Teach the Bible well

Posted by Matt Lane on November 20th, 2010 filed in Bible, Bible Reading

This world is desperate for Jesus which means people are desperate to hear truth from the Bible. If you are entrusted to speak to people God’s Word, I hope the following will help you in even a small way. This is long and still not all inclusive and really just an overview but I believe it is a good starting point.

The first step is to pray and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. You are not just giving a speech nor are you a comedian trying to “get some laughs’. You are not the news anchor reporting on meaningless stories. Cry out to God and beg him to work mightily.

Next, you need to find  your text. A chunk of verses. Not a verse from here and there, a chunk that contains a paragraph or several paragraphs.

In order to be faithful to the scriptures, prepare your entire sermon (talk, lesson, etc) without looking at commentaries. Use Bible dictionaries, atlases and books that will help you understand the culture only. Also, stay entirely in your chunk of text. Only go outside of your text in order to read the chapters before and after so that you understand the context of your selected text. Do compare your text across several translations. Avoid translations at the very end of the paraphrase spectrum.

When preparing the sermon, aim for 85% of your sermon to be talking about the text. You don’t have to go word for word or sentence by sentence. But be very cautious about leaving too much text on the table.

Prepare a complete manuscript of your sermon. I know, many hate doing this because they want to be ‘free spirited”. Unless you are exceptionally talented (1% of all people in the world) and have rare gifts from God, write it out. Especially if you have not spoken in front of people more than 100 times. Seriously. So write the entire sermon out with the metanarrative of the entire Bible in mind. Make sure to get the listeners into the text by describing the context of your text.

After your manuscript is completed, go back and find direct links to other passages in the Bible. List them all out and dig into them a bit. Discover how the original hearers would have known and responded to those links. Where the links are more subtle, indicate that in your research and again find out how the original hearers would have responded.

Include links to other passages of the Bible in your manuscript sparingly. Only add them in when it adds to the depth of the sermon and helps to position your text better in the metanarrative but do not quote 6 different verses or texts. Instead of building up the Bible, you actually weaken the authority of the Bible in people’s minds when you quote too many isolated verses. Stand on the text you are using and be assured that you can trust it to be true. You do not need to have those 6 others references to support the fact that this one chunk of text you are preaching from is true. If appropriate, you can list them in sermon notes for people to do further study on their own.

Finally, look at a few trusted commentaries and study Bibles. Add a couple more for particularly difficult passages. Glean any new observations and include them in your sermon if they add to the depth of the sermon. At this point you are just checking to make sure you have not gone off in the bushes. Include paraphrase translations at this juncture also. In addition, include a quote or two if appropriate from trusted authors and theologians where they might have said something in such a way that is very helpful in understanding the text or in describing the glory and awesomeness of God.

All of your observations, quotes and supplementary comments should point to your main theme. Make it very clear and precise. Conclude your sermon by hammering home the big idea (main theme) and how there could be resistance to it, how many could apply it, and how it could be applied poorly.

A few checks:

  • Make sure you have not lost the metanarrative of the Bible.
  • If you have completed your manuscript and have not mentioned Jesus, start over.
  • If you have diverted from the text in any way, cut that part out
  • Convince people that Jesus is great to follow, don’t just tell them. Convince people God is awesome, don’t just tell them. Use word pictures and paint a picture that people will fall in love with.
  • Never ever disconnect the Gospel from applications; always include the Gospel in applications
  • Be careful to not preach morality apart from the Gospel

If your sermon is too long at this point (greater than 35-40 min usually) look carefully at what to cut. Don’t cut the meat. Go light on application and illustrations if need be. Trust that the word of God has power and have confidence that the Holy Spirit will use the spoken word to convict and transform.

Why follow these guidelines?

Your words are not as good as God’s. It’s as simple as that. You have to not only agree with that, it has to be what guides you. You have to be convinced that the Bible is good and the people listening to you need to hear the Bible, not you.

The question you have to ask is, do you want to look great and build yourself up as a great speaker or do you want God to look great and convince people that he is worthy of more honor and glory than imaginable?

If you use the scriptures as a springboard to tell stories and illustrations, people will know you are a good storyteller. People might actually be touched by your words. But when suffering occurs, the only thing that brings hope is God’s words. The only thing that brings comfort is to rest fully in the sovereignty of God. The only hope to love God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength is to be continually falling in love with God’s words. The only way to know that Jesus is your king is to have your true joy in the Gospel.

The only way to help people through any of that is to teach them the scriptures faithfully. Movie clips, touching stories, and fanciful quotes are all nice but if that is the take away, you have done your listeners a great dis-service. People, all people, believer and non believer, Christian and non-Christian, all people need to hear the Gospel every week, day in, day out.

The Gospel is our life. It’s what saves us and is life giving and life sustaining. We don’t get over it and move on to something else. Tell a  moving story and people will think about it for a day, maybe two if it is really good. Wow people with the Gospel and they will be wowed for life.

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