Preaching is the most wonderful thing in the world. I love to preach, and I love to listen to good preaching. Occasionally, I even enjoy listening to myself preach. I can’t tell if that’s conceited or not, but I can’t seem to find any preacher with whom I agree more often than myself. That is, as long as I don’t go too far back into the archives. In fact, I believe that one of the greatest signs that you may be called to preach is when you are dissatisfied with everyone else’s preaching. When you find yourself being that critical, go and try it yourself. Call me, and I’ll come listen and scowl through it so you’ll know what your old pastor felt like.
Alas, I digress. The point of this short post is centered around sermon thievery. I am adept at swiping sermons and quotes. In defense of my plagiarism, I must admit that I do not always do it on purpose. I read a lot. I’m an admitted book-o-phile. So sometimes a quote will come to me as I am preaching, and I’ll just let’er rip.
Most often though, my thievery is on purpose. I spend all week studying a passage for preaching. I even study the Greek. I have the most wonderful, lazy Greek student program available in the modern world: BibleWorks 6.0. It was expensive, but worth every last penny. It’s like having Daniel Wallace and Bruce Metzger and A.T. Robertson standing over my shoulder in the study going, “Ooo! Did you notice that Aorist there? Did you notice that participle? Why do you think Paul wrote it like that? Wow!! What an interesting textual variant! Do you think that’s original?” In some ways, it is a good time to be a preacher.
Here is where the stealing comes in. By the time Saturday rolls around, I begin to realize that I am not where I want to be with the passage. I feel woefully inadequate. So, I go to www.desiringgod.org and click on one of John Piper’s sermons. Then, I break out my John MacArthur. After that, I rummage through my commentaries for one last time. I grab nuggets from all of these people for my sermons. It’s a group effort.
I do not feel the least bit guilty about this. First of all, I am not looking to be original. I am looking to be informative, precise, and expositional. Secondly, I would be extremely happy if someone stole one of my sermons, especially if they had studied all week and still liked what I said better than what they had come up with. Finally, I am reminded of an anecdote that supposedly happened to Charles Spurgeon. Apparently he had gone out of town on a trip, and he had stopped by the local church to attend services. That morning, a young man preached one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. He had ripped off the Prince of Preachers! (He could have done worse!) After the service, Charles Spurgeon supposedly went down to the front to meet the pastor. The poor pastor was immediately dismayed and embarrassed because he knew what he’d done. As he began to apologize, Spurgeon supposedly thanked the pastor very graciously and sincerely and said, “It was good of God to feed me with food I had prepared for others.”
I usually give credit where credit is due in my sermons, and I always do it when I’m writing. (To my knowledge I have, anyway.) But if I forget someone in a sermon, or if I don’t give credit to Augustine, Lewis, Piper, MacArthur, Pink, or the guy down the block, they’ll get credit in heaven.
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