Preach the Text, Not Just From a Text

Sometimes preachers give away their entire main idea in the title they advertise ahead of time.  I think I’ve done that with this title.  It’s one of the things that always makes a message feel either like biblical preaching, or not truly biblical preaching.  Does the preacher preach the text?  Or does the preacher preach from a text, using a text, referring to a text?

1. The difference demonstrates the preacher’s view of the Bible.  For some, the Bible is a great data bank to be raided for foundational wording on which they can build their presentation.  For others, the Bible is a continual source of delight as they come fresh to texts each time they preach them and encounter God in His Word, before bringing the ancient word ever fresh and new to the listeners.  Is your Bible old and static, or dynamic and relationally connecting?

2. The difference demonstrates the preacher’s view of preaching.  For some, preaching is primarily about their own craft in preparing a message where the text is an ingredient, a factor.  For others, the Bible is the master lens through which God is seen by the needy listeners as His Word is effectively presented in the preaching moment.

3. The difference demonstrates the preacher’s view of the listeners’ need.  For some, the listeners come together for a church service in which they need to have the sermon slot filled with good sermonic art and craft, a bit of polished poetry, a touch of humor, a hint of depth and a good measure of preacher’s personality.  For others, the listeners have a profound need, whether they are unsaved or saved, of an encounter with the God who reveals Himself fully and freely in His Word.

4. The difference demonstrates the preacher’s view of themselves.  For some, preaching is an opportunity to demonstrate their own faithfulness to the gospel, or cleverness with words, or artistry with concepts, or craft with alliteration, or ingenuity with a book of sermon illustrations.  For others, preaching is about communicating God’s Word to the people God brings together, in the power of God’s Spirit, and the focus, strangely enough, is on God, not the preacher.

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8 thoughts on “Preach the Text, Not Just From a Text

  1. Peter, I have a question. You said this in February (
    “Doesn’t the volume of poetry in the Bible tell us something of God’s love for artistic forms of communication, and his awareness of the needs of the human heart (not proposition-free, but more than “merely propositional”).”

    If that is true, and I believe it is, then isn’t the art of sermon construction, including many of the things you’ve mentioned somewhat dismissively in this post, an important thing?

    I agree with the general thrust of your post here. I think it is right on the money. It is just that I was left feeling as if your description of the wrong approach disparaged many things that can be valuable tools within the right approach to preaching. Of course, I’m new here, so if I’ve misinterpreted your focus, please forgive me.

    • Thanks Jon, great question. I don’t intend to disparage elements of sermon construction. I do intend to point to the difference between preaching the text and preaching a sermon where the text is almost incidental. So you might have two sermons, both of them quote a bit of poetry, both alliterate some points, both include a personal anecdote or two. But one sermon has the light shining clearly on the text (and I think therefore, on God). But the other sermon merely uses the text as an ingredient in the work of art that shines the light on the cleverness or humor or artistry or whatever of the preacher. I am not at all speaking against artistry in the craft of sermon construction, but I think some preachers aren’t convinced that the Bible is well written, so they feel the need to add their own artistry, rather than shining a light on the text and re-presenting it effectively.

      Please follow up, this is not a definitive answer to a very good question. Warmly, Peter.

      • Thanks, Peter. In general, I think we’re on the same page.

        Of course, there’s always the danger of “finding” a great way to communicate and losing focus on the text, even if you didn’t start out that way. I suppose it really isn’t, for many of us, either “preach the text” or “preach from the text” — we probably all end up preaching “from” the text to some degree far more than we want to admit. There is no “I” in “preach the Word”, but too often we let it sneak in here and there.

        Thanks again.

      • I suppose my concern is that many preachers have never really been taught to really preach the text – either by the training they’ve received, or the example they have followed. For many preachers, the goal is to begin with the text and craft as good a sermon as they can. How many real biblicists are there preaching today? Every preacher? No. Every preacher who claims to be expository? I would still say not. The point of the post is to prompt people to consider where the focus is when they preach. I appreciate your desire to bring balance and ultimately we all do fall short. But my goal in writing this post is to prompt some to aim higher than they have been trained or accustomed.

      • Agreed entirely. It’s a good post and a good emphasis — I hope I haven’t given the impression I think otherwise.

        Blessings to you.

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