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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We don’t get many comments on SoulPreaching.Com. However this post on the prosperity Gospel has elicited a number of interesting ones that I didn’t want the readers to miss. The original article can be found here: http://shermancox.wpengine.com/prosperityfalse.
Dr. Michael Williams wrote:
I totally agree with McMickle. Whereas, I do not think we should preach spiritual masochism, I take the Master as his word when he tells me that â€œin this life you will have some trouble, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. In other words in this world, we will have urban violence, domestic abuse, unfaithfulness at all levels of society, terminal illness, etc. But for us to have a firm confidence that the crucified, buried and resurrected one has over come the power of all of the aforesaid. I remember one of these â€œteachers of the Wordâ€ went through a season of family illness which caused him to cease talking about if you have enough faith you will never get sick. Plus with the economy in the toilet, though we would never know, one can surmise that their â€œseed giftsâ€ are few! So much for what I call the â€œprofit/prophets.â€
Here Williams points to a “joy” that is deeper than simply money in the pocket or a new house or car. This joy, in the words of the tradition, “The world didn’t give and the world can’t take away.” I say amen to Dr. Williams who reminds us that we will have issues in this world, but these issues need not overcome or break us for Jesus has taken all the world can throw at humanity and overcome it.
Dr. Williams then notes in another comment
I think that with the economy in shambles, amongst themselves the the so-called “Word teachers” are asking themselves, “Where have all the PROFITS gone?”
Yes too many of us have been preaching about “PROFITS” rather than being the PROPHETS God called us to be. I am sure in this climate, people want to hear a word from a PROPHET and not a pseudo-word from purveyors of the false American materialistic gospel of “PROFITS.”
The next perceptive comment comes from D. Green who wrote:
The prosperity gospel is anything but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We who have been summonsized to the side of Jesus are called to be a part of a counter-cultural community; a community of faith. This inauthentic gospel that masks itself as the Gospel of the Lord’s Christ is heretical and dangerous. There is in it no preaching about the cross, suffering and sacrifice. It’s a ‘me’ emphasis gospel and definitely does not call for sacrifice and service to others. This so-called gospel in the words of Dallas Willard is guilty of the ‘Great Omission’. It’s emphasis makes Jesus a cosmic bellhop or talisman. Woe be unto us to fall for this that has its origin in the domicile of the devil.
Pastor Green you hit in on a point that deserves emphasis. This perverse Gospel is a “me-centered” one. What am I gonna get? And then to turn Jesus into our “cosmic bellhop.” Certainly the true God is the one who is sovereign, not our desires to keep up with the Joneses. Thanks for your comment.
The Jazz Theologian has just written an article for reflection. The article is entitled “Marginal Christianity.” In that article, Robert Gelinas uses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as a symbol for how Christianity should be in the world. While many look back fondly on his ministry, we cannot forget that Dr. King was marginal. His view against the war in Vietnam when many, black and white, told him to not speak on it, demonstrates how he was not in line with the common values of the day. His marching for Civil Rights, while thought of highly today, was at the time seen as “radical” and even “untimely.” The argument over Dr. King’s tactics fostered the creation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
Certainly many have turned him into an icon of the status quo today. Some use him as a voice of moderation against the so-called radical voices that are living. I even hear conservative republican voices attempting to use him as teaching their values, which is ridiculous for he was for welfare and against militarism. Many try to act as though they are in line with his voice when they are risking nothing to call his name.
Gelinas reminds us that Christianity should be on the margins. And why? Gelinas quotes King:
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at it’s best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Martin Luther King Jr. August 16, 1967)
Christianity is at the margins because it stands against anything that is against love. That anything may be in the white house. That anything may be in the state house. That anything may be in our very church. We may see that anything when we look in the mirror. As preachers of God we must stand for justice and a correcting love. Correcting love doesn’t seek change for the sake of change, but neither can it fall into the trap of an easy conservatism that looks at injustice as an inevitable byproduct of living in this world.
Christianity should get you mad sometimes. It will sometimes step on your toes even as you preach it. If your Christianity isn’t at least irritating to the powers of injustice, then I would argue that your Christianity is missing something. In an era of “seeker-sensitive” methodologies and a laissez faire Christianity, true Christianity steps in and says, this is love, it may be problematic for some of you, you may not like it, in fact it may repel you, but Jesus said, “My people shall hear my voice.” (John 10:16) Let us as preachers have the power and audacity to preach the real gospel instead of being happy with trite and trivial knock offs.
Marvin McMickle, in his work Where Have All The Prophets Gone writes about one of the biggest heresies that has grabbed hold of the church. This one is the idea that Christians are some how immune from suffering, sickness, or pain. McMickle notes that these preachers seem to see an “exemption” from suffering. All you have to do is “plant your seed” and you will be blessed with financial blessing. You will be blessed with a physical cure to whatever ails you.
These prosperity preachers turn the “abundant life” as written about in the New Testament into the “good life” as defined by the kind of American Materialism that has created this current economic crisis that we find ourselves in. Simply put, even Christians who have sought to live the life consistent with God’s coming Kingdom die of cancer. Even good Christians look at the wicked prosper while they live in the depths of poverty. This false gospel trains Christians to be greedy. It trains Christians to expect a healing from every dime they put in the plate. It trains Christians to expect “economic breakthrough” because God must bless us with healing because they planted a seed or anointed their wallet with oil.
Ultimately this is idolatry because it takes the Sovereign God off the throne and puts in God’s place a Slot Machine that always “pays off” when you pull the lever. Preachers, we have been called to proclaim the Gospel and God’s coming kingdom. Let us not give up that high calling to preach the false Gospel of American materialism.
Olin P. Moyd writes in The Sacred Art: “The power of God is not Theory. The power of God is action.” What Moyd is getting at is that when we preach about the power of God, it is important not to turn it into a theory. I remember when I was taking Calculus in college. The teacher would introduce a formula by talking about when and why you would use this particular formula. All of that was good and important, however it was still disconnected from us. The teacher would then give us a few examples. In the back of the chapter we had a number of exercises that were designed to help us understand the formula. The formula was the theory, but the exercises were the examples.
Likewise when we are preaching, we must translate the theory into practice. We must show the truth of the theory in real life. If we don’t do this, then whether the people shout or sleep, they will not be able to translate the teaching into their daily lives. The Bible, experience, and history all provide us with a large number of examples to translate the theories into practice.
Don’t forget your examples and illustrations, without them, the people may not fully understand your theory and theology.