The Goal of Expository Preaching
Our Lord brought me to Grace Bible Church Gainesville in January 2016, almost six years ago. When I came to Gainesville, the Lord impressed upon my heart the need to preach His word above all else. I can say that charge has kept me from sinking on many occasions. This is the same exhortation that Paul gave Timothy during a low time in his life:
I solemnly 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 His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:2).
During every struggle, I have remembered the truth that Christ is building His church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matt 16:18). I have also continually reminded myself of the charge to preach His word no matter the situation.
My plan is to continue preaching God’s word here in Gainesville for many years to come – if you will continue to have me. Yet, I recognize that we must lay a foundation for the future. When I do leave the church, I want its future leaders to be able to evaluate a preacher. I want the church to have the right commitments and fully understand God’s charge to the preacher, so they find the right man to replace me. Even now, we need to be able to evaluate any man who would ascend to GBC’s pulpit to preach the word.
Today, and in the future, we need to recognize our commitment to expository preaching truly differentiates GBC and will continue to do so if we properly define it. It is critical for us to develop a definition for EP because it has become a fad in churches, and we shouldn’t think everyone has the same understanding of what it is. This exercise will help us evaluate preaching in our church and will help if you are in a position of seeking another church.
Let me start by giving you three types of sermons that I would argue are not true expository preaching.
First, there are:
The Expository “Springboard” Sermons:
With this type, the preacher identifies the subject that a text seems to teach and then launches into teaching that theme - not the text.
The most popular method is to find the theological theme of the text and spend the entire sermon discussing the various viewpoints of that theme before explaining which viewpoint best fits the preacher’s theological system. In these sermons, you might hear a lot of references to theological words or systems (Calvinism or Armininism or cessationism or covenant theology). These themes can be useful at times, but not in lieu of a weekly diet of God’s word.
I want you to understand that this type of sermon results from taking either too narrow or too broad a focus on the text. As an example, the preacher may focus on one word or part of a phrase and spend their time focused there. An example might be spending a sermon or more preaching on the life of Paul. There is a time and place for this type of focus, but it cannot be our steady diet. Another example would be taking an entire paragraph to pull out one theological theme. For example, the preacher may look at Ephesians 2:1-10 and spend an entire sermon preaching about God’s grace. Again, there is a place for this, but not this cannot be the church’s steady diet.
Second, there are:
The Expository Word Study Sermons
With this type, the preacher chooses a text, and he identifies and defines a few key words from that text – many times he poorly defines them. He uses those definitions to determine the meaning of the text without regard for the history, grammar, or context of the passage. Then, he crafts the sermon using those word meanings. In Ephesians 1, we find the following truths about our salvation:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our transgressions, according to the riches of His grace (Eph 1:7)
In this text, the preacher may define redemption, forgiveness, and transgression without regard for the history, grammar, and context of the verse. There is little doubt that a word study would yield amazing theological truths from this text. Yet, we can understand much more when we consider other aspects of exegetical study.
While word studies are useful in forming our understanding of a passage, they cannot be the full extent of our exegetical study. We miss the richness of the truth when we don’t fully consider the entirety of the author’s intent. We must use all the interpretive tools at our disposal to recognize the depth and breadth of any text.
Third, there are:
The Expository History Lesson Sermons
With this type, the preacher explains the history surrounding the text, but never leaves the past tense. Therefore, he never helps the modern audience understand the significance of the text. A great example can be found in the gospel of Matthew.
You may recognize the story in Matthew two of the Magi coming to worship Jesus in the months after His birth. Most of us have heard the story of the three wise men giving gifts to baby Jesus repeated every year at Christmas. Yet, this isn’t even what happened. This rendition of the story misleads us and leaves us wondering why this event even happened. It also leaves the listener wondering whether the story has any bearing on their life.
The expository history lesson sermon corrects the history by showing the listener what really occurred. But it doesn’t go any further! On the other hand, a well-crafted expository sermon gives the right history surrounding the event and helps the listener recognize the significance in their life and to the church. The preacher must accurately teach the history and the text. But he must not stop there! He must bridge the gap to his modern audience helping them understand the implications of the text for today.
What is the definition of Expository Preaching?
We have looked at three types of sermons that fall short of expository preaching. Each are aspects of EP but fall short of the true definition. So, now that we have given some poor examples of expository preaching, let’s give a good working definition.
Steve Lawson defines expository preaching as follows:
“This is the true nature of preaching. It is the man of God opening the Word of God and expounding its truths so that the voice of God may be heard, the glory of God seen, and the will of God obeyed.”
In the words of John MacArthur:
“The only logical response to inerrant Scripture, then, is to preach it expositionally. By expositionally, I mean preaching in such a way that the meaning of the Bible passage is presented entirely and exactly as it was intended by God. Expository preaching is the proclamation of the truth of God as mediated through the preacher.”
I have defined expository preaching as follows:
We can define an expository sermon as text driven preaching where the point of the sermon and its outline are derived from the correct interpretation of the text of Scripture. The preacher arrives at the interpretation through careful exegesis using the literal, historical, grammatical method. In the act of preaching, the preacher carefully explains the God-intended meaning of the text giving its modern implications.
This definition yields several truths about expository preaching that we must remember. We believe:
- Expository preaching must have as its primary aim to simply read and explain the text of Holy Scripture (Nehemiah 8:8).
- The only trustworthy source for specific knowledge and direction from God is found in the canon of Scripture—the 66 books of the Bible (Acts 20:27).
- The people of God need to hear the Word of God and have its meaning exposed, so they know how to live in a worshipful way toward God (Psalm 19:7-14, 119)
- God has chosen to reveal Himself through His special revelation—the word of God (Psalm 19:7-14)
- We are completely reliant on the Word of God; therefore, we trust completely in its power to transform (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- The faithful preacher’s primary work is to mine the text for its God intended meaning using normal methods of interpretation which we have defined as the historical, grammatical method of interpretation and exegesis.
Therefore, we demand our preachers and teachers to work diligently to accurately handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Since, we understand that the Scriptures are the means through which God transforms our hearts, we believe that it is best to handle the Word of God exegetically. This means we are to draw God’s intended meaning out of the text rather than reading our own ideas and presuppositions into the text (eisogesis).
Therefore, we hold to a Literal, Grammatical, Historical interpretation of Scripture. We believe that Scripture is meant to be understood:
- Literally, where the plain meaning is clear and understandable.
- Grammatically, in that we translate from the original languages using their unique grammatical construction to better understand the text and to resolve any seeming lack of clarity.
- Historically, in that we seek to know the pertinent historical background and original recipients of the letter to help us more fully grasp the meaning and implications to that original audience.
Our goal with this method of interpretation is to reveal the mind of God, and it is our method to teach verse-by-verse through the Scripture to expose our minds to the whole counsel of God.
In doing these things, the preacher must recognize that he is simply a mouthpiece of God charged with exposing the true meaning of text to the listener. The goal of the preacher and expository preacing is to do these things trusting that God the Holy Spirit will use His Word in changing the lives of the God’s people making them more like their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We believe that the word of God will not return void (Isaiah 55:11) and the real evidence of discipleship is when the disciple continues in Christ’s Word (John 8:31-32).