Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to Select the Scripture Text for a Sermon

I have written previous blogs on the six types of sermons and on the importance of expository sermons. No matter which type of sermon is used, it is important to start with scripture and build a sermon based on scripture instead of deciding what we want to say and then finding a scripture that supports our opinions. Scriptural based sermons are very powerful over the long run, while opinion based sermons may be inspiring at the moment, but seldom have long term impact. Since strong sermons begin with scripture, the selection of the scripture text from which to preach is very important. Evan Williams’ classic book, How to Prepare Sermons, offers a number of ideas when selecting a scripture text on which to build a sermon.

Advantages of Having a Specific Text for Each Sermon:

1. It awakens the interest of the audience and grabs their attention.

2. It gains the confidence of the audience because they know the preacher will not just be sharing his own opinions.

3. It gives the preacher authority and boldness in the proclamation of the message because there is supernatural power in scriptural texts.

4. It will keep the preacher’s mind from wandering by forcing him to make all his comments around that particular text.

5. It will keep the preacher biblical by not allowing him to interject too much human opinion or cultural prejudices into the sermon.

Principles Regarding the Choice of the Text:

1. One must carefully consider the spiritual needs of the people to whom one is ministering. What does the congregation need to hear at this moment in their spiritual walk?

2. There should be a careful consideration of the cycle of truth preached. Are we preaching the whole counsel of God or just our favorite sections of scripture?

3. There should be a careful consideration of one’s ability to deal with the text and the subject derived from it. Do we know enough about this subject to offer real insight and applications from the text?

4. The preacher must practice a regular reading of the Word of God. This is of utmost importance before one can preach to others. This does not mean that we use our personal devotions as sermon preparation, but we should not be surprised when a sermon evolves out of our personal devotional time.

5. The preacher is encouraged to use a notebook or some computerized form of record keeping to record what the Spirit is saying about various passages of scripture. These records often become the building blocks for future sermons.

6. Reading good Christian books provides rich sermon material.

7. Following the guidance of the Holy Spirit is very important.

Precautions Regarding the Choice of a Text:

1. Be careful about using odd or questionable texts. Though all scripture is from God, some are easier to preach than others. Some are better suited for a teaching environment. Others are better handled by a scholar in an academic setting. Others are better handled in a conference or seminar type of format. Some scriptures simply cannot be explained adequately in the context of a sermon during a typical church service.

2. Do not choose a text that will look ridiculous because of extenuating circumstances in one’s own personal life or the church situation. There is a moment to preach a particular passage, and there is a time to put that passage off to a later date.

3. Do not choose texts that create expectations which neither the sermon nor preacher can fulfill.

4. Do not mutilate a text by using only a portion it out of context.

5. Though it is often easier to preach from the New Testament, remember that Old Testament texts should not be neglected.

Preaching can be extremely fulfilling when one has taken the time to select the proper text, studied that text thoroughly and then preached the text under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Using the guidelines above can help both lay preachers and professional ministers be more effective in their pulpit communications.


Above outline adapted from:
Evans, William, How to Prepare Sermons (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1964), pages 20-31.


  1. "it is important to start with scripture and build a sermon based on scripture instead of deciding what we want to say and then finding a scripture that supports our opinions"

    This statement is so relevant today! Thank you for including it in the opening of your article. May all God's preachers be equally passionate about holding to the Word of God.

  2. @pastornick13

    I start seeking God Sunday night/Monday morning to get wisdom as to what the congregation needs to hear. I listen in silence for a period of time to see if God will audibly respond.

    I also look to the Word of God that He might speak to me in that way as well. I avoid topical sermons and seek to build upon scriptural information.

    I am accountable to preach the Word of God, holding fast to His truth and not my opinion/agenda.

  3. line upon line, precept upon precept Isa. 28:9-10