I am often left in a bit of dismay after reading books on sermon preparation. This is because the usual formula which is presented is that you work on the text yourself first and only then turn to commentaries as a cross-check. I know this is a crude generalisation, but I do find this approach deflating. The reason for my deflation is because this is not the way I tend to do it and I am left feeling that I have got it wrong. However, when I come to my senses and ponder on the matter I do feel there is a legitimacy in turning to commentaries first. So here are a few observations;
- In looking at the text, commentaries immediately put me on the right track in understanding the text. I am not left to drift down some cul-de-sacs of my own making. They direct me to immediately get into the text.
- This means that you generally need a range of commentaries to consult. Through this, you get different perspectives which can help in assimilating the meaning of the text. It would be wrong just to be in the thrall of one commentator.
- Some may say that you are not depending on the Lord through His Holy Spirit to direct your understanding. What I would say is that God has given these writers the gift of understanding the text; the Holy Spirit has guided them. In a sense, we are standing on giant’s shoulders.
- I still have to come to an understanding of the text; I cannot just leave myself in the hands of others. However, these others are my helpers in understanding the text.
- There must be discretion in choosing which commentaries to use. We must go for those who have a high view of Scripture and are suitably gifted to explain it.
- For me, in ploughing the text into my mind for preparation, I am continually reading these commentaries through. Thus I trust under God, I am coming to understand what is God’s mind in the text.
- We always need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to give us illumination. Commentaries compliment the Work of the Spirit; they are not a substitute for the Spirit.
In making my observations on the use of commentaries, I realise that everyone has to choose an approach which works for themselves. There is a danger of pontificating that my way is the “only” way to prepare sermons. This can be so intimidating. In the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are we producing sermons which are exegetically accurate, bring out the meaning of the text and are being used of the LORD. May the LORD bless you if you are a preacher whichever way you go about preparing.
(Originally published at Venabling on 5th September 2013)