The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky on the 26th day of November 2017:
The Meaning of the Law
Rightly interpreting the law is the chief responsibility of those who serve as judges in our district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court. Every judge in every court evaluates evidence presented, they control how the hearings and trials unravel in their courtrooms, and most of all they are the “impartial decision-makers” who pursue justice according to the law. This means that their fundamental obligation is to rightly interpret and apply the law to every particular case. Judges of any kind are not above the law, but instead, the law stands above them as the authority in all cases. The job of the judge is crucial – they are to correctly interpret what the law means and so they can also correctly apply it to the particular case they are dealing with. On the other hand, misinterpretation of the law will always lead to a misapplication of the law. Any judge would tell you, understanding the meaning of a law is imperative for making judgments to ensure justice is served in every case. It’s what they have to know in order to make right judgments about cases today and tomorrow.
On a much higher level than state, federal, and constitutional laws, there is a supreme Law that deserves and demands the same treatment. I’m referring of course to the Book of the Law (Josh. 1:8), the guarding commandments (Psalm 119:9-10), the sacred writings (2 Tim. 3:15), the word of God (2 Thess. 2:13). The word of God is the “Scripture [that is] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). And in order to live a godly life informed and instructed by the word of God, it is necessary to understand its meaning in order to correctly apply it to our daily lives.
It is this exigent task that the expository sermon seeks to accomplish. Expository preaching is preaching expositionally (as we’ve seen already), and this means that the expository preacher wants to explain the meaning of a text verse by verse, and then apply its meaning to the 21st century. What did Paul mean when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3)? What did Jesus mean when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3)? What did David mean when he said that the “Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1)? The expository preacher seeks to travel to the churches of Ephesus, the disciples of Jesus, and the Israelites under David’s rule and discover the original intended meaning of an author and bring it back with him to today’s contemporary world. And this is another reason why I love it.
Reason #2: I Love Expository Preaching Because It Properly Interprets and Applies Scripture
The goal of the expository sermon is to preach the original meaning of a passage. If that’s the case, it follows that the expository sermon would also properly interpret and apply that passage of Scripture under consideration. The expository sermon is seeking to find out what the author meant by what he has written and then apply it to the 21st century world. This is discovered through careful exegesis of every word, every sentence, every chapter, and every book of the Bible.
The topical approach to preaching is different than this, rendering it ineffective at communicating the author’s original intended meaning in a text. Topical preaching begins with a topic, not with the Scripture. If the topic is the starting place, it will also be the finish line in a sermon. The topical preacher will likely only consider the topic that he wants to preach on, and there is the automatic tendency to disregard the author’s meaning by what he has written in a text. This tendency is already present from the outset – because the structure, form, and shape of the sermon has already been determined by the chosen topic. If the frame of the sermon and its goals are determined by the topic, then what is really being preached? The topic is what is being preached instead of the Bible.
In the expository sermon, the text of Scripture determines the structure, form, and shape of the sermon. And because the expository sermon does this, it is the only approach to preaching that ensures that the Bible will be preached as it is. This will lead to a proper interpretation and application of the original meaning of a text because the sermon is derived completely from Scripture.
Additionally, the topical preacher may want to preach on a certain topic and choose a passage of Scripture that doesn’t even speak to that topic—or he may simply focus on the “felt needs” of the congregation or current issues of the day. That said, there are times when this is appropriate—when tragedy strikes or maybe when there is a special holiday—but even then we must be extremely careful to draw the meaning out from a text through careful exegesis and then preach it expositionally.
Two Pastors: Joshua and William
Joshua and William are both pastors in a rural community. Both of them believe the Bible is inerrant and they both agree that God’s word is what God’s people truly need. They meet for lunch every Tuesday and discuss how things are going in their churches. One day they discuss what they preached on last Sunday:
Joshua says, “I’ve been preaching expositionally through Titus. We started Sunday looking at the first four verses, and discussed Paul’s principles for ministry.”
William looks up at Joshua with one eyebrow raised and says, “You know, that’s funny – I’ve never noticed that in the text before. I’ve been preaching topically on the attributes of God, and last Sunday we looked at Titus 1:2 where it states that God never lies.”
Joshua replies, “Well Titus 1:2 does say that – it’s definitely true that God never lies. But what about the entire passage? What do you think it’s about?”
“Well, I haven’t looked at it in depth. We just used that one verse to support the fact that God is perfect and sinless,” says William.
Now, let’s evaluate their different approaches to preaching. What’s the starting point for the expository sermon preached by Joshua? The text of Titus 1:1-4. What’s the starting point for the topical sermon preached by William? The topic of God’s attributes. What was the content of their sermons? For Joshua, it was the principles for ministry as explained by Paul in each of the four verses of Titus 1. For William, it was one of God’s many attributes – perfection, and he sought support for this topic from v. 2 of Titus 1. Now, which sermon was more faithful to what Paul was saying in the text of Titus 1? Perhaps a look at the text itself may answer that question:
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (Titus 1:1-4, ESV).
It seems that this entire passage is about much more than simply God’s attributes. Verse 2 does mention that God never lies, and we would imply from this that God is perfect if He cannot lie. But notice that there are about 86 other words in this passage – and Paul isn’t describing God’s character in whole of this passage. Now, we also do not want to say that William’s sermon was heretical. Of course it wasn’t – it is biblical and true that God is perfect and cannot lie. But in preaching, we’re not just trying to avoid being heretical, we want to be faithful. And which sermon do you think was more faithful to the biblical text? And which congregation was exposed to the full meaning of the text?
They used the same Bible, believed the same things, but had different approaches to preaching. And the failure of William’s sermon is that he missed the main point of the text, because he failed to allow the text to form and shape his sermon. He already knew he was going to preach on God’s attributes – consequently, because he didn’t discover the meaning of the text, it was impossible to rightly interpret and apply the entire passage.
Clearly, Paul is describing principles in his own ministry in this passage. By simply preaching on one part of one verse in support of a predetermined topic, the main overall point is missed. And if the main point of the text is missed, then you’re not doing justice to the text or the God who inspired the text. When the meaning is ignored, you cannot faithfully interpret and apply the passage.
Expository preachers want to know what the biblical authors meant by what they said and then preach it to their hungry congregations today. The expository sermon does this most faithfully – and this is another reason why I love it.
Delivering a Life-Saving Message
Suppose you were told to deliver an urgent message to someone, and this message was so crucial that their own life depended on it. Perhaps this person needed to know the location of a life-saving medicine, and they needed to know how to use it and apply it. This person is suffering from a debilitating disease, causing him to be very weak. And without this medicine to restore his strength, not only does it prevent him from performing simple tasks, but he will eventually die without it. The doctor has left you in charge, and he’s depending on you to be his ambassador and deliver to the patient the information that he needs. So he gives you a message to deliver. He tells you the location of the medicine, and walks through every step of the careful application of the medicine.
You scramble for your cellphone to call the patient. You’re running out of time. Adrenaline is pumping. A human life is at stake. The patient answers the phone with his last ounce of strength, and you bring him encouragement by saying that you have the answer, you have the cure. And because you know the message the doctor gave you to tell him, you can offer this dying patient exactly what he needs. He can have his strength restored and live a full life—but it is dependent on your full delivery of the message to him.
But instead of telling him the full message that the doctor gave you about the location of the medicine, and how to use and apply it, let’s say you choose only to tell one part of that message. Though you have the full message, you thought it would be sufficient enough to only tell the patient where to find the medicine. You thought that the location of the medicine was the most important part of the message you were given to deliver, so you left out how to apply the medicine because you thought it was less important.
Could the patient get the help he needs by only knowing one part of the message? Would you be doing justice to the doctor who gave you the message to deliver? The answer to those questions is an obvious and emphatic no.
Unfortunately, this is the lamentable practice that happens more in the local church than it does in a hospital or doctor’s office. Behind worn pulpits in the local church, many preachers and pastors with good intentions often fail to preach the whole message of Scripture. What’s worse, matters of supremely greater worth are at stake in the local church, than in the practice of medicine. As a result, the church becomes weak and may eventually die for lack of medicine (and nourishment) as prescribed in Scripture that is necessary for their sanctification. All people in the local church are patients in God’s hospital, and they all need the whole Bible (not just parts of it here and there) in order to live a healthy Christian life.
Some pastors and preachers often fail to preach the whole Bible because of their approach to preaching. Because of the approach to preaching that they choose, often only one part of the Bible is taught, and it leaves the people of God only partially equipped to live a life that glorifies God.
Failing to preach the whole Bible doesn’t do justice to the God who gave us the Bible to preach, if we choose only to preach one part of it. We would quickly consider telling one part of a crucial message to a dying person as inhumane and unthinkable—but yet in some churches today, pastors and preachers thumb through topical indexes looking for “something to preach,” instead of just preaching the Bible as it is.
So how do pastors and preachers teach and preach the whole Bible? What does this look like? Is there a method of preaching that even exists that ensures pastors and preachers will preach the whole Bible?
Yes there is, and it’s called expository preaching. Now, we will define further what expository preaching is and isn’t as we continue our look at it today, but for now I will give you a very appropriate definition for expository preaching. Borrowing David Helm’s definition,
“Expositional (or expository) preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text. In that way it brings out of the text what the Holy Spirit put there, and does not put into the text what the preacher thinks might be there.”¹
Expository preaching is faithful, biblical, and effective preaching—because it is faithful to the Bible, to God, and to His people who are in need of a word from Him.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re a member of a local church close to where you live. You are probably actively involved in your local church as well. And opportunities will arise where you will teach or preach the Bible – especially if God has called you to pastoral ministry, or worship and music ministry, youth ministry, women’s ministry, or missional life. But have you ever considered the importance of how you preach and teach the Bible? Have you ever considered the most biblical and effective approach to teaching and preaching the Bible? Let’s consider it today as we examine expository preaching as the most beneficial and faithful form of preaching for the local church.
Reason #1: I Love Expository Preaching Because It Is Thoroughly Derived from Scripture
Expository preaching has the Bible as its sole source. Because this method of preaching is expository, the goal of the sermon is to exposit the passage under consideration. By definition, expository preaching is preaching expositionally. It is preaching that explicates the meaning of a passage, verse by verse. Expository preaching seeks to preach the text and to preach the Bible, not just topics. Expository preaching seeks to excavate the true meaning of a passage as communicated by its author, and then verse by verse explain and apply that to God’s people today. A pastor or preacher exposits the meaning of a chapter, passage, or verse of Scripture and applies it to the 21st century based completely on what the original meaning was to the original hearers.
Now, this approach to preaching is altogether different from the other mainstream approach to preaching—topical preaching. There are other forms of preaching, but this is perhaps the most mainstream along with expository. In topical preaching, you typically have a topic in mind that you want to preach on.² And you search the Bible for passages or verses that support that topic. On the surface, this sounds like an effective approach. But without taking the time to point out everything that is flawed with that approach, let me just focus on one fundamental problem with preaching this way: If you already have the topic in mind that you want to preach on, and you’re simply searching for verses to support that topic, then who is really speaking when you get behind the pulpit?
Because when you choose a topic to preach on, you have already set the agenda, shape, and tone of your message. You already know what you’re going to say. If you’ve already set the agenda and shape of the message by your chosen topic, and you’re squeezing verses and passages into your preset agenda, then are you speaking or is the Bible speaking? If the Bible isn’t speaking, then God isn’t speaking. If God isn’t speaking, then your sermon is nothing more than an predetermined oration with the Bible as a footnote.
Expository preaching doesn’t do this, however. In expository preaching, the entire message is thoroughly derived from Scripture. This means that you don’t set the agenda or shape or tone of your own message—the Bible does. It is letting the Bible set the agenda for what you’re preaching. It is having the passage under consideration in authority over you—as you explain what the passage means. Expository preaching shows verse by verse what a particular passage means, not what you want it to mean.
If Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is about loving God and loving your family, then you will preach on loving God and loving your family as presented by that text. If Romans 10:14-17 is about the sovereignty of God in ordaining evangelism to reach the unsaved, then you will preach about the sovereignty of God in ordaining evangelism to reach the unsaved. The passage of Scripture you’re studying shapes and forms the message. In expository preaching, you don’t shape and mold a passage of Scripture to fit your topic.
This approach to preaching, then, also magnifies the infallibility and the authority of God’s word. This is because the expository sermon seeks to preach what God has said, and not merely what we want or think we should say. It takes the original meaning of Scripture and proclaims it now to the present world. Preaching expositionally is saying that what the Bible says is more crucial and more important than a topic I might choose. It is saying that God’s word has authority over you and the sermon. It is saying that “I will preach whatever this text means,” not what I want it to mean, or what I want to preach on.
Let’s bring out the kid in you once again. Perhaps you embark upon a treasure hunt. You’ve found a map that reveals the location of buried treasure. You take your gloves and shovel and go where it says to go, then when you arrive, you dig where it says to dig. But what you uncover is sorely disappointing to you. It’s just a little piece of silver. You walk away from your makeshift excavation site, discouraged with the well-intended treasure hunt you took on. But you read in the paper next week that an archaeologist firm found an entire ship full of treasure at the exact same location where you were digging.They describe their findings this way: “We found only little pieces of silver and gold at first, but with more excavation we unearthed this ancient trade ship, loaded with gems and treasures that are worth more than a million dollars each.” That would be disappointing!
But with proper excavation, you would have discovered this great treasure. Because you failed to excavate it completely, and look into its contents, you made the wrong assumption about the treasure. This is what has happened with much preaching—many well-intended people who believe that the Bible is God’s word, are not excavating its contents. They are picking topics and verses here and there just like little pieces of silver. They are not preaching the intended meaning of Scripture. But the expository sermon doesn’t do this, instead, it presents the whole ship with careful detail to every gem and every treasure.
Expository preaching presents Scripture as it is, and not just one piece of silver. It presents the text as it is—of immeasurable worth to the Christian. It brings out the treasures of God’s word because expository preaching is derived and excavated from Scripture. It is preaching and excavating what is in the text, not what we think, hope or wish was in the text.
This is one of the major reasons why I love expository preaching. Week after week, I’m not sitting in my office worrying about finding something to preach. I’m not praying to the Lord, “God, give me something to preach.” I don’t have to despair in my study, thinking that I have to create and form some sermon to preach the following Sunday – because my sermon is derived thoroughly from Scripture. The passage of Scripture I’m studying creates and forms the message I preach – I don’t.
Helm, David. Expositional Preaching, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), p. 13.
Admittedly, there are times when topically preaching can be appropriate. For instance, when tragedy strikes (like recently in Orlando) or maybe when there is a special holiday. But even then there are a few things to keep in mind. First, we must remain extremely careful to draw out the meaning from a text through careful exegesis, and then preach it expositionally. Not even for a holiday or calamity should we ever mold and shape a passage of Scripture to address the needs of our hearers. God’s word already addresses their needs, and it will do this if it is presented as it is. Second, in today’s world it is impossible to address every tragedy or calamity. We have to use our wisdom when and if we want to take precious time behind the pulpit to preach on what the Bible says about a recent world event. If you attempted to preach like this every time something culturally shaking occurred, it’s all you’d ever preach on. Last Sunday you would’ve preached on the tragedy in the Orlando nightclub, the threat of ISIS, the assisted suicide bill, and the U.S. Senate’s vote to have women register for the draft. Additionally, still I think there is a faithful way to plan sermon or teaching series based on topics. Take the passage (or passages) you want to preach on and study them in-depth through exegesis, and let the passages determine the theme, direction, and goals of the sermon or teaching series. Still, sermon and teaching series are done better through whole chapters or books of the Bible. Usually a chapter or book of the Bible is about one major theological theme anyway.