A note from the editor:
Preaching the Word of God is one of the greatest
privileges entrusted to humanity. It is also one of the
greatest responsibilities for pastors and elders. Choosing a
preaching style is an essential aspect of sermon preparation.
In this series, Dr. Rex D. Edwards presents and analyzes
three types of sermons: the biographical sermon, the textual
sermon, and the topical sermon.
In this issue, the author deals with the biographical
sermon. A biography is a person’s life story; therefore, this
method involves studying the lives of the many characters
we encounter in the Bible. Each biography recorded in the
Bible holds important significance for us. Every life has
something to teach us. I hope you enjoy this series!
God is the great narrator! Once upon a time, there was Adam and Eve and a serpent with a glittering apple—and they did not live happily ever after. Once upon a time, there was Noah; the Lord God gave him a hammer and a cubic stick and said, “Go, and build an ark.” Once upon a time, there was Nimrod and Methuselah and Abraham and Ur. Once upon a time, there was the wily Delilah and the macho Samson. Once upon a time, there was Rahab of Jericho, and Jonah blubbering in the whale’s maw. Once upon a time, there was Herod and Zacchaeus. Once upon a time, there was Lazarus, who couldn’t stay dead in the presence of Jesus.
Why do these narratives enthrall us? It’s because the biblical
stories are so germane to our own life narrative. Like these
people, we need to know God. We want to relate to Him. This is
the value of the biographical sermon.
The biographical sermon pattern is concerned primarily with
the written record or the events of a person’s life. It deals with
what the person did—his or her life as it unfolded. It considers
and relates the historic facts. Biographical sermons reveal
people’s strengths and weaknesses, show how they met life’s
situations, and thus reflect a working basis for life in general.
The first step in preparing a biographical sermon is to familiarize
yourself with all the details of the person’s life and to have
a clear perspective of that person’s whole life. For instance, the
Gospels refer to Nicodemus three times. Each instance shows
him in a different light and reveals how he became a follower
of Christ. As we examine these three references, the following
1. Nicodemus, the secret inquirer (John 3:1-21).
2. Nicodemus, the timid advocate (John 7:50-52).
3. Nicodemus, the open confessor (John 19:39-42).
Always remember that in a single sermon, you cannot include
all the details of a person’s life, especially when there is
a lot of material.
The second step is to create an outline. The main facts or
events of the person’s life will furnish the chief divisions, with
suitable details incorporated under these points which act as
subdivisions. For example, the life of Moses covers three 40-
I. The period of adoption in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-15)
A. A Hebrew birth.
B. An Egyptian adoption.
C. Foundational training.
II. The period of preparation in the wilderness (Ex. 2:16-25)
A. His marriage.
B. His occupation.
C. His obscurity .
III. The period of leadership over Israel (Ex. 3–Deut. 24)
A. The faithful leader.
B. The great prophet.
C. The first scriptural writer.
A word of caution: Do not degrade the sermon into a mere
recital of biographical details. Use the facts as the basis for
practical lessons that can impact the lives of your listeners.
Have a purpose in mind and arrange the entire sermon with reference
to its persuasive power. For instance, the above outline
on Moses has a twofold purpose: (1) to show that, whatever the
circumstances, we can all make our lives count for God, and (2)
to show how a life becomes great and useful in proportion to
its dedication to God.
Because the biographical pattern includes much material
data, the content of the sermon should be practical. Significant
lessons can be drawn from biblical biographies. Ilion T. Jones
comments, “Characters of the Bible are a personal source of
sermons. Repeatedly one will see in the man and woman of
the Bible the virtue and vices, the personality problems, the
emotional difficulties, and the possibilities for good and for evil
circumstances of men and women in their own community.”1
To illustrate, Jones suggests two sermon forms. In the first
form, the first part of the sermon “tells the story of the character’s
life” (which can be arranged in chronological order) and
the second part of the sermon “draws the lessons.” He provides
the story of Joseph as an example of this first form:
I. The story of Joseph’s life
A. His early life.
B. His conflict with his brothers.
C. His rise to power in Egypt.
D. His reconciliation with his brothers.
E. His last days.
II. Lessons from Joseph’s life A.
A man with a feeling of destiny.
B. A man undaunted by misfortune.
C. A man with a mystical sense of right and wrong.
D. A man too big to hold a grudge.
E. A man with a staunch belief in the providence of
Note that the lessons correspond to the five stages of his life.
By contrast, in the second form, each lesson constitutes the
main point of the sermon, “utilizing the particular facts about
his life that substantiate it; then the lesson would be drawn and
enforced before passing on to the next point.”2
the first form because the whole story can be placed before
the hearers without being interrupted each time to enforce the
lesson. Now, following the first form, develop a biographical
sermon utilizing the suggested outline about the story of Zacchaeus
as recorded in Luke 19:1-10:
I. The story of Zacchaeus
A. Zacchaeus climbing (verses 1-4).
B. Zacchaeus entertaining (verses 5-7).
C. Zacchaeus restoring (verse 8).
D. Zacchaeus redeeming (verses 9, 10).
II. Lessons from Zacchaeus’ life
A. You can climb, but you are never beyond God’s reach.
B. You can entertain, but you cannot escape conviction.
C. You can repent, but you cannot avoid restitution.
D. No matter what you have done, you can be saved.
Present the person as the Bible describes him or her. Do
not over-praise or over-criticize. Be true to the Bible record. Applications
should connect the biography with the modern world.
Biographical preaching is a grand bridge with one pier in
the distant holy “back then” and the other in the not-so-sacred
“now.” Bible stories interact with our own story. This type of
preaching calls out the similarities of age-locked peoples who
are not so different from us after all. But stories must not just
interact; they must motivate us to produce. Stories are the lifechangers.
The product is conversion. They serve to confront,
and they change our lives. They motivate us to holiness, to
prayer, and to a continuing love affair with scripture.
1 Ilion T. Jones, Principles and Practice of Preaching: A Comprehensive Study of the Art of Sermon Construction (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956), 226.
Ibid., 111, 112.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs