The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 30 Winter 2019
Winter 2019 Edition
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
Email: [email protected]
Part I: Strengthening Expository Preaching
“Strengthening The Close”
The close is usually prepared at the end of your sermon preparation, just before the introduction (or simultaneously with the introduction). The introduction and close go together – the latter finalizes the former. Just as a weak introduction runs the risk of failing to engage your audience with the content of your message, so a weak close runs the risk of failing to engage your audience with the demands of the message.
The primary purpose of the close is to effect closure of your message – and the message is not properly closed unless it motivates life transformation. That’s why we preach – not to pass on interesting information; not to fill our heads with knowledge; not to make each other feel good, but to be a catalyst for life change. We “persuade men and women” (2 Cor. 5:19).
You can destroy the effectiveness of your sermon with a weak close. Many preachers do not know how to bring a sermon to a conclusion. This is true in public speaking and in preaching. A weak close is like the man who began to build a tower but couldn’t finish it.
Note two significant dangers in regard to the close:
1. Closing before the sermon is done.
2. Closing after the sermon is done.
A weak close is primarily due to two things:
1. Insufficient thought, preparation, and prayer about the close and what you (and the Holy Spirit) want to accomplish through it.
2. Failure to attribute to the close the importance that it really has.
A. The Basic Elements Of A Good Close
1. The Summation: “Crystallize” The Truth
One of the best ways of teaching is repetition - the basic threefold pattern is:
(1) Tell them what you are going to say (the introduction)
(2) Say it (the body)
(3) Tell them what you just said (the close)
Just make sure you don’t repeat too much – only summarize. And don’t preface it with a predictable phrase such as: “Now what we have learned this morning is…” Make it a natural part of your close by not summarizing it in point form but in covering the scope and flow of thought of the sermon in your close.
It’s good to repeat your proposition in the close and in various places throughout your sermon if there is a natural place for it. By doing this you accomplish several important steps:
(1) You remind your audience of where you began by relating the close to the introduction.
(2) You “crystallize” (solidify) the overall theological point of the sermon and text.
(3) You help the people to remember the point of the sermon.
(4) You demonstrate that you have preached what you said you would - i.e. you have proved the point, or explained the truth, or exhorted them to adopt an idea, or answered the question you posed at the beginning.
(5) You put the entire sermon into a sentence again and this time the lights should go on in your audience’s minds, if they have not already gone on. They should say: “Yes! That’s the truth of the passage!”
One way you can summarize your sermon is by repeating the main points. In this way, they can quickly recapture the sermon in outline form, and they can see where you have come from and, hopefully, where they need to go now.
If you have stated in your introduction the purpose of your sermon, you can repeat it again in the close by clarifying the challenge of the message so that it is crystal clear and your audience is refocused on your motivating thrust.
This summation is for clarification purposes - to make it crystal clear what the challenge of the message is; to crystallize the central issue; and to give your one final, clarifying thought.
Try to refer back to your opening point of contact (if possible). Perhaps you told a story that illustrated the problem, or recited a poem, or gave an example. By referring back to it, the audience will now see it in the light of what you have just preached. Or, perhaps you left something hanging and now you can complete the story or answer the problem. Referring back to the introduction, in some way acts like a picture frame to the sermon (or, a book end) – it brings closure.
2. An Illustration: “Visualize” The Truth
A good illustration is a very effective way of bringing the whole sermon together in the close. If you pick the right illustration it will paint a word picture of the theme that you have been preaching and imprint it on the minds of the listeners. Through illustration the people are able to see the truth you presented and their own life as it compares with the truth.
Illustrations make abstract truth visual and concrete. Be sure to only use an illustration that fits the theme of your sermon and don’t make it long. You can conclude with poetry (or a hymn), or a relevant and powerful quote as your final “illustration.” The particular value of poetry is that it expresses abstract truths with colourful, unique word pictures in condensed form.
3. An Exhortation: “Concretize” And “Personalize” The Truth
Exhortation, like repetition, refocuses attention on the purpose of the sermon, namely, to motivate the listeners to do something; to take “moral and spiritual action”; to drive the point home personally.
In this part of the close, tell them what you want them to do – i.e. change their behaviour, thinking, attitudes, relationships, obey the truth etc. If the sermon has been convicting, the people should already be asking in their minds and hearts: “What shall we do?” Or, “Why should we do it?” Or, “How can we do it?” Our task is to answer these unspoken questions by telling them “what,” “why,” or “how” by instructing them to repent and obey the truth.”
Sometimes the text itself gives you the concluding application. Many times in Paul’s writings a paragraph ends with a concluding application.
Make your exhortation (appeal) personal – address them as “you”. Now you are past the “we” stage. This is the role of the prophet speaking for God and demanding that the people respond.
This is the final “application”. Even though you have applied the truth all through the sermon, the close gives you one final chance for special and personal emphases. So, make it concrete and vivid. Give specific examples of action you expect as a result of this sermon. This is what Jesus did at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, where he brought together both a vivid illustration and powerful application (Matt. 7:24-26). This is your last chance to make the sermon relevant – to bridge the gap between the biblical world and the contemporary world and to provide answers to the why, what, how questions. Be sure that your application is rooted in the text and not your own experience or convictions.
Here you are “beseeching” as the apostles did – encouraging them, pleading with them (e.g. to be reconciled to God), urging them (e.g. to be conformed to Christ).
4. The Invitation: “Actualize” The Truth
This gives opportunity to the people to respond – to “actualize” the truth in their lives. This part of your close will take different forms depending on the type of sermon and the audience you are preaching to. But, in general, this is where you call for a verdict. This is decision time. All good sermons require a decision of some sort. Thus, in the close, we make a direct, personal appeal for their response.
This is common in biblical sermons. For example, Joshua issued a challenge to the people in Joshua 24:15: “Choose you this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This is how Peter concluded in Acts 2:36-40: “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” This is Peter’s direct appeal to their consciences, to which they immediately responded: “What shall we do?” And he actualized the truth by inviting them to ”repent and be baptized”. This is how Paul concluded his sermon in Acts 17:30-32: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by that Man who he has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising him from the dead. And when they had heard of the resurrection from the dead, some mocked….”
The preacher’s purpose is not to send people away the same as they came in nor is it the listener’s purpose to leave the same way they came in. We preach and people listen in order to be changed by the Word and the Holy Spirit through the medium of preaching.
Be sure to allow time for the Holy Spirit to actualize the message in the people’s lives. Don’t rush this, as the tendency is sometimes. Don’t be embarrassed about doing it. Perhaps you need to state up front that you will be calling for a decision so that it doesn’t come as a surprise and so that they are preparing for their response throughout the message.
The close is your final motivating thrust - the final motivation for them to grow as Christians or to become a Christian. Response times should be directed to both believers and unbelievers. Believers need to get right with God and with each other – confess and repent of sin, habits, attitudes, relationships, beliefs, speech etc. Unbelievers need to get right with God – be reconciled to God, trust Christ, receive forgiveness etc.
Response times may be either private or public. All of this does not have to take place in the congregational service. A private response may take place just where they are sitting – e.g. for confession, repentance; or it may take place in an after-meeting for seekers (i.e. those who want to know more). A public response may mean coming forward for those who want to profess faith, or raising a hand for you to acknowledge and pray for them.
B. Helpful Guidelines For The Close
1. Be Conclusive
When you start into your close, everyone will know it – so make it a close. Give a sense of completion of, and closure to, the message. Don’t go on and on with more things to say that you forgot before. Don’t introduce new material – this is a sure way to destroy a close. This is one of the most common weaknesses of conclusions. New material only confuses the issue and detracts from the task at hand.
2. Be Clear And Definite
Your exhortation should leave no doubts in the minds of your listeners what you are expecting them to do (e.g. respond to the invitation) and why. Your application must answer the “what,” “why,” “how” questions. Ask yourself whether everyone can clearly understand what you have challenged them with? Try to put yourself in their position, having not studied the text as you have and spent the mount of time in it as you have.
3. Be Accurate
Make sure your close is accurate and appropriate to the textual challenge.
4. Be Genuine In Approach And Atmosphere
Don’t suddenly try to become a famous preacher like Billy Graham, expecting masses to come to the front while you sing “Just as I am.” Use your own, natural approach to concluding this sermon.
5. Be Personal
Don’t end up your sermon on a wishy-washy, unclear note, nor on an impersonal note. It’s hard enough for people to grasp abstract truth let alone an impersonal preacher.
Your listeners need to be convinced that what you said was just for them – that you know the innermost secrets of their hearts and lives. Often listeners will say that you struck right at the heart of their life situation. How did you know? Well, you didn’t, but the Holy Spirit did.
Listeners need to leave the service with a personal challenge to them, with answers to their questions, with solutions to their problems, with joy that they came to hear the Word of God preached. In this respect, try to always leave them with a word of hope. God’s Word really is good news. Make sure that you preach it as such. There is so much to cause despair in the world. Don’t duplicate or exaggerate that in the church. People come to church in absolute despair looking for some good news, some hope, some answer to their problems. Make sure you give them a reason for, and means of, hope.
Ask yourself: “Will each person be touched personally by this message?” Mentally go through your pews and visualize your congregation and apply this question to each person.
6. Be Practical
If there is a big crowd and you ask them to come to the front, you need to give time for them to come, and there needs to be space for them to come to. If the response is big, you need counsellors to help you or an after service to deal with them. If unbelievers respond, you need materials to give them. If newcomers respond, you need materials on the church and its ministries to give them.
7. Be Instructional Concerning Response
Make your invitation meaningful and purposeful, not simply something that you’re supposed to do at the end of a service (that becomes mere ritual). Give them instructions what to do, how to respond – i.e. what their response should look like either immediately in the service or later in their lives as the principles of the sermon are lived out.
8. Be Appropriate
Make sure your close is appropriate for the occasion, the message, and the audience. Make sure your application is rooted in the text. Make sure your illustration (if you use one) is tightly connected to the message and to the text (so that it needs no explanation), and to the listeners. Ask yourself the question: “Is this close appropriate to my audience, my message, this occasion?”
C. Dangers To Avoid
1. The “Run-On” Close (Or, “Pile-On” Close)
This is like a car that keeps on running for a bit after you shut it off. Gradually, the preacher piles on a bit more of this and then a bit more of that until not only is the point of the sermon lost, but the attention and responsiveness of the audience is lost as well.
This is usually the result of not planning how to conclude.
Knowing how to stop is as important as knowing how to start. You have probably all heard (painfully) someone giving a testimony in church and not knowing how to stop. Going on and on when the audience knows you’re trying to finish is very frustrating for listeners.
2. The “Circling-To-Land” Close
This happens when the preacher seems to conclude and then starts again to line up for another conclusion. He just can’t decide how or when to stop. Sometimes the preacher might finish and then say: “What I mean by that is…” and start the conclusion over again. Make sure you know what your ending is and only have one.
3. The “Deja Vue” Close
This is a conclusion that instead of summarizing the sermon actually repeats it, so that you hear it all over again. This is like one of those deja vue moments when you’re absolutely certain you have been here before, seen that before. This might happen if he realizes that he left something out or didn’t say exactly what he wanted to say the first time. Say what you have to say and finish.
4. The “Left-Overs” Close
Sometimes, everything that the preacher couldn’t use in the sermon he puts into his conclusion. Be disciplined to throw out everything that is not relevant to your message. Don’t try to include everything you dig up in your research. Be ruthless about deleting material. Put it all to the test: “Is this pertinent to the theme of the sermon?”
A sermon is not a commentary on the passage in which you lay out all the different points of view and everything everybody has ever written on the subject. A sermon is like a rifle shot (focused, single shot) not a shot gun (multiple shots, wide distribution).
5. The “Same Play” Close
This is where every conclusion follows the same format so everyone knows the approach you’re going to take because you do it every week. Just as variety in introductions is important, so is variety in conclusions. Don’t serve it up the same way every week.
6. The “Manipulative” Close
This is a danger to be avoided at all costs. Manipulation or intimidation are attempts to force decisions by trickery or pressure. Exhortation, on the other hand, is simply an appeal to the congregation to respond to the truth of the sermon as the Holy Spirit enforces the message on their hearts and wills.
D. Final Remarks Concerning The Close
1. Think Through And Write Out Your Close In Full
You don’t want to leave this to on-the-spot. It’s too important and, often, too hard to do extemporaneously.
2. Know What The Conclusion Is
This has already been established in your introduction – in the “purpose” for the sermon and the “proposition” of the sermon. The conclusion, therefore, ties back to the introduction.
3. Allow Time For The Conclusion
Don’t rush it. Let it sink in what you are expecting them to do. Give them a chance to respond.
4. Adjust The Conclusion To The Message Preached
If you have made changes as you preached the message, then you will have to incorporate those changes into your conclusion.
5. Trust God For The Outcome
In the end result, only the Holy Spirit can change people’s lives. We must do everything we can to facilitate this change (after all, we are the agents God has chosen to do this work). But when we have done our part, the results are up to God. Trusting him for the outcome is a great relief to the preacher, especially when you don’t see the results you would like or expect.
Part II. Biblical Exposition
“Lawsuits In The Church” (1 Cor. 6:1-11) 1
Dr. Stephen F. Olford
Introduction In this passage, Paul deals with the second disorder in the church that had been brought to his attention. It had to do with litigation, or lawsuits, in the assembly. It was a problem that mainly affected the Greek element in the church. The Jews did not ordinarily go to law in public courts. Indeed, their training expressly forbade them to do so. With the Greeks, however, it was otherwise. They reveled in the practice of suing one another! Their whole life seemed to be bound up with legal procedure.
The Apostle, on the other hand, shows us in these verses, that when Christians have quarrels among themselves they should have them judged by fellow Christians, and not before unregenerate judges. This does not mean, of course, that we are never to use the courts of our country. There are conditions and circumstances that demand this. In fact, it is well to remember that the very author of this epistle, the Apostle Paul, appealed to an earthly court on one occasion (Acts 25:11); but this was never in relation to disputes within the church of God, or disputes between Christian brethren. So the clear teaching of this important portion of God’s Word is that:
I. Litigation Among Christians Is Contrary To The Destiny Of The Church
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments of things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-4). Paul introduces his subject with words of amazement and challenge. He says, “Dare any of you…go to law before the unrighteous?” (v. 1). Then he deduces two reasons why such a practice is contrary to the destiny of the church. In the first place, the saints are destined to judge the world (v. 2). Both in the gospels and the epistles we are taught this astonishing truth.
Jesus said: “…I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
Jude said: “…the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14-15).
Paul reminds us that “if we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” (2 Timothy 2:12) What a destiny is this! And how united and elevated is the believer with Christ, both in position and power! And yet the Corinthians were willfully or neglectfully ignorant of all this. Instead of exercising the spiritual authority which was theirs by virtue of oneness with their risen Head, they were hopelessly incompetent to handle the trifling squabbles in the local church.
Paul’s second reason is a development of the first. He asks, “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” (v.3) He extends what he has already said to include the ultimate authority that saints will share with their Lord over all created beings in the eternal kingdom. The prospect is certainly breathtaking! And yet it is true because God declares it.
How foolish then, were the believers in Corinth, and how foolish are present-day believers, not to be able to judge in matters pertaining to this life (v. 3). Indeed, with withering irony the apostle suggests that even the “least esteemed in the church” (v. 4) ought to be better qualified than the best of earthly judges to settle disputes in the church. Thus we see that litigation among Christians is contrary to the destiny of the church.
II. Litigation Among Christians Is Contrary To The Policy Of The Church
“I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!” (1 Corinthians 6:5-6). The general sense of these two verses makes it abundantly clear that the divine policy for settlement of disputes within the church is twofold:
First, that such quarrels and problems have nothing to do whatsoever with unbelievers. Nothing could be more out of character with God’s purpose for the local church than to expect unregenerate and unrighteous judges to handle the affairs of the people of God. A local church sinks very low when she has to resort to worldly counsel on matters that pertain to Christian life, faith, and practice. Indeed, to descend to this level is to admit falsely before pagans that the Christian way of life is inadequate.
Secondly, arbitration or “brotherly settlement” as the word “judge” means in this verse is to be under the care of “wise” men in the church. The church is not essentially a democracy, but rather a theocracy – or better a “Christocracy.” Through the headship of the Lord Jesus a chain of command is set up in matters of leadership and arbitration. To this the church must bow, for the scripture says, “Obey them that have the rule over you…” (Hebrews 13:7). Where there is Spirit-led and taught leadership, there ought to be no problem which cannot be resolved. Paul makes this painfully clear by the manner in which he addresses the incongruous and inconsistent situation in the Corinthian church. He exclaims, “I say this to your shame…” (6:5), and then proceeds to ask in humiliating terms whether or not there could be “found” one “wise” man in the assembly capable of arbitrating between one fellow believer and another!
We might add that this divine policy has never been rescinded. God still expects His church to be governed and judged according to His word.
III. Litigation Among Christians Is Contrary To The Charity Of The Church
“Now therefore it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law with one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded? No, you yourselves do wrong and defraud, and you do these things to your brethren!” (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). In chapter 13 of this epistle, Paul spells out the supreme motivation for every act and reaction in the life of the church. That motivation is love. Indeed, he says that to have everything and to lack “charity” or “love” is to have nothing. The Apostle was only echoing the words of the Master: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another” (John 13:35). Quite clearly, the Apostle has this “supreme motivation” in mind as he handles this delicate subject of litigation.
You will notice that the word “brothers” is repeated constantly in these verses (5, 6, 8). Then he goes on to say that it would be better to suffer wrong at the hand of a Christian brother than to be so unloving as to take the dispute to a heathen court. So in verse 7, the Revised Standard Version reads: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is DEFEAT for you.” In other words, Paul is saying that it is possible to win a legal victory and yet suffer a moral defeat. Or again, it is possible not only to refuse to endure wrong, but to inflict a worse wrong on others. Such an attitude and spirit is the very antithesis of Christ-likeness and Calvary love. Concerning our Savior we read: “…when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). You see, carnality, with all its many forms of self-love, resentfulness, and vindictiveness, are all cancelled out when the cross is applied by the power of the Holy Spirit.
IV. Litigation Among Christians Is Contrary To The Purity Of The Church
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revelers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). To climax his treatment of this subject, Paul shows the utter incompatibility of the world with the church. He dramatically contrasts the “unrighteous” of verse 9 with those who are “washed… sanctified…and justified” in verse 11. Without fear or favor, he recognized that outside the grace of God, unregenerate man at his best is capable of:
a) Fornication – a word that literally means male prostitution.
b) Idolatry – a word that signifies the substitution of something or someone for God.
c) Adultery – a word that describes sexual intercourse with another person’s spouse.
d) Effeminacy – a word that suggests the loss of manhood or womanhood to live for pleasure and luxury.
e) Sodomy – a word that spells out the sins of homosexuality and sodomy
f) Robbery – a word that covers the whole area of the misappropriation of time, energy, or money belonging to God or someone else.
g) Covetousness – a word meaning to make others and their possessions an object of worship.
h) Drunkenness – a word that denotes intemperate drinking
i) Reveling – a word that is associated with an uncontrolled, unsanctified tongue.
j) Extortion – a word that denotes a spirit that is always reaching and grabbing for that to which it has no right.
What a horrifying list this is! And just to think that in and of ourselves we are all as corrupt as Paul describes us! But a miracle has taken place. God has met us in Christ and transformed us; made us pure, and holy, and good. Through His name and by His Spirit we have been cleansed, set apart, and made to appear before God in a favorable light. The words “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” describe the “full salvation” into which we have been brought through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.
Conclusion: If that be the purity of our standing and state in Christ, how can we as those “called to be saints” (2:1) feel at home in “unrighteous” courts or among unholy judges? The question answers itself.
So Paul disposes of lawsuits within the local church. And if we would be obedient to the Word of God, we must do the same. In fact, we must go further; we must see to it that the life of the church never sinks so low as to necessitate such carnal procedures. The understanding of our destiny, policy, charity, and purity in Christ must determine all our thinking and acting within and without the church.
Part III. Sermon Outlines
Title: I’ve Just Seen Jesus
Theme: The shock and reality of the resurrection
Point #1: The empty tomb turns observers into believers (1-10)
1. The empty tomb turns observers into followers (1-2)
(1) At the cross, some were observers (Lk. 23:55-56)
(2) At the empty tomb, some were followers (1-2)
2. The empty tomb turns followers into believers (3-10)
(1) For some, the empty tomb leaves them still sceptical (6-7)
(2) For others, the empty tomb inspires them to believe (5, 8-9)
Point #2: The risen Christ turns sorry into joy (11-18)
1. Ignorance of the resurrection produces sorrow (11-13)
(1) It produces sorrow despite the evidence (11)
(2) It produces sorrow despite the testimony (12-13)
2. Knowledge of the resurrection produces joy (14-18)
(1) It produces joy through the recognition of him (14-16)
(2) It produces joy through obedience to him (17-18)
1 Other articles in this series on 1 Corinthians can be read in previous editions of this journal as follows: Summer 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Summer 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Summer 2018.
Related Topics: Pastors