There are a myriad of books on preaching on the market at present and each of them presents useful information, tips, and methods for preaching a good sermon. But when I’m evaluating a sermon or preparing my own messages, there are four simple questions that I ask myself: (1) Did I exegete the text? (2) Did I explain the text? (3) Did I preach Christ organically from the text? And (4) Did I apply the text? In this first post I discuss the first question and then in the following weeks I will discuss the next three questions.
Why should you ask whether the preacher exegeted the text? Believe it or not there are many preachers who mount the pulpit, speak for thirty to forty minutes, and never really engage the biblical text in any significant way. I have personally sat under “preaching” where the message, at least in my mind, had no clearly discernable connection to the sermon text. The pastor spent more time offering personal observations, opinions, and commentary on recent news events than the biblical text. Another type of “sermon” that I’ve heard is when a preacher reads a biblical text and then picks up a word, phrase, or concept that appears in the text and uses it as a springboard to a message that might be vaguely related to the passage at hand. I have heard some, for example, cite Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them [the words of Deut 6:4] diligently to your children . . .” as grounds for advocating home schooling as the only legitimate form of childhood educating. The text, I have been told, explicitly assigns education to parents, not to a public or Christian school. Such an interpretation picks up on two elements in the verse—parents (implicit in the passage) and teach. But these two words have a greater context—the context is the law of God and the first greatest commandment: “Hear Oh Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4). The context is not about education in general but rather instructing children to love the Lord with all their being. In Pauline terms, the passage addresses, among other things, raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
Hence, a fundamental question the preacher should always ask himself is, “Did I exegete the text?” Did I examine the surrounding context? Did I historically locate the passage? Did I pay attention to specific or unique terminology? If I’m preaching from an Old Testament passage, did I examine how the New Testament appeals to, alludes to, or echoes the text? These are all vital questions that the preacher should ask to ensure that he properly handles the text and “draws out” (what the term exegesis means) from the passage the intended meaning rather than inserting ideas that are foreign to the text.
In your sermon, you might not refer to all of your exegetical work. Preaching is akin to telling what time it is rather than disassembling the clock and showing how it’s made. Nevertheless, a good sermon still needs properly functioning inner gears and whirring wheels so that the preacher can accurately tell his congregation what time it is. But just because you don’t reveal the inner workings of the clock does not mean you don’t need those internal mechanisms. On the contrary, exegesis is the foundation of any good sermon. So always ask, Did I exegete the text?