This article is intended to be the first installment in a series for young preachers.
The six crucial elements in every sermon can be summarised in six points:
- Plain sense,
- glory to God,
- application, and
Let’s have a look at each of these elements in turn.
1. Plain Sense
First and foremost, the sermon you deliver should explain the plain sense of the main passage you are expounding. Difficult verses should be explained and seeming contradictions resolved. The meaning of the passage should be made clear to all.
You should preach the sweet gospel of Jesus Christ in each and every sermon. The gospel is a balm to the hurting soul and it is the power of God unto salvation. Failing to preach the gospel will in most cases render your sermon useless! As one missionary once told me: “if you don’t preach sin and grace, your message is empty!”
Even if you think your crowd is comprised entirely of saved people, still, your duty as a preacher is to preach the gospel, and saved people need to hear the gospel regularly as well.
So go ahead and preach that sharp and shiny gospel. The one that saves. The one that rejects anyone’s claim to be a good person. The one that makes some people so uneasy that they’ll move in their seats. The gospel that would suffer no works in the batter of salvation, but only grace – pure, sovereign, undeserved grace. Preach that justification that is entirely free, the one that cost God a fortune, while the wretched sinner was unable to contribute one penny to it. The gospel that has a hell-bound sinner eternally and finally saved the very moment he turns to God in faith and repentance.
Remember that as part of gospel preaching, the cross of Christ and the blood of Christ should be central themes. Do not fail to mention them often in your gospel preaching.
Are there definitely non-believers in the crowd, or those who are wavering? Then do not be afraid to appeal to them. Don’t single them out or shame them publicly, but do appeal to their hearts in your message. Beg them to reconsider their paths. Talk about the futility of a life alienated from God. Talk about the threat of everlasting torment. Talk about the everlasting hope of eternal life for all who believe. About the benefits to the believer both in this life and the next. Give evidences, reasonings and arguments in favour of the Bible and God’s truth. You might supply an example of how they can pray when knealing down at home. But don’t apply pressure by urging them to “make a decision today” or “stand up now and come forward”. Let the Holy Spirit bring them to new birth in His good time, rather than accelerating the birth yourself. Doing such a thing could come at the expense of the spiritual health of the newborn baby, or worse – cause it to be stillborn.
Talking about sin is an essential part of a sermon. If sin can clearly be pointed out from the passage and discussed, then this should be done.
Pointing out sin serves two purposes:
- It highlights sin to the non-believer and shows his state as a sinner before God. This can then serve as a jumping board for preaching the gospel in your sermon.
- It exercises the souls of the saints and encourages them to live holy and consecrated lives, which is an important function of the congregational sermons.
However, don’t fall into the pitfall of inferring sin when it’s not clearly in the passage. Often an evangelical preacher ends up accusing Old and New Testament saints of things they never did, all in a desperate attempt to point out sin from the passage, even when sin is not really there. Examples? “Esther was vindictive” (no she wasn’t. In her position she was used by God to bring judgement upon those who planned to annihilate His people); “Cornelius was self-righteous” (the opposite – he was a humble, God fearing man, to whom God sent Peter so that he and his household would hear the gospel and be saved); “Joseph unnecessarily snitched on his brothers” (no, his righteous soul was vexed from his brothers’ wicked deeds and he couldn’t withhold it from his father).
So, point out only those sins that come clearly from the text, without assuming sin on the part of the saints of the Bible. If no sin can be pointed to from the text then you can refer to the general doctrine of man’s sinfulness and his fallen nature in your sermon for that purpose, so long as you do mention sin.
At the end of the day, every sermon, as everything we ever do, should give glory to God and to His Son Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 10:31: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. That is why, when planning out your sermon or reviewing it, you should be asking if it is Christocentric (Christ centred) and whether it gives glory to Christ and to God. In order to achieve this, look at the text (or at your outline) and see what glories and perfections of God and of Jesus can be extracted from it, either directly or indirectly. These then should be mentioned in your sermon, giving God the hearty praise He deserves.
Take care to have at least one point of application in your sermon, if not two or three. People want and need to know “what can they do” and often need to be exhorted to do so. How can what they learned be applied in their everyday living? Remember, even if you’ve taught the loftiest theological concepts – they should at the end of the day affect people’s lives, people’s thoughts and perceptions of God, and therefore people’s everyday actions. That’s why everything you preach should also have an application.
If sin was clearly mentioned in your sermon, then the application part of your sermon could be in confessing that sin, or showing what the Bible teaches about avoiding that sin and turning from it.
However, application does not always need to involve an avoidance of sin. It could simply direct people in their spiritual walk with God. Perhaps the wisdom of Proverbs can be employed in advising people how to be wise and mature believers? Perhaps a moral commandment could be expanded upon to remind the flock how to walk rightly before God? Perhaps an experience you or someone else had can be shared to illustrate what can be done in certain situations? Be practical when advising the flock how they can apply their faith.
But whatever it is, avoid kitchy applications that aren’t anchored in Biblical thought. Avoid a “we should all be nicer people” style of preaching. God’s purpose for us is not “to be nicer people” but to partake in His nature, so make sure the application part of your sermon is thoroughly Scriptural.
The last element is encouragement. This element could also be called ‘Comfort’, ‘Hope’, or ‘Point of Light’.
Modern life is not easy. People have lots of trouble in their lives. They might have tension at work, or a family member severely ill, or perhaps they’re facing a difficult moral dilemma and would suffer a great deal for making the right choice. Some of these saints might have been faithful in their walk with the Lord but are going through hard times. If these people come to church and all they get is a gloomy message then there’s nothing there to lift them up. They’ll go back from church just as discouraged as they were when they came in. People need hope. People need to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
For this reason, don’t place unnecessary burdens on the saints. In Israel we’ve met with many conservative believers from the Eastern block, like Russia and Ukraine. Years of heavy handed Communism have affected a heavy and melancholic approach in their faith and preaching. As a result, the saints are laden with burdens, and bear guilt for not doing enough for the Lord: they should be doing more, they are told. They are not properly set apart, not holy enough, not committed enough. The Lord must be frowning at them! They could wake up earlier, read more, sacrifice more and use more of their spare time to serve the Lord, etc.
But where is the joy of the Lord? Haven’t the Scriptures got promises for them, and not just woes? Don’t the Scriptures offer the comfort of God’s help, guidance, presence, grace and reward for enduring hardships? It’s good to mention these to spur the saints on and encourage them to continue steadily in their walk with the Lord. Instead of putting the saints down, your messages should boost those who are weak and discouraged, comfort the mourning and uplift those who have hurting souls. There should be a ray of hope in the message.
What to do with difficult subject, then? Often when preaching you will have to deal with very difficult subjects and stories. In those cases, do your best to maintain a positive approach, even with these hard topics, by giving people a point of light and a way out. Don’t let your preaching be too dire and morose. Make sure there’s light and positivity in it.
These are, in my opinion, the most crucial elements for every message. Are there other crucial points in a message that I should have mentioned? Please let me know in the comments or by sending me a quick email.