5 Effects of Expository Preaching on a Church
To publicly herald God’s Word is an act of worship (2 Tim. 2:15), and a stewardship for which we’ll give an account. Here are five ways expository preaching beautifies Christ’s bride.
1. Expository preaching teaches church members how to interpret Scripture.
By regularly sitting under expository preaching, our members learn important interpretive skills. They hear the pastor say things like this:
“Beloved, look at the text. What does this word mean?” “Does the context help us?” “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” “What does the author intend for us to understand?” “How do you think the Israelites would have received this Word?” “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the author to repeat this word four times in this text?” “Can you see how this theme of God saving his people through judgment appears once again as it did in chapter eight last week?”
When you work through a text, you train your congregation to ask the right questions. Your members will learn that sometimes a passage only makes sense when you read the entire chapter or book. They will learn the rules of interpreting various genres of Scripture.
You will teach them that to understand and apply any text they must come to Christ, to whom all of Scripture points. You want them to think Christianly when it comes to the text because it is not mere obedience you are after, but the obedience of faith. As Scott Swain writes, “There is no true application of Holy Scripture apart from a living embrace of the Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.”1
Preaching this way also makes your members better evangelists. They develop greater confidence in handling the Word when speaking to non-Christians. It makes them better apologists because now they know why it’s okay for them to eat pork, but it was not okay for the Israelites. They can explain why God could use Israel to wipe out Jericho, but why believers can never harm people claiming a divine mandate.
When you preach expositionally, you teach your people how to study the Bible for themselves.
2. Expository preaching teaches your congregation what good authority looks like.
The 16th-century Swiss confession the Ten Theses of Berne begins this way: “The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, abides in the same, and does not listen to the voice of a stranger.” So Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). When you capture the intent of the text and apply the eternal truths of God to the hearts of your people, they will hear you as one who speaks with the authority of the Good Shepherd himself.
I recently preached from 1 Corinthians 7:4, which says, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” I said in my sermon, “This is the Lord’s doing. . . . That’s not my opinion—that’s what the text says.” My members all looked down at their Bibles and, in a Berean-like fashion, nodded their heads. That doesn’t quite carry over in the same way with topical preaching.
We want our people to rest their faith in the power of God as they grasp these texts in their right context. It gives them confidence they are hearing from God.
Pastors, in a day and age where authoritarianism and abuse frequently rear their ugly heads, we would do well to model Christ-like humility by regularly submitting ourselves to the authority of Scripture. A church that regularly sits under expository preaching learns to recognize good authority.
3. Expository preaching systematically disciples the pastor’s mind.
Preaching through books of the Bible has caused me to see the depth and the breadth of Scripture, to be in awe of God’s sovereign hand over redemptive history, and to see his purposes unfold and be fulfilled in Christ. But that’s not all. It’s also led me to difficult texts I would have never chosen for a topical sermon. Preaching through Genesis forces you to deal with passages like Genesis 34, which describes the violation of Jacob’s daughter Dinah in Shechem and demands answers to questions like, “Why is this passage here? What does it teach us about God?”
Expository preaching enables me to teach my congregation that God’s shocking grace shines forth from even the hardest texts and that all Scripture is, indeed, profitable for training in righteousness.
So wrestle with the text, and plead with God to open your eyes to see wonderful things in his Word. Preaching expository sermons will not only guard you from neglecting hard passages, but it will also keep you from preaching your pet topics. John Stott says in his book The Preacher’s Portrait, “One way to escape extremes of neglect and overemphasis is to work steadily through books of the Bible or at least whole chapters, expounding everything, shirking nothing.”2
4. Expository preaching builds the congregation’s theological immune system.
By listening to the regular exposition of God’s Word, my members have developed this ability: when they hear false doctrine, improper applications of the Word, and even strange ecclesiological or missiological practices, they will say, “That doesn’t sound right!”
Think about it: one of the reasons prosperity preachers teach the way they do is because they do not know how to preach the Old Testament. But if you have been faithfully expositing the Old Testament and helping your people understand how it applies to them as Christian Scripture, then the prosperity gospel will sound bizarre to them, and they will reject it.
I recently preached on 1 Corinthians 9:1–27 and explained the meaning of verse 22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Paul’s argument begins in the previous chapter as he addresses certain members who were eating meat sacrificed to idols at the temple. Certain members were not taking into consideration what effect their actions were having on weaker brothers.
So many scholars and missiologists take verse 22 out of context and teach that we must repackage the truths of the gospel in ways the culture can grasp and accept. But if you have been preaching through the book, you know that goes against everything Paul has said so far about the wisdom of the cross, that it is foolish to a perishing world (1 Cor. 1:18). It is scandalous to the Jews and foolish to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). It is divinely designed to be an offense to every culture, so that when anyone gets saved, God gets all the glory. Once you understand the centrality of the cross in 1 Corinthians, then you can see that becoming all things to all people is about giving up your rights to gain a hearing for this gospel and not modifying its message, which will empty it of its saving power (1 Cor. 1:17).
Now here’s what that did for my church’s theological immune system: if someone now comes to my church and teaches the principles of the insider movement or some new contextualization strategy based on this, my congregation will say, “That doesn’t sound right!”
5. Expository preaching is the most natural way to confront cultural thinking.
Most of my members come from Asian or African contexts where singleness is looked down upon. But in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul has a high view of singleness and speaks of its advantages. The Christian man or woman can live their single lives to the glory of God. Our culture has discipled us to look down on unmarried people as if they’re second-class Christians, or as if they’re incomplete.
Now, instead of isolating this issue and addressing it, it is much more natural to deal with it after I have just finished preaching 1 Corinthians 6 and the congregation has heard the words, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). It’s much better to confront cultural thinking after they have heard in 1 Corinthians 3:19 that the wisdom of the world is folly with God. I have found preaching through a whole book is a much better way to encourage the rejection of cultural beliefs and exhort our members to believe and obey the Word of Christ.
Remember that the Word of God is powerfully transformative. Brothers, unleash God’s Word. Let the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shine upon his blood-bought sheep. Let the Word do its redemptive work through your faithful expository preaching, and the saving wisdom of God will be put on display to a world that is perishing.
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 Scott Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading (T & T Clark), 135.
 John Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait (Eerdmans), 26.