The Art and Science of Preaching, Part 6

    Arguing for the wisdom of the orderly arrangement of speaking material, James Thompson says the ancients, such as Socrates, were careful to do just that. He explains, "The effective oration included the exordium, narratio, propositio, probatio, and peroratio. The functions of the exordium were to introduce the topic and to make the audience favorably disposed to the speaker. The narratio covered the history of the case at hand and was commonly followed by the propositio, which provided a thesis statement for the argument. The probatio consisted of the proofs of the case. In the peroratio, the speaker summarized the case and made an emotional appeal to the audience."[1]

    According to those guidelines, the structure for homiletics, rhetoric, public speaking, and the work of attorneys in the courtroom has changed little from the time of the Greeks and the Romans. Donald Hamilton observes that "as a discipline homiletics draws from a large body of knowledge dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks and including not only their views on rhetoric, but also the findings of subsequent generations of public speakers and Christian preachers up to the present day."[2]

    While the arrangement of material for individual sermons follows the pattern of the ancients, ministers of the Gospel also classify the discourses commonly as expository, topical, or textual in nature. Homiletics literature, however, also discusses some other forms for sermonizing. One of these is the "occasional" sermon, a type to be used on special occasions. While its structure may follow any of the three basic forms, its use allows the preacher to minister in a timely fashion in keeping with the special events of the culture. Such occasions include not only Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and Easter, but also a number of others such as Independence Day, Memorial Day, or Labor Day.

    Unless the Lord directs otherwise, the preacher is wise to take into account that, at the time of a holiday, the lives of the people in the audience are absorbed with thoughts about that special occasion, whether it be Mother's Day, Father's Day, or some other special day. The minister does well to address the people with themes in keeping with important events like these. For example, on the weekend of Labor Day, the preacher could speak to the congregation about labor-management relations. In Eph. 6:5-9 along with Col. 3:22-4:1, he or she will find an almost ready-made two-point sermon with biblical instructions to both employers and employees.

    As a matter of fact, most ministers do take into account the meaning of Mother's Day and speak appropriately on the subject that Sunday. As an example for an occasional sermon, I offer suggestions as to how the pastor might go about preparing a message for that occasion.

    A preacher knows well in advance what his subject will be on Mother's Day. The occasion all but dictates that he speak about the subject "motherhood." A classic biblical passage for the event is Prov. 31:10-31. The nature of the material determines that this should be an expository sermon. The truths there focus on the theme of the "value of true womanhood." My proposition for the sermon is "Today's Christian mothers, and indeed all believing ladies, can have a price that is far above rubies by maintaining the attributes of true womanhood as set forth in Prov. 31:10-31."

    In developing the main points of the sermon, I took note of Lloyd Perry's guidelines. He suggests that the main points of a sermon should number between two and five.[3]  Of course, rather than some arbitrary number pulled out of the air, the content of the passage determines how many points there will be. As in outlining, where a writer never uses a "1" without using at least a "2" with it and never has an "A" without also having at least a "B," the minister will never have one main point or one sub-point without having at least a second one of the same category, too. Perry says further that main points must be parallel.[4] The key word in the proposition makes that possible. If the key word is steps, for example, then each main point will contain a step toward the action proposed. In addition, main points must be mutually exclusive. The step in main point Number One is different from that of main point Number Two.

    In regard to the position of each main point in the outline of a sermon, Perry declares, "Take note of the fact that these main points do not have to be arranged in order exactly as they appear in Scripture, but rather they can be arranged in view of the particular emphasis which the preacher feels led to make in this particular message."[5] In addition, logic may help determine the order. Certainly the order of importance often dictates the arrangement of main points in an outline. The sermonizer should arrange the main points in ascending order of importance, from least to greatest. The preacher does no disservice to biblical truth by taking homiletical liberties in locating the points of a passage in an order that makes the message as logical and as clear as possible.

    With these guidelines, and using the key word price, the main points of my sermon for Mother's Day became:

I.  Her "price is far above rubies" in her relationship to her husband.

II.  Her "price is far above rubies" in her relationship to her children.

III.  Her "price is far above rubies" in her relationship to her church and her community.
    Concerning the development of sub-points under each main point, Perry suggests that they should number between two and five, just like the main points. Perhaps a more helpful suggestion is to make the first sub-point explanatory. The preacher here seeks to explain as clearly as possible the Bible passage that he or she uses in support of the main point. This would, of course, include defining any terms in that passage that are not ordinarily understood by most in an audience. The second sub-point, then, could well be illustrational in nature. Here the speaker seeks to enlarge the understanding of the main point and its biblical support with appropriate illustrative material. The final sub-point should be applicatory in nature. Perry writes, "It is recommended that at least the last sub-point of the main point be one of application. This application suggests specific ways in which the main point may be applied to the living experience of the listener."[6] Hershael York and Bert Decker go so far as to declare that without the applicatory aspect, "You are preaching a sermon that even the devil can agree with."[7] 

    The material in this passage in the Book of Proverbs, however, does not lend itself to such a neat arrangement. The number of facts in each category was sufficient to provide plenty of sub-points to elaborate on each main point. Thus in this sermon, rather than using the suggested three kinds of sub-points for each main point, I chose to follow another guideline, that in an expository sermon nothing be left out of the message that appears in the scriptural passage. That approach will become clear in the completed outline below. 

    Most homileticians agree that the introduction is among the last things prepared in a sermon. York and Decker list six main goals of a sermon introduction: (1) Establish rapport, (2) Introduce the subject, (3) Create interest, (4) Set up and read the text, (5) State the proposition, and (6) Transition into the body of the sermon.[8] Concerning the introduction to a sermon, Perry suggests, "The complete introduction should occupy no more than 15 percent of the speaking time for the entire message."[9] My introduction for this message is a bit longer than usual for me, but it does not violate Perry's rule. Then, in developing my conclusion, I followed the established pattern pretty well. I came a little short of having one good illustration per main point. I hope, though, that my title is in keeping with homiletics guidelines on title selection.

A Precious Jewel

    Intro.   Dr. Ray Brock presented the biblical view of husband-wife relationships for Pastor Lednicky in a prime-time television special in Arkansas on one occasion. During the program a call came from the head of the Women's Liberation Movement in the state declaring, "If all men treated their wives the way the good doctor says they should, there would be no Women's Liberation Movement today."

1.  On the other side of the coin, among the passages in Scripture that elaborate on how the wife should conduct herself in her relationship to her husband and in the role of a mother, is Prov. 31:10-31

2.  It describes the model woman, in contrast with the contentious one in Prov. 27:15 and the adulterous one in Prov. 7:6-23.

3.  These twenty-two verses in the classic passage on womanhood form an acrostic in the Hebrew, using the twenty-two letters of that alphabet.

4.  The passage declares the value of such a woman as being "far above rubies."

5.  I am by no means an expert in the area of precious jewels, but those who are tell us:

a.  The ruby is a gem that is red-green in color.

b.  A large size ruby is the most costly among all gems.

c.  A large, perfectly-shaped ruby is worth several times more than the same size diamond.

d.  The most expensive gems I ever saw were part of a $10,000 saddle at the Wolroc museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Prop.  Today's Christian mothers, and indeed all believing ladies, can have a price that is far above rubies by maintaining the attributes of true womanhood as set forth in Prov. 31:10-31.

I.  Her "price is far above rubies" in her relationship to her husband; the passage makes reference to the woman's pleasant marital relations three times.

A.  As to her ability to manage the household, "The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of his life" (vv. 11-12).

B.  In her attendance on her husband's personal needs, for example, she makes sure he is a well-dressed man (v. 23).

People take notice of that, and instead of remarking that she is the wife of Mr. So-and-so, they remark that he is the husband of Mrs. So-and-so.

C.  She has a character that causes her husband to praise her (vv. 28b-29)

1.  A wise husband recognizes the value of a good wife (v. 10).

2.  He announces to all that he has the best woman in the world for a wife!

II.  Her "price is far above rubies" in her relationship to her children.

A.  She attends to their every need in life.

1.  Her chief aim is to see that they have food to eat (v. 15).

My mother was the happiest when she was in the kitchen cooking food that she knew her children especially liked.

2.  She makes certain that they have clothing to wear (vv. 13-14, 21).

a.  To accomplish this, she is a very industrious woman (vv. 17-19, 27).

It is still true that "a man works from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done."

b.  She even finds time to run a small business on the side (v. 24).

B.  It is little wonder, then, that her children show their appreciation by calling her blessed (v. 28a).

III.  Her "price is far above rubies" in her relationship to her church and her community.

A.  People recognize her most of all for the strength of her character.

1.  She attends to her physical appearance, making sure she dresses well and appropriately (v. 22).

2.  But she knows that character is what counts, rather than physical beauty (v. 30).

a.  She dresses herself in the beauty of moral strength and the garment of commendable honor (v. 25).

b.  When she speaks, people hear the voice of someone far different from a light-headed, silly, giggling woman (v. 26).

3.  This passage, then portrays, not just a good woman, but one whose goodness is produced by her fear of and love for the Lord.

B.  The poor of the community profit from the charity that stems from her generous heart (v. 20).

C.  Again, it is no surprise to learn that men offer public recognition of her community service (v. 31).

D.  What really matters, though, is that her real reward will come from God, Himself, on the Great Judgment Day.

    Concl.  Today's Christian mothers, and indeed all believing ladies, can have a price that is far above rubies by maintaining the attributes of true womanhood as set forth in Prov. 31:10-31.; what she contributes is priceless in:

1.  Her relationship to her husband.

2.  Her relationship to her children.

3.  Her relationship to her church and her community.

    To follow that pattern requires first that a woman be a born-again believer. It also demands that she be baptized in the Holy Spirit. This makes possible the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in her life. The discussion in the Book of Proverbs contains much that is similar to Paul's lesson on the possession of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. It is also akin to the apostle's description of Christian love in 1 Cor. 13:1-13.

    To summarize, it is wise for the minister to tailor sermons for special occasions because at the time of a holiday, the minds of the listeners will probably be attuned to that special time. An occasional sermon can take any of the basic structural forms--expository, topical, or textual. Its main points may be ordered in accordance with their position in the biblical text, or the minister may arrange them in another manner, such as in ascending order of importance. What is critical in the arrangement is that it makes the message most understandable to the congregation. Sub-points are added to develop the main points, and the preacher should take great care to ensure that the listeners have opportunity to apply the message to their lives, rather than just hearing it.

Selected Bibliography

    Hamilton, Donald L. Homiletical Handbook. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

    Perry, Lloyd M. Biblical Preaching for Today's World. Chicago: Moody Press, 1973.

    Thompson, James W. Preaching Like Paul. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

    York, Hershael W., and Bert Decker. Preaching with Bold Assurance. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2003.

About the Author

    Dr. Charles Harris is a recently retired Profes­sor of Bible and Pastoral Ministries as well as Chairman of the Division of Church Ministries at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He was associated with the college for thirty-eight years.

    In addition to his career as an educator, Dr. Harris is also an author. His writings have appeared in the Sunday School Counselor, God's Word for Today, and the Adult Teacher. Among his works are three books--What's Ahead, Proofs of Christianity, and Under the Glass: An Analysis of Church Structure--as well as a commentary on the Book of Second Corinthians in the Complete Biblical Library. He was a contributing author of Power Encounter: A Pentecostal Perspective.

    Dr. Harris holds a bachelor's degree in Bible, a master's degree in counseling, and a doctorate in education.

[1]James W. Thompson, Preaching Like Paul (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 71.

[2]Donald L. Hamilton, Homiletical Handbook (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 19.

[3]Lloyd M. Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today's World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973), 53.

[5]Ibid., 54.
[6]Ibid., 56.

[7]Hershael W. York and Bert Decker, Preaching with Bold Assurance (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2003), 142.

[8]Ibid., 175-183.

[9]Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today's World, 57.