Anatomy of a Sermon

x-ray chestSunday, December 10, 2017 

The Internet makes it easier than ever to listen to a variety of Bible teachers. You don’t have to listen to many to realize that everyone has their own approach. If we do not exercise discernment, we can be impressed on a superficial level and ignore a lack of biblical substance. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” My seminary preaching class used the human body to illustrate the components of a good sermon.

The skeleton of a sermon is the thesis and outline. Since the Bible is God-breathed, every sermon should be clearly anchored in Scripture (2 Tim 3:16). If the sermon is focused on a passage of Scripture, then the outline should reflect the flow of thought in the passage, whether it be one verse or several. If the sermon is focused on a topic, then the outline should reflect the balance of biblical teaching on that subject.  At Calvary East, I project the thesis and main points of each sermon on slides to help you take notes and follow along.

The vital organs of a sermon are the interpretation and explanation of Scripture. Since God revealed his word through human beings, we interpret their writings as we would other human speech. We pay attention to the grammar and words that the authors use. We consider the literary and historical context. Since the entire Bible is God ‘s Word, we also allow other parts of Scripture to inform our interpretation. These details should be included in a sermon to prove the thesis and the outline.

The muscles of a sermon are the practical application. Paul told Timothy to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). We cannot allow our study of Scripture to be merely intellectual. We are missing the point if we approach the Bible as a book of trivia. A good sermon calls us to action. Each week at Calvary East, I highlight specific action steps (1) for those who do not yet believe the gospel to learn more; (2) for those who do not yet believe the gospel to be saved; and (3) for those who believe to grow in their faith.

The most obvious part of a sermon is the tone and style, so we could liken it to the skin. Every preacher has a different personality, and it is often expressed in the illustrations they use. They may be funny, dramatic, or intellectually engaging. There is no right or wrong recipe, but if preachers are not careful their personality can overshadow the biblical substance of the sermon. People walk away remembering the stories rather than the Scripture. My approach to illustrations is to use a simple image to briefly introduce each outline point, so that the focus remains on the Scripture.

So when you hear someone teach Scripture, whether here or anywhere else, be discerning (This applies to books too!). Look for solid biblical substance and thoughtful application. The Holy Spirit will help you (1 Jn 2:27).

– Bryan Craddock

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