Archive for the ‘Sermon notes’ Category

THE INTEGRITY OF THE TEXT AND PREACHING (Pt. 5)

Fourth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur were equally committed to serious study in their sermon preparation. Possessing commanding intellects, these two master expositors feverishly devoted themselves to the diligent study of the Scripture. The depth of their sermon preparation has determined the breadth of their ministry. Both men have labored to search the Scripture in order to discover its essential meaning, key doctrines, and timeless principles.

Digging Into the Scripture

As a promising medical student, Lloyd-Jones knew the discipline required in rigorous academic study. Following his demanding schooling, he joined the staff of the foremost teaching hospital in the world, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. There he became the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, a leading heart physician and doctor to the royal family. Under this privileged tutelage, Horder’s Socratic approach to logic and learning sharpened the intellectual prowess of this future preacher. Horder acclaimed Lloyd-Jones to be “the most acute thinker that I ever knew.”  Once converted and called into ministry, Lloyd-Jones applied his ingenious mind to the study of Scripture.

As Lloyd-Jones approached the Bible, it was as though he was examining a patient. Of each text, he asked probing questions, synthesized his findings, and determined the proper diagnosis. He said: “You have to question your text, to put questions to it, and especially this question—What is this saying? What is the particular doctrine here, the special message? In the preparation of a sermon, nothing is more important than that.”  In scrutinizing the Scripture, Lloyd-Jones insisted that his analysis must involve studying in the original languages. He stated that the Greek and Hebrew “are of great value for the sake of accuracy; no more, that is all. They cannot guarantee accuracy, but they promote it.”  Thus, he insisted, linguistic tools need to be employed in interpreting the Scripture. After digging into the text, Lloyd-Jones then urged the consulting “commentaries or any aids that you may choose to employ.”

In this pursuit, Lloyd-Jones’s entire life was “immersed in Scripture.”  Using the Robert Murray McCheyne system of daily Scripture reading, he poured over four passages of Scripture each day, two in the morning and two at night. Those who knew him best said: “He knew that Bible inside and out!”  For Lloyd-Jones, this gave him a thorough knowledge of the whole Bible. As he dug into each text, he looked for the doctrine taught therein. Lloyd-Jones said: “Biblical study is of very little value if it ends in and of itself and is mainly a matter of the meaning of the words.  The purpose of studying the Scripture is to arrive at its doctrine.”  Like a hard-working miner, he explored each passage until he extracted its theological gems, core doctrines, and biblical principles. Out of this daily reading and sermon preparation, he was armed with the truth and, in turn, preached the Word.

Rightly Dividing the Word

Hard study has been equally present in MacArthur’s sermon preparation. Iain Murray notes this relentless pursuit in study of the Scripture: “For forty-four or forty-five Sundays, through forty years, two new sermons have been prepared every week; in the early years it was three, as MacArthur also spoke at the church on Wednesday nights. The pattern of his week has been to give the best of his time, from Tuesday to Friday, to preparation for preaching.”  This regimented study has been consistent over the lengthy span of more than four decades.  Murray adds: “In early years, this meant some fifteen hours of work for each sermon; and he still requires from eight to ten hours.”  Week after week, month after month, year after year, MacArthur has devoted himself to the meticulous study of the biblical text. The deeper he has dug down into the text, the stronger his pulpit has grown.

Regarding his approach, MacArthur states: “I always begin by reading the whole book. It is imperative for the expositor to be familiar with the overall message and flow of the book before he begins preaching any passages from it.” In so doing: “I also read the introductory sections in several good commentaries” in order to “become familiar with the author of the book, the addresses, the book’s theme or purpose, the date of its writing, and other important background material.”  With the individual passage isolated, “I ask myself, “What is the primary message of this passage? What is the central truth? What is the main expositional idea?” Having found the main point, “I begin to look for the subordinate points that support it.”   Subsequently, “The next step is a detailed analysis of its words and grammar” to find “any problems in the passage, such as an important textual variant, an unusual word, or a difficult grammatical construction.” Then he will “diagram the passage” to become “aware of the grammatical structure.” At last, “I put together a
preliminary outline.”

MacArthur contends, “Rightly dividing the Word of truth demands great effort. It was originally written many years ago in very different contexts, today’s exegete has to work hard to bridge the gaps of language, culture, geography, and history. He must also do his best to understand the flow of the argument, as it would have been understood by its original readers” and “intended by its original human author.” In summary, MacArthur states, “The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you do not have the interpretation of the passage right, then you do not have the Word of God, because only the true meaning is the Word of God.”   Consequently, MacArthur has shown himself firmly committed to finding the proper interpretation of the biblical text. Until he has it, he realizes, he can proceed no further.

Article by Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Used with Permission.

reader question

An Expository Thoughts reader named Jacob writes, “[A recent] post on your web site reminded me of a question that I have never resolved myself (dealing with the pastor’s library of books and bookshelves). The question is, “Is there a good way to organize these books to make them easier to reference both electronically and physically?” So I thought that I would ask you. Any ideas? Or, can you recommend an article on the subject?”

On another note, be sure to check out this new blog called Biblical Preaching. We also like the look of their blog.

Sermon Evaluation Redux

I suggested here a few weeks ago that expositors should have some sort of mechanism in place whereby they are receiving regular feedback on their sermons. This feedback should be a balance between correction and encouragement. There is no one method of attaining this so I simply gave a few suggestions (some of which I’ve used and some remain untested). A few responses both on the blog and through private conversation questioned if such a thing is possible or beneficial. Suffice to say, if the last time you received constructive feedback was in a seminary classroom then you might be overdue. How about a few more examples?

Mark Dever regularly sits down with his army of interns to go over the message soon after it is preached. I’m sure this helps the preacher know what is affective and what is not. However, this also provides a teaching lab whereby young guys can see how a sermon is constructed and subsequently preached.

Josh Harris has recently confessed
that he emails his notes on Saturday to C. J. Mahaney and Bob Kauflin so they can give editorial feedback. Harris writes,

Two weeks ago, CJ took a full hour late Saturday to help me rework my message on 1 Cor. 7:1-7. His help was very important in striking the right tone and he crafted the closing comments that drew people’s attention to the “shadow of the cross” that fell across the passage. Bob consistently and speedily returns my manuscript with suggested edits that always help it be tighter and sharper. Many times he gives me better words in sections.

I’m aware that there are some negatives that could be raised against what I’m saying here. No pastor in his right mind would want to invite unfettered criticism from folks who know little of what they’re talking about. I’m not asking for Miss. Suzy Pew-warmer to let me know if I got the sense of the genitive correct or not. I’m also not suggesting that you mail your notes to your enemies. I’m arguing, that at a basic level we should have at least one or two men who love us enough to help us grow and flourish in the preaching ministry that Christ has called us to. However be warned because asking for sermon evaluation also highlights other issues in pastoral ministry. What sort of leaders have you surrounded yourself with? Have you created a ministry where you are “indispensable” or worse “unapproachable”? Were it not for key men along the way of my ministerial development I would have burned-out long ago and my sermons might have become nothing more than polished artifacts in the museum of washed-up preachers. By God’s grace through a few helpful brothers I can say with the Apostle, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

Question on Plagiarism

Charles writes Expository Thoughts with the following question. Everyone is welcome to respond in the comments.

A question about preaching sermons. Since plagiarism has come up from time to time. And the idea is to give credit for quotes, etc that you use in your sermons. How do you give credit to Greek Workbooks, Theological Dictionaries, Linguistic Workbooks. You can footnote those in your sermon notes, but how do you address the references to the people? I might use more than ten references in one sermons.

Charles

Sermon Evaluation

It probably goes without saying that personal sermon evaluation is one of the hardest disciplines to grasp. I identify with what my friend Rick (Holland) has often said, “after many sermons I feel ready to resign promising myself never to preach again.” A litany of questions flood the mind after delivering a sermon: Did I preach Christ with clarity? Did I clearly set-forth the meaning of God’s Word? Did I balance strong exhortation with loving encouragement? Did I leave the flock hungry or did I fill their plates? Questions abound and multiply.

To be sure I am convinced that there is a way in which a preacher can live that disqualifies him from ever preaching again (cf. 1 Cor.9:27, a topic for a later post). In short I believe this is a reflection of what he cultivates in his heart on a regular basis (whether holy or hellish). For added measure, no preacher should be without a shared accountability wherein brothers in Christ are provided free access to his “hidden life.”

However, I believe such accountability should extend to a pastor’s preaching as well. I realize many will disagree with what I’m about to say but I see the benefits of having men around me who will give me honest feedback about my preaching. I have seen pastors who surround themselves with “yes” men who never truly experience the sharpening process of shared leadership. In my church it is my fellow elders who give me this feedback. They do so with love, patience and carefully measured words. One of my elders prayed for three months before he shared a particular concern with me and my life is richer for it.

I often think back to seminary days where we would have the torture device known as “preaching labs” whereby fellow students and an instructor would provide feedback on sermons we preached in their midst. The “advice” would often range from silly to the truly helpful. However now I have a real preaching lab that is conducted every Sunday morning in real time with real people (btw: seminary students are not real people). What better place to measure progress and growth for the preacher. Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful and I would love to hear your feedback on this:

  • Take time to evaluate a couple of messages at each elder’s meeting. Ask hard questions and listen to everything that is said without getting into a defensive posture or argument.
  • Meet with younger men in the ministry and let them help you pick apart your sermon over breakfast. These are the guys who are filled-up with theology and lots of reading, if they didn’t get your sermon then few others probably did.
  • Go to thoughtful and trusted laymen and ask them how they are growing through the pulpit ministry. Ask them what you can do to be more effective as a communicator and teacher of the Word. Do you have any bad habits that make listening difficult or distract?
  • Here’s a hard one: do you preach too long (or too short)? Good and godly men disagree on the “how long” question. Piper rarely preaches past thirty minutes and MacArthur has rarely preached under an hour. I recently came to grips with the fact that I just preach far too long more often than not. There is nothing holy about wearing people out beyond what they can endure so the preacher must measure his economy of words and make them count.
  • Seek out the prayer warriors in your church and have them pray for all aspects of the sermon preparation and delivery.
  • I often work on my sermon up to the last minute, many times editing in the pew just before I preach. However, try to allow some time between final prep and the actual delivery. I often relish the Saturday’s where I can spend the day away from my notes and think through the various aspects of tomorrow’s sermon. Sometimes I only have an hour in the early Sunday AM to do this but it’s always helpful.
  • I would be interested to hear your thoughts and ideas on sermon evaluation.

The Secret to Being Thankful

The Secret to Being Thankful
(Psalm 107:10-16)

Three Reminders on the Path to a Grateful Heart:

  1. The Misery of Your Sin (10-12)
  2. The Mercy of Your God (13)
  3. The Magnitude of Your Deliverance (14-16)

To the degree that you are consistently gripped by these realities, giving thanks isn’t something you’ll have to discipline yourself to do; it isn’t something you’ll have to conjure up out of a sense of obligation; and it isn’t something you’ll do reluctantly. Giving thanks will be the unstoppable cry of a heart that is enraptured by the lovingkindness of God and His wonders to the sons of men. Have a great Thanksgiving!

WSJ on Sermon Plagiarism

The Wall Street Journal has a cover story on pastors who plagiarize their sermons entitled: “That Sermon You Heard on Sunday May Be From the Web”.

HT: Justin Taylor 

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