So, What’s a Good Sermon?

by Jefferson David Tant

Out of all the thousands of sermons preachers have delivered and to which people have listened, how would we determine which sermons are good, which are bad, or which are so-so? I would suppose that even preachers evaluate themselves from time to time, and on occasion might conclude, “Well, I’ll never preach that sermon again!”

In answering the question, it would be good to go to the “Preacher’s Manual,” which we would agree would be God’s Word. I doubt that any preacher would suppose that he could measure up to the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, but there are various Scriptures that do mention preaching that is connected to the apostles and others in the New Testament writings.

For some helpful advice, let’s consider the words of one chosen by God to be a teacher, as he instructs a young preacher. Of course, we’re writing about the apostle Paul and the young man Timothy.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (II Timothy 4:1-2).

Preach the Word

What is “the Word?” Obviously, it is the teaching of Jesus Christ. A good sermon is based on God’s Word, not the opinions or doctrines of men. And if preachers are to “preach the Word,” they need to spend some time studying and meditating on the Word. There may be various things that occupy a preacher’s time and thoughts, but there must be a priority set on the matter of spending time with the Bible. Within it are the “words of life.”

Oh, there may be times when a preacher says, “Let me give you my thoughts on that.” But be sure that your thoughts are in agreement with what the passage says, rather than giving a different view.

Be Ready in Season and Out of Season

What does Paul mean by this? To preach in both summer and winter? Obviously, that’s not what Paul meant, but it certainly would apply to preaching in good times and hard times. Yes, there are good times for preaching. The hearers are at peace with one another and there is harmony, and the audience/church is working together to further the Lord’s work. But Satan is still at work in the world, and sometimes brethren are distracted by his devices, and there may be some difficulties the preacher faces. Some preachers don’t want to get involved, and just ignore problems when they arise, hoping they will go away. But that’s not how either Christ or Paul dealt with problems. They confronted them.

Reprove, Rebuke

These words are very similar in their meanings, and carry the idea of “to admonish, convict, convince.” I suppose this would not always be the most pleasant duty of a preacher, but if the body of Christ is to be whole and pure, it must be done. We certainly know that a medical doctor sometimes has to take measures to remove disease from our bodies. It may not always be pleasant for us, but we know that good health makes it necessary. Is the body of Christ, the church, any less important?

Some readers are familiar with the well-known denominational preacher in the United States named Joel O’Steen. In an interview on TV, he stated, “I don’t preach on sin. I want my people to feel good.” I guess that’s how he could build a church of some 40,000 members and become a millionaire.

The greatest preacher of all time, Jesus Christ, certainly did not hesitate to rebuke the Pharisees and others for their hypocrisy and sinful deeds in his preaching. And Paul did the same, even confronting a fellow apostle, Peter, for his bad behavior when he separated himself from the Gentiles in Galatians 3:11-12.

And what is our attitude and behavior when we have to confront those who are in error? What should be the tone of our voice in this matter? Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

I’m afraid that I know of too many situations where people may have been driven away by the harsh attitude of the preacher either in private or in public. How would we want others to deal with us if we have been in the wrong? Thus Paul said we should “look to ourselves.’


This is an encouraging word, and Strong’s Greek Dictionary says: “parakaleo, par-ak-al-eh'-o -- to call near, i.e. invite, invoke (by imploration, hortation or consolation):--beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort(-ation), entreat, pray.”

I don’t think I need to add to that, as Strong gives a pretty good definition of what it means to “exhort.” And of course, this corresponds to what Paul said in Galatians 6:1 about a “spirit of gentleness.”

With Great Patience

Just what does it mean to be “patient?” Would this not carry the idea that we are not to be quick to anger, not use harsh words, but rather to have a spirit of love and kindness when we seek to correct others, whether from the pulpit or in person?

Brethren, if we seek to apply Paul’s instructions to a young preacher to our own work, then obviously God’s Word will work its purpose, and the hearers of our sermons/lessons will be edified and strengthened and the church will grow.

The Psalmist closes the 107th Psalm with the following words: “Whoso is wise will give heed to these things; And they will consider the lovingkindnesses of Jehovah” (Psalms 107:43)

And Paul’s words to the church in Rome also have an application to those who preach the gospel: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:12).

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