The standard set by Jesus and demonstrated by Paul also was communicated to Timothy. Paul’s younger associate was exhorted by his spiritual father concerning his pulpit ministry in 1 Timothy 4:13: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
What precedes this edict? The answer is found in 1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” That is, Timothy, first apply God’s Word to your own life, then proclaim it to others. This order of application will ensure a fruitful ministry as Paul assured Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Me-first preaching always begins with the general application of God’s Word. In other words, the preacher must walk with God and allow that life-changing Word to govern his life day by day (as shown by Jesus and Paul) before he preaches to others. Now that the need for general application is established, what plan should the preacher have for specific application?
As a result of studying homiletics for two decades, I have come upon many definitions of biblical preaching. My favorite description is by Haddon Robinson. He defines expository preaching as “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.” The dean of expository preaching shows that once the student has grasped the meaning of the passage, he is then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to apply that text personally and experientially before communicating the message to others.
Robinson’s definition is valuable. However, how is the preacher to apply the text personally and experientially if the sermon preparation isn’t completed until a few days (sometimes less!) before the preaching event? This limited window of opportunity generally doesn’t allow sufficient time for the employment of application. Therefore, a sermon should be completed at least a week prior to its delivery to allow adequate time for rumination on the biblical concept of the message and for its courier to practice what is to be heralded.
There are many advantages to having an entire week—rather than the traditional couple of days—to apply the timeless truths of God’s Word once the adjustment is made to the pastor’s preparation schedule. The preacher can set aside a block of time each day to review the message and meditate upon the application.
There is perhaps no better situation for reflection than during the pastor’s devotions. He can use these sacred moments to seek heavenly direction on how to customize the personal application. Another choice occasion to reflect on the text and its applications would be before retiring for the evening. Either setting will facilitate keeping the message and its applications as his primary focus throughout the week.
On a more practical note, it is also advisable to write out the application(s) on a 3″X5″ card and carry that card with you. The applications can be meditated on while jogging, mowing the lawn or driving to an appointment. Our gracious Lord can use all these opportunities to imbue one’s mind with insights to personal application. The obvious next step is to implement the action as revealed to the herald.
A Working Model
The author has a seven-fold model for sermon preparation. First, he applies F.I.R.E. to his biblical passage to be preached. The acronym F.I.R.E. stands for familiarity, interpretation, relationship and employment. Next, he develops his preaching points; they are the exegetical, theological and homiletical points. The homiletical points are the application points or timeless truths to be applied.
We will use Revelation 10 as our preaching text. The apostle John is commanded by Jesus Christ to write the Book of Revelation. Revelation 1:19 reveals a three-fold division of the book. In the third part of the outline, the seven-seal, seven-trumpet and seven-bowl judgments occur. Revelation 10 is part of an interlude that takes place between the sixth and seventh trumpets.
John sees (in a vision) a powerful angel coming down from heaven with a little book in his hand (vv. 1-2). After descending on the earth, three times this heavenly messenger is depicted as standing on land and sea (vv. 2, 5, 8) signifying judgment on both. John is then commanded to take the book from the angel’s hand, eat it and prophesy (vv. 8-11). The homiletical or applicational point derived from the sermon preparation is, “Digest God’s Word, then proclaim it.”
Following the preparation paradigm as suggested in this paper, the preacher has now almost a full week to digest this point and make personal application. As he daily reflects and prays about this concept, he might choose to listen to a sermon (from his favorite preacher) on evangelism, then look for an opportunity to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection to an unbeliever. The selection to give ear to a sermon will enlarge the pastor’s faith because, as Romans 10:17 states, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of God.”
Moreover, the preacher might choose to be blessed by reading the entire Book of Revelation (Rev. 1:3) and then seek an opportunity to proclaim what he’s learned. Also, he may select a portion of Scripture pertaining to missions. He could study, memorize or meditate on its meaning, all while asking the Lord to give him an open door to share that message with another. Imagine the delight of the pastor after he has applied his preaching text and then faithfully stands in the pulpit declaring, “Thus says the Lord.”
Me-first preaching is a crucial component of sermon preparation. It is not only the model exhibited by Ezra, Jesus, Paul and Timothy, but also is the pattern practiced by modern biblical expositors of God’s Word who lead lives of integrity. The above proposed paradigm when practiced will safeguard the modern bearer of glad tidings from being the most reprehensible creature known to the pulpit: the hypocrite.
The rewards for adopting a me-first attitude to biblical preaching are plenteous. First, you are succeeding a fellowship of great preachers, such as Jesus and Paul. Also, you become a preacher worthy of imitation, unlike the Pharisees of old. May Jesus never have to say of you what He said about these hypocrites in Matthew 23:3: “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do.” Finally, there is a calm assurance that when you mount the sacred pulpit, you truly know in the depth of your heart you are practicing what you preach.