Here are some of the thoughts John R. W. Stott shared on How to Prepare a Sermon with Josh Harris in an interview. The point, I want to highlight is his insight on the importance of the proposition or step 4.
1. Choose your text and mediate on it
2. Ask questions of the text
3. Combine diligent study with fervent prayer
4. Isolate the Dominant Thought of the Text
Every text has a main theme, an overriding thrust. A sermon is not a lecture, it aims to convey only one major message. The congregation will forget the details of the message, but they should remember the dominant thought, because all the sermon’s details should be marshaled to help them grasp its message and feel its power. Once the text’s principle meaning has been determined, express it in a ‘categorical proposition.’ Ian Pitt-Watson: “Every sermon should be ruthlessly unitary in its theme.”
The Method for Developing The Proposition
1. Exegete the passage using the grammatical/historical hermeneutic.
The first step is to identify the theme of the book from which you are preaching. If you are preaching Ephesians 1:3-14, first identify the theme of Ephesians and how the theme is developed and where your passage is located in the development of the theme of the book. The theme of Ephesians is The Unity That Love Can Bring. Harold W. Hoehner convincingly proves this theme (See Harold W. Hoehner’s Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary). The development of the theme in Ephesians is the two fold division of the book: Doctrinal unity in chapters 1-3 and Practical unity in chapters 4-6.
There are two doctrinal examples of unity in chapters 1-3: (1) The Trinity in chapter 1 and (2) the Church in chapters 2-3. In the Trinity there is perfect harmony among the three members of the Godhead in heaven. There has never been a disagreement among these three persons. No person of the Trinity has ever gotten mad and stomped off. In the Church there is also perfect unity among the members of the Body of Christ on earth. Jews and Gentiles are “one” in Christ. My passage is 1:3-14 or the Trinity example of unity.
Next, I must find the theme of this pericope or text or preaching unit and the development of the theme. Reading these verses I discover a threefold division because of the repetition of the phrase in verses 6, 12, and 14: “To the praise of the glory of His grace.” So I divide this passage into three sections. I also observe that in each section one person of the Trinity is praised, which also substantiates the three fold division.
I. In verses 3-6, God the Father Choosing Believers in Eternity Past is praised.
II. In verses 7-12, God the Son Providing Redemption in the Historical Past is praised.
III. Lastly, in verses 13-14, God the Spirit Sealing Believers until the Day of Redemption is praised.
Dr. Wayne McDill devotes three helpful chapters to exegeting the passage or what he calls Text Analysis in his 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching.
The grammatical/historical method of interpretation has helped me discover the theme of my passage and the development to the theme. The theme, “We must praise each Person of the Trinity for His part in our salvation,” is my proposition and the three fold development of the theme are my three major points.
2. State the exegetical idea of the passage (What did the passage mean to the original audience)
What did this passage mean to the original audience. This is based on the hermeneutical principle of authorial intention or one interpretation for each text. For Ephesians 1:3-14, the exegetical idea for the original audience could be stated like this: “God’s people must praise each person of the Trinity because of His unique contribution to their salvation.” Because there is much commonality between the original audience and my modern audience in Ephesians the proposition doesn’t have to be adapted. The following examples show where adaptation is necessary.
Haddon Robinson’s exegetical idea combines the subject and the complement. Subject: About what does the verse talks? Complement: What does the verse say about the subject?
Exegetical idea (including subject and complement) of Mark 16:1-4: “The women who came to the empty tomb to anoint the body of Jesus worried about a problem that was too big for them, but it was resolved before they ever had to face it.”
3. Convert the exegetical idea into the homiletical idea or proposition (What does the passage mean to my audience)
The Homiletical idea or the proposition of the above exegetical idea is the following: “The Lord’s people are sometimes confronted with problems that are too big for them.” This declarative proposition can be converted into this demand proposition: “We must trust God to solve our problems.”
Exegetical idea for Ezra 7:10: “Ezra purposed in his heart to exposit the Scriptures.”
Homiletical idea or declarative proposition: “God uses the preacher who dedicates himself to Biblical preaching.”
Convert the declarative proposition into a demand proposition: __________________________.
How to Move from The Proposition to The First Main Division
The proposition is followed by the interrogative statement using one of the five interrogative adverbs (why, how, what, when, and where). After you exegete the passage, list both how and why (the more common interrogative adverbs used) the proposition can be develop. One instead of two interrogatives will develop the proposition better. Again, this rule can be broken when a “why” and “how” interrogative statement will fit the passage better.
The interrogative sentence is followed by the transitional sentence, with a key word, which connects the proposition to the first main point of the sermon.
The first sermon that I preached after I got started in Homiletics with Mr. LeGrand was from Ephesians 2:8-9.
My proposition was: You must be saved by grace through faith
Interrogative sentence: How can you be saved by grace?
Transitional sentence: By taking these steps in Ephesians 2:8-9. “Steps” is the key word.
I. By faith in Jesus Christ
II. By grace and not works
Here is an alternative using why as the interrogative.
Proposition: You must be saved through faith
Interrogative sentence: Why must you be saved through faith?
Transitional sentence: Because of the following reasons. “Reasons” is the key word.
I. Because Salvation is by faith
II. Because Salvation is by grace and not works
I will never forget the relief I experienced in preaching that sermon on Ephesians 2:8-9 when I learned in my first Homiletic’s class the steps to take and follow in preaching. This model is not the only model for preaching but is one to begin with and master before we move on to more advance models.
In our next post, we will discuss Step 4: Construct the sermon outline.