The Value of Biographical Preaching
By David Church
One of the most exciting and powerful methods of preaching is to share the story (biography) of a character in the Bible. This method is extremely valuable in building people and moving people from one level of ministry to another. God’s desire is to grow His Kingdom. His Word is full of ordinary and less than ordinary people who He used to accomplish this purpose. It would behoove us as pastors and leaders to use this method of preaching a lot more than we have in the past. There is nothing more powerful than the testimony of a life that has been transformed by the power of God.
The proper definition of biographical preaching is;
The method of preaching that expounds a Bible character, based on careful exegesis, to deduce the principles that regulated his or her life and to apply the principles to the modern listener. A simpler definition is; Biographical preaching is preaching that provides a biography of the life of a person from scripture and draws a moral lesson or message from that story.
It is essential to understand that all preaching in its most basic of forms is (or at least ought to be) expository in nature. By that I mean that every scripture you share in a sermon should be exposed and expounded upon. Even when only one verse is used in a topical sermon, there is a degree of exposition that takes place. In the same sense, biographical preaching is a type of expository preaching. You are telling the story of an individual rather than the story of a chapter or a book. Instead of exposing a passage of scripture, you are exposing the life of a person in scripture. Your text may include several passages of scripture about the character.
There are two methods of using characters in biographical preaching. The first is positive reinforcement. For example, use the life of Peter to preach a message of grace and restoration. After his denial and turning from Christ, Jesus met Peter on the shores of Galilee and forgave him and restored him. Peter went on to preach the first message at Pentecost just a few days later. You could also use Peter’s life as a negative example. For instance, Peter was always the first one to complain or to speak negatively about anything. Jesus had to rebuke him on several occasions, and eventually he totally backslid. Every character’s life offers a moral lesson for the church. These stories were written for our example today;
1 Cor 10:11
11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Rom 15:4 – For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Nothing brings more hope into a person’s life than to hear about a life transformed. By bringing a Bible character’s story to life in a sermon, you are bringing excitement and understanding to life-changing principles and messages that are so relevant to our world today.
Biographical preaching can also lead you into two directions. You can focus on the nature of a person’s character, or you can focus on the development of a person in relation to the historic events of the Bible. Understand first of all, that biography is a type of history. Biography primarily tells the history of a person, and focuses less on the events in a person’s life. History primarily tells of events that have happened and focuses less on the people in those events. Before you begin your preparation, determine what you are going to focus on: The inner character of a person, or the events in the development of that person’s life.
Sometimes the character you choose to speak about will help determine what direction you are going to take. For example, some characters in the Bible do not have a lot of history recorded about them. In these cases, you may have to focus on their inner character because you will only have one or two examples of events in their life. A good place to begin with these characters is their name. In Bible times, the name given to a person held special significance. Often the name given was not only as identification but also as an identity. A Hebrew’s name signified their person, their worth, their character and their reputation. As a person developed over time, it was not uncommon for God to change their name to reflect their change in character. For instance, God appeared to Abram (which means Exalted Father) when he was ninety nine years old and told him that he would become a father of many nations. Then God changed his name to reflect that change in his character. His name was changed to Abraham (which means Father of Nations).
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
The same thing happened to Sarai, her name was changed to Sarah. Jacob’s (deceiver) name was changed to Israel (Prince of God). Saul’s name was changed to Paul. Others kept their name their entire lives because their character stayed the same. A simple study of characters names will give you a lot of insight about the character of a person. I have heard and preached many powerful sermons that were based on a Bible character’s name.
What is even more powerful than focusing on the inner nature of a character is to focus your message on the events that occur over the course of a character’s life. One of the amazing benefits of this style of biographical preaching is the amount of clarity it can bring to the Word of God. All of our lives are lived in stages. Certain things happen at different times for each of us. We are all at different places in our walk with God, and we are all growing and developing as Christians. When you take your congregation through the trials and tests of a character such as Moses, they can really relate to the stages of growth and to the periods of doubt that he went through. They can relate to the struggles and the success because that is what real living is all about. Now you are getting down on their level. You are speaking directly into their life and you are giving them a clear picture of somebody who dealt with the same issues and still made it. Through the course of a sermon about the life of Moses, you may touch on several different events that speak to several different people who are all at different places in their walk with God. When you begin to expound on the things that happened to some of the characters in the Bible, people can see themselves in that character. In essence, your message is bringing a living witness into their life that shows them they can make it through this time of struggle just as Moses did. Nothing speaks more powerful than a testimony of a life lived! This type of preaching brings a lot of hope, and builds a lot faith in people who may not have previously had much.
The writer of the book of Hebrews devotes a large part of his writings to share insight into characters of the Bible who had gone through many trials and tests and were still able to persevere. After writing of their lives, this is what he says;
12 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We have been given a great resource of living testimonies in the Word of God. It is up to each of us to make sure these wonderful stories are shared in our sermons and in our Bible studies as often as possible. Take the time to teach a series on Bible characters in your midweek Bible study. Watch how your people are pulled into the stories. Watch how they relate to each character. Watch how the Word of God begins to change them and cause their faith to grow. It is because of these great men and women of the Bible who have gone before us that we are able to carry on this message today.