Accordance Blog
Feb 1, 2011 David Lang

Deriving Your Sermon Outline from Scripture

Last night I demonstrated Accordance to a bunch of pastors at the Desiring God Pastor's Conference. Since I don't get too many opportunities to preach to pastors about sound exegetical method, I decided not to give a drink-from-the-firehouse-here's-everything-Accordance-can-do demonstration. Instead, I showed how you can use the tools in Accordance to exegete a particular passage. After a brief overview of the interface, I opened 2 Samuel 11—the story of David and Bathsheba—and began unpacking the text using a variety of Accordance tools.

I won't go into everything I did in that session, but my favorite part was showing how you can use Accordance's analysis and highlighting tools to identify repeated words and key themes in a passage. This was my favorite part because there are so many interesting motifs to explore in 2 Samuel 11, and each of those motifs can form the backbone of an expositional sermon.

For example, I began by highlighting all the words in 2 Samuel 11 related to washing. Obviously, David sees Bathsheba "bathing," and the text mentions that she was "purifying" herself from the ceremonial uncleanness resulting from her menstruation. Later in the passage, David tries to cover Bathsheba's pregnancy by enticing her husband to return home and "wash his feet"—that is, enjoy all the comforts of home, including his wife's companionship. Uriah, of course, refuses to return home. This motif of washing introduces a number of ironies. First, Bathsheba's "purification" becomes the stimulus for a far more significant loss of purity. Second, the one person in this story who doesn't "wash"—Uriah—is the only one who remains clean. As we say in the South, "That'll preach!" A good expositional sermon, therefore, could work through the implications of this washing motif in 2 Samuel 11, communicating both the author's literary artistry as well as a whole host of practical applications.

That, of course, is not the only literary motif in 2 Samuel 11. I went on to show how you could search for every word in 2 Samuel 11 (use the asterisk in word mode and define a range for 2 Samuel 11), then choose Analysis from the Details pop-up to get a list of all the words in the passage and the number of times they appear. Change the sort of the Analysis window from Alphabetical to Count Down and you'll see immediately which words are used most often in that passage.

A search for all words in a passage enables you to get a list of words ordered by frequency

Doing this reveals a number of interesting things:

First, David and Uriah are the two people mentioned most often, while Bathsheba is mentioned only once. Clearly, the author is more interested in contrasting these two men than in focusing on the woman with whom David committed adultery.

Second, the word "house" is repeated ten times in this single chapter. Do a search for "house" in 2 Samuel 11 and you see the contrast between David, who expanded his own house by pillaging Uriah's house, and Uriah, who remained faithful to build up the house of the king who had already betrayed him.

Finally, the word "sent" is also repeated numerous times in this passage. Examine that word, and you find that David, who is a man of action in almost every other passage, is constantly sending people to do his dirty work in 2 Samuel 11. The picture you get is of a man who is repeatedly manipulating things for his own benefit, rather than acting in service to the Lord or for the benefit of his people.

It should be easy to see how each of these motifs could form the outline of a good expositional sermon. For example, one could use the "house" motif in conjunction with Solomon's statement in Psalm 127:1 that "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." David resorts to ungodly means to build his own house, and it results in the judgment that "the sword shall never depart" from his house (2 Samuel 12:10). One could also point out that it was David's second son with Bathsheba who makes the observation about the LORD building a house, so that you could end your sermon on a redemptive note.

If an expositional sermon derives its central message and structure from the text itself, exploring the text's literary motifs and central themes provides a solid foundation upon which to build your sermon outline.


Jan 28, 2011 David Lang

Exposition Begins with Reading

Last week I wrote a couple of posts in which I said it is more important to read English well than to know Greek and Hebrew. I was, of course, deliberately being provocative by setting up a false dichotomy. It is not as if reading well is somehow incompatible with knowing Greek and Hebrew. My point was certainly not that Greek and Hebrew are unnecessary to good exegesis. Rather, it was that good exegesis begins with effective reading. If you know how to read texts well—a skill learned in one's native language—then you can easily apply that skill to reading the original languages. If, however, you lack that skill, learning Greek and Hebrew will not by itself make you a better exegete.

Now, it often happens that the process of learning the original languages can help develop literary acumen in those who had previously lacked it. Sometimes we learn our native language so intuitively that we never slow down to consider the ways in which communication takes place. In such cases, learning the grammar and syntax of Greek and Hebrew can help us to read our own language more intelligently. The best Greek and Hebrew teachers even encourage this. For example, I love the way Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek begins with English concepts and then relates those concepts to the Greek grammar being introduced. Mounce's text also includes "exegetical insights" which show how those grammatical concepts affect our understanding of specific Biblical passages. In doing this, Mounce helps to develop the kind of literary acumen I've been discussing.

However one acquires it, and whether one applies it to the Bible in translation or in the original languages, this literary acumen is essential to the task of exposition.

What is exposition? Here's a great explanation from John Stott’s Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century:

Whether it (the text) is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction, or falsification. In expository preaching, the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said.

Note the approaches to preaching which Stott contrasts with exposition. The first uses the text as "an introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme." Have you ever heard a sermon like that? The sermon may be wonderful, but at the end you find yourself wondering how what was said had any connection to the actual sermon text. The second approach uses the text as a "peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts." I saw that in a church my family visited when we first moved to a different town. The pastor preached for forty minutes from a powerful text in Ephesians, yet he only turned to the actual text twice during that entire time. In the end, the passage became nothing more than a peg on which he hung forty minutes of good advice. Although we liked a lot of things about the church, we never went back.

In contrast to these approaches, Stott holds up expository preaching which allows the text to control the message being preached. Put another way, an expository sermon draws its structure and message from the text itself. The expositor asks what the main point of a passage is and then seeks to make that the main point of the sermon. The expositor asks how the text communicates that message and then organizes his points and subpoints along those same lines. As Darrell Johnson puts it in The Glory of Preaching:

expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do what only the text can do.

If exposition involves inviting people into the text of Scripture, enabling them to read it for themselves with greater clarity and engagement, then it stands to reason that exposition must begin with reading. Unless the expositor knows how to read the text for himself with clarity and engagement, he cannot hope to help others do the same.

With Accordance, it is ridiculously easy to branch out from the text to dig into all kinds of helpful tools and study aids, but all of that digging must come after a unified reading of the text—even multiple readings. Otherwise, genuine exposition becomes impossible. If you want to avoid obscuring the text of the Bible with a "ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts," develop the discipline of reading the text as the first step to meaningful exposition.