How can a pastor make wise use of commentaries and other helps in sermon preparation?
A pastor can make wise use of commentaries and other scholarly helps in sermon preparation by using such tools as conversation partners, not as masters.
How? By spending your earliest and best time with the text itself. Meditate on the text. Pray through the text. Exegete the text thoroughly. Outline the text. Ask questions of the text and answer them all yourself before you consult any commentaries.
Why? Because it is only by developing a thorough, firsthand knowledge of the text that you will be able to have an intelligent conversation, so to speak, with commentaries and other scholarly resources. If you go to the commentaries first, they’ll tell you what to think about the text. If you spend time in the text first, you can have your own reasons for either agreeing or disagreeing with them.
Another reason to use commentaries and other helps only after spending considerable time in the text itself is that the text itself and your congregation’s needs should drive your preaching, not whatever conversations scholars happen to be having about the text.
Commentaries are often written by scholars and for scholars, which means that they are often having conversations with one another that have little to nothing to do with the life of your sheep. So rather than letting scholars set the agenda for your preaching, meditate on the text itself with your flock in mind. Ask, “What does my church need to hear from this passage? What will they have a hard time accepting or applying?” Once you have studied the text, meditated on the text, and thought about your congregation’s needs in light of the text, then study the commentaries to sharpen your exegesis and fine-tune your interpretation.