Disciplines for Expository Preparation – Part 2

Sanctification in the Preparation of Sermons

Pastors must be moving toward holiness through the process of progressive sanctification. That is, they must be spiritually maturing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Joel Beeke proffers, “The holiness of a minister’s heart is not merely an ideal; it is absolutely necessary for his work to be effective. Holiness of life must be his consuming passion.”[1] This process is similar to how Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to “Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). Maturity is the goal of the Christian life. Sinclair Ferguson relates the situation in which the Corinthians found themselves to babies on Christmas day playing with wrapping paper rather than the gift they had received.[2] They are completely enamored with the wrong thing. In other words, if pastors are ignoring the sanctifying grace of God in their life, it will not be present in their sermons. Thus, this lack of presence will then translate to their congregation. When there is no personal sanctification in the pastor, it will result in a lack of sanctifying activities in the lives of congregants.

Therefore, the sanctification of the pastor is an indispensable activity because one needs it in order to exemplify it to their congregation. The spiritual disciplines allow the pastor to pursue godliness while progressively becoming more and more like Christ himself, all while emulating for the congregation what true spirituality looks like in everyday life. The disciplines are the foundation that sanctifies the pastor through the Word. The result, however, is that the spirituality of the pastor will filter into his sermons. When this goal of Christlikeness is the priority, the sanctification process will always be primary.[3] Here are two reasons why this process should take primacy in the pastor’s life.

First, this earthly journey is a pilgrimage preparing us for the life to come. Jesus told his disciples that the only way to get to the Father was by Him (John 14:6). The term pilgrimage is a necessary term to comprehend because it conveys the idea that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Eugene Peterson communicates great wisdom to his readers that Christian maturity is never realized in life by immediate action and results. Instead, we mature over long periods through the processes of life.[4]

Thus, the pilgrimage in which pastors find themselves during their lives must be fueled by an intentional pursuit of holiness, for this is indeed what defines sanctification.

Second, sanctification is the lifelong pursuit of holiness. This lifelong pursuit of holiness is more than merely trying or aiming to be holy. Forlines notes that this process speaks of a relationship between a person and God rather than mere morality.[5] In other words, holiness does not come from merely being a moral person. Unbelievers can be a “good moral” person without an ounce of dedication to God. Therefore, a prerequisite to holiness is, of course, a relationship with God. This communion with the Lord is what makes a person Christlike. Furthermore, this union with Christ comes through faith, which is the condition of regeneration. It is not the other way around. Otherwise, sanctification precedes regeneration and justification, which is a biblical impossibility.[6]

Thus, for pastors to experience the sanctifying work of Christ in their life, they must devote their entire selves (mind, heart, and will) to Christ and allow His Spirit to guide their lives as they live and lead the church of God. Pastors must integrate their growth in holiness into their sermon preparation because it is vital to emulate for their congregants what it means to live the Christian life. Congregations need to hear (and see!) that the Christian life is achievable, and pastors must be the embodiment of such truth. Bridges notes, “Just as He delivered us from the overall reign of sin, so He has made ample provision for us to win the daily skirmishes against sin.”[7] In other words, Christ gives us victory and o\pastors must be the personification of the victory believers are promised through Jesus Christ.

In order to become sanctified, one must learn the truth by the Word of God (through Bible intake, prayer, and meditation), and must practice it through their actions. Forlines’s total personality provides the most logical conclusion for such statements: truth must be “understood by the mind, experienced and felt in the heart, and acted upon by the will.”[8] It is through these means and to this end that pastors must devote themselves as they grow in the grace and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This growth not only manifests itself through actions and attitudes of the pastor’s personal life, but the pastor will also actualize them in his sermons. Therefore, the sanctification of the pastor plays a primary role for the sermon preparation each week in his life because these first five disciplines – submission to Christ, prayer, meditation, Bible intake, and sanctification – supply the power needed to complete the next four disciplines dealing intricately with sermon preparation, beginning with biblical interpretation.

Interpretation in the Preparation of Sermons

According to Shaddix, proper interpretation draws out the meaning of a passage and correctly epitomizes it.[9] Haddon Robinson, however, claims that in order to do correct exegesis, the pastor must read the passage to correctly understand the meaning contained within.[10] In other words, exegesis/interpretation ensues when the pastor proclaims to his people what God says in his Word.[11] Correct exegesis is necessary because, without it, the pastor will proclaim a message out of line with biblical teaching. It is as Robert Thomas says, “if the explanation of what the author meant is missing, so is the heart of Bible exposition.”[12] Thus, to correctly exegete a passage of Scripture, a pastor must discipline himself to understand the meaning and themes of a passage so he can accurately convey and proclaim them to his congregation.

Understanding the meaning of a particular text is not an easy task. However, it is most necessary for the proclamation of the Word of God because it serves as spiritual direction for those who hear it.[13] Therefore, exegesis, before the construction of a sermon, is necessary because the Bible “does not lie open before us. It does not simply appear as God’s word but as God’s word in human word.”[14] To further this notion, Norman Geisler posits that though the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God, it is also the words of human authors – it is considered a theanthropic book.[15] Robert Plummer writes, “Note, Luke does not say, ‘I prayed and the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the stories of Jesus to write.’ Luke was a historian – engaged in real historical research. Nevertheless, as an inspired companion of the apostles, Luke was also God’s revelatory agent.”[16] Because the Bible is a book of divine revelation through the words of men, the truths contained within it must be meditated upon and diligently interpreted so the pastor might achieve correct interpretation.

However, achieving correct interpretation does not come without a cost. Biblical interpretation is the most difficult and most time-consuming effort of sermon preparation.[17] In the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastors must aim to be honest with the text. The Doctor notes that directly approaching a biblical text to pick out an idea in which interests them would be dishonestly approaching the Bible.[18] He observes that analyzing and philosophizing a text is “utterly to abuse the Word of God.”[19] Thus, to correctly interpret the Bible, the pastor must diligently discipline himself to study the Word, he must understand the magnitude of preparing sermons, and he must always consider the weight of communicating divine truth as spiritual direction to one’s congregation.

Nevertheless, interpretation is just one meager step in the preparation of sermons. Once biblical interpretation has occurred, many other pieces of the sermon must be placed into the material used for construction. One specific piece which cannot be ignored is theological instruction as a part of one’s proclamation of the Word of God.

[1] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 67.

[2] Ferguson, Maturity, 12.

[3] Sinclair Ferguson. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh, NSW: Banner of Truth, 2016), 7.

[4] Peterson, Long Obedience, 17.

[5] Forlines, Quest, 222.

[6] Ibid., 235-236.

[7] Jerry Bridges. The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978), 71.

[8] Forlines, Quest, 239.

[9] Shaddix and Vines, Power in the Pulpit, 181.

[10] Haddon W. Robinson. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 66.

[11] Hershael York and Bert Decker. Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 19. (hereafter, Bold Assurance)

[12] Robert L. Thomas, “Exegesis and Expository Preaching” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, ed. John MacArthur, Jr. and the Master’s Seminary Faculty (Dallas: Word, 1992), 181

[13] Lauren F. Winner, “Preaching as a Spiritual Discipline” Sewanee Theological Review 57, no 4 (Michaelmas 2014), 520.

[14] Siegfreid Meuer, “What is Biblical Preaching: Exegesis and Meditation for the Sermon” Encounter 24, no 2 (Spr. 1963), 183.

[15] Norman L. Geisler, “Introduction and Bible” vol. 1 in Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), 253.

[16] Robert L. Plummer. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 33.

[17] Roy B. Zuck. Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs: Victor, 1991), 10.

[18] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 212.

[19] Ibid., 214.

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