Biographical preaching is perhaps the most rewarding, and yet the most difficult, kind of pulpit ministry. The Bible is a Who’s Who of people who met God, knew God, trusted God, and either glorified Him or grieved Him.
People identify with people. The men and women found in the Bible are just like the men and women in our homes and churches today. Anybody can meet himself or herself in the Bible.
How do you go about preaching a series on the life of a great Bible character, or perhaps on several of the men and women of Scripture? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Get to know the person intimately by studying all the relevant data in Scripture. Immerse yourself in the biblical record. Don’t forget that the New Testament has something to say about some of the Old Testament worthies. Madison D. Cook’s Bio- graphical Concordance of the New Testament (Loizeaux) will help you in this area.
2. Understand the historical setting. What was it like to live in Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day? The best commentaries and encyclopedias will assist you here, and be sure to note the bibliographies for specialized studies.
3. As you get to know the person, look for a “key truth” in his or her life. Not every preacher will choose the same key idea, of course; but try to “build” the character’s life around one main truth. With Barnabas it could well be encouragement; with Jonah it might be prejudice. George Matheson’s volumes on The Representative Men and Women of the Bible have been most helpful to me when it comes to pinpointing a key idea in a person’s life.
4. Determine how many messages you can preach and still say something. You could spend a year on the life of David, but it might get boring both to you and your congregation. Why touch on every detail? Hit the major highlights and seek to maintain the interest of the people. In short, don’t try to cover too much material.
5. Remember that you are preaching sermons-you have a personal object in view for each message; you are not giving lectures on biography, archaeology or history. The purpose of preaching is not just to explain a subject; you also want to achieve an object. You want to help the people in their daily lives. Keep each message personal and practical.
6. It’s wise to block out the whole series well in advance, even though you may not outline each message. Know where you are going, and seek to tie each message together by some general theme.
7. Relate each message to Christ. Preach Christ and what He alone can do for the human heart. Many Old Testament personalities beautifully illustrate New Testament doctrines. The standard set for biographical study is Hastings’ Greater Men and Women of the Bible. I get helpful insights from Alexander Whyte’s set of Bible Characters, now available in one volume. Clovis Chappell and Clarence Macartney both have fine books of sermons on Bible characters. F. B. Meyer’s books on Bible personalities are too well known to be listed here. They are helpful.
A different approach to biographical studies is Frederick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures (Harper & Row). It contains about 125 vignettes of Bible personalities, all of them from a new perspective. Buechner is really “off the wall” in some of his studies, but he is still interesting and stimulating.
Of course, there are many biographical studies on the key people of Scripture-David, Abraham, Paul, Peter, and so on. Don’t forget G. Campbell Morgan’s excellent The Great Physician (Revell), and Herbert Lockyer’s many volumes on the men, women, kings and queens of the Bible. Personalities Around Paul by D. Edmond Hiebert (Moody Press) is very useful if you plan a biographical series from Acts and the epistles. The Companions of St. Paul by John S. Howson is an older work; you may find it in a used-book store. Theodore Epp’s biographical studies are a treasury of spiritual truth.
In recent months, I have been getting acquainted with Jeremiah, and it has been a thrilling experience. What a man! And what a challenge his life is to us today!
That’s what biographical preaching is all about-turning old portraits into modern “moving pictures” and making dead people live and great truths come alive to help us serve God better today.
©2002 WWW Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in Prokope, March-April 1986.a
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).