It seems silly to even have to mention it, but honesty is vital to the task of preaching. It should go without saying that truthfulness is fundamental to the proclamation of God’s truth. And yet, preachers are so often tempted to fudge the details of their illustrations, read their own thoughts into the Scripture at hand, or out and out plagiarize another pastor’s sermon.
While I’ve never thought about plagiarizing another sermon, I have been tempted to manipulate the Bible to make it say what I want it to say. My conscience has been clear thus far; that is until my last sermon. I was given the assignment of preaching on bad choices from the book of Proverbs, and the texts that I wanted to use had already been claimed in the sermon series. So I took the best of what was left (for my topic) and made up the rest. Sort of. I developed a framework for the sermon and overlaid it on the whole book of Proverbs, rather than working the other way around. In other words, I started with the sermon instead of the text. The framework, rather than the Bible, dictated where the sermon went.
Although my conscience wasn't overburdened with the sermon, and what I did probably fell into a gray area of creative license (maybe), it is still a practice I don't want to turn into a habit. While I can justify what I did (I was given the topic not a text; nothing I said was unbiblical; you could make a case that my framework is mostly derived from the text), it is a path I don’t want to walk down. True honesty is staying faithful to the text. God can speak for himself, and God’s word can speak for itself. Neither need my fancy-pants preacher’s tricks to communicate the message.
The core temptation of the preacher is to be the man or woman who delivers the message that saves the world. We tend to have overblown messiah complexes, even while we tell people about the true Messiah. This creates pressure (mostly internally, but sometimes externally as well) to write and deliver better and better sermons. This pressure can leave us looking for shortcuts, which so often means falsifying stories, playing fast and loose with the biblical text, or stealing another sermon.
But communicating God’s word demands honesty. How can you lie and preach the gospel at the same time? Haven’t you become horribly corrupt? How can God’s ends be served by your Satanic means? Deception is the native tongue of hell. Are we to communicate the glories of heaven in the diabolical language of hell? Flatly, no. Beware of the temptation to exaggerate and falsify stories. If the text doesn’t fit what you want to say, change what you want to say to fit the text. If you use another sermon or an extended quote, give credit where credit is due. God’s word is truth, and he will not abide it to be spun with lies.