Using Scripture in Preaching

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  • Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2).

    What does this solemn charge (2 Tim. 4:1) mean?

    At the least, it means that our preaching should be focused on and filled with the truth, wisdom, and message of the scriptures.

    Of course, just because a man reads, quotes, and talks about the Bible in his sermon does not mean he is preaching the word. Many use the word of God as a springboard to proclaim a self-styled, man-centered message. But it is clear that you cannot preach the word if you do not actually use the word in your preaching.

    I hate it when I hear a preacher who seems to know more about sports, politics, entertainment, business, pop culture, or whatever, than he does about the text he has called as the basis of his sermon.

    A certain pastor was known for being positive-minded, never criticizing other preachers. After a disastrous sermon, several young preachers sought him ought to see what he thought about it. “At least he had a good text,” was his response.

    Indeed, the text is the best part of any sermon. So every sermon should be saturated with the word of God. Here are several practical ways you should use scripture in preaching.

    Read the Scriptures. Don’t just refer a passage and launch into the sermon. Read the text. Read is slowly, clearly, and meaningfully. I would advise that you make it a practice to read as much of the text as you are going to preach. Lay the word of God before them before you begin to expound on it.

    It is my custom to begin the sermon with the reading of scripture, rather than introducing the subject first and then calling the text. I even ask the congregation to stand with me as I read the text, in reverence for the author of the word. Whatever your pulpit custom may be, let the reading of the text reflect that the word of God is the final authority of your preaching.

    Explain the scriptures. There are those who draw a hard distinction between preaching and teaching. But this cannot be backed up by scripture. In the same verse Paul charges Timothy to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2), he bids him to do so with “complete patience and teaching.” Preaching and teaching go together. To preach the word requires teaching the word. So we should not be hesitant about having heavy doses of explanation in our preaching.

    Woe to the congregation whose preacher never shows them the meaning of the text beyond the obvious things they can see for themselves. At the other end of the extreme, the pulpit is not a seminary classroom. But faithful preaching must explain the text – the words, grammar, context, background, and theological significance of the text. If your congregation does not leave with a better understanding of what the text means by what it says, you have not done your job.

    Apply the scriptures. Faithful preaching should not only show the congregation what the text means; it should also show them how it works. It should answer the question, “So what?” At its bare minimum, preaching should involve explanation and exhortation. We should call upon the hearer to shape their thinking and behavior by the word of God (James 1:22).

    I do not believe we have to make the word of God relevant. It already is. Our preaching should make the relevance of scripture clear. We should preach with the conviction that the Bible is given to us for our transformation, not just for information. Head knowledge without life change is spiritual hypocrisy. So work hard to impress upon your hearers the commands to obey, promises to trust, and truths to believe as they are revealed in the text.

    Correlate the scriptures. If your interpretation of the text cannot be supported by any other passage in scripture, you are wrong. Period. So I like to reinforce the meaning of one passage by demonstrating that it is consistent with what scripture teaches in other places.

    Buy “The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.” It is a big book of cross-references. Look them up and examine how the rest of scripture relates to your text. Use clarifying cross-references to shed light on the text.

    I like to argue by the preponderance of the evidence. If you will not accept what this text is saying, let me show you that Genesis, Psalms, and Matthew agree with what I am saying about this text. This is the analogy of scripture. Scripture is its own best interpreter. Learn to put your Bible together in preaching, showing how one truth relates to another.

    Illustrate with the Scriptures. Homileticians warn aspiring preachers to craft illustrations from life, rather than using illustration books. I understanding the reasoning behind this advice. But I wholeheartedly disagree. My advice would be to find illustrations from wherever you can find them, including illustration books. If you get one of two good ones, from a three hundred-page illustration, I think it was worth whatever you paid for the book.

    Find illustrations in scripture. As you are illustrating with scripture, it will have the authority of God behind it. Likewise, you can continue to teach, as you are illustrating. We are preaching to an increasingly biblically illiterate generation. Many who sit in our pews did not grow up in Sunday school and do not know the great stories of the Bible. This is an opportunity for us to use the scriptures to illustrate and instruct at the same time.

    What other ways do you seek to emphasize the scriptures in your preaching?


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.