Sermon Illustration: The Expositional Opening to a Topical Sermon

Last week, we began a topical sermon series on healthy relationships. I try to be as expositional as possible in my preaching, so topical sermons – though necessary – can be an added challenge. The difficulty for me is explaining the point of the Bible book when I know I am not going to be in the same book the following week(s). There is no need to spend tons of time explaining the books purpose. But if the preacher isn’t careful, the context where the verses are found can ignored. This, of course, can be very dangerous. So, the challenge can be to explain the Bible book’s purpose in a very short, concise, and helpful way.

Here is how I began the series, starting from the book of 1 John. . .

There are several reasons John wrote this letter. Several purposes that you find as your read the letter from start to finish. One of, if not the main purpose, is assurance. John wants his readers to be sure of their salvation. Certain of their relationship with God in Christ. Several times in the letter you will see him say, “I write these things to you so that you will know…”

One of the themes that comes up throughout this letter is loving one another. John writes to help them be sure of their salvation. Assurance of their salvation will be evidenced in the trajectory of their love for others.

Loving one another rightly happens – almost imperceptibly – as we experience and lean into the love of God. Real love, in other words, simply cannot happen apart from understanding, knowing, and experiencing God’s love for us.

You will know that you are a genuine follower of Jesus who is growing into God’s love by how you love others around you. Perhaps another way to say it is this: “If there are significant issues in several of your significant relationships, it might be because of a false understanding of God’s love for you.”


From there, I gave a practical illustration from a new believer who had been baptized the week before…

If you were here last Sunday during the 10:30 service, you would have seen a young man named Jimmy baptized. Jimmy is a brand new believer. Trusted Christ a couple of weeks ago. He and Evan Kunz, our student minister, have become very close. This past week, two days after his baptism, Evan took Jimmy to lunch. They talk a minute. They catch up. They laugh a bit about Jimmy going all “dead weight” on Evan when Evan dunked him under the water. Then Jimmy confesses to Evan a conviction he has that has come out of nowhere. Jimmy says he has been burdened by the way he treats others and doesn’t forgive them. Jimmy wants to learn how to pray for others, more than he prays for himself.

Out of nowhere.

They haven’t discussed it.

They hadn’t been doing a Bible Study on forgiveness or prayer or selfish verses self-less prayer.

Jimmy was “just” compelled to treat others differently. Why? The only explanation is that he himself was experiencing a love and forgiveness that he didn’t know was possible.

Real love cannot happen apart from understanding, knowing, and experiencing God’s love for us.


This setup allowed me to dive right into the text.


What about you, preacher? How do you help your congregation grasp the context of a book for a topical sermon?