If a church is to be healthy, preaching is to be central to the church’s methodology. If preaching is to be central to the church’s methodology, then the best preaching is that which should be called “expository”.
What is expository preaching? Expository preaching is essentially a methodological outworking of a proper understanding of the doctrine of Scripture. If we understand the Scripture to be inspired by God, inerrant, infallible, clear, necessary, and sufficient, then the central act of the worship of the church, preaching, must be the explanation and application of the Scripture.
Preaching as The Central Act of Worship
Al Mohler reminds us, “Expository preaching is central, irreducible and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God.”
“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,”lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law,while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
The Old Testament shows us the precedent of the proclamation and explanation of the word in the gathering of God’s people, but the New Testament demonstrates this as well. In Mark 1, Jesus’ first words are words of proclamation. In Acts 2, the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, in 1 Timothy 4, Paul charges Timothy to give attention to the public reading of Scripture and in 2 Timothy 4 he reminds him to preach the word. Preaching is the central act of worship, and the Bible demonstrates this clearly.
Expository Preaching Defined
- Al Mohler: Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God.”
- Haddon Robinson: Expository preaching is “the presentation of biblical truth, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, Spirit-guided study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit applies to the life of the preacher and then through him to his congregation.”
- LLoyd-Jones takes it a step further, according to biographer Iain Murray, “To expound is not simply to give the correct grammatical sense of a verse or passage, it is rather to set out principles or doctrines which the words are intended to convey. True expository preaching is, therefore, doctrinal preaching, it is preaching which addresses specific truths from God to man. The expository preacher is not one who ‘shares his studies’ with others, he is an ambassador and a messenger, authoritatively delivering the Word of God to men.”
- The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
- The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
- The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
- The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
- The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.
- Why is expository preaching essential to a healthy church? Al Mohler reminds us again, “When the pulpit ministry lacks substance, the church is severed from the Word of God, and its health and faithfulness are immediately diminished.”
Walter Kaiser as well adds insight, “Regardless of what new directives and emphases are periodically offered, that which is needed above everything else to make the Church more viable, authentic, and effective, is a new declaration of the Scriptures with a new purpose, passion, and power.”
Mark Dever, the author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church brings two reasons to the front as to the importance of expository preaching in the life of a healthy church and I want to communicate within his framework in my explanation.
- The Word Makes Alive: Expository preaching lets loose the Scripture to save the soul. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of Christ.” The word of Christ is the message of the gospel. Ours is a faith-based in a book and only in the communication of this message are people saved. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV). “Living as we do after the Fall but before the Heavenly City, we are in a time when faith is central, and so the Word must be central-because God’s Holy Spirit creates His people by His Word! We can create a people by other means, and this is the great temptation of churches. We can create a people around a certain ethnicity. We can create a people around a fully graded choir program. We can find people who will get excited about a building project or a denominational identity. We can create a people around a series of care groups, where each feels loved and cared for. We can create a people around social opportunities for young mothers or Caribbean cruises for singles. We can create a people around men’s groups. We can even create a people around the personality of the preacher. And God can surely use all of these things. But in the final analysis the people of God, the church of God, can only be created around the Word of God. Asked about his accomplishments as a Reformer, Martin Luther said, ‘I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing…the Word did it all’”(Dever, 36).
- The Word Makes Disciples: 2 Peter 1:3ff; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 3:16ff; We come to Christ because of the Word, and we grow in Christ because of the Word. The reformers had a motto: ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, secundum verbum Dei“Expository preaching is often the fountainhead of growth in a church. Let a good expositional ministry be established and watch what happens. Forget what the experts say. Watch hungry people have their lives transformed as the living God speaks to them through the power of his Word”(Dever, 40).
What Can We Do?
How can I as a church member participate more fully in the health of expository preaching? Ben Leonard has written an excellent resource for you to use in preparation to listen to the preaching of God’s Word and I would direct you to our website to get one. Dan Dumas, in the book he edited on Expository Ministry wrote an article called Expository Listening based on James 1:18-25 and his tips are as follows:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear (Open Your Ears),slow to speak (Close Your Mouth), slow to anger (Control Your Temper); for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness (Cleanse Your Heart) and receive with meekness (Mortify Your Pride) the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (Move Your Feet).For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
This Sunday, pray with me that our churches will exalt God in the plain reading and preaching of the Scriptures and that his Word will transform our lives, churches, and communities for the sake of his name.