Engaging Exposition (19): The Work of Exposition: Structuring the Message

Engaging exposition requires the preacher of God’s Word to develop a comprehensive and structured method for moving from his study notes and research to the completed sermon. John Stott says, “the golden rule for sermon outlines is that each text must be allowed to supply its own structure.”* An effective teacher of the Word of God recognizes the wisdom of honoring the substance and structure of the text. What he says should be faithful to the text as well as obvious from the text both to himself and to those he instructs.

I want to suggest ten basic and related steps to follow. These steps will develop and be true to our short definition of expository preaching: “Christ-centered, text-driven, Spirit-led preaching that transforms lives.” They will also be true and develop our more full description of biblical exposition:

Expository preaching is text driven preaching that honors the truth of Scripture as it was given by the Holy Spirit. Its goal is to discover the God-inspired meaning through historical-grammatical-theological investigation and interpretation. By means of engaging and compelling proclamation, the preacher explains, illustrates and applies the meaning of the biblical text in submission to and in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching Christ for a verdict of changed lives.

1) Let your exegesis drive and determine the structure of your message.

2) Have as many major points as the text naturally demands.

3) Make sure your major points and sub-points clearly and naturally flow out of the text. Be able to see your outline (or movements) in the text.

4) State your points in complete sentences that are application focused connecting them to the sermon title, MIT and MIM.

5) Make your sub-points connect with the major points that they support.

6) Look for the theological truths the text clearly supports and develops.

7) Cover and fill the skeleton outline with the meat and marrow of your exegesis.

8) Add to your expository content the supporting accessories of introduction, conclusion, application and illustrations.

9) As you hone the finished product, make sure there is balance, symmetry and cohesion to the message as a whole.

10) Practice reading your text repeatedly (and out loud), remembering that it is a sin to read God’s Word poorly.

In “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” Martin Luther throws down the gauntlet and gives us some final words in this chapter to guide us and inspire us:

Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate.

Preaching the Word of God for the glory of our Savior and the good of His saints – this is an essential component for healthy churches in our day. It is an essential component for healthy churches in any day.


* John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 229.

Engaging Exposition (18): Getting At The Main Idea of the Message (MIM)

The main idea of the message (MIM) is the heart and soul of your sermon. The MIM is derived from the MIT and channeled through the Purpose Bridge.

Just as the text has a singular theme/complement your teaching must have a singular theme/complement as well. For the MIM, you ask the key question, of yourself rather than of the biblical author.

The Main Idea of the Message

Theme: What am I talking about?

Complement: What am I saying about what I am talking about?

Six guidelines guide us in honing in on the MIM:

1) Develop the MIM with your audience in mind.

2) State the MIM in the most memorable sentence possible.

3) State it positively, not negatively, if possible.

4) State it in the active voice, not the passive voice.

5) State it in words or phrases which are precise, concrete, and familiar to your listeners.

6) State it so that the truth is readily seen as relevant to your audience and their needs.

What are the characteristics of a good MIM?

1) It is derived from the main idea of the text. The MIT determines the MIM.

2) It is what the preacher will be talking about in his message.

3) It is a carefully worded statement.

4) It is geared to the audience.

5) It has a subject and a complement.

6) It is a complete sentence that is memorable.

Now let us sound a word of warning in closing this chapter. Identifying the MIT/MIM does not give one license or permission to ignore the supporting ideas of the text. The supporting ideas must be allowed to support!

Faithful exposition will honor the whole text, big ideas and little ideas. This will allow the whole as well as the parts to fulfill their divinely inspired assignment. Key points will support the main point, and minor points will support the key points. Text-driven preaching will be our guide and compass every step of the way.

Engaging Exposition (17): The Bridge From Study To Sermon

This is where you transition from the study to the message, from the past world of the biblical period to the present world of the here and now. To ignore this dimension in the hermeneutical/homiletical process can be fatal to what happens when you stand up to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Basically, you are to fulfill the assignment of a divinely called translator. Your job is to translate the precious and eternal truth of Scripture so that a 21st century audience can hear, understand and respond to the biblical truth that has been made plain to them. Changing the truth is not an option and God forgive those who play the fool in this area. Communicating the truth so that those who hear you speak “get it” and genuinely grasp the message conveyed by the biblical revelation is what we are after.

Considerations in accomplishing step #4

When you cross this bridge, you will have moved from studying the Scriptures-the hermeneutical exercise-towards teaching the Scriptures-the homiletical exercise. You will now begin to consider several new issues that will lay the foundation for the full development of your message.

1) Begin to focus on the introduction of the message, and the issue that has been raised in the text and will be raised in the message.

2) Think about what must be included and/or excluded in the body of the teaching.

3) Give thought to your conclusion – how you will wrap things up.

4) Consider the illustrations’ that will help accomplish the purpose of the message.

5) Most important, let the purpose of the teaching directly contribute to the form of the theme of the main idea of the message (MIM).

This now leads us to five crucial questions you should ask of every text. This will solidify your purpose and guide you in sermon development. Hopefully, you will see that these five questions should follow the “Grand Redemptive Storyline” of Creation (God) – Fall – Redemption – Sanctification (leading to Consummation/Glorification).

Five Crucial Questions for Every Sermon to Raise and Answer

1) What does this text teach about God and His character and ways? This question is intentionally theological and God focused. It is the first question you should always ask in sermon development. This question looks for the “vision of God” in the text.

2) What does this text teach about fallen humanity? This question naturally follows number one, and it should always follow number one. It will keep us from being man-centered or anthropocentric in our preaching. Bryan Chappell speaks of the “Fallen Condition Focus” (FCF).

3) How does this text point to Christ? This is central in the sermon construction process and therefore we locate it “under the bridge” to support the entire structure.

This is not a novel idea. The church fathers were thoroughly Christocentric in their preaching. After all, they got it from the apostles, and they got it from Jesus. Jesus teaches us in Luke 24 that all of Scripture is about Him-all of it. In John 5:39, He says the Scriptures testify of Himself. Therefore, we dare not treat the Old Testament, like a Jewish rabbi.

4) What does God want my people to know? Every exposition of Scripture will have a knowledge element. There will be biblical and theological content.

5) What does God want my people to do? Doing follows knowing. Having immersed my people in God’s word as to what says and means, I will now craft an action plan that paves a clearly marked road for obedience. If we answer the knowledge question but fail to follow up with an outlet for concrete and specific action, our people will become confused and frustrated. Our goal is to make disciples of Jesus who will think and act with a Christian worldview. People who do not think like Jesus will not act like Jesus, and people who do not act like Jesus are not really thinking like Jesus.