Archive for the ‘Sermon notes’ Category


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.


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 

CONFESSION: I have not always preached my own sermons

I have preached other men’s sermons word for word from the pulpit….and I’ll do it again! We’ve all heard of preachers doing this but my take on this is a little different. During the month of October our church tries to emphasize aspects of our Protestant-Reformation heritage. On Sunday evenings in October I preach from the sermons of notable figures that were either part of the Reformation or sought to promote its ongoing work in their public ministries.

Doing this affords me an opportunity to introduce key historical figures as I usually give a brief overview of their life before I preach. It also allows the congregation to hear sermons that have been used of God to shape His church through the centuries. I’m able to point out things for them to listen for and even make observations where the original preacher’s theme might have gotten in the way of his exegesis. In general I try to choose sermons that follow an expository format and stick closely to the text. Last year I preached:

  • Charles Spurgeon’s “Predestination and Calling” from Romans 8:30
  • John Calvin’s “Redemption by the Son of God” from Gal. 2:20-21
  • Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God” from Deut. 32:35

This year I will likely preach George Whitfield’s “The Resurrection of Lazarus” from John 11:43-44. For the others I am open to suggestions and if you have any thoughts or ideas let me know.

A Sermon Charge to High School Graduates (PT 2)

III. Third, you are a college student:

Ecclesiastes tells young people to “REJOICE in the days of their youth” (Eccl 11:9-10).
Yes it is spiritual to: Love life! To have a ton of fun! To truly enjoy the prime of life. You’ll only be a college student once, so live it up!!

Just remember the Biblical balance; Ephesians 5:16 commands us to, “Make the most of our time since the days are evil” Ecclesiastes 11:9 goes on to say, “Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young adulthood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” “Whatever you do, do all to His glory (1 Cor 10:31).” See your HW and your studies as a stewardship matter…Just don’t let your books get in the way of your fun too much! 

IV. Fourth, soon you will be a dormmate and a roommate:
One of the most refining aspects of college often takes place in the dorm room:

A) Here you will be tested, tried, and perhaps even tempted.

B) Here you will learn what it truly means to DIE to self.

Jesus said if anyone wishes to come after me, let him first DENY HIMSELF….(Luke 9:23)
Find ways to serve your roommate. Love her unconditionally.
Learn how you can become more like Jesus by embracing this relationship whole-heartedly
Even when you have the best roommate in the world their will be times when you feel like murdering someone…. My advice to you is simple: Resist that temptation!
 Embrace your difficult circumstances knowing they’re from the Lord (James 1:2-6).

C) In the dorms you will learn how you can humbly implement the principles found in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

D) Here you will learn how to resolve conflict Biblically-

Try to practice the “4 biblical rules of communication” from Ephesians 4.
1. Be honest!
2. Keep current!
3. Act, don’t react!
4. Attack the problem, NOT the person!
View your roommate & your dormmates as God’s sovereign agents, sent by Him to help you grow!

E) In your dorm room you will learn how to repent and how to forgive (Matt 5:23-24)

And Finally (F) In the dorms you will discover how diverse the body of Christ truly is. God has sovereignly saved: Jocks, nerds, merit scholars, home-schoolers, international students, americans, misfits, and more… God’s glory is surely displayed in this diversity (Rev 5:9). Seek out Christian friends who are red hot for Jesus- Even if they are (humanly speaking) radically different than you!

The sooner, we the church, learn to embrace God’s creative diversity the sooner we’ll be able to function as one (Eph 4:16)

(Graduate) Please know your church family will be praying for you. We are here for you if you ever need us. We are only a phone call away….

But let me close by reminding you of my favorite Bible verse in all of Scripture (Joshua 1:9). May you cling to this verse whenever you feel lonely, homesick, confused, or scared. I have seen God keep this promise in my own life as I’ve moved from WI to CA; CA to WA; WA to CA; CA to FL; FL to CA; and CA to IN.

God said to Joshua before he possessed the land of Canaan;
“Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you may go.”

If God be for you- who or what can stand against you (Romans 8:28-39)?!?

A Sermon Charge to High School Graduates (PT 1)

I am giving a brief sermon charge to our High School graduates this Sunday. Actually, this year we will only be honoring one student (last year it was four).

We are gathered here tonight to praise God for the infinite grace that has been displayed in your life!

We want to congratulate you on all your accomplishments; We want to thank you for your faithfulness to this Church and to our youth group in particular; & tonight as your teen pastor, I’d like to briefly encourage you from Holy Scripture as you prepare to leave home and begin an exciting journey at Grace College.

I think the best way I can accomplish this goal is by looking at the various roles you have (or will soon have) and discover what God’s Word has to say about each of these important responsibilities:

This is my personal charge to you that I trust will reflect God’s priorities (not merely my opinions)….

I. First and foremost you are a child of God:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourself lest anyone should boast.” (Eph 2:8) God graciously saved you and I know you’ve dedicated your life to His service!  You are a Christian, a disciple of Christ’s.

It has been a privilege to see you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You’ve been blessed with a remarkable memory and a sharp mind. Your passion for reading books and learning is exemplary; Your creative use of your imagination is a wonderful endowment…

–>Continue to use these gifts for God’s glory! (1 Peter 4:10ff)

With that said:
1) Never allow yourself to think you’ve somehow arrived.

Philippians 3:12 says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Keep on pressing on!

2) Avoid comparing your spiritual walk with others; Rather focus your attention on the Author and the Perfecter of your faith.

Christ-likeness is the standard and our objective (1 Peter 1:14-16). Also remember the inspired words of Paul in 1 Thess 4:10, “But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more…”
“Excel still more” in your faith

From my own personal experience, I know that Christian college students are especially vulnerable to spiritual pride… After all the Apostle Paul said, “that knowledge (alone) puffeth up.”

3) Continue then to grow in humility, gentleness, and grace as you no doubt will grow in knowledge, understanding, and theological wit… (See C.J. Mahaney’s book Humility: True Greatness)

4) I encourage you to seek wise counsel from godly dorm friends, your RD, and your parents; BUT ONLY after you’ve 1st asked God for wisdom and direction.
Proverbs 3:5-6 remind us to, Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

If, and when problems arise in your life, make sure that first you take everything to the Lord.

It’s a great blessing being able to attend a solid Christian college. I encourage you to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity. Learn all you can from your new Christian friends, your Christian professors, and your RAs.

5) Constantly remind yourself though that with great privilege, comes great stewardship.
Jesus said to “whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48)

6) As a child of God don’t forget how important daily bible devotions are to your spiritual growth.

It’s easy to dry up even when you’re in the right place-

Don’t neglect the Bible! For it was the Word of God that made you wise unto salvation and it is the sacred Scriptures that will sanctify your very soul (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

1 Peter 2:2 says, “like new born infants LONG for the pure milk of the Word that by It, you may grow in respect to your salvation.”

Pray that your love for Jesus Christ will deepen as a result of these times!!

7) One last thing: Don’t let anyone tell you that Bible classes, chapel, dorm devotions, and parachurch ministries can usurp the central role of the local Church!

The Scriptures are clear that Christ’s bride has a unique place in God’s Kingdom program. The local church is the visible representation of the body of Christ! Make it a priority to plug yourself into a biblical church! One where you can be feed, discipled, and cared for; One where you can use your spiritual gifts & talents for the edification of the local church and the glory of God!

If you do these things I truly believe you will grow into the Proverbs 31 women that all of us desire you to become!

 Never forget, you are first and foremost a child of God! 

II. Second, you still are your parent’s daughter:

Like most Christian college students I’m guessing you are still very much financially dependent on your parents?!? 

That of course means that you’re still obligated to obey and honor them as Ephesians 6:1-3 says; Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

 When you’re up at night eating ice-cream, painting toe nails, or maybe just cramming for a chemistry quiz take a moment to stop and thank God for giving you Christian parents. Try and find a free moment every week (or so) to call your mom. Take a minute or two to send your dad a post-card reminding him how much you love and miss him; & if you have any free time don’t forget to send an email to your lonely siblings, esp. your older brother! 

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