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The Primacy of Expository Teaching and Preaching

god-breathedDigging out the Treasure from God’s Word

by Pastor Matthew Black, 6/18/2015, 10:46pm

 We are on the wrong track if we think expository preaching merely as a preaching style chosen from a list (topical, devotional, evangelistic, textual, apologetic, prophetic, expository)… As John Stott says, ‘All true Christian preaching is expository preaching.’” – Alistair Begg

We live in an “instant age”.  One of my favorite inventions is microwave  popcorn.  Have you ever tried to make popcorn outside of the microwave (your answer may show your age)? Microwave popcorn is great because you stick a little bag in the oven and three minutes later you have a piping hot perfectly seasoned snack.

Spiritual progress, however, cannot be microwaved. No article or class you take can make you an “Instant Teacher or Preacher.” In the same way, if God has not called and gifted you for the ministry of the Word, no article or book will change that fact. If you are unsure about your calling, you will, however, have an opportunity to test your gifts. The good news is that God has gifted every believer for some important area of ministry (1 Cor.12:7 1 Pet. 4: 10). Don’t be disappointed if your gift is not in the area of proclamation, for God still has great work for you to do.

While only men are called to be elders and officers in the church, and preachers over God’s congregation in the local church, there are many women in the church whom God has gifted with shepherding gifts in order to encourage and shepherd other women.  Mature women in the church need to know how to exposit God’s Word to other women as well as exposit it to themselves and their children.  So while this article can benefit any Christian, it is primarily geared toward men who are wanting to stir up the teaching and preaching gifts they may have.

What I hope to do with this series of blog posts is to provide tools and a methodology which you can use, develop, and improve over a lifetime. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:14-16, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Why Should You Preach?

We live in a day in which all authority is challenged. The very word “Preach” or “Preachy” has negative connotations in a relativistic age in which the only absolute truth is that there is not absolute truth. Barna research ·group reports: While 74% of Americans strongly agree that there is only one true God who is holy and perfect and who created the world and rules it today; 64% agree with the assertion that “there is no such thing as absolute truth”. We are truly living in a post-modern age of ethical and moral relativism.  Every one is entitled to their own personal version of truth. 

Pilate asked, “What is truth?” This is the question that is needing to be asked in every generation.  Let us not mistake the answer.  Truth is “God’s reality.” It is God’s worldview.  It is what is right from God’s perspective.

To people in our day with a relativistic worldview, our preaching may appear as foolishness. In addition to the anti-authoritarian mood of our culture, preachers face greater competition from the entertainment media. We live in the age of the “Sound Byte”, in which people’s attention spans are low and their expectations of being constantly entertained are high. Even the regular members of our congregations are not accustomed to being forced to think deeply for 30 or 40 minutes at a time (see Amusing  Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman).

Today’s preacher, in addition to facing “competition” from the secular media, also faces competition from Christian media. Why should people get out of bed on Sunday morning to hear men of ordinary gifts preach when at home they can hear Swindoll and MacArthur on the radio, watch videotapes by Sproul, and read books of Spurgeon’s sermons? The Bible gives the answer to this question. Live proclamation of the Word of God is the Lord’s appointed  means of building up His church. Romans 10:14 states How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

Ready in Season and Out of Season

Timothy is told in 2 Tim. 4:2, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

God commands His people to gather in local churches for worship, fellowship, and the preaching of the Word (Acts 2:42 Heb. 10:25). There is a personal dynamic of accountability and confrontation in a live preaching situation which pre-recorded preaching through the media cannot duplicate. We are not only called to “preach the word” but to “watch our lives” and to live it out.  What we believe is not mainly stated in our systematic theology (those tools are helpful and neccessary).  What we believe is displayed in how we live.

Living What We Preach

Paul writes to the Roman believers in Rom. 1:15 that he is eager to come to  preach the gospel to them. This is particularly striking because it is in the introduction to what is probably the greatest exposition of the gospel ever written. What could Paul possibly add by preaching to them “live”? In terms of content, perhaps very little; however, Paul will not be satisfied that he has fully ministered to the Romans until he does so through personal proclamation. As useful as tapes, radio, television and books may be; there is no substitute for preaching! I like to read sermons.

One thing which has impressed me is how the sermons of many great preachers appear very ordinary in print. The power in their preaching came as the truths of Scripture were expressed through the personalities of these godly men. In our shallow plastic world, there is a great need in our day for a powerful, accurate, and authoritative proclamation  of God’s infallible truth!  Such is our only hope for seeing  revival.

John Broadus (professor of  New Testament interpretation and homiletics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859) said,

There has been no great religious movement, no restoration of Scriptural truth, and not reanimation of genuine piety,  without new power  in preaching.”

The Maturity of the Messenger

The Bible specifically speaks about the qualifications for those who will lead a congregation of people. These qualifications have been the same for almost 2,000 years. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of these qualifications as the Chief Shepherd of the Church.  The list below is descriptive not just of elders, but of a mature Christian in general.  All believers should strive for these qualities.

Why start here? 1 Tim. 4:15-16, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

“No eloquence of tongue, no charm of manner, nor artistry  of  homiletics  can  atone for  a  lack  or a loss of a  vital  experience  of  spiritual  reality. ” (McComb)

Above Reproach (Titus 1:6, 7; 1 Tim 3:2)

This is the overarching, summarizing characteristic. You will find similar (but not identical) lists in First Timothy and Titus. Living a life above reproach is the first requirement in both lists and Titus repeats it. The other items on the list explain what “above reproach” means. If we peruse the two lists, as well as 1 Peter, we find 17 qualifications of an elder who is above reproach.

  1. A leader must be devoted to his wife; one-woman man (Titus 1:6; 1 Tim 3:2). The pastor’s marriage illustrates Christ’s love for His church—His bride (Eph. 5:22 ff.). A Pastor must love his wife exclusively with his mind, will and emotions and not just his body.
  1. If a leader has children, they must be in submission while living in the home, though not perfect (Titus 1:6; 1 Tim 3:4-5). If a man does not know how to manage his own family, he will not know how to take care of God’s church. The first flock for a pastor is his own family as Pastor Dad. A Pastor’s qualification for the church starts in his home management as he leads them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
  1. A leader is a faithful steward or manager in carrying out his responsibilities (Titus 1:7). Here the term used is overseer (Greek episkopos). It is not another office, but a functional title of the elder. It is what he does. He is a steward, a manager of God’s resources and Jesus’ flock. He takes responsibility, but not ownership.
  1. A leader must be humble – not arrogant (Titus 1:7). A pastor must constantly demonstrate the gospel by admitting when he is wrong and assuming responsibility and restoring relationships.
  1. A leader must be gentle – not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3). No man will be of any use in the kingdom that is quick-tempered. The difference between how Jesus demonstrated anger is that He was angry at the abuse of others in the name of religion and the dishonoring of God. We get angry at how it affects us.
  1. A leader must be sober – not a drunkard (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3). This is not just overindulgence in alcohol but is idiomatic for any behavior that fuels addictive responses.
  1. A leader must be peaceful – not violent (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3). A pastor is prone to inflict violence through his words. He is to be a peacemaker.
  1. A leader must have financial integrity – not greedy for gain (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3; 1 Peter 5:3). A pastor is to be upright in his financial dealings and not accused of pursuing money over the kingdom of God.
  1. A leader must be hospitable (Titus 1:8; 1 Tim 3:2). A leader’s home is to be open for others to enjoy. A leader’s home is not a heaven on earth, but rather a place of ministry.
  1. A leader must be a lover of good (Titus 1:8). A pastor genuinely loves what is good. He does not just think he should love it.
  1. A leader must be self-controlled (Titus 1:8; 1 Tim 3:2). Self-control is a characterization of every area of a pastor’s life: diet, time, mouth, exercise, relationships, sex, and money.
  1. A leader must be upright (Titus 1:8). He has integrity in his relationships and in how he treats others.
  1. A leader must be holy (Titus 1:8). His life is devoted wholeheartedly to Jesus externally and internally.
  1. A leader must be able to teach (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 3:2). All of the other qualifications are character qualities. This is the only ability-based requirement. He is to be able to teach sound doctrine, not just be able to communicate in an excellent manner. His teaching can be to one or two, to twenty, to a hundred or to a thousand. Most of the churches in Crete were house churches. The elders were to defend the faith once delivered to the saints against the numerous false teachers that arose.
  1. A leader must be spiritually Mature (1 Tim 3:6). Positions of authority without spiritual maturity lead to the trap of pride. When pride grows in a man, sin abounds.
  1. A leader must be respectable (1 Tim 3:7). That does not mean that everyone must like him or even appreciate him. It means that there is no credible witness to an ongoing sinful behavior.
  1. A leader must be an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Leaders, and especially pastors and elders are to be examples of Biblical expressions of chastity, marriage and sexuality, time management, parenting, worship, relationships and every other way. A pastor should be someone your sons could pattern their life after and the kind of man your daughter should marry.


Remember that these qualifications are not just for leaders, but they are descriptive of all mature Christians everywhere.

What is Expository Preaching?

According to Mark Dever of 9 Marks ministries an expositional sermon or teaching is:

“a teaching which takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon . . . an exposition of Scripture simply seeks to uncover, explain, and apply the divinely intended meaning of the text.”

“. . . expositional preachers and teachers are modern day prophets, serving merely as conduits through which the Word of God may flow into the people of God in order to do the work of God in them.”

“Pastoral authority is directly related to Authorial intent. The preacher only has authority from God to speak as His ambassador as long as he remains faithful to convey the Divine Author’s intentions. This means that the further the preacher strays from preaching the intention of the text, the further his divine blessing and God-given authority are eroded in the pulpit.”

Allistair Begg says, “We are on the wrong track if we think expository preaching merely as a preaching style chosen from a list (topical, devotional, evangelistic, textual, apologetic, prophetic, expository)… As John Stott says, ‘All true Christian preaching and teaching is expository in nature.’”

All expository preaching is like mail delivery.  We are not here to edit the mail.  As God’s heralds, we are here to deliver and proclaim the mail that God has given to His people.

  1. Expository Preaching is Exegetical

What is expository preaching? First of all, expository preaching is exegetical.  To exegete something is to dig it out.  We are not bringing our own ideas to the text, but we are digging out what God has already written.

We must exegete our message from God’s Word since only Scripture can give your message authority. We must never use eisegesis – reading one’s own ideas into the text.

We must beware of two kinds of errors: (1)     Teaching what is not in the Bible, and (2) Teaching what is true, but from a text in which that truth is not taught. This is the danger or eisegesis.

According to Bryan Chappell, “An expository sermon may be defined as a message whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text, that covers the scope of the text, and that explains the features and context of the text in order to disclose the enduring principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text. The expository sermon uses the features of the text and its context to explain what that portion of the Bible means.”[1]

  1. Expository Preaching brings Transformation

The goal of expository preaching is not merely to impart information but to provide the means of transformation ordained by a sovereign God that will affect the lives and destinies of eternal souls committed to a preacher’s spiritual care.[2]  The goal for every Christian is to be “growing and changing” into the image of Jesus Christ.

God’s Word is authoritative over the lives of our hearers and He has ordained preaching as a means to transform people.  Expository preaching is able to transform because it emphasizes God’s mind and presses it upon the hearts of those He has created.

Preaching addresses the perpetual human quest for authority and meaning. Though we live in an age hostile to authority, everyday struggles for significance, security, and acceptance force every individual to ask, “Who has the right to tell me what to do?” This question, typically posed as a challenge, is really a plea for help. Without an ultimate authority for truth, all human striving has no ultimate value, and life itself becomes futile. Modern trends in preaching that deny the authority of the Word[3] in the name of intellectual sophistication lead to a despairing subjectivism in which people do what is right in their own eyes— a state whose futility Scripture has clearly articulated (Judg. 21: 25).

  1. Expository Preaching is Focused

The purpose in teaching a text must be the same as God’s purpose in revealing it. Use a rifle, not a shotgun.  Say what the text is saying.  Emphasize and illustrate what is there.  Emphasize the point of the text or passage – there should be a “big idea” in the text.  Discover that and use the logical outflow to bring that one “big idea” to the minds of the hearers.

Mark Dever asks: “Does a commitment to expositional preaching mean that I should never preach other kinds of sermons? No. Topical and biographical sermons still have value. It is sometimes helpful to address a certain topic by culling and presenting Biblical information. And it is sometimes instructive to study the life of a Biblical character and draw practical implications for today. The point is that, as a consistent diet, expositional preaching is most healthy for both the preacher and the congregation.”

So while often the most common expression of expository teaching and preaching is continuously expounding of a book of the Bible, that is not the only expression of expository teaching.

Dever goes on to say, “There are more ways to preach expositionally than plodding through one phrase or sentence at a time. The length of the text is immaterial to the question of whether or not the sermon is an exposition. As long as the point of the passage is used as the point of the message, a sermon qualifies as expositional—length notwithstanding.”

“The point of any Biblical text is to accomplish God’s purposes in the hearts and minds of God’s people. So if the sermon amounts to no more than a wordy commentary devoid of application, it has missed the bull’s eye at which true exposition always takes aim.”

“We may legitimately preach a single expositional sermon on the whole Bible, a whole testament, a whole book, a whole narrative or parable, one paragraph, one phrase, or a single word—as long as we are preaching the intended point of the selected meaning unit.”

We can be assured that we are being faithful expositors of the text of holy Scripture as long as the point of the sermon is the point of the text we are teaching.

  1. Expository Preaching is Relevant

You message must speak not merely to the “long ago and far away,” but to the here and now. God’s Word is relevant. 2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Expository preaching relates the need the passage was originally written to address to the current needs of modern day hearers.

Bryan Chappell asks: Why would a message organized around the following statements probably not go in the annals of preaching’s greatest sermons? 1. The walls of Babylon were as much as 350 feet high and 80 feet wide. 2. The Gnostic heresy at Colosse contained elements of extreme hedonism and asceticism. 3. The Greek word for the “emptying” concept of Philippians 2: 7 is kenosis.

The statements are clear, true, and biblical. Why do they not form a sermon? First, the statements lack unity. No obvious thread holds these statements together. Without a unifying theme, listeners have no means of grasping a sermon’s many thoughts. Second, the statements seem to have no purpose. They are simply disparate facts pried from the biblical moorings that communicate their cause and import. Without a clear purpose in view, listeners have no apparent reason to listen to a sermon. Finally, the statements beacon no application. They have no apparent relevance to the lives of those addressed. Without application, a sermon offers people no incentive to heed a message. Most will reasonably question why they should waste time giving attention to something that even the preacher does not seem to be able to relate to their lives. Statements of truth, even biblical truth, do not automatically make a message for the pulpit. Well-constructed sermons require unity, purpose, and application.

  1. Expository Preaching is Powerful

What is the difference between lecturing and preaching? Your goal is to equip your hearers to honor and serve the Lord. According to Eph. 4:12-13 pastors and teachers of the Word are ” to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The fact that the power for spiritual change resides in God’s Word argues the case for expository preaching. Expository preaching attempts to present and apply the truths of a specific biblical passage.[4]

Consecutive Expository Preaching

Consecutive expository preaching is teaching through a book or section of Scripture.  There are several advantages with consecutive expository preaching.

Advantages with Consecutive Expository Preaching

Jim Newheiser gives six advangages for teaching through a passage or book of the Bible in an expository manner.

  1. You and your hearers grasp the message of a book as a whole.
  2. You will understand passages in their context.
  3. Your preaching will have balance – covering the whole counsel of God.
  4. You will be helped in avoiding hobby horses.
  5. You can address delicate subjects more naturally.
  6. You will teach  your hearers  how  to handle  the  text  for themselves.

Dangers with Consecutive Expository Preaching

Jim also give seven dangers in expository preaching:

  1. Some expository preaching is monotonous – How should Leviticus be taught?
  1. Consecutive preaching is not necessarily expository.
  1. Expository preaching can lack balance.
  1. Your messages could degenerate into a lecture or a running commentary.
  1. It is still possible to ride hobby horses  even  if  one  is  teaching consecutively through a book of the Bible.
  1. Each sermon  must  be  a complete  unit,  able to  stand on  its own.
  1. Expository preachers can become rigid. The teacher/preacher must feel free to interrupt a series if there is a

Preaching with a Purpose

  1. The Bible has a purpose. 2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
  1. Each book of the Bible has a purpose. See John 20:30-31, 1 John 5:13, Jude 3.
  1. Even sections within books of the Bible have purposes, as do passages within sections.
  1. There are different types of purposes. Some might be (1) to inform, (2) to pursuade or convince, or (3) to motivate. A given text may have one or several purposes, but all teaching and preaching is meant to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-30).

 A Unified Purpose

You will know you have a message from God’s Word that is ready to deliver when:

  1. You can state your purpose in one clear sentence.
  2. Your purpose is derived from the purpose of the text.
  3. Every point (and subpoint) in your sermon contributes to your purpose.


Consciousness of God’s enablement should encourage all preachers (including beginning preachers) to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their calling. Although the degree of homiletical skill will vary, God promises to perform his purposes through all who faithfully proclaim his truth. Even if your words barely crawl over the edge of the pulpit, love of God’s Word and his people ensures an effective spiritual ministry. You may never hear the applause of the world or pastor a church of thousands, but a life of godliness combined with clear explanations of Scripture’s saving and sanctifying grace will engage the power of the Spirit for the glory of God. If your goal is Christ’s honor, you can be a great preacher through faithfulness to him and his message.

A Closing Promise

Paul offers this same encouragement to Timothy with promises that yet apply to you:

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching… 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4: 12– 13, 15– 16).

[1] Chapell, Bryan (2005-03-01). Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Kindle Locations 401-404). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 408.

[4] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 21. See further the definition below and in chap. 6.