[‘The first point; the second point; the third point.’]
Points which analyse, or points which urge action?
We need to think carefully about using ‘points’ in our sermons. Why do we use them? What is their purpose? What are we trying to achieve?
Sometimes we use them primarily to analyse the meaning of the passage of Scripture. Sometimes we use them primarily to tell people how what actions they should take to help people to respond to the passage of Scripture. And sometimes they serve both purposes, both clarifying and applying. Indeed it makes good sense to have both purposes in mind. Ideally they function that way!
What matters is the wording of the points. If the wording is that of analysis, then we need to follow the analysis by telling people what actions they need to take. If the wording is that of actions, then we need to show how these actions are based in the passage of Scripture.
It is good to express the purpose of the Scripture passage when deciding how to word the points.
So, for a passage which gives information:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. [I Peter 1:1-2 NIV 11].
- Chosen by the Father.
- Sanctified by the Spirit.
- Obedient to Christ and sprinkled by his blood.
For a passage which urges action:
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:13-16].
Be alert and sober:
- Set your hope on Christ’s coming grace,
- Do not conform to evil desires.
- Be holy in all you do.
Use words from the passage of Scripture to word your points.
I think it is best to use the actual words of the passage of Scripture as your points. This has four advantages:
- It helps people see that you are in fact expounding the passage of Scripture.
- It helps people see that the actions you are urging are a response to Scripture.
- It trains people to read the Scriptures with understanding.
- It means that when people hear or read this passage of Scripture in the future they will be better able to understand and receive it.
Don’t always begin the relevant section by articulating the point.
Try helping people to come to see the point as you explain the verses. ‘So what is the key verse in this section? Look at verse 9: this is what it says …’ Make it the conclusion of the section, so that you help people find it deductively.
[Please!] Don’t always have three points!
If the passage of Scripture does not have three points, they don’t feel you have to create them!
I increasingly try to preach one-point sermons, and then show how this one point is supported by many parts of the passage, and urge people to action in the many ways suggested by the passage.
Two-point sermons are very powerful: this, so that. Both one-point and two point-sermons are more understandable and memorable than three-point sermons.
And, to be honest, the preacher who always find three-points sounds a bit predictable, and may sound boring. Give your people a healthy shock!
Then, occasionally, you might have five or six -points: but they need to come out of one clear central and primary purpose. In a sense they are one-point sermons, with a number of sub-points!
Don’t use the word ‘points’!
‘Points’ would have to win the prize for an unexciting and unattractive word!
Here are some suggestions, but make sure you don’t use the same one every time you preach, and please increase the list.
- Wonderful truths.
- Amazing insights.
- Words from God.
- Life-changing ideas.
- Words from the Spirit.
- Here is a great memory verse!
- What does God want us to do?
- What is God saying to us?
- What does Mark want us to do?
- How does God want us to change?
- Who does God want us to be?
The other option is to just use what the point is, and don’t call it a point. As above from 1 Peter 1.
- ‘You are: Chosen by the Father.’
- ‘You are: Sanctified by the Spirit.’
- ‘You are: Obedient to Christ and sprinkled by his blood.’
Be alert and sober:
1. ‘Set your hope on Christ’s coming grace.’
2. ‘Do not conform to evil desires.’
3. ‘Be holy in all you do.’
Dare to preach a sermon without [using the word] points!
- Notice that while the epistles largely deal with ideas, narratives in the Old Testament and in the Gospels and Acts function differently, with people, events, scenes, stages.
Narratives work with stories, not ideas, and we tend to flatten them and lose their impact if we describe them in terms of points. The Gospels do include didactic teaching, but they also include stories [histories] and parables.
Take Luke 18:9-14.
Here is a possible outline.
- Meet some people who heard Jesus [v. 9].
- Two prayers:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people’ [vv. 10-12].
‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’ [vv. 10, 13].
- Exalt yourself and be humbled: humble yourself and be exalted [v. 14].
1 Kings 17:7-24.
- Elijah obeys the word of the LORD [v. 8].
- The word of the LORD worked [v. 16].
- The women knew that the word of the LORD from Elijah’s mouth was true [v. 24].
Or say, ‘look with me at these scenes/images …’:
Luke 22: 54-62
- Peter followed at a distance [v. 54].
- Peter denied Jesus [‘I don’t know him’; ‘I am not one of his followers’; I don’t know what you are talking about’. Vv. 57,58, 60]
- The rooster crowed [v. 60].
- The Lord turned and looked at Peter [v. 61].
- Peter went outside and wept bitterly [v. 62].
Use words like, ‘look’, ‘see’, ‘notice’, ‘remember’ etc. [Using the word ‘points’ would decrease the drama.
Make your ‘points’ into a cumulative sentence, which shows the coherence of what you want them to do, and expresses the coherence of the Bible passage itself.
Here are my three points on Galatians chapter 3.
|Hear the Scriptures! vv. 1-14 [based on ‘believing what you heard’, v. 5]|
|Receive the Promise! vv. 15-22 [based on ‘receive the promise, v. 14]|
|Believe in Christ! vv. 23-29 [based on 24-26].|
But then notice the coherence of these instructions. A perfect cumulative sentence:
‘If we hear the Scriptures, we will be able to receive the promise, and believe in Christ.’
Or, ‘Hear the Scriptures, Receive the promise, Believe in Christ.’
You could make these connections on the way through the sermon, and reinforce them, or else bring them together in the climax of the sermon at the end.
Once when I was visiting New Zealand, I heard an excellent sermon from a friend of mine on Daniel 9: 1-23. Notice his applicatory points.
|Read the Bible vv. 1-3|
|Know the God you are praying to vv. 4-6|
|Pray humbly vv. 7-14|
|Pray God-centred prayers vv. 15-16|
|Pray expectantly vv. 17-23|
I suggested that he could make this into a cumulative sentence, on the way through the sermon, or at the end.
‘Read the Bible … so that you know the God you are praying to … so that you pray humbly … so that you pray God-centred prayers …so that you pray expectantly…’
You do not necessarily need to number your ‘points’.
It may help you, but might not help the people. If you do number your points, make sure that you emphasize the content of the point, not the numerical progress. ‘And now we come to point 3’, is as appetizing as, ‘and now we come to verse 69’. You should be building on the shape of the passage, its drama, narrative, instructions, theology, not on a memory device.
If you do number your ‘points’, do not include any more numbers!
Don’t find yourself saying, ‘there are two points to this point’. Confusion will abound in your hearers. It looks clear when you see it on a page: it sounds awful!
Remember that purposeful ‘points’ are punchy ‘points’.
Don’t have pointless points. Make sure they actually serve the projection and application and urging of the Bible text.
Urge your hearers to respond to your sermon and its ‘points’.
Don’t just state them, as if the purpose of a sermon is that people remember the points. Urge people and appeal to them to respond to them. Show that it matters to God, to you, and to them: God is speaking to them through you. Urge them to respond with faith, obedience, repentance; joy, resolve, grief; trust, hope, and expectation. Appeal for transformation as well as information: urge information that leads to transformation. Appeal to people to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength.
‘Points’ in sermon can be good servants, but are bad masters! Make sure that in whatever form you use them, they serve the Scripture passage, and serve the ministry of the sermon.