If you went to a seminary like mine, every class you attended pounded into your head that the text (whether Greek or Hebrew) should shape your sermon outline. It is not my purpose to deny this truth. No, but there are distortions of this principle that float about in the minds of unsuspecting young preachers (like me) and heady seminarians. The following list addresses 7 common abuses that occur in the name of expositional preaching. See if the shoe doesn’t fit:
Your Sermon Points Shouldn’t Come from the Greek Text because…
1. Your job is to expound not confound.
Expository preaching is meant to expound the text–i.e., explain it and make it understandable. If you are injecting so much Greek and Hebrew jargon into your sermon that it would confuse Moses and Paul, you’ve got a problem. You lost your congregation at χαιρετε (hello!), so just leave the technical Greek stuff in the study where it belongs. Your masterful command of the original texts is meant to aid you in making the text plain, not confounding it further.
2. Your points should be reproducible.
You never want your listeners to walk away from your sermon saying, “I would have never understood that passage without Pastor _____’s help!” Rather, when they leave the church gathering, your congregants should wonder why it took you all week to figure out what was obvious to them in just thirty minutes. A month later, if one of your members was to take out their ESV and look at the passage you preached, would they come up with the same basic outline on their own?
3. Your sheep should be learning to read.
This point rides in on the tails of the last point. Your purpose as a minister should be to teach your members how to read the Bible well. Best case scenario: you are teaching them Greek and Hebrew in Sunday School. As the likelihood of that taking place might be slim, the next best thing you can do is teach them to read their English translations really, really well. The worst thing you could do is make them feel as though they will never understand God’s Word without knowledge of the original languages. If your sermons communicate–whether consciously or sub-consciously–that they cannot understand the text properly using an English translation, you are creating a stumbling block.
4. Your main points shouldn’t hang by a thread.
Andrew Fuller, a famous pastor of the 19th century, scolded theologians and pastors whose main arguments hung on technicalities in the original languages. I think he was on to something, especially when it comes to preaching. If you have a sermon point that hinges on the tense of a Greek verb, eliminate it from the sermon. You and I are deceiving ourselves if we think we can discern the lightest nuances in a foreign language after just five or ten years of study. Most of us still struggle to understand English’s “I before E” rule, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re an expert in Greek or Hebrew. Save those minor details and technical discussions for that commentary you keep insisting you are going to write. Don’t bring them to the pulpit.
5. It is alienating.
“You think you’re better than me?” Whether its between a doorman and a comedian or between a congregant and his pastor, this sentiment is the quickest way to create tension in a relationship. One of the best ways to alienate your congregation is to give off the air that you know you’re better, smarter, whatever, than your congregation. No one likes to feel inferior. There are ways of raising your congregation to a new level of understanding without coming across as pedantic. Try your best to keep all of that intense study you’ve done in the original texts in your head, and allow it to fuel your passion as you preach.
6. It is a pride thing.
Many pastors have a chip on their shoulder. If you are like me, you entered the ministry with a grossly distorted estimation of self, and you have got to come back down to planet earth. Your paltry preaching is not going to win any awards any time soon–I’m sorry to burst that bubble. We are proud men. We studied for four years at an intense master’s program, learning church history, greek, and systematic theology. The people should know that. No. No. No they shouldn’t. The purpose of your sermons is not to prove your educative status, but to shepherd the flock of God. So stop inserting that long Greek word and this guttural Hebrew verb at every turn of your sermon manuscript just so that they will “oohh” and “ahhh” at your learnedness–I’m pretty sure that’s not a word, but you get the point. Be humble. Your church needs to know that you love them more than anything else, not that you are an accomplished scholar. Which brings us to the last point…
7. You might be tempted to use the word “scholars”.
Maybe this is just a pet-peeve, so take it or leave it. “Scholars” should never be brought into the pulpit. Don’t mention them; don’t use the word. When you tell your congregation what “scholars” say about a text, you make them feel like they are lucky that you have descended from the summit to deliver a message from the more enlightened ones. Your church doesn’t pay a set of commentaries, and they didn’t ordain a Biblos software program. If I was a congregant, I wouldn’t care what my pastor heard from other scholars. I would want to know what he heard from God. If I was a congregant, I wouldn’t want my pastor to hand down the general consensus of a group of scholars. I would want him to hand deliver a word from the Almighty God. But that’s just me.
So Pastor, as you study that NA27 or that BHS, remember to avoid these pitfalls. Happy expositing!