My family and I have searched high and low for a home, and have finally found one. With a family of six, there are a lot of standards that have to be met in order to satisfy our needs. First it has to be large enough to fit all of us without having to stack bodies. With young children, we need a place where they can play outside, an open and safe space. But we also want to host people at the house, so the living area needs to be open and spacious too. With all this criteria, it is easy to see why it has taken us a while to settle on a home. When looking for a church family, what should be at the top of the list in priorities—music, small groups, mission work? I’d like to make a case that expository preaching should be at the very top of that list. In fact, I’d like to show you how expository preaching impacts all the other priorities that sit on our lists of qualifications, and how it enhances them. But first, let me start by answering an obvious question, what is expository preaching?
What is Expository Preaching?
Expository preaching in the simplest definition, is the preaching that presents the message of Scripture. This means that the pastor communicates the intent of the Bible and not the inverse, which would be the Bible speaking to his message. This kind of preaching would be called topical. Topical messages are essentially messages that speak to particular topics that the preacher would like to address, such as love, prayer, family, etc. In saying this, I do not mean that these pastors have not given themselves to prayer in seeking to discern God’s will and intent for the church. Also, I’m not saying that you cannot preach both expositionally and topically at the same time (topical exposition). I have done this for a few series at First Baptist. Topical exposition, while addressing a particular topic, still seeks to present the meaning of the text and allow it to speak for itself and not for the preacher.
The topical messages that are most dangerous, however, are the ones where the pastor has selected a theme, and strung together varying verses to fit that theme. In doing this, he has taken verses from their contexts and has forced them into his own. But every time we take a passage from its context, we remove it from its genre, from the surrounding that harbors its meaning, and from the author who intended its meaning. So consider a letter written to a spouse. The husband writes his wife saying that his heart is about to burst and that he is dying. Now as a reader of the letter, if I take just that phrase what am I likely to believe? This guy has a serious heart condition and could die at any moment. Yet, as the wife reads the letter, she reads it in its entirety. She understands that the husband is using exaggerated language to describe his love for her, and how miserable he is while he is away from her. Topical preaching is like the reader who takes just a phrase and uses it in a way that it was never intended, to speak to his intent and not the author’s.
Expository preaching then, is the result of seeking to know and understand a given passage of Scripture and the meaning the author of the text wishes us to discover. This means that the preacher has poured himself over the text, studied the overall context of the book it is in, the cultural environment that surrounded it in its historical setting, studied the words from its original language, and studied it in light of the Bible as a whole. Lastly, which should also be firstly, the preacher prays for discernment and understanding. He must depend on the Holy Spirit as he gives himself to the Scripture.
This is no small task, but it is necessary work. Such work reveals that the preacher understands that God’s Word is what brings life and hope, and not his own. The expositor believes that it is God’s Word that deserves the greatest of care and attention, and not his own. The preacher believes that God’s Word is sufficient, and teaches his congregation to depend on every word that comes from God and not his own. A pastor with a high view of Scripture inevitably will lead his congregation to hold a view as well. When God’s Word is elevated, it ultimately elevates everything else within the church.
How Expository Preaching Impacts Our Worship in Song
Music tends to set the emotional bar of a worship service. If the music falls flat, many churchgoers will leave looking for a church that will cater to their emotional need. Now notice, I have said nothing concerning the content of the music, or the spiritual depth of the songs. These songs could be filled with rich theological truth, but if the music is poor, the shoppers will go on to the next storefront to see their music priority satisfied. Some need music to set the mood for worship. This is an unfortunate thing that we must feel compelled to worship, as if swooned into it. Expository preaching then can rescue such a low understanding of worship and elevate it to high and wonderful place where God is exalted and the worshiper is satisfied.
In Psalm 103, the worship of David jumps out of the song. His praise erupts from within his soul, not because of the music, but because of God—he wants to praise the holy name of God. Yet, David cannot rightly praise the name of God if he has no understanding of what is associated with God’s name. It is here that we see David list all the actions that speak to the character of God. He forgives, He heals, He redeems, He crowns, and He satisfies. He deals with David in ways that he does not deserve. But God deals with David in a way that is consistent with His revealed character. In verse 8, David quotes Exodus 34:6. It is in that passage where God revealed Himself to Moses, declaring His name and all the characteristics associated with it—He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in loyal love. This was a revelation that occurred 400 years prior to the time of David. Yet, because David has the Word of God, and a high view of it, his praise is then shaped by it.
While the psalm does not speak to expository preaching, it does reveal how important God’s Word plays into shaping our worship. Because David has a knowledge of the Scripture, the Scripture then guided his worship. When expository preaching is a priority in the church, the Word of God is elevated and the knowledge of God is increased. The church that grows in knowledge of the Bible, is a church that grows in knowledge of God, and the church that grows in the knowledge of God, grows in worship. At this point, it will not simply be the musicality that is most important in our worship, but the content. Our desire will be that God is rightly worshipped, and at the sound of His name and not the song, will praise begin to explode within the congregation.
How Expository Preaching Impacts Our Small Groups
Small groups or Sunday school classes center on many things. They focus on age, life stage, fellowship, and more. Community is a very important element of the local church. But on what grounds does the community exist? We could say that it exists on the basis of salvation in Christ, and I would be inclined to agree, but how do we know of the salvation that exists in Christ? The Bible. We know of the Gospel, not just because someone told us what it is, but because the Word of God has record of it and declares it (Romans 10:1–17; 1 Corinthians 15:3–8).
When we look at the early church and see record of their gathering, we find them fellowshipping, caring for the needs of one another, praising and praying, and devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (which just so happens to be listed first, Acts 2:41–47). Their fellowship centered on the teaching of the apostles, whose teaching centered on the Word of God. We discover the high priority of the right teaching of Scripture. The church that has expository preaching as a priority will grow deeper in the Bible and develop communities that are biblically based, growing together in the Word as well as in life.
How Expository Preaching Impacts Our Missions
Christians want to be part of churches filled with a sense of purpose—missions ultimately satisfy this desire. It is a gratifying thing to discover a church not afraid to leave its comfort zone. These churches create and feel the sense of urgency to bring the gospel to their communities, as well as to the world. Yet, what creates this kind of desperation?
Expository preaching elevates the needs of missions by centering missions on the gospel. Of course, I could circle back to the previous section and talk about where we find the gospel, but instead, I’d like to speak to the fact of where we discover mission. In Matthew 28:18–20, we find what is known as “The Great Commission.” Jesus sent out His disciples to the ends of the earth with the gospel mandate. In this, Jesus delegated the responsibility of evangelization and discipleship to His church. The church then is to go with the message of salvation to all the world, seeing those who respond baptized, and then trained in the Word of God. The urgency is not contrived urgency, but a biblical one. The Bible presents the reality that people who die apart from Christ, will spend an eternity apart from Christ. Further, Jesus said He is coming quickly (Revelation 22:20). The seriousness of our mission is promoted through the exposition of Scripture. As believers are taught the teachings of Christ, there exists within those teachings a natural importance of mission, and those who obey what Jesus has taught will lead a life that goes out to the communities and the nations.
Expository preaching elevates the worship, discipleship, and mission of the church, because it elevates Jesus. When Jesus is exalted, He will draw people to Himself. Jesus is the center of the gospel, and expository preaching proclaims this loudly. This kind of preaching calls all people to lead a life centered on the gospel, centered on Christ. Churches who hold to an expository priority will find that this kind of preaching will impact every facet of the church. Given time, these churches will grow in health and spiritual breadth. These churches will find themselves hungering and thirsting for more of God and His righteousness, and be satisfied. So as you look for a church family to join, let me encourage you to find a church where gospel centered preaching is an expository priority.
For His Kingdom,