Step 1 Study the Text (The “flesh”)
Throughout this tutorial, we are going to use Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) as the example text. It reads:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1 -3 ESV)
A passage of Scripture, like any other text, is made up of words/phrases which are linked together to form meaningful sentences. In order to understand the whole passage, you must first understand the words that make it up.
Therefore, in studying the text, or using the analogy of a human body, examining the flesh, there are two important elements:
- Seeing/observing the details of the text
- Seeking meaning from (or interpreting) the details
Study the small details of the text
- Seeing the details
Observe both the words (or phrases) and the relationships between the words of your passage.
Sometimes a passage might have complex words which your congregation will not be able to understand easily. The author of the Scripture passage might also repeat certain words in order to emphasize a point or draw your attention to them. Therefore you need to look out for 4 types of words:
- Repeated words
- Unusual/difficult words
- Long words
- Significant words
After listing the words for further study, you can then go on to the next aspect of observation.
What can you see about how the words of a passage relate to each other and to the broader context of the book/Bible? There are 6 main kinds of relationships that you can observe:
- Grammatical – what tenses are the verbs in? What gender is used, are the nouns singular or plural?
- Logical – is there an argument being built? Words like for, but, because are helpful keys. For example, “because” can indicate cause and effect. “But” indicates contrast. And so on
- Chronological/Geographical – are there times and places mentioned?
- Psychological – is there any expression of emotion or feeling? For example, are the characters happy, sad, or angry?
- Contextual – in what kind of context does the passage occur? Was there a special occasion or festival perhaps? Where does the book fit in the timeline of the whole story of the bible? What of culture?
- Genre – in what type of literature is the passage found? Narrative, poetry, prophetic, historical/writing?
Now think, what does it mean?
- Seek meaning from the details
There are 4 things to do when seeking meaning from the details:
- Ask questions about the details
- Answer the questions
- Analyze the answers, and finally
- Apply the answers
Ask one or two good questions about the details. You may have to ask more questions, as you answer these ones. It’s helpful to remember the 5W’s (who, what, when, were, why) and 1H (how) in asking questions.
Answer the Questions
Answer the questions as fully as possible. Sometimes it will require you to do word studies and background investigations. So make sure you invest in interlinear bibles, lexicons, bible dictionaries etc. You may also end up asking more questions as you answer the first ones. Make sure you answer them as well!
Apply the Answers
The final step is to apply your answers to the lives of your audience. This is where the “meat” of your sermon will come from.
Let’s look at some practical examples on how to put these principles into practice.
Practical Example: Ephesians 2:1-3, Observing the details
For example, in Ephesians 2:1-3, I chose the following words and phrases for further study (remember, i’m using the ESV translation):
- Dead – unusual word
- Trespasses and sins – difficult/complex words
- Following – repeated word
- Prince of the power of the air – unusual phrase
- Wrath – difficult word
You could choose more words, but remember, it’s probably not advisable to pick out every single word in the passage, unless you have unlimited reserves of time (i’m yet to meet a pastor who can claim this!).
Practical Example: Observing relationships in Ephesians 2:1-3
- v.1 “…you were…” – grammatical relationship (tense)
- v.1 “And you…” – logical
- v.2 “..of this world…” – “geographical/situational”
- Contextual – the letter of Ephesians was written to Christians living in the city of Ephesus
- Genre – epistle
Now that we have observed the details of the text, Ephesians 2:1-3, the next step is to try and interpret or seek meaning from these observations.
Practical Example Asking Questions
A recap of the details we observed from Ephesians 2:1-3 is as follows:
- Who is being described as being “dead”?
- How can someone be dead, yet alive?
Trespasses and sins
- Is there a difference between a trespass and a sin?
- What does it mean to trespass/sin?
- What does it mean to “follow” someone or something?
- Who were they following?
Prince of the Power of the Air
- Who is the “prince of the the power of the air”?
- Who does he rule over?
- Whose wrath is this?
- What are they now?
- What was the previous argument?
- In what sort of society did the Ephesians live?
Practical Example: Answering Questions
- Who is being described as being “dead”? The Christians to whom Paul is now writing. Before they came to know Christ, they did not have any life in them.
- How can someone be dead, yet alive? This is a figurative use of the term “dead”. It does not mean physical death, but refers to the spiritual condition of a person who has not yet come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Since Jesus is the “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), only those who are in Him can have life. Note that Paul uses the term “dead”, not sick, or wounded as some might believe. A dead person cannot save him or herself. They are unable to cry out for help. They cannot change themselves. Dead sinners are completely at the mercy of God. Therefore, our salvation depends completely on God, which is why Ephesians 2:10 says there is therefore no room for anyone to boast about their salvation.
Trespasses and sins
- Is there a difference between a trespass and a sin? The two terms are very closely related to each other, essentially meaning the same thing and can be interchangeably used. To trespass is to violate a moral code or boundary (it’s like jumping over a fence to get into someone’s private property). Sin is a departure from doing the right thing (Acts 3:19). It is like someone strays off the road and plunges into a dangerous wilderness that will not get them to the destination and instead leave them bruised, hurt and even dead. Another way of describing sin is missing the mark, in the way that an archer is meant to hit the bullseye, anything less than perfect obedience to God’s law is sin.
- What does it mean to “follow” someone or something? To “follow” something or someone is to think and act in the same way as they do. Where they go, you go. What they do, you also do. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus says to Simon and Andrew “follow me” – he was going to make them fishers of men, just like He, Jesus, was. And for the rest of their lives, these men imitated Jesus, doing the same things that He did. But in this instance, the word “follow” is used in a negative sense. They were not following good, but evil.
- Who were they following? The Ephesians used to live and act like the world (meaning sinners, who like them, were also dead) around them, and like the Devil. They lived in sin and rebellion against God. They loved darkness and evil and hated the light. They did bad things and lived ungodly lives.
Prince of the Power of the Air
- Who is the “prince of the the power of the air”? The word “prince” can also be translated as “ruler”, which is a term that is used elsewhere (Mt 9:34; 12:24; Lk 11:15; J 12:31; 14:30;) to describe Satan/the Devil.
- Who does he rule over? He rules over the sinners in the world and over demons (John 12:31; 14:30). Therefore, all who are not in Christ are ruled by Satan (Romans 8:9, Matt 6:24). They are not free, but are slaves to sin, just as they master the Devil.
- Whose wrath is this? Wrath is the terrible, unrelenting judgment that comes from God and will be meted out to sinners who refuse life and instead choose to follow Satan and the sinful ways of this world.
- What are they now? Formerly they were “dead” – unbelieving sinners, but now they are Christians, followers of Christ.
- What was the previous argument? In Ephesians 1, Paul had ended speaking of the power by which God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. The implication is that this very same power was used to raise the Ephesian Christians from the dead as well.
- In what sort of society did the Ephesians live? Ephesus was a Roman city which was incredibly wealthy. At the centre of its religion was the goddess Diana, who was worshipped as the mother of all creation. The temple worship rituals included prostitution with the priests and priestesses of the temple. Ephesus was also a sanctuary city, criminals could find refuge in its walls and many settled there. It was therefore a hub of debauchery and all kinds of sinful living and thinking.
Practical Example: Applying the Answers
- Anyone who is outside of Christ is dead, no matter how “good” they may be.
- “Dead men tell no tales” – a dead person cannot ask someone to help him. As sinners we are completely at the mercy of God. Salvation is his choice either to give or to withhold. We cannot ignore the doctrine of election
- As dead sinners, we were unable to save ourselves. Even our good works could not. Therefore all the glory belongs to God
- Trespasses and sins
- Any sin is displeasing to God. We sin because we are dead, and we are dead because of sin. The only way to avoid God’s punishment against sin is to flee to Christ
- Our God is a holy God and will not tolerate sin.
- God wants his people to be distinct and separate from the world
- Anyone who is not in Christ, is ruled by Satan.
- The world will always influence you towards sin
- You have to choose whom to follow
- Prince of the Power of the Air
- Satan is powerful
- He rules over the hearts of all who are outside of Christ, even the “good” people
- It does not please God to punish people
- But he is holy, and he is just. And therefore he must punish sin
- In hell, it will be God who punishes sinners, not Satan.
Now you are ready to move on to Step 2, which is where you outline the structure. In this first step, you studied the “flesh” that makes up the text, not you want to discover how it is put together by studying its “bones”. In the next step, you’ll have to put your X-ray glasses because that’s where we expose the skeleton of the text!
Scripture Sculpture, Ramesh Richard Level 1 Handbook,
Langham Preaching Zimbabwe
Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson