After coming up with the outline of the sermon, the preacher has to come up with illustrations to make those points stick. Sometimes, the expositional preacher thinks that the background, lexical and grammatical study is wasted simply because he or she cannot use them for a simple audience. This feeling of frustration need not detract the preacher from sharing his or her findings from the study. How the preacher shares the material is the real key to success or failure.
One frequent mistake preachers make is to discard much of their research in the study and try to go on-line to get sermon illustrations from various websites. To me, this is a mistake. Why waste the research? The key is not to discard all the research. Rather, the preacher can provide bite size information not only to educate the audience, but also to use the material to illustrate the appropriate point. Another frequent mistake new graduates make is the placement of background information in the sermon. Since seminary study often put background studies at the beginning of many research papers, many new graduates proceed to follow the same format. They put all the background information in the beginning of the sermon whether the information introduces the sermon or not. Such an approach does not only fail to educate the audience, but it also makes the audience feel that the background of any biblical passage is boring, useless and irrelevant. If the audience is not educated, the preacher must bare a part of the responsibility.
So far, we should try to spread the research under appropriate sections with the sole purpose to illustrate the author’s point according to the interpreter. This is an important step. The next important step is to take word studies that are relevant to the author’s point and work them into the sermon. This is different than the way word study is commonly taught in some pulpits. I notice that many new graduates (and some old preachers as well) love to say, “The Greek word here means …” This helps no one. The audience already has the translation of what the Greek or Hebrew means. Obviously, the preacher is free to disagree with the translation. However, the word study can be shared in a much more subtle way. If we look at words as signifiers to a sign, then we should not focus on the signifier but on the sign. In other words, it is better to see the function of the word. What message is the word trying to send? The preacher can put a narrative sense to the word study and not share it by saying, “The Greek word means …” To illustrate, let me use 2 Tim. 4.7. The word for “kept” there has to do with stewardship. Instead of saying, “this word in Greek has to do with stewardship,” the preacher can talk about a story of stewardship or investment to illustrate this dimension of Paul’s ministry. By seeing the picture behind words, the preacher can help the audience digest the true spirit and message of the biblical author, instead of merely adding a heavier burden to an already weighty matter. When the preacher finds the specific sense of the author, finding appropriate illustration may be easier.
Another simple example from 2 Tim. 4.7 will suffice. The word “fight” there deals with the athletic imagery of the gladiatorial games. Instead of saying, “This Greek word comes from the arena,” the preacher may tell a story of an ancient gladiator who overcame great odds. Alternatively, the preacher can talk of some modern impossible feat of strength through hard work and make a parallel to illustrate this aspect of Paul’s ministry. The parallel may not be exact but may be close enough to get across Paul’s word without once again weighing the audience down with word studies. In short, word studies are great sermon tools if the preacher sees the picture behind the words and use them as illustrations