the pastor to apply biblical truth correctly to his hearers, he must be present in their lives and be able to observe how his congregants live.

Observing Life in the Preparation of Sermons

Observing life is a phrase claiming that pastoral leadership comes best by characterizing relational ministry with his congregation.[17] When pastors are shepherds, they understand the necessity of spending time with their sheep. Shepherding is never successful if there is no time spent with the sheep of which they are in charge. Therefore, pastors must spend time with those under their leadership and care.

Unless the pastor is spending adequate time with his people, he will have difficulty applying his sermons to those sitting in the pew. This type of preaching is what the Puritans of old call experiential preaching.[18] Capill proffers the same advice to his readers with a probing question: “If we can’t connect the dots between biblical truth and life as it really is, what makes us think our people will after the sermon?”[19] Thus, the observation of life is necessary to apply the sermon carefully to those under his watch and care.

Conclusion

The disciplines for expository preparation are necessary for the pastor’s soul care, but they are also necessary to aid in the pastor’s construction of his sermon.

Though this list of disciplines is not exhaustive, they do prompt pastors to step back and take an honest look at their sermon preparation. Submitting himself to Christ through prayer, meditation, and Bible intake will allow the pastor to begin his sermon preparation with a clear mind and a pure heart because it will focus on growth in holiness that is only aided by the Spirit of God.

However, once the spirituality of the pastor is in full view, his sanctification is the focal point of his spiritual life. The sanctification of the pastor is necessary for the pastor to embody the faithful yet fruitful Christian life. This, then, will allow the pastor to interpret the Bible with pure motives and without sinful presuppositions as he exegetes the text he will be preaching. Yet, the pastor must not only search for the meaning of the text, but also the theological underpinnings detailed within. Only then can the pastor apply the sermon to his listeners. By building relationships with his congregants, he can determine the most appropriate ways to communicate the text from his heart to the heart of his listeners because he has observed life with them.


[1] Robert R. Smith, “Theology, Preaching, and Pastoral Ministry” in Theology, Church, and Ministry: A Handbook for Theological Education (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 340.

[2] Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 208.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 110.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 402.

[6] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 113.

[7] Thomas J. Nettles. The Privilege, Promise, Power, and Peril of Doctrinal Preaching (Greenbrier, AR.: Free Grace Press, 2018), 5-6.

[8] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1987), 128.

[9] Spurgeon, Lectures, 74.

[10] R. Scott Pace. Preaching by the Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018), 50.

[11] York and Decker, Bold Assurance, 7.

[12] Ibid., 139.

[13] Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 31-48.

[14] Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 320.

[15] Pace, Preaching by the Book, 51.

[16] For a wonderful and clear presentation of the Puritans and their application of Scripture, see Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 369-384.

[17] Capill, The Heart is the Target, 81-96.

[18] For a definition of experiential preaching, see Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 23-42.

[19] Capill, The Heart is the Target, 90.