The Proposition is the sermon reduced to one sentence. If one of your members were asked by a friend at work on Monday, “What did your pastor preach about yesterday?” Your church member ought to be able to reply, without hardly thinking, what your proposition was or your sermon reduced to one sentence. “Our pastor preached, ‘You must be born again from John 3.’”
Some homileticans call this one sentence the big idea, theme, thesis or the proposition. One of England’s finest preachers, J. H. Jowett, said this about the importance of the proposition: “I have the conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labor in my study….I do not think any sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon” (J. H. Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work. New York: Harper, 1912, 133-34).
Four Different Kinds of Propositions
James Braga identifies four different kinds of propositions, which the preacher could use to avoid monotony in presenting the timeless truth of the proposition.
The Declarative Form: This proposition is a simple declaration of the subject a preacher intends to discuss, develop, prove, or explain in a sermon (James Braga, How To Prepare Bible Messages. Oregon: Multnomah, 2005, 129). For example: “Jesus demands the new birth for all people in John 3.”
The Interrogative Form: This proposition is a question instead of a declaration (Braga, 150). The above declarative form could, for variety sake, be stated as a question: “Why must all people be born again?” or “How can a person be born again?”
The Hortatory Form: This is what we call a Demand proposition. The declaration is converted into a demand (Braga, 151). “You must be born again according to Jesus in John 3.” The demand proposition helps our listeners to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only.” The demand proposition is the decision for which you are preaching.
The Exclamatory Form: This proposition is an exclamation of praise (Braga, 151). This form is appropriate for Psalms of praise where the Psalmist is declaring God’s praise as in Psalm 103. For example: “Praise the Lord for what He has done and who He is.”
Some General Principles Concerning The Proposition
1. The proposition should just include one demand not two.
F. B. Meyer made this point when he said, “In a sermon we don’t talk about seven different things, but we talk about one thing seven different ways.”
One proposition enables the preacher to focus his sermon on the one piercing truth to which he seeks his congregation to respond. You would not preach this proposition: “You must be born again and take up your cross and follow Jesus.” “In the military museum of the Invalides in Paris is a memorable relic of the Napoleonic wars. It is a polished brass breastplate, apparently taken from the body of a dead horseman. The man must have died of a single cannonball through the middle of the chest” (Robert Delnay, Fire in Your Pulpit. Schaumburg: Regular Baptist Press, 1990, 44). We want our sermons to be like a single rifle shot aimed for the heart rather than shotgun blasts that pepper our listeners but do not penetrate their consciences.
“The sermon is not like a Chinese firecracker to be fired off for the noise it makes. It is a hunter’s gun, and at every discharge he should look to see his game fall” said Henry Ward Beecher (Bruce Mawhinney. Preaching with Freshness, p. 205).
2. The proposition needs to a complete sentence with a subject, ought word, and action verb.
We would not say to our congregation, “Today I am preaching on Prayer.”
A. The proposition should have an action verb rather than a state of being verb.
B. The proposition should be in the active voice rather than the passive.
C. The proposition should be in the affirmative rather than the negative.
With these three points in mind the above proposition would be better stated: “You can and must pray effectively for powerful results.” Convert the following negative propositions into positives:
“Christians must not abuse their bodies” ____________________________________.
“It is sin for Christians to worry” ______________________________________.
“The sinner must stop rejecting Christ as Savior” __________________________________.
3. Propositions address your current audience not the original audience.
Evangelists Maze Jackson was preaching on left-handed Ehud stabbing obese Eglon and his theme was: “When lefty let fattie have it.” That was humorous but not relevant. Later in this lesson we show how to convert the exegetical idea, what the passage meant to the original audience, to a homiletical idea, or what the passage means to your modern audience.
4. Propositions must be concise not including all the main divisions or what you are going to say about the proposition.
For example, recently I preached on “The Need to Pray For Spiritual Needs” from Ephesians 1:15-23. My proposition did not include the four spiritual needs Paul prayed for in the text. This robs the sermon of suspense. This is, however, in opposition to the teaching adage: “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you just told them.” I must say, however, for variety sake, you can follow the adage.
In our next post, we will continue to examine Step 3: The Proposition (Part Two)