Choosing and Analyzing a Book of the Bible

I am convinced, through research and experience, that systematic expository preaching (SEP) is the best approach to pastoral preaching. Since a pastor addresses the same congregation each week, he must be able to find consistently fresh material. Preaching through Bible books, or extended sections of Scripture, provides that freshness.

If you have committed to SEP, or are thinking about it, what is your first step? In this case the simple answer is the correct one. You must choose what Bible book to preach.

You may choose a book or extended section of scripture for several reasons.

First, you may choose based on preference. If your favorite book is Colossians, then preach through it.

Second, you may choose based on needs. There are times in your church’s life when certain books need to be preached. A hurting church would benefit from John’s Gospel. Its intimate portrayal of Christ encourages believers by deepening their understanding of the Savior.

God has entrusted your congregation to you. Pay attention to what they need.

Third, you may choose based on balance. For instance, assume you did preach through Colossians. Consider a narrative book or section as a follow-up.

Most importantly, prayer informs each choice. Sometimes there is no clear reason for choosing preaching material, other than a sense of God’s will for your pulpit ministry. Never ignore this insight.

Once you know what to preach, begin your content and background analysis.

To analyze the book, you will need to do two things.

First, read and outline the contents. Read the book several times and adjust your outline as you reread. Reading several versions can help you to see the natural divisions of the text. Outline the book into preaching units. You will outline the individual preaching units later, as you preach through the book.

The outline, however, is only a guide. My experience is that my outline grows as I preach the series. A few years ago, I preached through Ephesians in twenty six sermons. I initially planned twenty.

Second, using standard journalistic questions, prepare a background study of the book.

To do the background study, you will need to gather a few materials: New or Old Testament surveys, Bible dictionaries, and commentaries.

Most pastor acquire surveys and dictionaries early in ministry. Be sure to update every few years, as new scholarship is published.

Commentaries are trickier. In fact, you may be thinking that it is too early in the process to talk about commentaries. I recommend, however, that commentaries be bought as soon as you decide what to preach. Ask former seminary professors for opinions on the best commentaries for your chosen book. Several commentary surveys exist. Purchase copies and update with new editions.

Acquire three to five commentaries for the book being preached, focusing on exegetical and expository works. Commentaries written by popular preachers are a product of their pulpit ministry. You, however, are able to write your sermons according to your gifting and for your congregation. You can do what these popular preachers have already done, but your version is authentic to you.

Once you gather your material, focus on five questions: who, where, when, why, and what.

First, who wrote the book and to whom did the author write?

Second, where was the book written and where was it sent?

Third, when did the author write the book?

Fourth, why did the author write the book?

Fifth, what did the author write? You have already answered this question as you outlined the book.

Your gathered materials discuss each of these questions. I recommend you produce a bullet point document with these facts. There is no need to write in the form of a research paper. It is for your use and should be quickly readable.

Also, as you study, look for the book’s main theme. Pay attention to key passages. Get to know the book’s flow. The author wrote with a purpose. Try to discover it.

After completing your outline and background study, you are almost ready to begin preparing the first sermon.

The only thing remaining is how to organize your records. The next post will discuss the exciting world of spreadsheets and file names.

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