How “ands”, “ifs”, “buts”, “nows” and “therefores” can aid in preparing sermons


Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (NASB)

Romans 8:1 Οὐδὲ ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν ΧριστῷἸησοῦ·

Anytime one studies the English or Greek text of the New Testament, all the vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure work together to convey the meaning. As a pastor, my main task is to discover the meaning of the text of scripture and apply it to my life and to those who hear its words (1 Timothy 4:13-16). This effort is vital, since the intended meaning of text conveys the thoughts of both the human author and main Author – The Holy Spirit. Today’s post is going to consider the entire chapter of Romans 8 and how small words can aid in discerning the overall flow of the Biblical text in sermon preparation. 

The “junk-drawer of grammar” is actually full of important words

In Greek and English, various categories are used to identify the grammatical roles words play in a sentence. We have of course “the verb”, which is king in both an English and Greek sentence. The “subject” of the sentence is the actor, played by a noun at the head of an English sentence and in most cases, coming right after the verb in the Greek. Other roles and grammatical categories are found in both languages, such as participles, infinitives, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions and pronouns. But then there are those little words that I call the “junk drawer” of grammar, which grammarians call “particles”. These are little words that provide transitions, contrasts, clarifications, emphasis and anything else for moving along the author’s message. 

Interestingly enough, particles can be some of the richest and most important words. At times, an author’s entire argument can turn on one “if”, “and”, “but”, “therefore” or some other little word. In the opening verse of Romans 8, we find the word “therefore” (ἄρα), which conveys the sense of “therefore, then” or “when it is all said and done”. Paul is culminating his overall argument for the sanctification that flows from the Christian having been declared justified in saving faith back in Romans 5:1. Romans 6 defines sanctification, Romans 7 describes the battle that is fought in sanctification and Romans 8 declares the overcoming Christian life that is to be the theme of sanctification. As one old preacher told me years ago: “one cannot understand the significance of sanctification in Romans 6 until they endure the battle described in Romans 7 and experience the victory and power of the Holy Spirit promised in Romans 8.”

Seeing how “little words” or “particles” can aid in sermon preparation

Currently as of this writing, I am working on an upcoming sermon that explains the life practical realities of the doctrine of the Trinity. Romans 8 is chocked full of references to the Persons of the Godhead. In particular, I have by the Spirit’s illuminating work identified four particular practical reasons as to why we need the doctrine of the Trinity. In scanning through Romans 8, the little particles aid greatly in grasping the flow of this expansive chapter in the Bible. The observations below represent the preparation of a message in process and the first of these four points. In any preparatory step in exploring God’s Word for preaching, initial thoughts and observations must be gleaned from the text. Let’s briefly consider the particles of Romans 8:1-11 (since the entire chapter would exceed what one could cover in a post of this nature) and how they thread the meaning of the text from the first verse to the last.

1. Romans 8:1 has already been given comment. The particle “therefore” functions to make 8:1 a main heading for the chapter. How is it that believers are no longer under condemnation?  

2. Romans 8:2 For (γαρ) the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. The word in red is what we call an “inferential particle”, meaning it functions to draw together what Paul has said prior and to clarify his next point. This little particle also draws out the implications of what he stated in 8:1. An entire string of “for’s” draw out further implications from 8:1.

In 8:2, we see “freedom”. In 8:3 we see “for what the law could not do…”, “God did” by the sending of the Son. As Paul goes on down the remainder of the verses, we find reference to the “law of the Spirit” as having to do with how one “sets their mind” on the things of the Holy Spirit as He enables the Christian to live the Christian life (Romans 8:5 and 8:6). In 8:7 we find another particle that explains why the Person of the Spirit is needed in the Christian life, namely “because” or “διότι” the mind that focuses on the flesh is hostile to God.

3. Romans 8:9  “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit….”. As we carry on into Romans 8, we come to what we call an “adversative” particle or a contrasting statement. The Greek particle translated “however” is sometimes translated “but”, “and”, “even” or “however”. Paul is explaining how the Trinity aids the Christian in overcoming those leftovers of the pre-conversion life that still reside in the mind. As can be seen, the contrast of “however” sharpens the force of Paul’s argument. Clearly the Trinity aids the Christian in living the Christian life. The Person of the Holy Spirit in particular applies what Jesus Christ the Son achieved on the cross and from the empty tomb, all planned by the Father. All three Persons were involved, sharing One Divine will in designing what would be needed for each believer to live the Christian life. 

4. Romans 8:10-11 We will consider one final example. Romans 8:10 reads “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Romans 8:11 then states – “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” In these two verses we find what is called a conditional particle, “if” or (εἰ). Conditional sentences in Greek convey “if” and “then” situations. In these two sentences, Paul is conveying what is called a “first-class” condition, meaning that Paul is assuming for the sake of argument that, if his readers have within them the indwelling Spirit of God, then what follows from that reality ought to be manifesting in their lives.

As the Christian interacts with the Holy Spirit, they are interacting with the influence of the other Two Persons working in conjunction with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been termed sometimes as the “Ambassador of the Trinity”. His role is to apply and enable the Christian to live for the glory of the Father through all that is made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. If someone had been converted in saving faith, then it follows that there ought to be fruits and works that follow. Again, the Trinity practically enables one to live the Christian life. 

Closing thoughts

Today we considered briefly how small words, called “particles”, can make a difference in interpreting the Biblical text and following the argument of the Biblical author. In the course of preparing messages, identifying these little words can enable the Bible student or preacher to “connect the dots”. In the sample sermon preparation above, I illustrated how such an effort serves as a tool for working through a major text like Romans 8. We noted that one of the practical reasons for the doctrine of the Trinity is due to how God enables the Christian to live the Christian life. Paul bears this out in Romans 8:1-11 by highlighting the three Persons of the Trinity, with specific reference to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit applying all that was purchased by the Son and planned by the Father.

As the reader picks up on the main thrust of Paul in the early parts of his argument, the remainder of the chapter unfolds. Undoubtedly further study in the other particles found throughout Romans 8 would yield even further riches. For the sake of completeness, I will leave the reader with three other life practical reasons for the doctrine of the Trinity and the respective divisions for each point in Romans 8.

Living the Christian life. Romans 8:1-11

Intercessory Prayer. Romans 8:12-17, 8:26-27

Faith in difficult times. Romans 8:18-31

Enduring assurance. Romans 8:32-37

About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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