I’ve been encouraged recently by many pastors’ commitment to the expository preaching of God’s Word. By “expository preaching,” we really mean two things. First, and most important, a Bible expositor preaches an expository sermon; that is, he makes the text of the passage the message he proclaims. The purpose of the sermon is to provide “a display of what is there,” with the aim that the Holy Spirit’s message in the text would be taught to the congregation. In expository preaching, the minister studies the passage in order to understand what the text is saying and how it says it. He then organizes his sermon to lay bare before the minds and hearts of his congregation the message and meaning of the passage.
Second, we speak of expository preaching as an expository series. This is known as the lectio continua approach, in which the minister preaches a whole book of Scripture from beginning to end. In both senses—expository sermons and expository series—expository preaching contrasts with topical preaching, in which the pastor decides on a message and then looks for passages to support it.
Let me urge pastors to consider expository preaching in light of the following benefits:
- Expository preaching delivers the Word of God from the text to the congregation. Like the prophets of old, the expository preacher can declare, “Thus says the Lord!” His sermons contain not his own ideas or insights, but the message that came from the biblical author under the Spirit’s inspiration. The congregation leaves the service not thinking about how clever or interesting the preacher is, but rather thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), expository preaching is the best way to bring spiritual power to the church. Moreover, when the preacher has first put himself under the authority of God’s Word by preaching whatever the Bible says, the divine authority of the sermon is greatly enhanced.
- Expository preaching presents a verse or passage in its biblical context. Those who have not long engaged in weekly preaching may not appreciate how significant this benefit is, but experienced pastors know that it makes a world of difference. Context is essential to understanding and teaching a passage accurately, and expository preaching provides this benefit. Instead of isolating passages (e.g., the “I Am” statements of Christ in John’s Gospel), the congregation follows the path laid by the apostle in approaching and discovering Christ’s message as the Holy Spirit gave it.
- Expository preaching unfolds the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), taking Paul seriously when he speaks of “all Scripture” as “profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). When the preacher works through whole books of the Bible, he is kept from focusing continually on his own hobby horses but instead teaches whatever the inspired author wrote. In this way, the whole breadth of biblical teaching comes to bear in ways that greatly enrich the congregation. Meanwhile, the pastor is forced to work through difficult passages so that his own understanding grows. Some of the most memorable sermons I have heard came from passages that the preacher would be very unlikely to cover unless he was committed to expository preaching. Indeed, as I have preached whole books of Scripture I have often been amazed at how wide and interesting a breadth of topics came to the fore.
- Expository preaching is exciting and satisfying. When a pastor is working through a whole book of Scripture, the congregation becomes excited about the biblical book and members don’t want to miss any sermons. When the series is completed, there is a sense of accomplishment as a whole book of Scripture has been studied in depth and clearly understood. In many such churches, new members identify their arrival at the church by the book and chapter that was being studied at the time. I recently spent three and a half years preaching through Genesis, and many in the congregation expressed their sadness when we finished the wonderful journey through that book. Moreover, expository preaching allows the congregation, over the years, to learn a great amount of Scripture, including the many different types and situations found therein. For instance, in my thirteen years at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, I have preached through the following books (morning or evening), which have provided a significant grasp of Scripture to the congregation: John, Hebrews, Ephesians, Psalms, 1–2 Samuel, Jonah, Micah, 1–2 Thessalonians, Revelation, Genesis, 1–3 John, Hosea, 2 Timothy, and Titus (I am currently preaching Colossians and 2 Chronicles).
- Expository preaching grows the minister spiritually and intellectually. Undoubtedly the main reason why many pastors shy from expository preaching is that it admittedly involves a great deal of work. But what rich labor it is! Over the years the pastor develops an increasingly strong grasp of Scripture and the weekly labor of first understanding, and then preaching the text, develops his capacity and desire to study God’s Word.
Few resolutions will make a more significant impact on a church than when the pastor commits to weekly expository preaching. Especially if you are starting out in a pulpit ministry, imagine the benefit of your life if you spend years teaching God’s Word from God’s Word!