Al Martin Lectures

From 1978 to 1998, pastor Albert Martin taught a course at the Trinity Ministerial Academy on how to be an effective pastor.  Every Friday, students would gather for two hours of instruction on this vital topic.  Pastor Martin himself has been pastoring for over 50 years and brings a wealth of experience to bear on all the issues which relate to the pastor and his work.  Fortunately, the last time pastor Martin delivered these lectures, they were recorded in video format for the benefit of the church worldwide.  These are the lectures which comprise the essence of this course.

I will take the liberty over the next few weeks to link to some of the lectures relating to preaching. Here is the first: The Distinction Between Preparation and Delivery.

10 Questions For Expositors – Andrew Davis

As I pound the roads for exercise, no preacher is more often ‘in my ear’ than Andrew Davis. Dr Davis has been the senior pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC) Durham  since 1998. He has penned a helpful booklet “An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization” and a much needed book on holiness, titled “An Infinite Journey: Growing Towards Christ-likeness.” Dr Davis preaching is full of the Bible, full of Christ and full of application. Today Andrew Davis answers our 10 Questions for Expositors.

andy davis

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

Preaching is the most significant form of regular teaching of the word of God in the life of the congregation, though it is not the only one.  The ministry of the word of God is food for the flock, feeding their faith… for “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17) and is also nourished by hearing the word.  In Ephesians 4:7-16, Paul implies that the ministry of the word of God primes the pump for everything in the church—by the word the members of Christ’s body are prepared to do the works of service by which the whole Body is built up and reaches full maturity in Christ.  Preaching is the most powerful form of this ministry of the word, since it combines “light and heat” (i.e. truth + passion) and since everyone in the church experiences it at the same time.  Sunday school classes generally have less “heat” (passion) and tend to be discussion oriented and not so well attended.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

Very early in my Christian life, I was encouraged concerning my gift of teaching by some key leaders who were discipling me.  They saw in me the ability to articulate Christian doctrine well.  Little by little, I had more opportunities to lead Bible studies.  Then, after seminary, I had the opportunity occasionally to preach at the church we were planting in Topsfield, Massachusetts, near Gordon-Conwell Seminary (where I got my MDiv).  I got good feedback from the elders and the body.  I also went on two short-term mission trips in consecutive summers during which I had additional opportunities to preach.  In the course of time, I was chosen to be the Pastor of that small church in Topsfield, and then began preaching weekly.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

It’s really hard to answer that question, since I have invested a ton of time in extended memorization of Scripture, and generally tend to preach on books I have had memorized for years.  Therefore, when the time comes to preach on, let’s say, the Book of Hebrews, I’ve been reviewing it in memorized form on and off for almost ten years.  Therefore, the argument of the whole book, and the meaning of specific verses has been on my mind for a long time before I preach.  This is like money in the bank when it comes to sermon prep… all I need to do is spend some time reading commentaries to be sure I’m not eccentric in my views, translate the passage from the original (with help from BibleWorks software) to be sure the translation I memorized didn’t get the text wrong, write a clear expository outline, and finish with good applications.  That all takes about 10 hours a week.  But I have spent literally countless hours before that storing up the verses in my heart.  That gives me a tremendous leg up every week.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

I think it is important to weigh major and minor themes in the text, and give prominence to the major themes, and lesser development to the minor themes.  I do not say that we should develop “one major theme or idea” from a text, but neither should we overwhelm people with too much information.  A popular definition of expository preaching is “the main idea of the text is the main idea of the sermon.” This is generally true, but minor themes can also emerge and receive some handling in due course.  For example, a passage may mention angels but not be about angels primarily.  There is nothing wrong with an aside in which you explain that this passage shows that angels do not fully understand what is happening in scripture or redemptive history, and that is why they long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12).  This aside can help fill in some vital details on the invisible spiritual world and help them understand the ministry of angels better.  But angels are not the main point of the passage.  The crystallizing of the main themes comes with much thinking, study, and prayer.  You are seeking what Calvin calls “lucid brevity”—clear and short.  Preachers must study their words and make the most of the ones we use.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

Someone said preaching is “truth through personality”.  In other words, we are hearing the truth of the scriptures filtered through a man’s personality and walk with Christ.  So. The preacher should be himself in the pulpit, and not try to affect someone else’s style.  That said, he should seek “light and heat” as said above, and be sure that he displays the appropriate emotions and passion as he preachers.  On issues like the use of humor, different men have different convictions.  I try not to use humor often, and rarely intentionally do I go into the pulpit with a humorous story.  Preachers should use a style that maximally serves the text and the church.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I use an expanded outline… short of a manuscript, but very detailed.  It is rather long.  I also preach through the message entirely every Sunday in the early morning at home, so that I am extremely familiar with it and am therefore not bound to the paper.  I can make good eye contact, and know how to manage the time well.  Different men have different approaches on “notes/no notes”.  Each one should determine what is best for him.  For me, I feel I would sacrifice accuracy and comprehensiveness if I preached with no notes, straight from the text.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

Pride, forgetting that he is nothing and Christ is everything; Sin, forgetting that God’s servants must be holy; Self-reliance, forgetting that apart from Christ and his Holy Spirit, we can do nothing; Worldly wisdom, forgetting that the Bible alone is sufficient to feed and sustain the faith of God’s people; Prayerlessness, forgetting that God’s word faithfully sown can be quickly snatched away by the world/flesh/devil, and God alone can bring the harvest.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

The idea of balance in pastoral ministry is a big challenge.  I lean on the example of Christ, who never seemed hurried and who dealt honorably and fully with everyone who came to him, and who only had three years to do his ministry, and yet finished all the works the Father gave him to do.  So we should evaluate our lives—hours, days, weeks, months, years—being sure we are acting wisely in what we agree to do, then trusting God to give us enough time and energy to do all the good works He has prepared in advance for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).  More practically, it’s good to listen to your wife and ask her “Am I neglecting you or the kids?” or to ask an Associate Pastor, “Is there some area of ministry I’m neglecting?”  But we are not just called to preach… we are also called on to shepherd the flock.  Plurality of Elders can help greatly with this… other elders can step up and handle many ministry situations, freeing up more time for the Senior Pastor to prepare to preach.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?  

Early in my Christian life, I was nourished by John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” sermons… he has been the most influential in my pattern of pulpit ministry… verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book exposition.  John Piper’s amazing passion and clarity has helped me too.  Piper’s “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” is an excellent book!  So also the example of Martyn Lloyd-Jones as a careful expositor.  Spurgeon’s zeal for souls in preaching has greatly affected me.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

We have a training program for students from a seminary nearby us, and we are very intentional in developing future elders/preachers… to this end, we keep shaping this program and making it better, but we have a long way to go.

The Mic of our Master

The other day one of the fathers in my congregation told me a story about when his son was younger. If he would come to Church and fail to spot me he would query his father where the “sermon” was. He equated me with the sermon. That is a real dilemma, of course, because we are told that we ought not to preach ourselves. Had I followed his son’s reasoning I would have been speechless.

What prompted this father to recount this story was his little girl’s comment that Sunday morning when she came into the Church building. Looking for me and not seeing me, she asked her father where God was.

You might think the girl is on shakier ground than her brother in describing her pastor. But she might intuitively be grasping, and is unwittingly expressing something significant about the Christian ministry: when a minister preaches the Word of God, God himself is speaking. Remember how the first chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession (Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God) states it:

THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.

The basis for this audacious claim is the Word of God itself. I’m referring to a number of passages sprinkled throughout the New Testament that speak of the Lord Jesus Christ preaching long after his glorious ascent to his Father’s right hand. For example, in Ephesians 2:17 the Apostle Paul speaks of how the Lord Jesus came to the Ephesians and preached peace to them so that Jews and Gentiles might be reconciled to one another and both to God. We know Christ’s body is not ubiquitous so how did he come and preach to those Gentiles? He preached by his Holy Spirit through his apostles.

Paul expressed the point even more explicitly in Romans 10. There he addresses the need for the preaching of the gospel so people might call on the name of the Lord and be saved. The ESV renders Romans 10:14 this way: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The ASV (1901) leaves out the preposition of resulting in this translation: “. . . and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” Many commentators favour translating the relative pronoun as denoting the person who is heard rather than the message that is heard (Stott, Hendriksen, Dunn, Murray, Morris). The one people are to believe in is the one preaching to them. Leon Morris, in his commentary on Romans, explains the sentence like this: “The point is that Christ is present in the preachers; to hear them is to hear him (cf. Luke 10:16), and people ought to believe when they hear him.”

The apostles learned this from Christ. In John 10:16 he spoke about the other sheep who must be brought into the sheepfold of his grace. How will these elect sheep come in? By hearing Christ’s voice. How will they hear Christ’s voice? When those he sends preach the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22). In fact, Jesus identifies himself so closely with those he sends he can say, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:23). Through his appointed and Spirit anointed ambassadors Christ declares God’s name to his brothers (Hebrews 2:12).

Admittedly, Christian ministers today aren’t apostles. Indeed not. But nor has Christ been muzzled for almost 2000 years because of the passing of the apostles. Christ still speaks today. When ministers proclaim the Scriptures they are carrying out an apostolic ministry and Christ preaches through them. When ministers preach the word of God, Christ preaches.

 A Colossal Consideration

This is weighty. It’s weighty for those who listen to the preaching of the Word. They have a holy obligation to receive the word preached, not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

It is also weighty for ministers of the gospel. We speak for the exalted Christ so that people hear him and believe in him. This consideration addresses the content of our preaching. We must preach the Scriptures, inspired by the Spirit of Christ. The pulpit is no place for human opinions or flights of fancy. We must be able to say about our preaching, “This is what Christ is preaching to you today.”

But the thought that we speak for the exalted Christ also bears upon the communication of our content. We shudder to think that we might distract people from hearing Christ. We want them to forget about us. We really want them to see no-one but the Lord Jesus and to be amazed at the gracious words that come from his lips. We who are ministers are Christ’s mouthpiece, the mic of our Master, so that through us his people hear him. We are the microphone. He is the voice. They see us. They hear him.

Had the Lord Jesus not promised us his presence and purchased for us his Spirit who would dare to preach again?

Bold, Daring Audacity Vs The Pretty Boy Preachers

Dr Steven J. Lawson spoke yesterday to a group of Irish pastors. His subject was “The Gospel Focus Of Charles Spurgeon.” Some of the content was encouraging. Much of it was tremendously challenging. However my ‘personal takeaway’ was Dr Lawson’s discussion of Spurgeon’s bold audacity in the pulpit.

Spurgeon feared no man. Constrained only by the bounds of God’s Word, Spurgeon said what he liked, when he liked, how he liked. The problem with Spurgeon was not that men misunderstood his meaning. The problem was that men understood him completely. Spurgeon’s style was plain, direct, outspoken and urgent. Spurgeon wasn’t trying to be popular. He was trying to bring the ​truth​ to your soul.

In relation to this, Steven Lawson shared two quotes with us.  I believe he had borrowed these from Adrian Rodgers. The first quote was,

The pastor should always enter the pulpit with his resignation letter in his pocket.

The other was:

The problem with preachers today is that no-one wants to kill them anymore.

By my observation, this is often true. Many preachers just want to be ‘nice.’ They cherish being winsome above being earnest. They desire popularity above faithfulness. They tremble more at the thought of offending their congregation, than they fear the thought of offending their God.

In the words of Dr Lawson: there are just too many “pretty boy preachers.”

Pray, God, that I wouldn’t be one of them.

Lost in Translation?

I had never preached with a translator before. But during my time in Portugal last month, I had the  experience of preaching four times through a translator. What did I learn from this new experience?

The best translator is a fellow preacher

When choosing a translator, it would be tempting to simply opt for the best linguist one could find. That would be a mistake. Certainly, adeptness with languages is important, but my time in the Iberian peninsula showed me the immense value of having a translator whose ‘day job’ is preaching. Rogerio Ramos didn’t simply translate my words; he preached my sermon!

Sermon preview is vital

A few days before preaching together I gave Rogerio my sermon notes. Rogerio was able to query any words he was unsure of; he was also able to advise me where my ideas wouldn’t “come across” in a Portuguese context. This meant I could make adjustments to my sermon if necessary. It also meant that Rogerio was better prepared for the forthcoming translation.

Use short but complete sentences

This was new to me. I discovered that there are two pitfalls to be avoided in constructing sentences for translation. One danger is lengthy sentences. The problem with this is obvious. When sentences are overly-long, the translator has difficulty remembering all that you have said. But there can also be a difficulty when one’s sentences are short but incomplete. When I preach only half a sentence then pause, I may not be helping the translator. Preaching a complete idea makes it easier for your partner to translate the sentence. The best practice is to preach in complete sentences but keep them short.

Keep the pace up

Translation can become slow and ponderous. It is vital that both preacher and translator keep the pace up. I was ready to come in immediately after Rogerio had completed his translation. Together we managed to establish a certain “rhythm” to our collaborative preaching. Surprisingly, the overall length of the sermon was not much longer than I would normally preach.

Depend more on God than oratory

You realise how truly powerless your own oratory is when you cannot speak a local language. You are entirely dependent on the translator. You are even more dependent on God.  Preaching with translation raised significant and helpful questions for me. Do I overrate the importance of eloquence in preaching? Do I have confidence in the bare Word of God? Do I believe that the Scriptures are sufficient to make a saving and sanctifying impact across linguistic and cultural borders?

Contemplations From Corinth’s Pulpit

Lately, I’ve been thinking about preaching from the standpoint of 1st Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5. Here are nine reflections from a passage that is plunder for our thinking about preaching:

1.  Gospel preachers are not the only one’s preaching. Paul understood that the voice of the preacher was competing with the voices of the “wise men”, “philosophers” and “scholars” (1:20).  In our day, newspaper columnists, soap script-writers, and scientists, to name a few, are shaping the public consciousness as much as the evangelist.

2. In Christian preaching, substance is far more important than style. Popular Corinthian philosophers were masters of eloquence and emotional manipulation. Unfortunately, the Corinthians Christians were bedazzled by such rhetorical flourish (1:17). Paul, on the other hand, was  more absorbed with the content of his message. What matters, says the Apostle, is not polished presentation but “the message of the cross” (1:18).

3.  Preachers should be wary of gaining a response by mere human eloquence; far less by emotional manipulation. While often found ‘arguing’ and ‘persuading’ unbelievers, Paul did not rely on rhetorical techniques to see people converted. Especially in a place like Corinth, Paul wasn’t afraid to adopt plain language as he preached the straightforward message of the cross. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words” (2:4). How should this shape our approach in modern homiletics?

4.  No preacher worth their gospel-salt will shy away from preaching the ‘crude’ subject of the crucified Christ. The humiliation and horror of crucifixion will never be a welcome subject in polite company. But Paul and his fellow evangelists “preached Christ crucified” (1:23).

5.  Unbelievers will always demand other things from the preacher instead of the gospel. We mustn’t cave in to their demands. “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1:22-23).

6.  Eternal destinies hang in the balance every time we preach. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1:18).

7.  The gospel is powerful to save all who believe it.  The gospel, and nothing else! Don Carson sums up Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 1:18b:  “The gospel is not simply good advice, nor is it good news about God’s power. The gospel is God’s power to all who will believe.”

8.  The gospel message is not limited to the people we think are most competent to receive it. Too easily we can target our preaching towards the people we believe are likely to embrace it. People in a certain age bracket, or from a certain demographic background, are viewed as liklier recipients of the gospel of grace. But Paul contradicts such notions: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were of noble birth” (1: 26)

9. Preaching that changes lives relies on the powerful working of the Spirit. True preaching comes “…with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but God’s power” (2: 4, 5).

“The Purpose-Driven Wife” (and other sermon titles)

In all my years of ministry, I have never preached on (never had the courage to preach on?) the Epilogue of the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31:10-31). But if I ever do, I have the perfect sermon title – “The Purpose-Driven Wife” ! It encapsulates the theme of this section and is certainly more memorable than the NIV’s “The Wife of Noble Character”, bearing more than a passing resemblance to a certain well-known book and course!

Not everyone likes or uses sermon titles. I understand that Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones didn’t, yet it is interesting that the editors of his published sermons usually added a title to each sermon – if for no other reason than to distinguish it from others, rather than just identifying it by the verses or passage on which it was based. I recently reviewed “Born of God”, the latest Banner of Truth publication of his final sermon series at Westminster Chapel. which contains 32 sermons from John 1, ten of them on verse 17, and eighteen of them on verses 12-13.  Most of the titles simply summarise the subject of the sermon – for example, “The Relationship of Law and Grace”, “The Abundant Riches of His Grace”, but a few are somewhat broader – for example, “Facing the Future”,Religion or True Faith?”

The Content Title

The simplest and most common title for a sermon is one that summarises its content: like the section headings in most modern English versions. They usually vary little – especially for narrative passages. For example, the NIV heading at the beginning of John  4 is “Jesus Talks with a Samaritan Woman”,  while the ESV has “Jesus and the Woman of Samaria”. However, while the ESV heading covers verses 1-45, the NIV has two further headings: “The Disciples Rejoin Jesus” (verses 27-38) and “Many Samaritans Believe” (verses 39-42). Even in doctrinal teaching in the epistles,where there might be more scope for variety, there is still a fair degree of uniformity. For example, the NIV introduces Galatians 3 under the heading “Faith or Observance of the Law”,  while the ESV puts it as a question: “By Faith, or by Works of the Law?”  The Good News Bible simply has “Law or Faith”.

This is a fairly random check (which might merit more detailed  research) but the content of a passage is not much of a source (if you will excuse the pun) of contention. And as the title for a sermon, it doesn’t tell the listeners anything more than they can read in the Bibles in front of them. For that we need a different kind of sermon title.

The Creative Title

First and foremost, any title must connect in some way to the main theme, the “big idea”  of the passage in question. Ideally, it should also be something which is memorable or “attractive“. So, for example, I once suggested to a colleague who was preaching on John 4 the title “Thirst things first” (which, perhaps wisely, he didn’t use!) But it does focus on the theme of the conversation between Jesus and the woman – and it is certainly memorable (if difficult to say without practice!)

I have just been in email discussion with John Percival, a former colleague and contributor to “Unashamed Workman”, who has invited me to speak at an evangelistic service at the church where he now ministers. We decided that the incident recorded in Mark 10:17-31 would connect with many of the issues facing people in Hong Kong but for advertising the event, rather than a title like “The Rich Young Man” (NIV & ESV),  a more engaging title would be “The Man who had Everything but lacked Something”.

Titles can be useful in highlighting future sermons and events, especially those such as guest-services. However, the title chosen needs  to be as “inclusive” as possible. I once saw a leaflet for a series in Luke’s Gospel which a new church were distributing in their local community. Inside the attractive cover were the dates with the passage and a title. Luke 8:40-48 was entitled “Woman with haemorrhage”  which, I would suggest, had a limited audience appeal! Something like “Hoping for Healing” or “Getting in Touch with God”  would have attracted a much broader interest.

Some Engaging Examples

One of the best exponents of stimulating titles, especially from the Old Testament, is the American preacher and professor, Dale Ralph Davis. In his book, “The Word Became Fresh – how to preach from Old Testament texts” (Christian Focus Publications, 2006),  he tells how, on the Sunday before one Christmas, he preached on the long lists of genealogies in 1 Chronicles 9 under the title, “A Whole Bunch of Dead Folks for Christmas”!  He comments, “We were, I am confident, the only church in the whole USA that carried 1 Chronicles 9 on its bulletin cover.”

Here are a few of my favourites from his “Looking on the Heart – Expositions of the Book of 1 Samuel”  (Christian Focus publications,1994):

  • 1 Samuel 17 (David &  Goliath): “Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth – Thud!”
  • 1 Samuel 24 (David in the cave with Saul at his mercy): “This is the Day! Or is it?”
  • 1 Samuel 27:1-28:2 (David among the Philistines): “What can a Godless Text teach us?”
  • 1 Samuel 29 (David sent back to Ziklag): “Accepting the Philistines as your Personal Saviour”

Notice in two of the titles the use of questions – questions which are asked of the text and also of the hearer.

Sometimes, a creative title can replace a familiar yet misleading title.  This is especially true of the parables of Jesus. Everyone who has preached on “The Parable of the Sower”  knows that the distinguishing point of the parable is not the sower (or the seed or his sowing method) but the soil, so the title “The Parable of Soils”  is  more accurate. Similarly, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”  is not about one but two sons, the elder of whom (representing the Pharisees) is the main point of the parable. And the main character in the parable is the father which is why (way back, pre-Keller!) I preached on it under the title “The Parable of the Prodigal Father”  (using the secondary meaning of prodigal – “extravagantly generous“) to catch people’s attention.

Jonathan Gemmell, pastor of Bruntsfield Evangelical Church in Edinburgh, recently preached on Mark 13 (“Signs of the End of the Age“) under the title “Is the Fat Lady Warming up?” and entitled a previous sermon on Lot’s Wife “From Sodom to Sodium Chloride“! These kind of titles are not for everyone but once the hearers (and you!) have heard them, they are unforgettable.

Here are a few of my (much more conservative!) examples:

  • “The strength of meekness” (Matthew 5:5)
  • “Back to the future” (Matthew 6:10)
  • “A surprising prayer in a strange place” (Jonah 2:1-9)
  • “The green-eyed monster” (Genesis 37:1-11)
  • “Just say,’No'” (Genesis 39)
  • “From eternity to here!” (John 1:1-18)
  • “Where there’s death, there’s hope” (John 11:1-44)
  • “Give up your great ambitions”  (Jeremiah 45)
  • “War and Peace” (Psalm 2)
  • “24” (Mark 1:21-34)
  • “Closed minds or open mouths?” (Acts 5:17-42)
  • “Can you sing in prison?” (Acts 16:16-40)
  • “People matter more than pigs” (Mark 5:1-20)
  • “The mathematics of a miracle” (John 6)
  • “Forty days with Jesus” (Acts 1:1-5)
  • “The most alarming verses in the Bible” (Matthew 7:21-23)
  • “A tale of two cities” (Acts 17:1-15)

Titles for Sermon Series

When preaching through a book of the Bible, it is often helpful to highlight a title theme for the whole series. The tradition in Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh where I ministered for 17 years, is that we would preach through a book from the Bible for the year, and choose a title and a key verse for the sermon series.

Here are some examples:

  • “Living in Hope” (Jeremiah – key verse 29:11)
  • “Building on the Rock” (The Sermon on the Mount – key verse  Matthew 7:24)
  • “Good News for Bad People” (Romans – key verse  1:16)
  • “The Lion Roars” (Amos – key verse  3:8)
  • “Treasure in Jars of Clay” (2 Corinthians – key verse 4:7)
  • “Shining like Stars” (Philippians – 2:15-16)

(See my “Firm Foundations”, Christians Focus Publications, 2011, for 15 sermon series and over 200 sermon outlines with titles, and the sermon archive on for over 800 sermons!)

Planning ahead

Although many churches produce a programme card for each “term” giving sermon topics and titles, I have found that, unless I am very familiar with the passages in question or have preached from them before, it is difficult to choose the right title ahead of time. I have tried to do this but often found, when I have done my intensive study in the week before the sermon that there is a better title (based on a different “big idea“) than the one I chose three months previously. For this reason, I would tend to give the passage but no title ahead of time unless it is for a special event. I also find this is a problem as I now preach around churches and in University Christians unions – that I sometimes have to introduce  my sermon explaining why the title they chose for the passage on which they want me to preach is not the best (or even completely misses the point!).

In conclusion

Not everyone has the imagination to think of creative titles, and I see nothing wrong (providing you give due credit – see the recent article on plagiarism) with borrowing a good title from someone else. You may have noticed that some of my titles from above are borrowed from people ranging from William Shakespeare to Leo Tolstoy, and from Charles Dickens to Stephen Spielberg!







Wisdom’s Anticipation of Christ

I am hoping to post on this subject tomorrow, but I wanted to direct you to a helpful interview where Douglas O’Donnell attempts to answer the tricky question of how do we preach Christ from the wisdom genre?

First, he answers in general terms:

Jesus is presented in three ways. First, he is the wisdom sage par excellence. Like the sage of Proverbs 1:26, Jesus taught practical, intellectual, moral, and mysterious wisdom to the young, the simple, and the already wise, using proverbial sayings, parables, beatitudes, and many other figures of speech. Second, Jesus is wisdom acted. That is, in all his relationships, mostly notably his relationship with his heavenly Father, Jesus acted as the obedient son—the perfectly wise child—should. Put differently, our Lord Jesus, in his incarnate nature, perfectly and perpetually feared the LORD. From the cradle to the cross, he walked the way of wisdom. Third, Jesus is wisdom embodied—he is the very “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). And he beckons all to come to him for rest and fullness of life.

Collin Hansen then goes on to ask, how would you explain the unique message of each OT wisdom book as it anticipates Jesus? O’Donnell answers:

Proverbs: For our own good and the glory of God, the book of Proverbs invites and instructs God’s covenant people—especially young men—to embrace wisdom. For Christians, such wisdom comes through fearing God’s beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:21), and walking in his wisdom.

Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes is about finding the goodness of God while living within the vanity of this world. Such goodness or “wisdom” is found only through a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This relationship involves trusting in Christ and heeding his commands, which brings rest, justice, and joy.

Job: The book of Job prefigures the purposeful sufferings of Christ. That is, the story of God’s servant Job prepares us for the story of Jesus, the suffering servant, who in his passion and death shows how innocent suffering can show forth the justice of God.