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, he deals with the topical sermon. Here the preacher aims to present a specific topic to his congregation. For example, he may take the subject of “justification.” His aim would be, firstly, to discover everything the Bible has to say on this enthralling subject. He would then arrange all the Scripture references and thoughts he gets into an orderly format. He then develops his theme as fully and faithfully as possible. His objective is to tell his audience everything they should know on this important subject.
Of course, he may not be able to do this in one teaching session; so he will then prepare a series of messages or teachings on that same subject. This ensures a much fuller treatment of the topic.
I hope you enjoyed this series!
A preacher has to be a general practitioner. Week by week, the congregation needs a family doctor. In the pews every Sabbath are people with a variety of needs. There are the lonely, parents who are distraught, those who are cringing from a medical diagnosis, the spiritually dry, those who can find no satisfying purpose, those who hate themselves, and those who are searching for their faith. They must not wait too long to get what they need. Herein lies the challenge of biblical preaching: matching the Word of God with human need. So, two things are necessary for the preacher: a sympathetic sense of the congregation’s needs and a lively perception of what the gospel can do for them.
The preacher knows that he has been entrusted with
what these people need above all: People come to church to
hear what God says to them through the Scriptures. Augustine
affirms, “Every man who preaches the Word is the voice
of God.” Thus, through the preacher’s words, his listeners
can hear “the Word of God which He Himself has spoken.”1
Through the agency of topical preaching, he can offer help
to those caught in terrific stresses and adversities.
First, it is important to differentiate between textual and
topical sermons. While a textual sermon begins with the text,
a topical sermon begins with the subject. Thus, a topical
sermon is built around a topic, and the main parts of the
sermon consist of ideas which come from that subject.
Further, these ideas bear no analytical relation to one particular
passage of Scripture. But, even though the topic is
selected first, a text will follow if it is to be a biblical sermon.
However, a topical sermon, like all sermon patterns, needs
to be biblically-based (exegetically sound and contextually
honest), authentically Christian (true to every level of biblical
faith), and experientially oriented (related to the hearer’s life
and needs). The meaning of the topic must be understood
in the light of the historical and exegetical study you have
made. In its own way, such a sermon will be an exposition
of Scripture. To be topical without also being expository is to
make a religious address rather than a sermon.
Certain principles are essential in the preparation of a
biblical topical sermon. Three resources are available to the
preacher as he discovers various parts of Scripture which refer
to the topic: (1) a reference Bible, (2) an unabridged concordance,
and (3) a topical Bible (e.g., Nave’s Topical Bible).
The sermon must contain one central idea, the main divisions
of which are drawn from the topic, and each division
is supported by a verse of Scripture. For example, if the sermon
topic is “The Causes of Unanswered Prayer,” then the
following outline giving the reasons for unanswered prayer
I. An improper request (James 4:3).
II. A known sin retained (Ps. 66:18).
III. A disbelief in God’s promises (James 1:6-7; Prov.
IV. A thoughtless communication (Matt. 6:7).
While there are many other aspects of prayer that might
be considered in this topical sermon, the preacher must limit
the entire outline to the one idea contained in the topic. Ideas
such as the meaning of prayer, the importance of prayer,
and the power of prayer must be omitted from this sermon
because the topic limits the preacher to deal only with the
reasons which hinder answers to prayer.
The main divisions in a topical sermon should be outlined
in either their logical or chronological order. This
means that the outline should be developed in some form
of progression. The nature of the topic determines whether the logical or chronological order is followed. For instance, a
logical order is suggested in the sermon topic “Characteristics
of the Believer’s Hope.”
I. It is a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3, ARV).
II. It is a saving hope (1 Thess. 5:8).
III. It is a sure hope (Heb. 6:19).
IV. It is a good hope (2 Thess. 2:16).
V. It is a blessed hope (Titus 2:13).
VI. It is an eternal hope (Titus 3:7).
In a topical sermon on “The Truths about Jesus,” a
chronological outline flows naturally:
I. He was the incarnate God (Matt. 1:23).
II. He is the Savior of men (1 Tim. 1:15).
III. He is the coming King (Rev. 11:15).
The main divisions in a topical sermon may be an analysis
of the topic. Before a topic can be analyzed, it must be
broken down into its component parts, with each part of
the outline contributing to the complete understanding of the
topic. For example, a topical sermon on “The Facts about
Satan” might be analyzed as follows:
I. His origin (Ezek. 28:12-17).
II. His fall (Isa. 14:12-25).
III. His power (Eph. 6:11-12; Luke 11:14-18).
IV. His activity (2 Cor. 4:4; Luke 8:12; 1 Thess. 2:18).
V. His destiny (Matt. 25:41).
The main divisions of a topical sermon may present the
various proofs of the topic. A topical sermon on “The Values
of Knowing God’s Word” follows:
I. Knowing God’s Word makes one wise about salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).
II. Knowing God’s Word keeps us from sin (Ps. 119:11).
III. Knowing God’s Word produces spiritual growth (1 Pet. 2:2).
IV. Knowing God’s Word results in successful living
The main divisions of a topical sermon may treat a subject
by comparison or contrast with something else in Scripture.
For instance, Jesus likens Christians to “the salt of the
earth” (Matt. 5:13). The context clearly shows that Christ is
referring to the testimony of the believer. A topical sermon
on “The Christian’s Effective Testimony” makes the following
I. Like salt, the believer’s testimony should season (Col. 4:6).
II. Like salt, the believer’s testimony should purify (1 Thess. 4:4).
III. Like salt, the believer’s testimony should not lose its savor (Matt. 5:13).
IV. Like salt, the believer’s testimony should create thirst
(1 Pet. 2:2).
The main divisions of a topical sermon may be expressed
by a certain word or phrase of Scripture repeated
throughout the outline. The phrase “God is able” or “He is
able” (where the pronoun “he” refers to the Lord) occurs a
number of times in the Bible. This phrase could appear in
each main division of a topical sermon on “The Ability of the
Lord” as follows:
I. He is able to save (Heb. 7:25).
II. He is able to keep (Jude 24).
III. He is able to help (Heb. 2:18).
IV. He is able to subdue (Phil. 3:21).
V. He is able to give grace (2 Cor. 9:8).
VI. He is able to surprise (Eph. 3:20).
Finally, the topical sermon is admirably suited for constructing
a sermon on a major subject from one book in the
Bible. For example, in 1 Thessalonians, the effects of the
believer’s hope in the second coming of Jesus is clearly set
forth as follows:
I. It produces patience (1 Thess. 1:10).
II. It assures a reward for ministry (1 Thess. 2:19).
III. It satisfies the longing for a sanctified life (1 Thess. 3:13).
IV. It provides comfort in sorrow (1 Thess. 4:13).
V. It enriches the prayer life (1 Thess. 5:23).
Every Sabbath, a preacher has 25 minutes of uninterrupted
access to the minds of a crowd of listeners. This is the
preacher’s great chance to do what most needs doing. The
listeners have not received the Word of God until they know
not just what the Bible says but what it says to them. The light
of Scripture is not illuminating to them until it has shone into
some darkened corner of their lives. The people of the Bible
are 2,000 years from where we live, and sadly, the Bible sermon
gets us no closer to them. The preacher has to apply the
ancient message in such vital, modern terms that the hearers
will be thinking of themselves.
Jesus came to open up beautiful, rich possibilities
of living that had been unglimpsed before. He saw man’s
frustration and lovelessness, his enmity, worry, and feverish
materialism. He saw people who were disappointed in
themselves, harried by memories they could not change,
ashamed of habits they could not break. He saw minds that
were battlefields of clashing impulses and crossed-up emotions,
people who had lost their sense of God and lost their
way. He offered to deliver people from a sad, distraught, colorless
existence and set them free within the inexhaustible
delights of the kingdom of God. Whether the sermon pattern
is biographical, textual, or topical, this is the good news
preachers are committed to preach.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at