The word, "text," has come to mean a portion of Scripture chosen as the suggestion or foundation for a sermon.
There are some advantages in taking a text.
1. It constantly recalls the fact just mentioned, that our undertaking is not to guide the people
by our own wisdom, but to impart to them the teachings of God in His Word.
This enables us to speak with confidence and leads the people to recognize the authority of what we say.
2. If the text is well chosen, it awakens interest at the very beginning.
3. It often aids the hearer in remembering the train of thought, having this effect whereever
a sermon is really evolved from the text.
4. It affords opportunity of explaining and impressing some passage of Scripture.
5. It tends to prevent our wandering utterly away from scriptural topics and views.
6. Greater variety will be gained than if the mind were left altogether to the suggestion
of circumstances, for then it will often fall back into its old ruts.
Dr. Broadus has a footnote of Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin from his book, What to Preach.
Dr. Coffin lists three values in having a text.
1. It keeps a preacher in line with the historical spiritual past which he is seeking to continue.
2. It sums up in striking and memorable form the main point of his message.
3. It almost invariably enriches the sermon from the wealthy life with God in the Bible
with suggestions which were not in the preacher's mind before.
Dr. Broadus says, "The important thing is that the sermon shall be Christian in content and spirit
and purpose. One may take a text and still preach a sermon that misses the mark of being Christian;
on the other hand, a sermon without a text and without formal Scripture reference may be
thoroughly Christian... Let the preacher have a reason for what he does.
Sometimes he may omit a text because no suitable text can be found for what he wants to say.
But this should rarely occur, for as Dr. Coffin suggests, 'if within the ample range
of the Biblical literature a preacher cannot find a text for what he wishes to say,
the chances are that he is deviating from the historical faith of which he is a teacher."
The proper selection of a text is a matter of great importance.
Dr. Broadus gives some rules to aid in the selection of texts.
1. The text should not be obscure.
As a rule, its meaning should be readily recognized.
Otherwise, the people either will be repelled by what they see that doesn't make sense,
or will have an idle curiosity about what the preacher will make of that text.
An important exception would be if the preacher is convinced that he can explain
an obscure passage, and can show that it teaches a valuable truth.
2. The preacher must be careful about using texts that are marked by grandeur of expression.
They alway seem to promise great things.
If great expectations are excited at the very beginning, it will be very difficult to meet them.
Yet no one would say as a rule that such texts should be avoided.
3. Caution should be exercised in using texts that seem odd.
The quest of the unusual may sacrifice a higher value for a small gain of initial interest.
The elements of surprise and shock, of humor an oddity have their values in preaching,
but they have much less value in the text than in the midst of the sermon.
The choice of novel texts is preferable to hackneyed or standard texts because they excite interest,
freshen up old truth, promote variety, impress truth more deeply, and stimulate the preacher
in the preparation of his sermon.
The preacher is warned against the trivial and anything that would violate the dignity of the text
by suggesting low or ludicrous associations, or that would shock the sensibilities of the audience.
4. Do not avoid a text because it is familiar.
What has made some texts so familiar is that they are good texts.
It is a mistaken desire for novelty that would lead a preacher to shrink from such rich and fruitful passages
as John 3:16.
One who would earnestly study such a passage, and seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit
will be enabled to make that passage new and fresh to himself and to his hearers.
What we need is not absolute novelty but simple freshness.
With prayerful reflection a preacher may receive such freshness and provide pointed illustrations
that will give such a text the promise of such a great passage.
5. Do not habitually neglect any portion of Scripture.
Some may tend to neglect the Old Testament and lose all of the rich unfolding of God's character
and the methods of His Providence, and all its unnumbered illustrations of human life and duty,
and its many types and predictions of the coming Saviour.
Some may preach on the Old Testament almost exclusively.
We should not neglect either of these great divisions of God's own Word.
Dr. Beecher is quoted as saying, "You will very soon come, in your parish life, to the habit of thinking
more about your people, and what you still do for them then about your sermons and what you shall talk about.
That is a good sign."
We must guard against monotony in the subjects we choose, as well as in the mode of treating them.
We should plan well ahead to preach series of sermons.
We should always keep a list of sermons we have preached, including date, place, and text.
-- Adapted from On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John Broadus, pp. 15-23