For a number of reasons 1 Peter has suffered from neglect of interest. In 1976 John H. Elliot wrote these classic words regarding 1 Peter which still ring true today (though perhaps to a lesser degree):

To judge from appearance, 1 Peter suffers second-class status in the estimation of modern NT exegetes. Along with the other relatively neglected documents such as the remaining Catholic Epistles, Hebrews, and the Johannine Apocalypse, it is generally treated as one of the step-children of the NT canon. (JBL 95:2, emphasis mine)

Many preachers who are committed to preaching through books of the Bible consecutively are more inclined to preach from one of Paul’s rich doctrinal epistles, like Ephesians or Romans.

Perhaps you resonate with the testimony of Welton Gaddy who has written one of the few journal articles designed to provide preachers with help in preaching 1 Peter.

Previously 1 Peter has not been an integral part of my personal canon for preaching. I fear that I am not alone in having turned regularly to the Gospels and the Pauline epistles for intensive study with only occasional sermonic forays into the prophets and the Pentateuch. Unfortunately, the smaller non-Pauline writings in the New Testament, like 1 Peter, have served me primarily as source books to which to turn with sermon topics in search of appropriate biblical texts. I repent!  Preaching from 1 Peter,” Review and Expositor 79:3 (1982): 472

It is not surprising, then, that more has been written in the area of the Pauline letters, and, therefore, more help is available for preachers when preaching from that section of the New Testament. There are, of course, a number of good commentaries and helps available for understanding the text of 1 Peter; however, very little has been written to help preachers preach through this neglected epistle.

Let me give you some reasons why you should consider preaching through 1 Peter in 2016.

Its Rich Theological Contribution

1 Peter needs to be highlighted for its rich theological contribution.

The preacher who preaches through this letter will end up covering some of the great themes of Christian doctrine and living:

  • salvation
  • the new birth
  • Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension
  • trials
  • suffering
  • holiness
  • faith, hope, and love
  • the word of God
  • evangelism
  • submission to authority
  • marriage relationships
  • spiritual gifts
  • Satan
  • church structure
  • relationships

Its Value for Our Contemporary Situation

New Testament scholars have suggested that 1 Peter is overlooked because of its apparent irrelevance to our contemporary situation as Christians in the West.

Karen Jobes (2005) poses this question:

What significance could this ancient letter have for Christians for whom social alienation and suffering for the faith are generally unfamiliar experiences? . . . Classroom discussion of 1 Peter has raised the suggestion that perhaps 1 Peter is for the church in another time and place and that its message of suffering is not necessarily applicable to the church today. The relative neglect of 1 Peter in sermons and Bible studies may attest to the truth of that thought in practice, if not in principle.  (1 Peter, BECNT)

Scot McKnight (1996) concurs:

I must admit I have never met any Christians in the United States who have told me that 1 Peter was their favorite book or even high on the priority list. Most Christians enjoy Psalms and Proverbs, many Christians enjoy Philippians or 1 John, active countercultural types like the teachings of Jesus (especially the Sermon on the Mount), academic-theological types like Romans, charismatic types like Acts, practical types like James—but few people raise their hands in Sunday school classes and ask the teacher to expound 1 Peter. Why? The answer is simple: Too much of it is centered on aspects of Christian existence that are far from most Western Christian experiences: social marginalization and suffering. (1 Peter, NIVAC)

The situation for the American church, however, is fast becoming parallel to the situation of Peter’s first-century readers. Peter wrote to a group of believers who were marginalized and ostracized for their faith in Jesus Christ. Persecution for them came primarily in the form of verbal slander, not imprisonment or physical abuse.

  • “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2:12).
  • “When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
  • “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (3:9).
  • “Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (3:16).
  • “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (4:4).
  • “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14).

In response Peter gives them pastoral help for navigating in a society that is generally intolerant of their counter-cultural beliefs and lifestyle.

Christians (especially in the West) today need to know how to live well and wisely in the world and yet remain faithful to Jesus Christ. They need to know how to respond like Christ to the increasing marginalization and public slander of biblical Christianity. That means there may be no greater time than now for more interest in and preaching of this valuable and relevant letter.

Its Connection to the Life and Ministry of Peter

In addition, preaching through 1 Peter will necessarily involve interaction with the life and ministry of one of the most engaging characters in all of the New Testament—the apostle Peter. First Peter, though not biographical in content (like Galatians), nevertheless grows out of and reflects Peter’s life story and, in particular, his relationship to Jesus Christ.

Many Christians identify with the rash, impetuous Peter of the Gospels. They also connect with his failure to remain loyal to Jesus during His trial and crucifixion. Yet, here in 1 Peter the reader encounters a transformed Peter, a Peter full of hope and confidence. In the Gospels Peter struggled to embrace the cross along with the crown. Yet, in 1 Peter he appeals to his readers to embrace both suffering and glory as it was patterned by the Lord Jesus and predicted by the Old Testament prophets.

Preaching from 1 Peter, then, highlights the transformation of Peter and serves as an encouragement to all those who identify with his personality and struggles as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Its Pastoral and Homiletical Value

Lastly, there is a need to encourage the systematic preaching of 1 Peter for its pastoral and homiletical value.

Since Peter is addressing suffering Christians in a negative social context, it is instructive for today’s preachers to analyze how he approaches this situation with pastoral sensitivity and care.

  • How does one give hope to those who are disadvantaged and dishonored in the world?
  • What theological truths need to be highlighted to encourage Christian joy even in the midst of trials?

These questions will be answered through a careful analysis of the letter.

Preaching through 1 Peter will give pastors instruction in helping those who are suffering, and it will also educate their listeners who may be involved in counseling and discipleship efforts.

I think it’s time for preachers to resurrect interest in 1 Peter and to highlight its increasingly-relevant message in order to equip believers for the coming days.

Why don’t you give some prayerful thought to the possibility of preaching through 1 Peter in 2016.


H. B. Charles shares this lesson and story to encourage preachers to guard their hearts from pride in the pulpit:

The pulpit is a dangerous place. It can fill the preacher with pride that leads to his downfall. It can fill the preacher with discouragement that causes him to give up. It can fill the preacher with fear that prostitutes his divine message for human approval.

The old story is told about the young preacher who strutted to the pulpit, expecting to wow the congregation. He humbly walked out of the pulpit after the sermon bombed. “What happened?” he asked a senior minister. The wise, seasoned preacher counseled, “Son, if you would have gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you would have been able to come down the way you went up.”

Is the average person today living in a post-Christian world really capable of understanding the theology of the Bible? Should a pastor avoid doctrinal themes and terms in favor of preaching messages that are less intellectually demanding and more relevant to his listeners?

Jim Hamilton offers an excellent answer to these questions in his helpful contribution to the book Text-Driven Preaching:

Can God’s people operate those complicated remote controls that come with everything from their new flat-screen TVs to their new cars? Can God’s people use computers; navigate grocery stores; hold down jobs; and acquire homes, cars, toys, and all the stuff they jam into the garage?

Let me be frank: I have no patience for suggestions that preachers need to dumb it down. Preachers need to be clear, and they need to be able to explain things in understandable ways. But human beings do not need the Bible to be dumbed down. If you think that, what you really think is that God the Holy Spirit did not know what He was doing when He inspired the Bible to be the way it is. Not only does the suggestion that the Bible is more than God’s people can handle blaspheme God’s wisdom; it also blasphemes His image bearers. People are made in the image of God. Human beings are endowed with brains and sensibilities of astonishing capacity.

Do you want people to think that everything that is interesting or artistic or brilliant comes from the world? Dumb down the Bible.

Do you want them to see the complexity and simplicity of God? The sheer genius of the Spirit-inspired biblical authors? The beauty of a world-encompassing metanarrative of cosmic scope? Teach them biblical theology.

Do not discount the capacities of God’s people. They may be stupid and uninformed when their hearts are awakened, but do not punish them by leaving them there. Show them literary artistry. Show them the subtle power of carefully constructed narratives. Show them the force of truth in arguments that unfold with inexorable logic. If they are genuine believers, they will want to understand the Bible. Show them the shouts and songs, the clamor and the clarity, the book of books. Let their hearts sing with the psalmist, weep with Lamentations, and ponder Proverbs. Give them the messianic wisdom of the beautiful mind that wrote Ecclesiastes. Preach the word!

Unleash it in all its fullness and fury. Let it go. Tie it together. Show connections that are there in the texts from end to end. Tell them the whole story. Give them the whole picture. Paint the whole landscape for them, not just the blade of grass.

So be clear in your preaching. Use rhetorical principles and strategies to explain the Bible in ways that make its teachings understandable and accessible to the common man. Know your audience and adapt to it appropriately (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:11-14). Don’t drag all your original language exegesis and historical-cultural findings into the sermon. But be careful that you don’t dumb down the Bible in the process.

For example, don’t avoid dealing with the doctrine of the Bible because you fear your audience won’t understand or appreciate “theology.”

The words of Martyn Lloyd Jones on Bible translations are relevant at this point:

The simple answer . . . is that people have always found this language [of the Bible] to be strange. The answer to the argument that people in this post-Christian age do not understand terms like Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification is simply to ask another question. When did people understand them? When did the unbeliever understand this language? The answer is: Never! These terms are peculiar and special to the Gospel. It is our business as preachers to show that our gospel is essentially different and that we are not talking about ordinary matters. We must emphasize the fact that we are talking about something unique and special. We must lead people to expect this; and so we are to assert it. Our business is to teach people the meaning of these terms. They do not decide and determine what is to be preached and how: it is we that have the Revelation, the Message, and we have to make this understood. (Preaching and Preachers, 142, emphasis mine)

Let God decide what needs to be said and what people need to know. Take pains to understand the message yourself. Then work hard to explain the message in ways that your listeners get it and see its relevance for their lives.

Pastors, don’t leave your congregation on the surface and in ignorance. Inspire them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Whet their appetite for the meat of the Word.

Remember, however, that no amount of work in preparation and no amount of clarity in presentation can substitute for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So prepare and preach in dependence on the Lord and pray along with Paul

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [those who hear your message] the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened (Eph. 1:17-18).

Jason Meyer has some good thoughts on the need for preachers to rely on the power of the Word and not on their artistry and personality:

Many a good book has suffered at the hands of a movie maker’s “artistic license” that does not stay true to what made the book good in the first place. In the same way, many a biblical text has suffered at the hands of a preacher’s “artistic license” that is not faithful to God’s intent for the text. . . . God does not need us to improve his word. Our part is to give the text a voice, not a makeover.

In my experience, too many people believe that making God’s word real takes creative license or a flamboyant personality. That is simply not true. . . . Many efforts to preach boil down to man-centered attempts to do something in the flesh that only God can do by his Spirit. Preachers must put their faith in the power of God’s word, not in their ability to make something drab into something attractive and appealing. God’s word is living and active, not drab. (emphasis original)


Questions for Discussion

  1. What does it take to make God’s word “real” in preaching?
  2. How do you know when you have crossed the line from depending on God and his words to depending on yourself in preaching?
  3. What role, if any, does artistry and creativity play in God-dependent preaching?
  4. What homiletical method(s) best reflect “faith in the power of God’s word”?

After 40 years of preaching Sinclair Ferguson took some time (on a airplane!) to write down his 10 commandments of preaching.

Though Ferguson admits his commandments are not “infallible” (as were the ones given to Moses on the mount) every preacher would do well to think carefully about these “ground rules” for preaching.

1. Know Your Bible Better

Often at the end of a Lord’s Day, or a Conference, the thought strikes me again: “If you only knew your Bible better you would have been a lot more help to the people.”

I need to be homo unius libri–a man of one Book.

2. Be a Man of Prayer

I mean this with respect to preaching–not only in the sense that I should pray before I begin my preparation, but in the sense that my preparation is itself a communion in prayer with God in and through his word.

3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ

Know and therefore preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). That is a text far easier to preach as the first sermon in a ministry than it is to preach as the final sermon.

4. Be Deeply Trinitarian

Our people need to know that, through the Spirit, their fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Would they know that from my preaching?

5. Use Your Imagination

All good preaching involves the use of the imagination. No great preacher has ever lacked imagination. . . . Imagination in preaching means being able to understand the truth well enough to translate or transpose it into another kind of language or musical key in order to present the same truth in a way that enables others to see it, understand its significance, feel its power–to do so in a way that gets under the skin, breaks through the barriers, grips the mind, will, and affections so that they not only understand the word used but feel their truth and power.

6. Speak Much of Sin and Grace

Sin and grace should be the downbeat and the upbeat that run through all our exposition.

We cannot build a ministry, nor healthy Christians, on a diet of fulminating against the world.

Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter.

7. Use “the Plain Style”

Do not make eloquence the thing for which you are best known as a preacher; make sure you get the point of the passage you are preaching, and that you make it clear and express its power.

8. Find Your Own Voice

Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them or their gifts.

The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless.

9. Learn How to Transition

[Preach in such a way as to show people] how to transition from the old ways to the new way, from patterns of sin to patterns of holiness.

Not “this is wrong . . . this is right” but by our preaching to enable and effect the transition.

How do we do this? To begin with by expounding the Scriptures in a way that makes clear that the indicatives of grace ground the imperatives of faith and obedience and also effect them.

The Scriptures themselves teach us the answer to the “What?” questions and also the answer to the “How to?” question.

10. Love Your People

This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study.


Question: Ferguson remarks that “Once one begins thinking about this, whatever Ten Commandments one comes up with, it becomes obvious that this is an inexhaustible theme.” What other commandments for preaching would you add to Ferguson’s list?

Preaching for My Own Ego

February 23, 2015

Gary Burge shares this account in his book Interpreting the Gospel of John:

As a newly-ordained Presbyterian minister I served as interim pastor at a small church in Appalachian Tennessee. This was not difficult since church responsibilities fit well with my college teaching schedule. But since I only had begun to teach, I was enamored with the disciplines of the “academy.” My congregation heard far too much about New Testament theology and interpretation. This church was nestled in a scenic valley where a number of outsiders had summer homes. When they came to church, everyone–including the preacher–noticed. At the start of one service I noticed that the famous Old Testament scholar, James Mays from Union Seminary in Richmond, was in the congregation. Panic set in. The sermon seemed too simple for him. Before I knew it my sermon was explaining how the traditions of the halachah of first-century Judaism affected the transmission of the Synoptics.

I’m not sure if Dr. Mays was impressed (he never came back), but the congregation in its wisdom realized what was going on: I was preaching for my own ego rather than for the needs of the people. My hard-won insights from Jewish literature were being flagged before my audience like so many credentials. Fortunately the people of East Tennessee are gracious, patient and wise–they never held such excesses against me.

Exegesis is the scaffolding of the building, not the building itself. When used correctly, exegesis becomes virtually invisible from inside the cathedral.

I wish I could say I’ve never given in to the temptation to parade my exegesis, but I have.

That’s why I have to keep coming back to this fundamental and corrective question when deciding what to include and exclude from my sermon: Why am I giving my audience this information? Why am I telling them this? Is it for their benefit or mine? Is it intended to help them understand the text better or confirm their belief in a particular doctrine by helping them see how it is rooted in the text (and context) of Scripture? Or am I on a homiletical and mininisterial ego trip?

God, deliver us from preaching that is self-exalting, and give us more of the spirit of John the Baptist: He must increase, but I must decrease.

What is the best way to develop the idea of a text in a sermon? Often the idea itself becomes clear to us after we follow the standard exegetical process and consult the standard exegetical resources. But how to communicate that idea to a contemporary audience–that’s another story.

I’d like to suggest that the answer to the how question may be found in the text too.

Perhaps an example would help. Consider Paul’s rhetorical objective and strategies in Philippians 2.

Paul’s Objective (the Why)

Paul’s rhetorical objective is related to his pastoral concern for these believers. He is seeking to correct the natural tendency in his readers to “look…every man on his own interests” and not enough “on the interests of others” (2:4). And his larger concern (reflected at the end of 1:27 and 2:2) was the disunity that this kind of selfishness leads to. And his even larger concern is the damaging effect that this selfishness and disunity would have on the reputation of the gospel of Christ: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

That shift in orientation (away from my own things to the things of others) requires a fundamental change in the way I think. It requires a change of mind. It’s what Paul calls in v. 2 “lowliness of mind” or humility.

Paul’s Strategy (the How)

There are any number of legitimate rhetorical strategies Paul could have employed to accomplish his rhetorical objective stated in in 2:5, “Let this mind [ie., lowliness of mind] be in you.”

  • Paul could have presented reasoned arguments for why his readers must be humble (“for . . .”).
  • He could have cited an Old Testament text to reinforce his appeal.
  • He could have developed the opposite of humility (viz.  pride) to encourage his readers to see the beauty of humility by contrast.

But he doesn’t. He paints a picture of what humility looks like. He employs illustration, particularly in the form of example. Paul goes right to the example of Jesus Christ with these words: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who . . .”

In addition to the example of Jesus Christ, Paul provides three more examples of what humbleness of mind looks like. In addition to referencing himself, Paul points to Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30) as illustrations of humility, or the mind of Christ.

Notice what Paul says about Timothy in v. 20: “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own.” Consider how Paul concludes the section on Epaphroditus in v. 30: “for the work of Christ he was made nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.”

Not only are Paul’s example true but they are also relevant to the topic of humility. It’s apparent that Paul selects these examples and highlights these specific aspects of their example to move his audience toward his objective.

Homiletical Lessons (the So What)

So what does this mean for us as contemporary preachers of Philippians 2 and other texts?

  • Does it mean that the only way (the “inspired” way) to develop the topic of humility is through use of examples? No.
  • Does it mean that the best way to develop the topic of humility is through use of examples? No, not necessarily.
  • Does it mean that if I’m preaching through Philippians 2 the only way for me to develop the theme of humility is through use of example, because that’s what Paul employed? Again, no. The best way? Not necessarily.

So what is the significance of Paul’s rhetorical example for us?

It is suggestive. Ironically, it provides us with an example of how example can be used in a legitimate and powerful way. It reminds us that example is one of the rhetorical tools in our sermon construction toolbox. In other words, not every idea has to (or should) be developed through abstract, logical discourse.

Biographical example is a particularly powerful rhetorical strategy because it is concrete and personal. In the case of Epaphroditus, the fact that the Philippian believers knew his manner of life personally only heightened the power of his example. Instead of keeping “lowliness of mind” in the abstract, Paul brings it down to the “mind of Christ,” and the mind of Timothy, and the mind of Epaphroditus. The Philippians could visualize the concept of humility and would be more inclined to embrace it for themselves when they could see it in action as the beautiful virtue that it is. What is not to like about humility when it is packaged so attractively?

In my last post I talked about the need for our rhetorical forms to be consistent with the message they carry. In this case, the form–example–is very much consistent with the gospel since God chose to embody His message in His Son (Jn. 1:1, 14). Do you want to know what God is like? Look at the Son (Jn. 1:18), who is “the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3). God does not merely discuss His love in the abstract. He demonstrates it and illustrates it.

It is also consistent with Peter’s use of Jesus Christ as an example for believers: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (2:21).

If I were preaching through Philippians 2 I would necessarily deal with the historical examples found in the text. But as I think about developing the message of Philippians 2 for my target audience, do I need to use modern or extra-biblical examples as my primary rhetorical strategy? No, but I think it would be good for us as preachers to take our cue from rhetorical strategies employed by the original author and look for contemporary examples of humility, perhaps those personally known by our congregation.


There’s no doubt that preachers should be focused on the what (message) of the text. But there is much insight into the meaning of the text and into the development of a contemporary philosophy and methodology of preaching that comes from looking carefully at the why (purpose) and how (strategies) of individual texts of Scripture.



It’s easy to get in a rut. I know from experience. Sermon after sermon comes off the production line packaged in the standard format with little to no clear purpose driving their delivery.

Questions like “What is the goal of this sermon with reference to my audience?” or “What are the best methods for communicating and achieving that goal?” are often overlooked or undervalued. (Just for fun and to make a point, I will sometimes ask my homiletics students on the spot why they are preaching a particular sermon only to be met with a blank stare. To my own chagrin I can identify with that stare.)

Sermons that lack a sense of purpose also tend to lack unity, clarity, and fervency. In many cases, especially within the context of an expository book series, sermons without purpose degenerate into little more than informational lectures; listeners may leave with their heads full but with their hearts largely unchallenged and unchanged.

Just because we have a clearly identifiable purpose for preaching a sermon, however, doesn’t mean our objective is compatible with the original purpose of the Scripture writer. In some cases we end up cutting against the grain of authorial intent and tearing up the text in the process. Our sermon purpose must be informed by the text and consistent with the text.

So let’s say you have a definite goal in mind for preaching a particular sermon, and you’ve done your best to make sure it’s in sync with the passage. Great! You’re one step ahead of the pack. But that’s not enough. It’s at that point you should start asking yourself this question: “In light of my target audience, time constraints, and the nature of the occasion, what is the best way for me to accomplish that purpose from a rhetorical standpoint?” In other words, how do we get from point A (where we are) to point B (where we need to go, or in this case, where we want our listeners to go)?

I wonder how many preachers interact with this question when preparing a message, and to what extent. It’s an important question, one we don’t want to overlook. We need to be thinking carefully about our rhetorical strategies (i.e. the means we employ to accomplish particular objectives), because it’s possible to have a good sense of what we want to accomplish without having a clue about how to accomplish it (in concert with the work of God’s Spirit).

Of course, the fact that someone has given thought to his method doesn’t necessarily mean his method is legitimate. Pragmatism can easily influence the preacher when he wrestles only with the question “What works best?” and not with the question “What rhetorical strategies are exemplified and, therefore, sanctioned by the authors of Scripture?”

For example, a preacher presenting the gospel of Christ should have belief in Christ as one of his sermon objectives (cf. John 20:30–31). That does not mean, however, that because the goal itself is unarguably biblical that any old means of pursuing it will do. No. Any approach that employs deception or manipulation is clearly contrary to Scripture and must be rejected. In general, any rhetorical device that would undermine the character or compromise the integrity of the message itself should be rejected.

As expository preachers we may be passionately committed to saying what God said. And well we should. But are we also committed to saying what God said in a way that is consistent with why and how He said it?


Ignoring the Christ-centered canonical context of Scripture is no less reductionist and problematic than ignoring the immediate context of the human author. A wooden application of the grammatical historical hermeneutic that fails to account for the fact that the Scriptures are the supernatural word of a sovereign God errs in the same way allegory does: both approaches exclude indispensible context. One excludes the context of the human author; the other excludes that of the divine author. Christocentric preaching does not mean neglecting exegesis in order to slip Christ in the sermon; it is rather the exposing of authorial intent, both human and divine.

~ David Prince

Christocentric Preaching and a/Authorial Intent