People often ask me why I am committed to expositional preaching. Sometimes I answer by testifying to the great influence such preaching has had on my own life. I can point to lessons I’ve learned and growth I’ve experienced personally. Indeed, under God, my spiritual growth has been most pronounced in times of great struggle and suffering on the one hand, and times when I was sitting under sound exposition on the other. (Sometimes both at once!)
Other times, I answer by pointing to the long-term preaching ministries of great men in the past. Expositional preaching not only benefits individual Christians such as me, it is also used by God to shape entire congregations. The lasting legacy of churches shaped by the regular preaching of God’s Word is rich and deep. In fact, I think a case can be made that the most effective preachers over the long haul are expositional preachers. There are exceptions, of course, but I think the mainstream lessons of revival, and of church history in general, point in that direction. (This is one of the burdens of the seven-volume series by Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church – well worth checking out.)
But these reasons, though compelling in my mind, are not the primary explanation for my commitment to expositional (or expository) preaching. Rather, it is what the Bible teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit that most persuades me.
When we read through the Bible, we see again and again that God’s word and God’s Spirit work together. Even in the first chapter of Genesis, when the personhood of the Holy Spirit has not yet been revealed clearly, we see God create by His word, with His Spirit “hovering” throughout the process. We also know that the Holy Spirit is responsible for God’s written word, the Bible: “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, God’s word and Spirit work together in creation, and God’s written word is produced by the work of God’s Spirit. It is no surprise, then, that Peter uses the name of the human author, the term scripture, and the name of the Holy Spirit interchangeably: “Brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David…”
There is a wonderful illustration of the intimate connection between the power of God’s word and the work of God’s Spirit found in Ezekiel 37. In this chapter, the prophet is taken into the wilderness and shown a pile of dried bones. He is told to prophesy – to proclaim God’s word – to the dried bones. As the prophet preaches to the bones, they come together, they grow sinews and flesh, and they stand in line. They are described in the end, as “an exceedingly great army.” What does this illustrate? The Lord explains it this way: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord.” Once again, the word of God is used by the Spirit of God to do the work of God.