Taking the Text Test

Many of us are familiar with the advertising campaigns of various soft drink manufacturers that have involved a “taste test”. That is, the consumer is directed to taste one brand of drink, taste a second brand, and then compare the two in order to determine which brand tastes the best.

Such an exercise brings to mind an infinitely more significant test. This one concerns the preacher’s attention to the text of Scripture from which he plans to preach and his faithfulness to it. If a preacher believes in the inerrancy of Scripture and aims to deliver text-driven sermons, this test is no small matter. The following list, while not exhaustive, may offer the preacher some guidance in testing the quality of his attempts at text-driven preaching.

  • Does the selected text represent a complete unit of thought?
    Some sermons are doomed from the start because the preacher selects a text that is too long for meaningful treatment in a normal preaching setting. Others are marred by a failure to recognize basic landmarks in Scripture, which indicate a shift in thought or change in direction. Be careful to pay attention to context and to those key transitional terms such as “so,” “therefore” and “now.” Often, such terms indicate the beginning of a new unit of thought.
  • Has sufficient attention been given to the grammatical structure of the selected text?
    By the way, this does not demand that one have knowledge of the biblical languages. Simply focus on the English text and its structure. Identify the main clauses in a text and then distinguish them from supportive or subordinate clauses. Look even closer and attempt to identify the key verbs in the text, and pay careful attention to those that present themselves in command form. My gifted Greek professor, Jack MacGorman, frequently exhorted his students to be “baseline expositors.” Avoid trying to build a sermon around a remote adjective or adverb. Don’t elevate a subordinate clause to “star” status while ignoring or neglecting the main clause it exists to amplify.
  • Does the sermon’s main idea, or thesis, accurately reflect the content of the text?
    The main idea should be a one-sentence statement that effectively summarizes the sermon. Far from simply being a “catchy” communication, it should capture the content of the text.  Additionally, it should include both “what is true” (exposition) and “what to do” (application) elements.
  • Does the proposed structure of the sermon flow out of the text or is a “foreign” structure imposed upon it?
    The major points of the sermon should flow out of the text. Avoid attempting to impose a three-point structure on a text that has only two major emphases. Remember, your objective is to “expose” the meaning of the text. Don’t impose meaning or structure onto the text.
  • Make sure that your application flows out of your text.
    For some preachers it seems that application never varies. Whatever the nature and focus of their announced preaching text, the application always flows out of the preacher’s personal hobby horse—revival, purity, marriage or some other concern. Granted, these are legitimate topics. However, the issue for truly text-driven preaching is this: Is there a direct correlation between the application being made and the content of the text? Endeavor to make your application text-specific.
  • Aim to utilize illustrations that shed light on specific matters addressed in your text.
    As you do this, remind yourself that illustration is the servant of exposition. The sermon loaded with 20 minutes of anecdotes leaves insufficient time to deliver a text-driven exposition that handles the text accurately and comprehensively.
  • Give careful consideration to context.
    What is going on in the texts immediately preceding and following your preaching text? What about the larger context of the particular book from which your text is taken? Take the time to “bombard” your text with questions. What aspect of man’s fallenness is being addressed in it? Bryan Chapell calls this the “fallen condition focus”. What attribute or attributes of God are on display in your text? This is no small consideration, given that your preaching should be marked by a radical God –centeredness.

In the end, subjecting your preaching to the text test can have at least two positive results.

  • First, taking the text seriously and letting it “drive” the sermon brings a foundational consistency to your calling, theology and preaching.
    It will keep you from the dangerous dichotomy of faithfully confessing the inerrancy of Scripture while functionally proclaiming its errancy because of lack of focus on the text.
  • Second, text-driven sermons bring life to God’s people because power resides in His Word.
    Taking the text test puts the focus in preaching where it should always be-on the text. When this occurs, your hearers, by the power of the Spirit—who inspired the Word—will agree with David’s declaration in Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”