Outline

You can’t read 2 Timothy without coming to the conclusion the “sermon” is one of the cardinal weapons God uses to expose dark spiritual forces by shining the light of the gospel. As the mass onslaught of human depravity increases (2 Tim. 3:1ff), Paul implores Timothy, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). We don’t often think of the “sermon” as a principal weapon, but we should. This makes the sermon outline all-the-more important.  

When you sit down to draft a sermon outline, where do you start? You start with the text, of course, but where do you go from there?

In thinking through the homiletical process we detailed in earlier articles, we must keep several things in order. First, the most important element you carry-over from your hermeneutics is the timeless principle.” Second, make certain the subject of the biblical text is the subject of your sermon. Third, retain in your sermon the emphases the biblical author preserved in the grammar of his text.1I wrote several articles on this oft-neglected, but all-important, subject. See “The Greatest Danger in Preaching;” “The Danger of Exemplarist Tendencies;” “The Danger … Continue reading

Now, it’s time to think through how the biblical author’s thought-movements will be transferred to the sermon outline. Oftentimes, the faithful preacher does all the hard, exegetical grit-work, only to abandon it all when he sits down to prepare his sermon outline.

Oftentimes, the faithful preacher does all the hard, exegetical grit-work, only to abandon it all when he sits down to prepare his sermon outline.

Worse, in an effort to pacify his troubled conscience, he attributes his lack of discipline to the “flow” of the Holy Spirit!

A couple of points should help remedy this problem. 

Make the Text’s Main Points the Sermon’s Main Points

Mirror the biblical author’s emphasis in your presentation. The natural divisions of the text, by this stage, will have become clear. For instance, Let’s return to Matthew 28:18-20. 

Matthew writes to convince Jewish people that Jesus is the Messiah (citing over 60 OT scriptures Jesus fulfilled). When Matthew comes to the end, he’s still seeking to convince. Matthew 28:15: And this story has been spread among the Jews (i.e., that the disciples stole Jesus dead body). A clear break occurs in Matthew 28:16, “Now . . .”

At this point, let’s move from hermeneutics to homiletics. 

First, our hermeneutical study yielded a timeless principle which sounds something like this: Jesus’ authority grounds us in who we are, what we do, and with Whom we serve

Second, Matthew constructed the paragraph in such a way that the “authority of Jesus (v. 18) accomplishes three things:

  • (1) it relieves our “doubt (vv. 16-17);
  • (2) it authenticates our mission (vv. 19-20a); and,
  • (3) it comforts as we go (v. 20b).

Verses 16-17 flow into Christ’s “authority” (v. 18). Verses 19-20 flow out of it. The main points begin to take shape:

  • I. His Authority Assures Your Doubts (28:16-18)
  • II. His Authority Empowers Your Mission (28:19-20a)
  • III. Make Disciples
    • A. By going
    • B. By baptizing
    • C. By teaching
  • IV. His Authority Comforts Daily (28:20b)

The “meat” of the passage comes in verses 19-20a. It contains the strongest verb, “make disciples;” and therefore, should be given the place of primacy in the sermon. Make sure your presentation mirrors that emphasis. Timewise, spend more time on point III than the others. Matthew concentrates his emphasis on verses 19-20a: You do likewise.  

The beauty is this: Other “authorities” may attempt to hinder us. Secular authorities may attempt to silence us; family authorities may attempt to pressure us; societal authorities may attempt to marginalize us. No matter. We have divine authority which transcends all of those. This is precisely the reason Jesus adds Matthew 28:20b: To encourage us because His divine message will encounter opposition.

Use Present-tense Verbs in Your Outline

Walt Kaiser offers a practical, but often unnoticed, point of wisdom: Use strong, present-tense verbs in your outline.2Walt Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 157-59. 

If God’s Word is timeless (and it is), then we should speak in present-tense terms. As Kaiser notes, presenting Numbers 22:1-35 in the following (past-tense) format loses some of its present-day impact:

  • I. Balaam Sought (Numbers 22:1-20)
  • II. Balaam Fought (Numbers 22:21-27)
  • III. Balaam Taught (Numbers 22:28-38).

A better outline would be this: “Knowing & Doing The Will Of God:”

  • I. By Keeping the Faith (Numbers 22:1-7)
  • II. By Obeying God’s Word (Numbers 22:8-22)
  • III. By Observing the Obstacles (Numbers 22:23-35).

Imperatives often sharpen the focus even more:

  • I. Keep the Faith (Numbers 22:1-7)
  • II. Obey the Word (Numbers 22:8-22)
  • III. Observe the Obstacles (Numbers 22:23-35).

Simply using present-tense verbs brings the audience from ancient times into the here-and-now relevance (note also: the verse divisions changed to more accurately reflect the biblical author’s text divisions). It also helps if the outline is consistent grammatically. That is, if one point is a phrase, all should be a phrase; if one point is a single word, all should be a single word; if one point is a sentence, all should be a sentence. This is not always possible, but it will help the listener when it is possible.

Closing Thought

Try these two exercises for a month. Your listeners will comment on how your preaching or teaching is different (in a positive way). They won’t be able to put their finger on why, but you and I will know. 

References

References
1 I wrote several articles on this oft-neglected, but all-important, subject. See “The Greatest Danger in Preaching;” “The Danger of Exemplarist Tendencies;” “The Danger of Atomistic Tendencies;” and, “The Danger of Biographical Tendencies.”
2 Walt Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 157-59.
Author Outline

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.