My father – H.B. Charles, Sr. – was a faithful preacher. He was not, however, an expositor. His messages were thoroughly biblical. But they were not expositional. My dad was more a textual preacher. He would often lift a verse and keep turning it to show the beautiful gospel implications in it. But the main point of the text was not necessarily the main point of his sermon.
I was not led to Christ by expository preaching. The preaching that nurtured my faith was not expositional, either. Much of the preaching that continues to feed my soul is not classic Bible exposition. So I would not dare claim that expository preaching is the only right way to preach. But I firmly believe that expository preaching is the most faithful way to preach.
What is expository preaching?
Expository preaching is that form of sermon in which the main point of a biblical text is the main point of the sermon preached. This is an intentionally simple and broad definition. It strategically leaves room for different approaches to Bible exposition. For instance, a topical sermon can be expositional. It is much harder than working through one passage. And it is not the best model of exposition for a congregation to sit under from week to week. But topical, doctrinal, and biographical sermons can be expositional. It is all about how the text is handled.
I believe the most faithful way to handle the word of God is to explain the meaning of a single text and exhort the hearer to believe and obey the God-inspired message of the text. I also believe the most faithful way to regularly preach expository sermons is to preach consecutively through books of the Bible.
Why expository preaching?
My commitment to expository preaching is rooted in my convictions about the Bible. I believe the Bible is God-breathed scripture.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bible does not merely contain the word of God. It is the word of God. As the word of God, all scripture is necessary, true, full of wisdom, without error, spiritually profitable, life-changing, clear, exclusively authoritative, and sufficient.
Do you share these convictions about the Bible? If you do not not, you should not preach. If a man who does not believe the Bible is the word of God occupies the pulpit, it is not a Christian pulpit. God’s sent preachers are not motivational speakers, self-help gurus, or social justice champions. We are heralds commissioned to proclaim the message of the king. And the word of God is found in the word of God – the Bible. If you do not believe the Bible is the word of God, you have forsaken your calling and you have nothing to say for God.
Do you believe the Bible is the word of God? If so, why would you not preach expositionally? Do you think you – or some other source – has something more important or relevant or helpful to say than God’s word? If God speaks in and through scripture, you should give your life to studying scripture to understand it properly and explain it clearly in preaching.
Is expository preaching a matter of style?
The reason why you should be a student of expositional preaching is not about a style of preaching. What you preach is infinitely more important than how you preach. The act of preaching is in vain if the message preached is not true. Paul charged Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2a). He did not charge Timothy to preach, as if the function of preaching has any power of its own. Paul instructed Timothy that he must preach. Moreover, he explicitly stated what Timothy must preach. The pulpit is not a place for personal opinion, human wisdom, or worldly philosophies. The pulpit is the platform for the proclamation of the glorious word of God and the saving testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.
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The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. It was written in complete thoughts. The end of 2 Timothy 3 is about the nature of scripture. The beginning of 2 Timothy 4 is about the duty of preaching. These two statements are inextricably linked. The nature of scripture must shape the duty of preaching. The duty of preaching must be rooted in the nature of scripture. The divine inspiration of scripture is the unavoidable mandate for expository preaching.
Expository preaching is hard work. It is not always the most “enjoyable” style of preaching for a congregation to hear. After all, an expository sermon is governed by the truth of the text, not the agenda of the pulpit or pew. Expository preaching may or may not have been the historic way preachers have preached. It is definitely not the way most high-profile preachers today handle the word of God. Expository preaching may not easily lend itself to “vision casting” and other ways pastors want to use the pulpit to lead the congregation. We live in a biblically illiterate culture, where many churchgoers will not endure sound doctrine. Many people view expository preaching to be synonymous with boring preaching.
There are many reasons given to make a case against expository preaching. I believe all of the arguments against Bible exposition can be rebutted. But there really is only one primary reason why you should strive to preach and teach in such a way that properly explains and clearly applies biblical texts: What do you believe about the Bible?
- Do you believe the Bible is the word of God?
- Do you believe God wrote a book?
- Do you believe all scripture is breathed out by God?
- Do you believe it is profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and instruction in righteousness?
- Do you believe the word is sufficient to make the man of God competent and fully equipped for every good work?
How you preach reveals what you believe about the Bible. You can readily and freely sign an orthodox statement of faith. But that does not prove what you really believe. Your true convictions are betrayed by what you preach and how you preach. Paul’s charge to Timothy is the Lord’s charge to you…
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and kingdom: preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-5