For the past three decades I’ve been committed to expositional preaching. Expository preaching is committed to explaining and applying a Biblical text to the audience. It begins with the conviction that all of Scripture was breathed out by God and has the power to change the life of a person who hears and obeys it. Most of the time, expository preaching means preaching systematically through books of the Bible. This is in contrast to topical preaching, which begins with a topic and then looks for biblical references that address that topic. I’ve found that there are several benefits to expository preaching.
Preaching through entire books of the Bible allows me to present truth in balance. As I preach through books of the Bible I’m forced to deal with the difficult themes of Scripture as well as the more appealing ones. I must deal with both grace and truth, wrath and mercy, theology and practice. In every biblical book, there’s a mingling of different themes that makes possible the apostolic goal of “declaring the whole counsel of God.”
Preaching through entire books of the Bible prevents me from worrying about what to preach next. Before I begin preaching through a book, I lay out the entire series of messages according to paragraphs. Each message will be an exposition of that paragraph, also allowing me to focus on a single theme which has emerged from my study. Every pastor knows the panic that can set in when he doesn’t know what to preach on next. I’m glad to say that this has seldom been an issue for me.
Preaching through entire books of the Bible allows me to model for people how to study the Bible. Every pastor wants his people to be able to feed themselves from the Word of God, but many people feel intimidated by the Bible and inadequate when it comes to how to study and interpret it. While not a Bible Study per se, expository preaching allows me to model sound interpretation and application of a biblical passage. People are able to observe how to move from understanding the biblical author’s intent to the application of that truth to the modern audience. I’ve seen how this rubs off on folks in both their small group Bible studies and their personal study of God’s Word.
Preaching through books of the Bible saves time because I only have to study one text instead of several. I’m always concerned when I hear a sermon that includes several different verses from all over the Bible. How in the world did he have the time to study all of those passages in context? Most often, I’ve found that he hasn’t, and he’s practicing what we call proof-texting. Proof-texting is when a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they’re citing. As I like to say, they have a good sermon looking for a text! I have found that it takes me several hours to interpret a single passage. Expository preaching allows me the time to do that thoroughly.
I close with a wonderful definition of expository preaching from my late mentor, Ray Stedman, “Exposition is preaching that derives its content from the Scripture directly, seeking to discover its divinely intended meaning, to observe its effect upon those who first received it, and to apply it to those who seek its guidance in the present. It consists of deep insight into and understanding of the thoughts of God, powerfully presented in direct personal application to contemporary needs and problems. It is definitely not a dreary, rambling, shallow verse-by verse commentary, as many imagine. Nor is it a dry-as-dust presentation of academic biblical truth, but a vigorous, captivating analysis of reality, flowing from the mind of Christ by means of the Spirit and the preacher into the daily lives and circumstances of twentieth century people.”