First, it is important to start early in your planning. Six months in advance will can give you time to start reading through the book and even having your devotions from the book from which you will be eventually preaching. This is method of Jim Rose and I believe Ezra. Ezra 7:10 gives me Biblical justification for this approach. Like Ezra, we read the Book, mediate on the Book, apply the Book, fall on our knees in confession because of the Book, and are changed by the Book long before we preach the Book to others.
Also, this will give you time to order audio, video sermons, and listen to podcasts on the book and listen to some of the great preachers and teachers on your subject. Not only will you gain great content but hopefully some of their preaching skill will rub off. Augustine, who wrote the first book on homiletics, taught his students to listen to great preaching and read great sermons to become better preachers. One time in preparation to preach through Nehemiah, I order audio sermons by Warren Wiersbe, Adrian Rogers, and John Whitcomb on Nehemiah. I was chomping at the bits when it came time to start the series.
I like to balance exegetical commentaries with expostional. The combination of these commentaries helps the preacher to answer the four rhetorical questions that your listeners are asking while you preach:
Explanation: “What do these verses mean that the preacher just read?”
Argumention of the explanation: “How does he know that is the meaning?” (The Expositional and Exegetical commentaries help answer these questions).
Illustration: “What does that explanation look like?”(The sermonic commentary will help answer this question and the Application question).
Application: “What does all this have to do with my life?”
Before I delve into the heavy exegetical commentaries, I like Donald Sunukjian’s suggestion, that the preacher start with the expositional or synthesis commentary which “will quickly give you the large units of thought and the lines of argument of the text” (Invitation to Biblical Preaching, page 25). For my series on Ephesians, I am using The Bible Knowledge Commentary for this purpose.
After I get the big picture from BCK, then for the explanation of the text I reach for the exegetical or critical commentary. These are usually the hardbacks that give you “sticker shock.” On the series on Ephesians that I am curently preaching I am reading Harold W. Hoehner’s Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. This scholarly work of over 900 pages in my opinion is the standard for Ephesians. Hoehner will give you about 20 pages of exegesis on each paragraph in Ephesians. This volume gives the preacher the explanation of the text. If you sentence diagram and block outline, Hoehner can help. I am using other exegetical commentaries as well.
There is a third kind of commentary that the preacher needs. In addition to the expositional or synthesis commentary and exegetical commentaries, the preacher needs the sermonic commentary. To balance Hoehner’s heavy exegetical work, I am reading John MacArthur’s sermonic commentary on Ephesians. MacArthur first preached this material to his congregation and therefore he provides application and occasional illustrations which, of course, Hoehner does not.
The order of the commentaries I have discussed is the order you should follow. Here is Sunukfjian wise advice: “Study thoroughly in the first two catergories before you read the third. If you start with sermonic commentaries, you will be tempted to prematurely conclude, ‘That’ll preach!’ without first determining whether the printed sermon accurately reflects the meaning of the biblcial author” (page 25).
When I am preaching through a book like Ephesians where a doctrine is prominent such as the Church is in Ephesians, I like to read, in addition to good commentaries, related books such as Driscoll’s book on the doctrine of the Church, Vintage Church, Mark Dever’s book on what marks a healthy church, What is a Healthy Church? and The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and John S. Hammett’s book on ecclesiology, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches. Driscoll’s, Dever’s and Hammett’s books give relevancy to my preaching. Their books help me make current applications to the church in our generation and culture.
I just read chapter eight, “How is Love Expressed in a Church?” in Vintage Church. Driscoll builds this chapter on the Trinitarian community of God in which the three Persons of the Trinity have loved each other for eternity and since we are created in their image so should we love each other in His church. This is helpful because Paul mentions the Trinity eight times in Ephesians to bolsters his theme of Unity.
Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods is Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears next Re:Lit book. Their first Re:Lit was Vintage Jesus. Mark Driscoll is pastor/founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, president of Acts 29 Church Planting Network and the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative. Gerry Breshears is professor of theology at Western Seminary. Also part of the Re:Lit series is Death by Love coauthored Driscoll and Breshears.
I have read Mark Dever’s little book, What is a Healthy Church? in which Dever gives nine marks of a healthy church. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church is a much more indepth treatment. The first three marks Dever categorizes as essential: Expostitional preaching, biblical theology, and biblical undestanding of the gospel. The balance of the marks are important but not essential: A biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of membership, a biblical understanding of church discipline, biblical discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership.
For the essential doctrines, Dever says, there must be complete agreement for a healthy church. On the important doctrines there does not have to be complete agreement. “Churches without these important marks can be places to pray, to be patient, and to set a good example by your own life.” When preaching on “the unity of the faith” in Ephesians 4:13, this insight will become invaluable to my congregation.
These are some practical tips for series preaching through a book of the Bible that has helped me. I welcome any input you have found benefical in your series preaching through a book.