Scriptures as Sermon Illustration Resource

Charles Kohler, in his book how to preach without notes, has written on the importance of using the Scripture as an resource for sermon illustrations. On page 45, he he writes, “one authority recommends only one book of illustrations, namely, the Bible.” Using the Bible as a primary source for illustrations is going to be very helpful to both the preacher and the congregation. Today we are living in an era of biblical illiteracy. In the past preachers could assume that the people knew the stories of the Bible, but not today.

What Preaching The Stories Does For Us?


Using the stories of the Bible as your sermon illustrations allows your people to understand their circumstances within the context of the biblical record. They learn of an almighty God who is able to allow a disobedient man to be swallowed by a fish. They learn of a powerful God who can open up a Red Sea and allow all people to walk on dry land. They learned of all of the great exploits from the past. They then learn that God can and will use these powers for their ultimate good. However, if your people do not understand or know these great stories then they will not be able to appropriate them at the proper time.

Therefore, using sermon illustrations has a double focus. First, it teaches the grand stories of the Bible. Second, it places the Bible on a higher level in the minds of the people and the preacher. Third, as noted above, the preacher is now learning more of the Bible and that opens up avenues for preaching it in the future.

Certainly we should go to history, both modern and ancient for illustrations. In addition, we can go to nature, our own experiences, and even parts of the mundane experiences of our lives to find rich illustration material. But the preachers should never lose track of the importance of using the Bible as well.

C.L. Franklin Illustrates the Principle

I was studying the sermon “The Eagles Stirreth Her Nest.” by C.L. Franklin, in this particular sermon, Franklin illustrates a couple of his points solely by using the Bible. A perfect example of this is when C.L. Franklin illustrates the idea that God is swift like an eagle. He illustrates this idea by referring to Daniel who was thrown in a lions den and God swiftly intervened to save Daniel. Franklin further illustrates the idea of God’s swiftness by referring to another Biblical story which was when the time that Peter was thrown in jail and the church prayed for him. God swiftly answered that prayer.

This Combats Biblical Illiteracy

There are a few things that one should keep in mind when illustrating our sermons with Bible stories. The first thing you should do is recognize that because of the Biblical illiteracy of our times, we might have to describe the background of the Biblical story before we can use it. Many preachers spend time setting up their stories from contemporary lift, history, or nature, so why not spend a moment or two setting up the Biblical illustration?

Another point, the preacher who would use the Bible as a source for sermon illustrations should remember that the preacher should often go back to some of the common stories. Sometimes preachers feel the need to either preach on our use illustrations from the obscure passages of Scripture. However, as Franklin demonstrates, we can make use of some of the common stories to solidify our points. These stories have been told over and retold. When we make use of these stories, we allow people to experience what they already know on a deeper level.

Don’t Neglect The Bible In Preaching

Many rightly emphasize the need to preach from the Bible and make it primary in their presentations. However, many of these people quickly rush to other resources when searching for illustrations. However, if we would make the Bible primary, let us also make use of it all the way through our sermons. This will help our people to realize that the Book is relevant to their daily lives. It also might encourage them to pick it up and read it. So in your next sermon, instead of pulling out sermon illustration books, and culling other folks sermons fro the perfect illustration, why not open up the Bible itself and seek to find help in not just what you are going to preach, but in your illumination of your chosen sermon.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Ptr Rizal Asuncion - December 6, 2010 Reply

It is a great idea to use the Bible for illustration for the reasons stated in the article. However, there maybe some limitations. For instance, if some people in the congregation are not familiar with the scripture, those people might become confused because the illustration is not familiar to them. Consider that an illustration is used to make it easier to clarify the point being illustrated. If the people in the congregation are already knowledgeable of the Bible, using the Bible for illustration is highly recommended.

Sherman Haywood Cox II - December 6, 2010 Reply

Pastor Asuncion,

I do believe your point is valid. I actually attempted to address that issue in the article, perhaps not so well. I wrote:

There are a few things that one should keep in mind when illustrating our sermons with Bible stories. The first thing you should do is recognize that because of the Biblical illiteracy of our times, we might have to describe the background of the Biblical story before we can use it. Many preachers spend time setting up their stories from contemporary lift, history, or nature, so why not spend a moment or two setting up the Biblical illustration?

When re-reading the article, I recognize that perhaps I needed to address this point more, so I am glad you brought it out. But, if we do not use the Bible as a source for illustrations because of Biblical illiteracy…then we will not use the Bible for illustrations. At any rate, I argue that all illustrations require some “set up” time. Why not use that “set up” time to continue teaching the scripture. Then your illustrations have the added affect of combating the biblical illiteracy that is rampant.

I do agree that there are some cases where using scripture can be difficult, but perhaps you use the stories you have addressed in sermons that you have preached earlier as stories and illustrations for later sermons.

But yours is another valid point…clarity is the primary key when searching for illustrations…

Rev. Roberts - December 6, 2010 Reply

I agree with Ptr Rizal Asuncion: If people are unfamiliar with the bibilcal stories, using them to illustrate can only confuse and not clarify. Illustrations are intended to clarify the point. However, in a mixed congregation (which most are) there are various levels of biblical literacy. Older saints are more familiar with scritures whereas younger saints are not, I recommend using modern illustations along with biblical illustrations. For example: “On your job….., but you are not the first nor the last because IN THE BIBLE this also happened to …….”

Rueben Scott - December 6, 2010 Reply

The Scipture is the Authoratative Word for Preaching. To assign extra Biblical sourse to have the same “weight” is why there is so much Biblical illiteracy in so many of our Churches. I have had so many experiences in my 35years of Preaching where my expository message fell on deaf ears. In those congregations, with a long history of Poetic preaching and Storytelling only, the dearth of Biblical knowlege is evident. I don’t see the Chuck Swindolls or Charles Stanleys approaches trending in our Churches and our people suffer from biblical banalism.

Sherman Haywood Cox II - December 6, 2010 Reply

Pastor Scott,

Please let me know what you mean by “poetic preaching” and “storytelling only” in preaching?

Preach Preacher Preach - December 6, 2010 Reply

Good post I would say that in ” mix congregation ” that some will get the Biblical illustration and some will not. It is best to used both (Bilical & Common).We have to remember the some Preacher are Biblical illiterate. The main thing is to have a sermon that all can understand and used in the following week.

Preach Preacher Preach

Pastor Frederick D. Harris - December 6, 2010 Reply

Good reading. I have the book; “How to Preach Without notes”, and agree in principle that the best authority on the Bible is the Bible. And it does make sermon preparation easier for me becuse I’am familiar with the story… Dialogue of this nature helps the preacher tremendously.

Sherman Haywood Cox II - December 6, 2010 Reply

Pastor Harris,

I think that the book by Koller is a powerful way for new preachers (and not so new as well) to gain a lot of information in a very short amount of time. The book is literally chock full of hints. I think it was a blessing that it was the first book on preaching that I ever studied…

Vernetia Miller - December 11, 2010 Reply

I have Koller’s book in my library and finally read it a few months ago after Elder Cox listed it as a resource in the Four Waves of Exegesis. It is full of meat that I am still chewing on.

Most of the effective preachers that I have experienced use Bible illustrations supplemented with modern illustrations. Yes, some preachers are Bible illiterate, but that begs the question “Why are they preaching?” How can you be a craftsman if you are not familiar with your tools?

If the unfamiliar Bible story is set up and presented well, listeners should desire to read the story for themselves. Any story can be presented; at my church Bishop requires all of the preachers preach the Book of Revelation. What Bible illustrations can be more intimidating than that? If you are a preacher and you do not know the Bible stories, sit down and learn them. “In the beginning…”

Ptr Rizal Asuncion - December 16, 2010 Reply

Thank you Rev. Cox and Rev.Roberts for your clarifications.

Sylvester Warsaw, Jr. - December 21, 2010 Reply

My, dear brother, Elder Cox,

Once again you’ve done an excellent job. As a minister of the gospel I know it’s necessary to know who you represent. It is the truth of the Word of God that sets us free and addresses the issues of the heart and what better way to strenghten your point then with illustrations from the Word. Our lives must reflect the lives of those saints, ” that cloud of witnesses” who trusted God. The body is only as strong as the head, the leadership.

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