One of the important aspects of preaching is illustrating. Illustrations illustrate and support the biblical truth. It is a way to apply the teaching of Scripture in a way that is illustrative so that it serves as an aid for application in the lives of the hearers. In some ways it serves as real-life experiential clothing worn on propositional truth. The illustration provides a mental picture of the propositional truth lived, which the Holy Spirit uses to affect the heart.
This also is why it is important that one use fitting and appropriate illustrations so that they serve the text of Scripture and not supplant or replace the truth of Scripture. It is the word of God that is living and active (Heb. 4:12) not the sermon illustration, even though the latter does serve a ministerial role in the preaching of the living Word.
With this in mind, what are some reasons for sermon illustrations? Daniel Akin observes that “good illustrations serve several important purposes . . . [which] fall into both theological and practical categories.” Furthermore, he connects illustrations with “sermon introductions and conclusions . . . [with] illustrations . . . often the key to the effectiveness of both.”
Akin gives “12 Reasons for Using Sermon Illustrations” I include only his list (taken from his book Engaging Exposition). Please make sure you read his explanations for each reason.
- Illustrations inform and instruct.
- Illustrations explain and clarify.
- Illustrations can help the preacher connect and identify with his people.
- Illustrations are a tremendous aid to memorization and recall.
- Illustrations help to capture and regain attention.
- Illustrations motivate, persuade, and convince.
- Illustrations allow for mental relaxation.
- Illustrations help our people see the immediate relevance of the biblical text for their lives.
- Illustrations personalize and particularize the general/universal truths revealed in the Bible.
- Illustrations make biblical truth believable.
- Illustrations create interest.
- Illustrations explain biblical doctrine and personal duty in an understandable and compelling way.
Akin concludes: “Illustrations bring clarity to biblical truth and reveal how God’s Word works and has worked in the lives of others. They help us turn the ear into an eye so that our listeners see biblical truth more clearly. Illustrations make abstract truths concrete.”
Here are a few questions for thought:
- Do you use illustrations in your preaching?
- How do you understand their use?
- Of this list, with what would you agree?
- What would you change?
- What would you add?
- Beyond the reasons for using illustrations, what cautions would you include?