The Use and Abuse of Quotes in Your Sermon

Illustrations have been described as windows that add light into the sermon in order to illuminate abstract truths. If that is true, and I believe it is, then quotes are a good tool to have in your sermon arsenal. Except when they aren’t. Quotes can be used effectively, and they can be abused in the worst way. I want to point out the proper and improper uses of quotes in a sermon.

Good Uses of Quotes

Here are 6 reasons to use a good quote would be appropriate:

  1. Artistry: The writer says something more beautifully than you can say it yourself.
  2. Clarity: The writer makes the point clearer than you can.
  3. Impact: The writer says something in a powerful way to make your point.
  4. Pithiness: The writer says something in a memorable and “catchy” way.
  5. Depth: The writer says something with a profundity that you can’t seem to say yourself.
  6. Interesting: The writer says something that draws interest or excites the imagination.

Poor Uses of Quotes

Here are 8 reason you ought to think twice before using that quote in your next sermon:

  1. Quotes that are too good not to share, even though they have nothing to do with the main idea of your sermon. Just because you like it, don’t squeeze it in.
  2. Quotes that are not short and to the point. Two page quotes from a Puritan in old English aren’t helpful unless you are trying to help someone fall asleep.
  3. Quotes that are only an interest to a very specific audience. Just because you love reading Wallace’s Greek Grammar doesn’t mean you should quote from it.
  4. Quotes that you have to explain after you read it. It’s like a joke–if you have to explain it, it’s not funny.
  5. Quotes that can be stated in your own words easily.
  6. Quotes that are meant to carry a sense of authority, i.e., “The great theologian so-and-so says…” The Scripture should be our authority. Quotes of men may bring clarity, but they should not bear the weight of authority to prove our point.
  7. Quotes that you cannot verify or find the source. If we proclaim the truth, we shouldn’t be using quotes that may be false.
  8. Quotes that are shocking and controversial. This isn’t because they don’t work, but because they do. This type of quote might just derail your sermon if your audience does not recover from the shocking quote bomb you let loose.

“Mercy”

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Luke 18:13

God of the Publican,

Be merciful to me a sinner; this I am by nature and practice, this the Word proclaims me to be, this I hope I feel myself to be; Yet Thou hast not left me to despair, for there is no ‘peradventure’ in Thy grace; I have all the assurance I need that with Thee is plenteous redemption.

In spite of the number and heinousness of my sins Thou hast given me a token for good; The golden scepter is held out, and Thou hast said, ‘Touch it and live.’ May I encourage myself by a sense of Thy all-sufficiency, by faith in Thy promises, by views of the experience of others. To that dear refuge in which so many have sheltered from every storm may I repair.

In that fountain always freely open for sin may I be cleansed from every defilement. Sin is that abominable thing which Thy soul hates, and this alone separates Thee and me. Thou canst not contradict the essential perfections of Thy nature; Thou canst not make me happy with Thyself, till Thou hast made me holy like Thyself.

O holy God, make me such a creature as Thou canst take pleasure in, and such a being that I can take pleasure in Thee. May I consent to and delight in Thy law after the inner man, never complain over the strictness of Thy demands, but mourn over my want of conformity to them; never question Thy commandments, but esteem them to be right. By Thy Spirit within me may my practice spring from principle, and my dispositions be conformable with duty.

–The Valley of Vision

The Deepest Need in Preaching: A Majestic View of God

“There are always two parts to true worship. There is seeing God and there is savoring God. You can’t separate these. You must see him to savor him. And if you don’t savor him when you see him, you insult him….The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.”—John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching