Choosing the purpose of the sermon is one of the most important aspects of its preparation. Failure to properly state a purpose and develop the sermon based upon that purpose is one of the primary causes of sermon failures. Like the unclean spirit in Luke 12:43, the purposeless sermon wanders through dry places without finding a home. The purposeless sermon is like a Sunday driver who has been described as having nowhere to go and all day to get there. Stated differently, the preacher who doesn’t know where he is going isn’t going to know when he arrives. A well stated purpose helps to identify the sermon’s main lines of development to which all other points are subordinated. Those thoughts that do not advance the sermon’s main lines of development are eliminated no matter how brilliant. They are not useless, however, because they provide seed thoughts for future sermons.
What is the purpose of the sermon? While the subject of the sermon is a broad statement of the sermon’s concept designed to convey to the hearer some notion of the sermon’s topic; the purpose (sometimes also called ‘theme’) is the preacher’s objective in the sermon. The subject may embody a number of themes; the purpose is the specific theme that the preacher chooses to develop. The purpose delineates the subject’s development and limits the subject’s discussion.
How is the purpose of the sermon determined? Since a good purpose statement relates God’s truth to God’s people, ask yourself questions that center on two vital themes – the text and the hearers. First, ask what you hope to accomplish in your hearers. What do you want to go on in their minds as they listen to your sermon? Do you wish to inform them? Inspire them? Persuade them? What aspect of this subject will help your hearers? Encourage them? Strengthen them? Second, ask yourself what is going on in your hearers lives right now to which this subject speaks? What temptations and trials are they facing? Third, ask yourself about the text. Why did the writer pen these words? What did he hope to accomplish in the minds of his readers? No inspired writer ever rambled without purpose. Paul wanted Timothy to know how to behave himself in the house of God. (1 Tim. 3:15.) Jude’s original purpose was laid aside and another chosen. (Jude 3.) John wrote to produce faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. (John 20:31). Thus, while a purposeless sermon may be filled with scripture, it does not follow the example of scripture.
The statement of the sermon’s purpose may be a phrase or a sentence, but it must with brevity, clarity, and simplicity state the sermon’s primary intent and direction. If the purpose is too broadly stated (e.g., “The purpose of this sermon is to inform the hearers about prayer.”), it imposes no practical limitations. The result is a Great Commission sermon that takes a text and goes everywhere preaching the word. If the purpose is too narrowly stated (e.g., “The purpose of this sermon is to inform the congregation of the meaning of the Greek word translated ‘prayer.’”), it results in either constant repetition, inability to confine the sermon to the stated purpose, or a really short sermon. Neither approach meets the needs of or helps the hearers. For instance, a sermon on prayer may always be needful, but will it be helpful to the hearers if it covers the subject in seven-league boots? The sermon may have many well-stated points (Prayer is powerful; Prayer is prevailing; Prayer is practical; Prayer is promising; Prayer is pleasing; Prayer is importunate; Prayer is potent; Prayer is planned.), but by covering so much ground it confuses the hearers and leaves them dazed. They learn absolutely nothing about everything. Of course, it is easy for the preacher. He doesn’t have to study as hard or spend as much time in preparation. He can spend three minutes on each of eight points and, with a brief introduction and conclusion, occupy his thirty minutes. Such an approach indicates either a lethargic preacher or a preacher who does not know how to prepare a sermon and has never taken the time to learn. The former, after appropriate admonition, needs to be terminated. The latter needs to be trained.
It may take several efforts to develop a brief purpose statement. You may wrestle with the text, the subject, and the hearers needs before you settle on exactly what your purpose is, but once you know your goal it will be much easier to reach.
The preacher in the pulpit should be there with a purpose. As Henry Ward Beecher suggested, a sermon is not a Chinese firecracker that is fired off for the sake of the noise it makes. It is a hunter’s gun, and at every discharge the preacher should look to see his game fall. To attain this goal, however, the preacher must know what he is hunting and take deadly aim.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)