Why Must We Preach Expositionally?
Expository preaching – taking the point of the passage as the point of the message – is not the only way to preach the Bible, nor does God explicitly mandate it as a method. I bluntly admit this in an effort to be totally fair to Scripture. Nevertheless, in light of what Scripture says about preachers and preaching, who would want to argue that an expository approach to preaching is anything less than a necessity?
Consider, first of all, the issue of AUTHORITY. Is authority in preaching intrinsic to the messenger or to the message? It is true that God has invested his messengers with authority. For example, the Scriptures bear witness to prophetic, apostolic, and pastoral authority (cf. 2 Kgs. 17:13-18; Matt. 10:14-15; Heb. 13:17). Yet the messenger’s authority is dependent upon faithfulness to God’s word, as is seen in the execution of false prophets (Deut. 18:20), in the rebuke of an apostle who acted contrary to God’s truth (Gal. 2:14), and in the requirement of church leaders to hold to the truth (Tit. 1:9). We must conclude that authority in preaching comes from the message rather than the messenger. Sidney Greidanus draws the inescapable conclusion:
If preachers preach their own word, the congregation may listen politely but has every right to disregard the sermon as just another person’s opinion. . . . Accordingly, if preachers wish to preach with divine authority…they must submit themselves, their thoughts and opinions, to the Scriptures and echo the word of God. . . . Preaching with authority is synonymous with true expository preaching.1
Expository preaching not only accords with the issue of biblical authority but with the twin issue of biblical IMAGERY. The one who handles Scripture is likened to a herald, a sower, an ambassador, a steward, a shepherd, a workman. As John Stott insightfully observes, “What is immediately notable about these six pictures is their emphasis on the ‘givenness’ of the message. Preachers are not to invent it; it has been entrusted to them.”2 In other words, the preacher must preach God’s message and not his own. Any approach to preaching that subjugates God’s message to the whims of the messenger is an approach that is suspect at best and negligent at worst. Though expository preaching is not a foolproof safeguard against mishandling Scripture, it is undoubtedly one of the safest approaches to honor God’s message as he gave it.
A third issue to consider is that of biblical INERRANCY. You do not have to believe that God preserved his word from error during the process of inspiration in order to believe in expository preaching, but you will find little wind in your sails otherwise. The doctrine of inerrancy is a gale force wind that fills the sails of expository preaching. If “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), if “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21), if “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5), if present tense verbs and plural nouns are critical (Mar. 12:26; Gal. 3:16), then ought not the preacher be concerned to preach God’s message as given? John MacArthur states the point beautifully:
Inerrancy demands an exegetical process and an expository proclamation. Only the exegetical process preserves God’s Word entirely, guarding the treasure of revelation and declaring its meaning exactly as He intended it to be proclaimed. Expository preaching is the result of the exegetical process. Thus, it is the essential link between inerrancy and proclamation.3
Finally, expository preaching answers the call to biblical FIDELITY. This point has been implied throughout the above remarks but must now be brought center stage. The preacher must consider how best to be faithful to the following commands:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Tim. 4:13)
All Scripture is breathed out by God. . . . Preach the Word. (2 Tim. 3:16; 4:2)
These verses make clear what we have already established: the Bible is the subject matter for preaching. But do not these verses also suggest an approach to preaching?
In 2 Timothy 2:15, for example, the worker who is unashamed is the one who rightly divides the word of truth. Certainly rightly dividing the word implies more than forming a sermon by selecting random verses based on a preconceived point. Or take 1 Timothy 4:13, which sequences Scripture reading, exhortation, and teaching. Presumably this command means that a Scripture passage is to be read, and that the congregation is then to be taught and exhorted according to the meaning of the passage (cf. Neh. 8:8). And what of 2 Timothy 3:16 – 4:2, which begins with a statement about all Scripture and climaxes with a charge to preach it? Surely the all is meant to have some bearing on preaching, implying not merely that the preacher is to use the Bible in preaching but that he is to use all of it (cf. Acts 20:27).
What approach to preaching is most likely to honor these commands? The approach that is driven by the divine message rather than the human messenger. The approach that is not confined to the boundaries of the preacher’s creative limitations but that expands to include all of God’s revelation. The call for biblical fidelity in preaching is best answered by expository preaching.
Even though expository preaching is not explicitly commanded in Scripture, what the Bible says about preachers and preaching necessitates such an approach. As a church member, give me a preacher who burns with God’s message rather than his own. As a preacher, let me one day stand before God an unashamed messenger who trembled before God’s word.
Chapell, Bryan. Christ-centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).
A superb treatment of expository preaching that deals with philosophical, practical, and theological issues. Especially valuable is the section on preaching Christ, a topic that is neglected in many preaching textbooks.
Greidanus, Sidney. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988).
A comprehensive, scholarly defense of expository preaching that pays careful attention to distinctions in genre.
Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).
Buy a whole pack of highlighters before reading this book. Except for the dusty section on technology, Stott’s book is a fantastic introduction to expository preaching and its connection to contemporary life.