The Biographical Narrative type of sermon is an interesting and valuable way to preach about the colorful characters in the Word of God while expounding the Biblical truths that relate to their lives.
It is preaching conveyed by means of example. Some writers feel that it is the most simple form of sermonizing, but often the most interesting and the most profitable type of sermon.
The fact is, many people hear and respond to spiritual truth much better when it is associated with a real life account of someone else's situation that parallels their situation. It is true that we are always interested in the stories of other people, even in our everyday conversation.
Those situations which are associated with our own experience are often told and gladly listened to. Even my four year old grandchild when visiting us is never more enthused than when she climbs into my lap or my wife's lap (or climbs into her bed to be tucked in) and requests a story about our childhood or her Dad's (our son's) childhood.
The Biographical Narrative Sermon is basically the study of a person's life and the spiritual lessons that can be learned from it. It warns us from that person's failures and encourages us from that person's successes. In reality, therefore, it is a message about a person's character and career based on that character.
The Biographical Narrative Sermon, according to Blackwood in his book, "Preaching from the Bible," is "one which grows out of the facts concerning a Biblical character, as these facts throw light upon the problems of the man in the pew."
Many a truth to which little attention would be given, if conveyed in abstract form, becomes not only acceptable but positively enjoyable when it is associated with actual life.
Unger in his book "Principles of Expository Preaching," says that the Biographical Narrative Sermon is really just a variety of the topical message. It is the type that deals with the lives of Bible personalities and is best when treated expositorily.
He goes on to paraphrase Littorin in his book, "How to Preach the Word with Variety," and says that many Bible characters, especially those of the Old Testament, lend themselves to admirable treatment when their careers are interpreted around some central, unifying Scriptural truth which characterizes them and gives coherence and spiritual challenge to a biographical treatment of them.
The dictionary (Word Web-Princeton University) says that a biography is an account of the series of events making up a person's life. The Biographical Narrative Sermon simply takes that series of events from the lives of Biblical characters and makes spiritual application to our own lives today.
Gibbs in his book, "The Preacher and His Preaching," says that the Biographical Narrative Sermon gives us information, inspiration, and imitation.
There is much information about the lives of believers, as well as unbelievers, in the books of the Bible. Certainly the study of human nature makes for very interesting study and preaching. Lessons learned both positive and negative from others in the Bible can help us in our spiritual growth as well.
There is also inspiration for us in the account of the lives of believers in the Scriptures. Their stories of life can be a spiritual stimulus to us and inspire us to walk closer with the Lord and less with the world.
This kind of preaching also gives us an example of a godly life worth emulating. Paul said, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1). Certain aspects of the lives of men and women in the Bible are worthy of imitation. Of course, the life most worthy of imitation is the perfect life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hebrews chapter eleven gives us the account of several less than perfect people which could help us, who are also imperfect, live better lives of faith that please the Lord. None of these characters in this great role call of faith are alike and this provides much variety in one's preaching.
Sometimes to make a point and inspire others with the life of an individual, one may fail to include all the information about that individual. In other words, some of their faults may be overlooked. It is important in order to do suitable preparation for the Biographical Narrative Sermon that the preacher should be in possession of all the Scriptural facts.
The relation of these facts to each other should be distinctly understood, and the main fact about which the others revolve should be very particularly identified. In other words, the subject or principle lesson or message of the Biographical Narrative Sermon should be indentified and supported by Scripture.
We may use the biographies of non-Biblical characters as illustrations, but this type of sermon must, by definition, be based on Biblical characters.
A danger on the part of the hearer of this type of sermon is the danger of someone trying to live out in their lives the exact experiences of the character who is the subject of the sermon. That Biblical character may be a godly person and worth emulating, but God may want to speak to us or use us in a little different way or in a greatly different way.
When we preach a Biographical Narrative Sermon, we should encourage our hearers to be inspired by the Biblical character's biography but not to be the Biblical character. They should be themselves. We can be like them without being them.
That is why the best Biographical Narrative Sermon is one where we preach the transferable Biblical principles that the Bible character lived by instead of just the step by step actions that may or may not be possible for us today.
And example of this is a sermon from James M. Black's series "Rogues of the Bible." The sermon is about Esau called "The Man with No Religion."
The principles preached and supported by the biography of Esau are:
1. He was concerned about things, not about persons.
2. He was concerned about himself, not about others.
3. He was concerned about his present, not about his future.
4. He was concerned about himself, not about God.
The Biographical Narrative message is not to be a lecture, but a sermon. If one is engaged in the construction of a lecture he may content himself with an orderly review of consecutive events. This will make a narrative, but not a narrative sermon. The Biographical Narrative Sermon is intended to arouse the conscience, act upon the will, and persuade one to belief and action.
That's why it takes more skill to develop a Biographical Narrative Sermon than a mere narrative, but the effect will be much more emphatic and permanent.
It is one of the notable peculiarities of the Holy Scripture that its characters are essentially human. Although many of these men and women lived in ages long ago, their actions may be presented as though they seem to be our contemporaries.
For example, even Cain's indifference to sin, his self-righteousness, his jealousy, his anger, his self-justification, and much more, are found in the men and women whom we know today. Therefore, a Biographical Narrative Sermon, though it deals with Cain, may by as fully up to date as though Cain had but just departed from this life.
It is the statement of this subject in terms that are applicable to human life as we see it, that gives the sermon its immediate value in its very opening sentences. To announce a title which is merely historical, or associated only with the scene or the man which furnishes the example, is to defeat the preacher's purpose from the beginning.
One may not take for his subject, "The Delay of Deliverance," from the book of Exodus chapter 5 and then, returning to the historical, announce as his points:
1. The Complaint of Moses.
2. The Severe Treatment of Pharaoh.
3. The Answer of Jehovah.
It would be better to divide the subject as follows:
1. How this delay may be interpreted by the unbeliever (like Pharaoh).
2. How it may be interpreted by God's own people (like Moses).
3. How it will be interpreted by God Himself (as shown by His great and complete deliverance).
This brings the message into the present instead of leaving it in history like many sermons do.
Sometimes it is possible to split the difference, as it were, by listing the points of the Biographical Narrative Sermon in a way that obviously describes the historical character and us at the same time. The example sermon (by Alfred Gibbs) below is an illustration of that particular approach.
The Life of Enoch
by Alfred Gibbs
Gen. 5:18, 21-24; Heb. 11:5; Jude 14
Though Enoch is one of the best known characters of Scripture, yet his biography is limited to four verses in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. Compare this with the ponderous tomes that describe the lives of the worldly great.
I. His Birth (Gen. 5:18)
He was the seventh from Adam and was born 622 years after the Fall. He was therefore contemporaneous with Adam for over 300 years. Thus he heard all about sin's entrance, its judgment and God's provision of salvation from its penalty.
II. His Conversion (Gen. 5:22)
A. The circumstances
At the birth of Methuselah, when he was 65 years of age. He had faith, but "faith cometh by hearing"." Therefore, God must have spoken to him and he believed and walked with Him. Doubtless God spoke to him in the birth of his son. Perhaps, as Enoch took the baby in his arms he wondered: 'Is this child to grow up and follow the wicked example of the men that surround me?"
He thus began to think of God and reach out after Him. He repented of his sins and turned from them to walk with God and live for Him. God uses many methods to bring eternal realities before the soul, and thus lead the sinner to Him. See Job 33:14-24.
B. The result.
He walked with God. This is always the effect of a true conversion, whatever the circumstances surrounding it may be. His previous walk was similar to that described in Ephesians 2:2. His present walk described in Eph. 2:10; 4:1-3; 5:1,2,15.
III. His Walk or Manner of Life.
A. The Implication of this Walk.
Walking with God was no easier then than now, and it implies at least three things. (See Matt.7:13-14)
First is reconciliation. One must be united to God. How? By virtue of a sacrifice provided, offered and accepted. (Romans 5:11). Second is Harmony (Amos 3:3). Oneness of purpose (1 John 1:7; Deut.23:14). Third is Continuance. For 300 years (John 8:31).
B. The Description of his walk (Titus 2:14).
He walked with God before his family in the home (Gen.5:22). He walked with God before the world (Jude 14). He walked with God in his own soul (Heb.11:5). He had "the testimony," which consisted of a peace, joy, satisfaction and fellowship that is better experienced than described. Paul had it too (Phil.3:8).
IV. His Testimony.
He pleased God (Heb.11:5-6) by his faith (Heb.11:6). He pleased God by his life (Col.1:10; 1 Tim.6:11). He had a clean, honorable and truthful life. He pleased God by his witness to the world (Jude 14). He confessed his faith and boldly stood for God against the world (Matt.10:22).
V. His Prophecy. (Jude 14-15)
His denunciation against false teachers was clear. His proclamation "The Lord cometh" was bold in that it is the first prophecy of Christ's second coming. His condemnation (verse 15) is that of absolute certainty of future judgment to be visited on the ungodly deeds, the ungodly words, and the ungodly sinners.
VI. His Translation (Gen.5:24; Heb.11:5).
The Translation is when he was taken up into God's presence without dying. The Type is the translation of the Church (1 Thess.4:13-18).
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