When you start a new series of messages from a book, the first message is a challenge. Not just because you want people to be motivated for the series, but because the first message has to stand in its own right. Simply presenting the background information like the notes in a study Bible is not expository preaching. But if you give the background and then preach the first section, you may end up with two messages or too little time to really preach that first section. What to do?
Option 1 – Don’t give any more than brief background awareness and concentrate on the first section. This keeps you earthed in the text rather than the historical study notes. It may fall short on giving people awareness of the book as a whole, but if that first section is preached well, people should be motivated to hear more (background information can and should be given throughout the series). Often the first section serves as a very effective introduction to the themes and issues that will follow in the book.
Option 2 – Give background (author, date, occasion, etc.) and overview of the book’s structure, highlighting the main idea of the book and it’s initial application for the listeners. The important thing in an overview introduction like this is to make sure you have a main idea that comes from studying the text and make sure it is applied, otherwise you don’t have an expository sermon.
Option 3 – Genuinely preach the whole book. Obviously with most books it is not feasible to read the whole text. However, it is possible to preach the flow of thought through the whole book, highlighting and applying the main idea, just as you will with the individual sections later in the series. Historical background may be only briefly mentioned, but preaching the book can be a powerful introduction to the series. Again, as with the similar option 2 above, it is critical to have both main idea and application of that idea. You will need to selectively read verses from the book in order to underscore the biblical authority for your explanation.