Not everyone who reads this article will be a teacher or preacher, but every Christian ought to think through how they discern what is good and biblical preaching and teaching. There are many kinds of preachers that we are exposed to regularly, whether through TV, radio, podcast, or Sunday morning services. All have various styles and approaches, some may devote little or much time to sermon preparation, and there often can be conflicting messages between them. How, then, are we to determine to whom to listen? Does preference in style matter? Maybe. Does the credibility of the preacher matter? Probably. Does fidelity to Scripture matter? Definitely.

Expository preaching is the most faithful approach in representing Scripture.

Expository preaching is the most faithful approach in representing Scripture. However, being sensitive to the movement of the Spirit and having a reliance upon Him to bring fruit are equally important. So, the question before us is whether or not expository preaching can be rightfully deemed “Spirit-filled.” To preach expositorily, after all, requires a significant amount of sermon preparation and planning. It also means a commitment to a thorough explanation of the passage, which may be seen as boring or too detailed for those who just want to get to the application.[1] Perhaps some may wonder if such planning makes a sermon too stiff and academic, or if the preacher becomes unwilling to yield to the Spirit’s prompting to change a message last minute.

These are understandable concerns because we’ve all experienced the dry, life-less sermon that comes across as more of a snooze-fest than a sermon, and more of a thesis defense than something that ushers the congregation into meaningful worship. Certainly, the Spirit can (and does) move in accordance with His will, regardless of a less than stellar presentation of the Word. However, it seems to me that preachers have a responsibility to be used by the Spirit because of their efforts to provide expository sermons with unction, not in spite of their lackluster and unenthused presentation. With this in mind, I see the objection. The reputation of expositors can sometimes be sullied by preachers who make the worship service into a purely intellectual exercise, and deny the spiritual element.[2] Still, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water—this does not mean that expository preaching is the incorrect approach.

What Is Expository Preaching?

Nine Marks has put it most simply in stating that expository preaching is making the main point of a passage the main point of the sermon and then applying it.[3] The distinction here is that expository preaching recognizes the centrality and authority of the text. It is a recognition that God has spoken and the words of God—as they are inspired and without error—are the most worthwhile topic for the preacher to handle from the pulpit. He is not in the pulpit in order to give advice or to be an entertainer. He is there to act as a conduit by which others hear the very words of God and, frankly, there is no greater responsibility.

So, on this approach, the preacher uses stories, anecdotes, advice, and illustrations as supplemental to the text; he does not use the text as a supplement to his stories, anecdotes, advice, and illustrations. Whatever the message of the author is, that is the message of the preacher. He is not trying to advance his own agenda so much as he is trying to explain God’s agenda as revealed in Scripture. Moreover, in a world where the Bible is constantly misconstrued and misunderstood, he has gone through great lengths to ensure that he represents what God has actually said, as best as he can. Finally, he recognizes that people need to understand how he is coming to the conclusions he has come to regarding the application of Scripture. They need to see for themselves that God has spoken and that His voice is supremely authoritative. 

Why Expository Preaching?

1.      It is arrogant and irresponsible not to make God’s Word primary.

Think about it like this—when a preacher decides to read a verse or two that vaguely relates to his sermon, and then spend the rest of his time talking about the life lessons he has learned, what does that say? It says that for the measly 40 minutes he has his people’s attention for the week, he believes they are best served by hearing his own insights and not what God has already said. How arrogant.

2.      People need to know how the preacher comes to his conclusions.

A congregation needs to know the proper way to draw conclusions and applications from a passage. Let’s be honest in stating that many folks in the pew have no grasp as to how to read and understand Scripture. They need to be able to study for themselves, think for themselves, and replicate what you model in their own study of God’s Word. Also, there’s a little known secret that, hey, preachers aren’t always right and they do make mistakes. It would be comforting to know that you have a congregation that can keep the preacher accountable for his interpretation and application. That would make for a more mature church!

3.      It ensures that the preacher preaches all of the Word, not his preferences.

Every preacher has some issues that he really emphasizes. We can’t help it—we’re humans with experiences that shape our goals and agenda. By preaching expositorily and working through a book, the preacher is forced to cover all of what God has said. He is much less likely to neglect important parts of the Word that indeed the congregation needs to hear.

4.      The message God intended, is the one that is preached.

How many times have we all heard a verse taken out of context? Many, many, many times. In effect, the message of the passage is then stifled when the pastor reads into the text something that is not there, or even makes an emphasis that may not be there. When this is done, the preacher is no longer founded on the clear authority of Scripture. What is worse is the congregation then has a misunderstanding of the passage, and perhaps a misapplication of the passage as a result.

What Is the Spirit’s Role?

Without outlining an entire Pneumatology, let me mention a few observations here. The Spirit inspired the text, illuminates the text, empowers the preacher, convicts the sinner, provides an inner witness to the text, regenerates the sinner, and helps the hearer of the Word to rightly apply the text to a particular context. So, clearly the preacher is utterly dependent on the Spirit. However, none of these roles of the Spirit abdicate the preacher from his duties to present the Word clearly and with adequate explanation. The words written in Scripture have intended meaning. The Spirit works in perfect unity with the words of Scripture. So it follows that fidelity to the text makes a movement of the Spirit all the more likely. I don’t mean to reduce a movement of the Spirit to a mere equation as if it were a Kevin Cosner film (“If you preach it, He will come”), but I do think that the Spirit chooses to respond and move in conjunction with the proper proclamation of the Gospel, and the Gospel’s implications as recorded in the 66 books. This is widely attested to in Scripture.

 



 

[1] I would whole-heartedly disagree with the tendency in the modern pulpit to jump straight to application for a number of reasons. In brief, we must be able to study Scripture purely because we love the Lord, love to know Him, and want to know as much about His revelation as we possibly can. We cannot reduce Scripture to being merely a set of ethical guidelines that we apply in everyday life. There is a Christian ethic, but we should preach that we come to know and love the Lord greater, in both theological knowledge as well as the responding actions in everyday life. See this article for more thoughts.

[2] Often this is seen in some preachers’ commitment to hours of time in study, but then reducing their prayer lives to the mere afterthought of the homoletical enterprise.  

[3] “What Are the Nine Marks?,” 9 Marks of A Healthy Church, accessed December 17, 2013, http://www.9marks.org/what-are-the-9marks/preaching.

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