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 (16): Getting at the Main Idea of the Text (MIT)

The main idea of a text (step 3) naturally derives from our studying of the Scriptures (step 1) and our structuring of the Scriptures (step 2). Having prayed over the entire process, we have: 1) tracked and identified the key verbs and parsed them; 2) looked for key words needing definition; 3) identified repetition of words and phrases; 4) located the seams in the text, which inform us as to the proper division of the passage; 5) noted the context; 6) searched for helpful and supporting Scripture; 7) written out any and all observations and applications discovered in the discovery process; 8) examined our study aids and commentaries for helpful insight, as well as a check and balance to our interpretation.

The MIT is the text’s heart. Every text will usually have several ideas that need to be studied and developed. Still, each text will also have a main idea that all other ideas support and amplify.

There are three key questions that help us identify and clarify the MIT. They are:

1) What was the main point then? (Idea)

2) What was the biblical author talking about? (Theme)

3) What was the biblical author saying about what he was talking about? (Complement)

The main idea is the single idea around which the details of the text are woven. Since we want to communicate one major point for the people to hear, understand, and obey, we seek to communicate the major idea of each Scripture text in contemporary terms.

The main idea of the text is the single unit of thought that binds together and gives meaning to all the particulars of a text. In some manner it should relate to your title.

It should always be in the form of a full grammatical sentence, stated clearly and concisely. It places a laser beam focus on 1) what the author is talking about and 2) what the author is saying about what he is talking about.

In order to get the main idea of the text, put the content of the subjects, themes, main points, or summaries together. In arriving at the MIT you are looking for accuracy and adequacy. The MIT should precisely reflect your particular text and must cover the assertions of the text.

Now, here are some practical steps to consider in this stage of your work in the study.

1) Give a tentative title to the text. This could well be the “theme” of the MIT.

2) If possible, write a personal translation or paraphrase of the text reflecting the flow or argument of the text.

3) Write out the main idea of the text. Put the theme and complement in full sentence form. The full statement does not need to be long, but make it adequate. You will most likely refine it and even shorten it as you work with it.

If you really desire to be an expositor of the Word of God, you will seek to impress on your people what the author stresses-the truth of this text. Remember, God is the ultimate author of the text. We want to honor what He put there. A good message should have a one sentence statement that summarizes the passage being taught.

The task is not always easy, but if undertaken, it pays rich rewards. Here are a few of those dividends:

1) The preacher will avoid the often-heard criticism that expository sermons/teaching lacks structure.

2) The discipline gives the preacher a better understanding of the truths he will share with his people.

3) It will assist those hearing the message to understand the message.

Unless we find the right words to identify the MIT, how will we ever teach that idea? Carefully locate the theological themes in the text. This will provide insight into its main idea. You can usually recognize the theological themes in the text by looking at the significant words you see there. Some words in Scripture bear enormous theological weight (e.g. justification, sanctification, reconciliation, repentance, calling, faith, election). Consider the plain and obvious meaning of the text for indications of the main idea. Look for a pivotal verse in the text which may contain the main theme. Though every text does not have a pivotal verse, many will. It will be the one verse which seems to capture the idea and summarize the meaning of the entire section.

Engaging Exposition (15): Developing the Main Idea of the Text

By way of summary, we have noted the following as essential components of steps one (studying) and two (structuring) of the hermeneutical process:

1. Study the book as a Whole.

  1. Consider the questions of date, authorship, recipients, and purpose (general matters of introduction.)
  2. Develop an outline of the entire book (study Bibles and commentaries will be helpful.)
  3. Examine the relationship of the passage under consideration in both its near and far context.

2. Establish the Best Textual Base Possible.

  1. Use the original languages if you can.
  2. Compare various versions and translations.

3. Investigate the Text Linguistically (e.g. word by word within its context and semantic range)

  1. Make a lexical (definitional) study of crucial words.
  2. Research the passage for key words, phrases, and ideas.
  3. Track the verbs!
  4. Cross reference.

4. Determine the Genre of the Discourse

  1. What is the literary type (history, poetry, prophetic, apocalyptic)?
  2. What literary devices are used?
  3. Is there any indication of the life situation from which the material came?

5. Analyze The Structure Of The Passage

  1. Determine if the material constitutes a literary unity.
  2. Is there a logical sequence of ideas present?
  3. Isolate the basic themes or emphases.
  4. Outline the text you are studying. Use the outline as the framework for your teaching.

We can also highlight some of the basic interpretive rules we discovered that must constantly guide us in the hermeneutical/homiletical construction process.

  1. The context rules when interpreting the text.
  2. The text must be interpreted in light of all Scripture.
  3. Scripture will never contradict itself.
  4. Scripture should be interpreted literally (or “naturally” according to its genre.)
  5. Do not develop a doctrine from obscure or difficult passages.
  6. Discover the author’s original intended meaning and honor that meaning.
  7. Check your conclusions using reliable resources.

Now, at this point we want to introduce a diagram that provides an overview of where we have been and where we are. It should help you get a grasp of the “big picture” of sermon development.

Akin Triangle

In our pyramidic diagram you can see a number of interesting points and parallels.

1) The hermeneutical and the homiletical beautifully balance one another.

2) Steps 2 and 6 complement each other, as do steps 3 and 5.

3) If the hermeneutical aspect of sermon development is done well, the homiletical component will naturally follow because the latter should flow from the former.

4) This method is simple and easily transferable to others we might teach and instruct in building biblically faithful expository sermons.