Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to write on “Issues in the Church” that either aren’t talked about, ignored entirely, or that we want to contribute to the discussion on. Our goal with this series is to help our readers think through these issues from a biblical worldview with lots of practical gospel-application.
- Today Joel opens up our series looking at expository preaching: an end goal more than a style.
The Bible does not give specific instructions to preachers about what books to preach or in what order to preach them. Nothing is said about verse by verse being innately “better” than topical or series preaching. You cannot make a Scriptural argument for using overhead projectors or not during a sermon. The New Testament writers never teach us what translation of the Bible one should use from the pulpit. While what I’ve just described are all issues of preference, my intention in this article is to help us understand the end goal of expository preaching in the following ways:
- To understand what expository preaching is.
- For preachers to expose their own hearts to the biblical text so as to continue to grow in Christ.
- Lastly to help preachers faithfully proclaim the biblical text and point people to Christ.
The Apostles were deeply concerned that their preaching be clear, powerful, effective, and full of the Holy Spirit. The primary goal of the Apostles and preachers today is to relay the gospel of God’s grace to their hearers.
When it comes to the kind of preaching we are to engage in, we first have to consider, not the style of the preacher and his preaching, but rather what the ultimate goal of the preacher is. Expository preaching speaks to what the preacher desires to be the end result which is the faithful preaching of the Word. Expository preaching takes hearers to a destination, showing them God’s heart in the Word of God. Expository preaching is concerned with the context surrounding the text and the text itself which speaks to the heart of man that they might see and know Christ.
Exposing the Heart of the Text
1 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
The biblical text is inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative. It has been “breathed out by God” with a purpose that is preeminent and binding over and against every purpose of man. When a preacher approaches a text in the Bible he has before him the only necessary material from which to build a good sermon and to preach that message in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible requires no change, subtraction or additions, itself, but only that the preacher’s own heart bend to the will of the text so as to bring out what is already there; the Spirit-inspired and life-changing Word.
The preacher must dig for the treasures that lie within, around, on the surface of, and at the depths of the biblical text. His time of sermon preparation should be used to unearth these gems of gospel-truth, wisdom, and application. Some will take only minutes to find. Other may take hours or days of meditation, prayer, and seeking the face of God. But the time is of no concern, only that in the end, his own heart might be exposed to the biblical text. He can then lay forth all he has found before his congregation so that by the power of the Holy Spirit the Word might be deposited into their hearts too.
Exposing the Heart with the Text
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
During the process of sermon preparation, the preacher is not only preparing to speak to others but primarily to have his own heart exposed by the biblical text. The expository preacher understands that the power to change hearts is in the Word itself. It’s the Word that pierces, divides and discerns the intentions of man right down to the marrow of the bone. The preacher must focus on preaching the point of the passage under consideration as the point of the sermon to the people of God.
King David prayed in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” John Owen once said, “No man preaches his sermon well to others if he does not first preach it to his own heart.”
Let the preacher enter into his preparations with the same invitation by the Spirit. May he come to lay his heart upon the altar of the Word, to expose what is false and embrace repentance and righteousness by the grace of God. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” The preacher must live not a double life but a consistent godly life characterized by ongoing repentance. As preachers do this they will expose their own sin, hypocrisy, doubt, and more, thus continuing to grow in Christ before they open their mouths and teach the Word to the people of God. The true expository preacher understands the purpose of the biblical text is to expose first his own heart and then the hearts of his hearers so that they might turn from sin to Jesus, so ultimately, the glory of Christ might be seen and loved among the nations.
Exposing Christ in Redemptive History
Jesus is the glory, the reason, the beauty and the prize of the Bible. Every prophet, king, and priest points to Him. Every poem, epistle, and parable find its ultimate fulfillment in Him.
Consider why we have the Bible in its entirety. Genesis unfolds Adam’s rebellion and banishment from the Garden to tell the story of his redemption by the one Seed, the Christ. Since in Adam all die, it’s our story of redemption too. Every page in the Bible from the beginning to the end reveals the same basic truth; that God is good and just, man is fallen and sinful, and through Christ alone and His sacrifice man can be redeemed to new life forever.
Confident that this is the primary reason for the Scripture’s existence and preservation through the ages, the expository preacher can and must unapologetically make every sermon about Jesus. His aim should be to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The sermon about Christian love will exalt in the agape love of Jesus. The sermon about the gifts of the Spirit should find its way to Jesus, the possessor of every spiritual gift. The message about earthly marriages will magnify the ultimate marriage between Christ and the Church. Those who make this effort to expose their listeners to Christ above all else will find that when sinners come to repentance, it’s not because of eloquent speech or plausible words, but the power of God.
Whether you’re making your way through a book of the Bible or a series on the Five Solas, you must have the end goal in mind of exposing three things: The heart of the text, the heart of the sinner, and Christ; the ultimate glory, means, and end of all things.