Every preacher knows the difficulty of preaching a Bible verse or passage that everyone has heard 100 sermons on. To be honest, sometimes I would rather tackle an obscure passage in Leviticus or some touchy topic than preaching John 3:16 or Psalm 23. What do you say that hasn’t been said on these and a host of other Bible verses? Here are a few tips for preaching well-known Bible verses in a biblically faithful and winsome manner.
Tips For Preaching Well-Known Bible Verses
1. Use biblical theology to show your congregation how this well-known verse or passage fits within the broader redemptive narrative of Scripture.
Biblical theology reveals the unfolding of a doctrine as it progresses through the storyline of Scripture. When we preach a familiar text in light of this unfolding drama people gain a greater sense of appreciation for the Scripture and the glory of redemption.
Example: when preaching the Incarnation of Christ from John 1:14, show them how this verse is an echo of the book of Exodus. When God passes by Moses, who is hiding in a cave, he is described as abounding in love and faithfulness, just as Jesus is described in the same way in vs. 14. Moses cries out to the Lord, “show me your glory” and the Lord passes by him showing him a portion of his glory. This verse in John says, “we saw his glory, glory as of the only unique Son of God.” God gives Moses the tabernacle where his presence will be with his people, and vs. 14 speaks of Jesus tabernacling with us now, bringing the presence of God into human hearts.
Here are some good resources for this:
- Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles
- Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method
2. Illustrate the theme of the passage before you have them read it.
People tend to check out on you if they think they already know everything there is to know about the passage you’re preaching. Instead of beginning your sermon by asking them to find the passage, give them a powerful modern parable or provocative question, then tell them that the passage they thought they knew so well speaks to this matter.
Example: I began a sermon by telling my congregation about a news story I had read the previous week. A man rented his beach house out to some college students. They trashed the place and when the man’s son came to check on things and collect rent, the college students got mad and killed him. Then I told them to turn to Luke 20 and I preached on the parable of the Evil Tenants.
3. Spend more time reflecting on how the truth of text works in your personal life.
Your people have study Bibles, so you’re not going to impress them with your technical studies on well-known verses. What they don’t have is a humble personal testimony from their pastor about how this truth is changing you. Model for them how to do it. Tell them that you know this is a text they have known for years, but knowing and believing are two different things. Let them know that you have been wrestling with this truth all week.
Example: Matt. 5:44 “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now, what does that look like in my life as a pastor? I’m prone to love and pray for those who desire my well-being, but Christ wants me to love and pray for those who disagree with my leadership decisions. He wants me to love and pray for those who gossip about me. He wants me to love and pray for those who actively try to hurt me. The longer I meditated on this verse the more I realized it’s only possible if I trust that God’s love and presence are enough to sustain me. When I’m resting in Him I can respond like Him.
4. Don’t forget, they are well-known for a reason.
These familiar texts have been convicting and comforting people for a long time, so let the Word do the work. Avoid the temptation to find a new take on a verse or quotes on it from some obscure theologian. Trust the Spirit to use the Word to work redemption in the lost, growth in the believer and comfort for the broken-hearted.
Example: Many years ago I was overseas with my mentor. As we were riding out to the church that night I asked him what he was preaching on. He said John 3:16. I remember thinking it was too simple a text for the occasion. I was convinced that he should preach something more challenging. That night the power of God was poured out on those people through the simple proclamation of the most profound truth in the world. That night I learned the lesson that life-transforming power comes from the Spirit of God through the Word of God as preachers lift up the Son of God.
I love to tell the story…
I love the line from the old song that says “I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” I hope these tips will help you keep preaching well-known Bible verses.
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