Expository Preaching: Understanding the Text

300,000. What does this number represent? The approximate number of churches in the United States. What does this number mean? On any given Sunday (or Saturday), there are as many as 300,000 different preachers preaching different sermons using different preaching approaches (say that five times fast!). With so many options available, it can be daunting to figure out which preacher to listen to, and what style is best. Is there even a “best approach” when it comes to preaching? Yes.

If you’ve been at Fellowship Bible Church in recent months, or even if you’ve just begun attending, you will notice that my preaching is expository. Simply put, expository preaching seeks to make the point of the Biblical text the point of the sermon. In other words, expository preachers want their respective congregations to know what the Bible teaches. I realize that highlighting expository preaching as the “best approach” may come off as a bit prideful. But, after years of study and preaching, it is the most practical approach—and the one that keeps the Scriptures as the centerpiece of the sermon.

The Benefits of Expository Preaching

·         Expository preaching is a safeguard against unfaithful, even false preaching.

In his second letter to the young preacher, Timothy, the Apostle Paul charges him to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). While he doesn’t give him a “how-to” manual for what this looks like, we do know that the Scriptures are to be the centerpiece of the sermon. How do we know this? Several verses before his command, Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures are “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” In other words, the Scriptures are God’s revelation to us, and that revelation is trustworthy to lead us, guide us, correct us, and train us to accomplish God’s will. Let me ask: If these statements about the Bible are true (and they are!), then as a Christian, shouldn’t a preacher explain the complexities of God’s word to us?

Expository preaching places the emphasis on gaining a proper interpretation of God’s Word. It is common to have a “what’s in it for me” attitude when we read the Bible. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly is not the best thing. If we want to rightly apply God’s Word, we first need to rightly understand it! It is an unfortunate reality that there are “many false prophets” (1 John 4:1) in the world around us, whose goal is to deceive God’s people and lead them astray. A good expository preacher will make clear the entire counsel of God’s Word—allowing God’s people to have a clearer view of God’s revelation. When a preacher seeks to make God’s Word clear, the Holy Spirit makes God’s Word usable (John 14 and 16).

·         Expository preaching teaches God’s people how to read their Bible.

I must admit, this is one of my favorite aspects of expository preaching. Since the goal of expository preaching is to clearly teach the Scriptures, it allows for God’s people to learn how to study God’s Word. It is likely that this often goes unnoticed, if not unappreciated. I have heard some people describe expository preaching as “off the top of the head.” I assure you, that is not accurate. “Off the top of the head” preaching is called extemporaneous, and I do not recommend it as an approach, unless necessary.

When you listen to the sermon each week, you are getting a small segment of Scripture at a time. Over the course of the sermon series, my goal is to teach you what the Bible says in that book. Here’s an example: we are on the tail-end of our 1 John series, and the overall theme has been “Authentic Christianity.” Why? Because John’s primary exhortation to believers is two-fold: walk in the light, and avoid the darkness. Throughout the book, he expands on that idea, giving us insight into God’s will concerning what we are to do and how we are to do it! Long after we are done with 1 John, you should be able to read it and understand its contents.

·         Expository preaching holds the preacher accountable.

Let me be clear: there is no preacher in the world, who has the right to do what he wants. There are too many “pulpit-teers” out there, who put on a great show every week, all the while deviating from preaching God’s Word. For them, it is about their insight, opinion, soapboxes, ideas, and “visions”. The church, and the world for that matter, don’t need men to stand up and manipulate God’s Word—they need men to stand up and faithfully proclaim God’s Word!

Every preacher must submit to the authority of God’s Word. By default, preaching exists only because there is a message to proclaim. A preacher is not “making it up as he goes”; instead, he is to “present [yourself] approved to God…accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). Our authority is borrowed from God’s Word—it is not our own to do with as we please. Any preacher who deviates from God’s Word loses his authority to preach, and effectively renders himself unqualified. James, the half-brother of Jesus, gives a stern warning: “Let not many of you become teachers…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1)

One of my favorite preachers, H.B. Charles, said it best: “The pulpit is not a stage for your performance. It is the throne for the Word of God.” I couldn’t say it better if I tried. As a pastor, one of my greatest joys is to hear that someone is growing in their understanding and application of God’s Word. Make no mistake, listening to expository preaching is hard work; but, if it gives you the best opportunity to hear, understand, apply, and mature in the truth, then it is worth it!

Next week, we will be focusing on: Expository Preaching: Understanding the Tone of the Text.