Thinking Through the Entire Sermon

Sermon outline

Suppose you are called upon to preach 1 John 3:1-10. By this point, you’ve already done all the hermeneutical and some homiletical work. Now, it is time to start thinking through how this preaching-text drives the shape and content of your sermon so you can present it in a clear and cogent way. Your thoughts must take into account both (1) your hermeneutical conclusions and (2) your homiletical conclusions.

Hermeneutical Conclusions

Concisely summarize your hermeneutical conclusions by asking the following questions. 

  1. What does the canonical analysis tell us? 1 John is one of the last letters written in the NT. Also, the author wrote the Gospel of John prior to writing 1 John.
  2. What does the book analysis tell us? 
    • Who is the author? Authorship generally is attributed to John, the fisherman and apostle. He also wrote the Gospel of John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation.
    • Who is the audience? We don’t know with certainty. He writes to believers (1 Jn. 5:13). We know they were dealing with apostasy (1 Jn. 2:19) and false teachers (1 Jn. 2:22). 
    • When was it written? Most scholars date it late 1st century. 
    • Are there any unique syntactical markings? Scholars have suggested John provides three tests by which believer can assess whether or not they (or others) truly are Christians. These tests would be a welcomed relief to those facing apostasy of loved ones and false teaching early-on. The three tests are meant to cause assurance (not doubt) of salvation:
      • A doctrinal test. Do I believe in the correct Jesus correctly?
      • A moral test. Do I have a correct behavior regarding obedience?
      • A social test. Do I have a correct attitude toward others?1See James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Baker Books, 1979, paperback, 2006), 14; D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New … Continue reading
      • John cycles through these tests, somewhat randomly, throughout his letter. This fits John’s style as he seems to think topically rather than chronologically, even in his Gospel. Therefore, the first task is to determine which test John is applying in our preaching-text. 
  3. What is the letter’s single purpose? John’s states his purpose is in 1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Again, members of this congregation were apostatizing (1 Jn 2:19). John, therefore, issues three tests by which a person can judge whether he/she is a true child of God. 
  4. What does the sectional context tell us? In chapter 1, John lays out his three tests. In chapters 2 and 3, he gets more specific. He contrasts those who do not live righteously with those who do. He does this with “we do this . . . they do that” distinctions to sharpen his point. 
  5. What does the immediate context tell us? The immediate context focuses on the moral test (obedience).

Sermons that stray from the author’s single meaning are either weak or powerless to effect true, lasting change. 

Homiletical Conclusions

At this point, take all of your hermeneutical considerations and create your steps to the sermon (see article here) as follows:

Single Meaning: John drew clear distinctions between God’s children and the devil’s children.

Timeless Principle: Those who are genuine Christians will be “obvious.”   

Major Objective of the Sermon (MOS): To stimulate believers to live “obvious” Christian lives.

Sermon Title: “Examine Your Fruit”

Sermon Outline:

Sermon Introduction

John Bunyan wrote a book about the funeral of a non-Christian: The Life & Death of Mr. Badman. It recounts the story of a sinner who went to hell. The point is: Genuine Christians will live a life characterized by Christ-likeness; not perfection, but progressively becoming more Christ-like. 

  1. We Purify Ourselves (3:1-3).
  2. They Live a Lifestyle of Sin (3:4-5).
  3. We Live a Lifestyle of Righteousness (3:6-7).
  4. They are Children of The Devil (3:8).
  5. We are Children of God (3:9).
  6. Genuine Believers will be Obvious (Evident) (3:10).

Sermon Closing

Is it evident in my life? The same tests that are meant as assurances to true believers can torment the consciences of fake believers or cultural Christians. Take time to examine yourself. 

Closing Thoughts

This passage is unusual in that there are six thought-units (represented above by six points). Obviously, be judicious with the time you allot to each point (something we discuss in a later article). We trust you will make clear from the start that (1) John wrote to believers and (2) he wasn’t preaching a works-based righteousness. John’s point is clear: A righteous lifestyle is not a means of saving grace; rather, it is the visible fruit of saving grace. The fruit of true believers will be evident to the watching world.

This exercise will seem tedious at first, but it will yield terrific results. It will keep you tethered to the author’s single-meaning. Sermons grounded in such biblical authority have the power to change men’s hearts. Sermons that stray from the author’s single meaning are either weak or powerless to effect true, lasting change. 

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1 See James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Baker Books, 1979, paperback, 2006), 14; D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1992), 445; Thomas D, The New Testament:  Its Background and Message (Broadman & Holman, 1996), 564.
Author Sermon 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.