When a believer affirms Sola Scriptura, what are they affirming? We affirm the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The scriptural conviction of Sola Scriptura is paramount to the individual Christian being healthy and is equally vital for the strength of the local church, of which he or she is an active part. If the starting point of pursuing church health is concerning ourselves with what we are taught, in other words, sound (or healthy) doctrine (Titus 2:1), we also need to be concerned with how we are taught, for the way that sound doctrine is disseminated is through faithful exposition of Scripture. This is not a mere option, but a non-negotiable statute to any church that desires to honor the Lord and grow in spiritual vitality and health. There is a plethora of storytellers, motivational speakers, and topical preachers who share thoughts about the theme of a passage, but that is not Bible exposition.
There is no biblical ministry where the Word of God does not reign and rule supremely, for no congregation rises higher than their view of the pulpit. Paul taught his protege, Timothy, that he must be captivated by the Word of God. He said, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). This present active imperative to “give attention” (prosecho) teaches that this practice of being attentive was to characterize every faithful church. Healthy churches concern themselves not with novelty or creative ingenuity, but in tying themselves into how faithful ministry has been performed. The Early Church publicly read Scripture, followed by the elders’ exposition of that same text.[i] Paul commanded his disciple, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
The expositional model reaches back further than the early Church, however.[ii] Consider the Old Testament model of Ezra. “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). Bible preachers and teachers must give their hearers the sense of what Scripture means; they must explain what God means by what He has said.
This is the model we have set before us in the Gospels, Acts, and the other New Testament Epistles—that of preaching and proclaiming (keyrusso) God’s Word (Matthew 3:1; 4:17; Acts 28:31; 2 Timothy 4:2). Faithful men exemplified preaching the Gospel (euangelizo), whether it be our Lord or the beloved apostle Paul (Luke 8:1; Acts 8:4-5; 15:35).
Simply put, the expositor of Scripture is driven by the text, not just sharing some thoughts or opinions, and then sprinkling in some random verses to make it sound biblical. Biblical exposition takes God’s people to the text, explains the text, and exhorts with that text for the people to apply it. iii Strong, biblical, expository preaching is crucial to the health and vitality of the local church. Any real revival, reformation, great missionary expansion, or true church growth has been catapulted forth by faithful Biblical exposition. Jesus’ exposition on the Road to Emmaus caused the disciples hearts to burn within them, as the Scriptures were explained to them. Peter’s powerful expositions of the Old Testament on the day of Pentecost is what God used to draw a few thousand to faith.
I recall a guest leaving our worship service saying how he loved the music and then added in what sounded like an obligatory, “Oh, and the message was okay, too.” Far too many who are attending church services likewise do not prize and value the biblical education that is only fostered by expository preaching.
In our mass-media age, when people’s attention span has been reduced to soundbites, we must remember that faith comes by hearing. God has chosen to be heard, not seen. The exposition comes to us with the unique ability to inform the intellect, to confront rebel wills, and to stir the affections, as the meaning of the text is faithfully unpacked through the instrumentality of the human voice. Voices which thunder the Word of God, as faithful shepherds preach with precision, passion, and power declaring, “Thus says the Lord.”
The Bible was written to communicate objective truth in definite words that convey precise meanings. That is, the point of the passage is the point of the sermon. Expositors first unpack the meaning on their own through careful exegesis and that exegesis drives their exposition. Paul warns of those who adulterate the Word of God, yet what the Church’s commitment must be is the open “manifestation of truth” (2 Corinthians 4:2). We must be committed to the disclosure (phanerosis), bringing to light, or making plain the meaning of the text.
The pulpit proclamation is based not on what the preacher has creatively thought up that week, but what was on the pages before him, studied in context. And next Sunday, should Jesus tarry, is the next pericope, paragraph, or set of verses. Again, Paul told Timothy that what was to be the priority of his ministry in shepherding the flock in the truth is preaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).iv
Sadly, we live in a day that prizes relevance over revelation. Man’s itching ears have driven him to poll the audience to see what they prefer, over what God has said. However, rather than the pragmatic methodologies of man, who often thinks he knows better than God, we must respond obediently to divine revelation, which underscores the absolute imperative of Biblical exposition. Just the doctrine of the Bible’s inspiration should be reason enough to read it, explain it, and exhort the congregation with it! Faithful expositor of Scripture of over half a century, John MacArthur, posited:
“Should not our preaching be biblical exposition, reflecting our conviction that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God? If we believe that ‘all Scripture is inspired by God’ and inerrant, must we not be equally committed to the reality that it is ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? Should not that magnificent truth determine how we preach?”v
As the Church began to awaken to the centrality of the Scriptures during the Reformation, Martin Luther was asked to explain this success. This great Reformer replied, with implicit confidence in the power of God’s Word, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. And while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”
This movement, Martin Luther explained, was founded upon the unshakable footing of God’s truth. And nothing has changed in the last 500+ years. In this present hour, preachers must still rely exclusively upon the power of God’s Word in their ministry and re-affirm the Reformation conviction of Sola Scriptura!
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone, is a central belief, not only of the Protestant Reformation, but of faithful and healthy churches of our own day. It comes as no surprise to find that this doctrine also formed the bedrock of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s preaching in his day. He, who was dubbed “Prince of Preachers”, in speaking of Christ’s and the Apostle Paul’s views of Scripture, said:
“Evidently, they regarded the statements of Scripture as conclusive. They took counsel of the Scriptures, and so they ended the matter. “It is written,” was to them proof positive and indisputable. “Thus saith the Lord,” was the final word: enough for their mind and heart, enough for their conscience and understanding…To go behind Scripture did not occur to the first teachers of our faith: they heard the Oracle of divine testimony and bowed their heads in reverence. So it ought to be with us: we have erred from the faith, and we shall pierce ourselves through with many sorrows, unless we feel that if the Scripture saith it, it is even so.”
Spurgeon found the Bible to be totally authoritative and sufficient. Note the language that he uses; he does not say “go beyond” Scripture, but to “go behind” it. In terms of understanding the faith and proper practice of Christianity, there is nowhere outside of Scripture to which we look. To do so is not to gain insight, but to lose sight of what God has given for our instruction. If we do not acknowledge the truth of Scripture, we have “erred from the faith.”
Where did Spurgeon get such confidence in the Bible’s authority? Primarily, from its divine authorship. “This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an Almighty finger; each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips; each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit.” Did you catch that? Written with an Almighty finger! Scripture is not a record of the words of mere men. If it was, he states, “we might reject them.” Instead, Scripture is the very Word of God: “This Bible is a book of authority; it is an authorized book, for God has written it.”
So why do so many preachers of our day substitute a multitude of their words for His? The Bible has God as its author, so it follows that it would be free from error. Spurgeon reached this same conclusion, stating that, “We must settle in our minds that the Word of God must certainly be true, absolutely infallible, and beyond all question.”vi
This understanding of Scripture’s divine authority allowed Spurgeon to preach from any passage with confidence and clarity. Expository preaching is not an optional method of ministry, but the quintessential imperative. It is not something we can take or leave, depending on the cultural preference of the day. It is the centerpiece of corporate worship as the Church gathers and is the fountainhead of all spiritual growth.
[i] For more on this subject see John MacArthur’s The Master’s Plan for the Church, 183-84.
[ii] Hughes Oliphant Old in The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, vol 1 surveys the practice of biblical preaching from Moses, throughout the OT, NT, and into the age of the early church fathers.
iii Since much is done in the name of exposition, but is not, it would behoove the reader to study Preaching: How to Preach Biblically and other such recommended resources at the end of this article.
iv Consider going to www.biblicalexpositor.org for “A Biblical Case for Expository Preaching” which is an exposition of this passage. https://www.biblicalexpositor.org/file/0b5d63b0-0e7e-11eb-addd-2590ab226035
v John MacArthur, Preaching: How to Preach Biblically, 17.
vi Cited from www.reasonabletheology.org 2/14/23.
I am privileged to have been raised in a Christian home and local Bible Church, yet I did not come to saving faith until some point in my later teen years. When I went off to Word of Life Bible Institute I planned on going to law school afterwards, yet the Lord gave me a love for His Word and people and began growing in me a desire to instruct others in His timeless truth. That year began His calling of me into full-time ministry. I’ve had the opportunity now to be in ministry for 3 decades. I’ve been happily married to my wife Cynthia for over 25 years and the Lord has graciously given us bookends of girls, with 5 boys between them. I have pastored in my home state of Maine, but am currently on pastoral assignment in southern Oregon; in particular as the main teaching pastor of Grace Bible Church in Talent, Oregon. It is a particular joy as well to offer counsel and discipleship through Sovereign Grace Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, along with adjunct instruction at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and elsewhere as the opportunity arises. My gratitude also extends to the various ministries that have poured into my life, like the Master’s Seminary and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. It has been an exciting ride, as the Lord has been growing and fashioning me and given me the supreme privilege to preach, teach, and counsel the Word of God. If I could serve you through articles, audio, or video teaching, please visit www.biblicalexpositor.org where there are numerous sermons, lessons, handouts, articles, & much more. You can also visit my YOUTUBE page.