What in the World is Expository Preaching (and why should I care)?
I am asked this question often. Depending who you are you either love or dislike expository preaching. The problem is most people don’t know what expository preaching is. Some mistakenly think it is reading a Bible verse and then talking about it, then reading the next Bible verse and talking about it, repeating the process until you’ve run out of time or move through an entire chapter or book of the Bible. If this was your understanding of expository preaching, click here.
Let’s understand what expository preaching is not. It is not reading a verse and engaging in running commentary, then reading another verse and giving more commentary. That’s remotely like expository preaching. Many people often confuse this practice with verse by verse expository preaching. Yes, expository preaching can include a verse by verse explanation of a passage; however, it is not limited to this---far from it.
Expository preaching is not preaching a word study. Some believe that expositional preaching involved preaching a word study you developed using your favorite concordance. First of all, concordances are not meant to provide you the definition of a word. Concordances are helpful in finding occurrences of a word throughout the Scripture. Secondly, lexicons provide the basic meaning of words (we’ll talk about context some other time). Well-meaning Christians often develop a talk by taking a Sunday or two in order to preach a verse by breaking it down a word at a time. That’s not an expository sermon either.
It’s not a dry academic exercise (or a boring discussion) where one demonstrates his academic prowess. Preachers should never be boring or dry. Expository preaching ought to be engaging and applicational. In fact, you could call expository preaching applicational preaching. Good expository preaching takes the audience into consideration. It is not necessarily academic (unless preached to seminary professors and students) and it is always accessible to the ‘common, garden variety Christian.’ It’s often exciting and compelling! What is expository preaching?
Here’s a simple definition of expository preaching. Expository preaching is explaining the mind of God to the people of God using the word of God. After all exposition, according to Webster’s exposition is a “a discourse or an … designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.” The aim of expository preaching is to explain the mind of God revealed through the word of God so that we can understand it (and apply it). The aim of the preacher is to make the word/will of God understood using his Bible so that people can respond to it intelligently and intentionally.
There are many species of expository preaching. One species of expository preaching resembles what we described above. There are examples of textual, sequential, or verse by verse, exposition of a passage or book of the Bible. However, this goes beyond reading and commenting… reading and commenting. It entails finding the flow of thought in the passage and unfolding it. John MacArthur is best known for this style of expository preaching. Some preachers engage in unpacking and explaining the larger thought (or big idea) of a chapter or book of the Bible. Alistair Begg and Mark Dever often do this. Others unload a lesson from a biblical narrative (like Chuck Swindoll).
But there are other kinds of expository preaching. Some forms of expository preaching involve theme by theme preaching of the Bible (think Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount). There is doctrinal expository preaching where the preacher explains a doctrine of the Bible using the Bible, finding a passage that unlocks it nicely and then cross-referencing judiciously).
Expository preaching can in fact be topical. You can take a passage like Ephesians 5:21-33 and use it to preach on marriage and roles in marriage. You’re not preaching the whole book, just covering a topic from this chapter. You might bring in 1 Peter 3:1-8 to this sermon. It’s topical (and expositional). You could also use Ephesians 4:25-32 and speak to relationships or communication (there are principles for both found in this passage).
The common denominator for expository preaching is that it comes from the text. It comes from the text and not your favorite agenda. The development of an expository sermon involves discovering the meaning (authorial intent) of the passage and making application of it to our lives today. Since God communicated to be understood, we are to understand and obey. The ultimate aim of expository preaching is the spiritual maturity and growth (betterment) of the listener.
Let’s talk about bad sermons, or bad topical sermons. Many times, too often, the preacher comes up with a conclusion or an agenda then writes a speech and snatches a few Bible verses here and there to make his talk sound biblical. He has an idea and glues or patches in an assortment of unrelated verses or passages out of context. This is what many people think of as a topical sermon. It may be topical but it’s not a sermon—no matter how gifted the communicator might be.
Is expository preaching found in the Bible? You bet! I remember someone trying to tell me it’s not but it is. The two best descriptions of expository sermons in the Bible are found in Nehemiah 8 and Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).” Jesus is the Master Expositor. A longer, lengthier description is found in Nehemiah 8 and reveals where many of our practices in preaching come from today:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand… 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose...5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 …the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)—-note that last sentence carefully. Why?
All biblical sermons are expository. They explain the mind of God to the people of God using the word of God, giving the sense of His meaning. And if it was good enough for Jesus and Ezra, (OT and NT), it should be just fine for us. Accept no substitutes. If you want to know and do the will of God and His Kingdom, listen to expository sermons. Again: accept no substitutes.