Why I Prefer Expository Preaching

April 21, 2013

To say that there is a great division in the church today over styles of preaching may be somewhat of an understatement. Among Fundamentalists, there is almost an all out war. The battle tends to lie mainly in the heat of the emotions rather than facts.
I have known preachers from both sides of the issue. I have used both styles, topical/textual and expository in my preaching. I have seen the extremes on both sides and have come to the side of expository preaching through much comparison and grief from criticism.
Some do not really know the difference. I offer a brief description of each. This will also be helpful since there seems to be confusion over the definition of expository preaching. A topical sermon is one, which takes a subject like Separation, the Trinity, Love, etc. and discusses it from one or more proof texts.
A textual sermon normally takes a verse or portion of a verse as a base for a topic or to be explained more clearly. Expository preaching is usually considered as taking a paragraph, chapter or book of Scripture and teaching the meaning of that Scripture while making application to the congregation’s present or future needs.
My desire is to show why the scope of expository preaching as a principle makes it the greater benefit to the souls of man than the other two. I have ten reasons why I believe it to be so.

I. It avoids hobbyhorses and pet peeves.

Everyone has heard the old story about the water baptismal regenerationalist who was preaching from Genesis 1 where it says “and the Spirit moved upon the waters” and yelled “See, you have to be baptized because the Spirit is in the water!” Among Fundamentalists, the hobby horses/pet peeves are different but they are still assigned to passages that do not teach the issue. If a topic really bugs a preacher, he will see it taught in every passage. He will teach it every week or even sermon.
You will know when a man hits his pet peeve. It is usually on the third point of his sermon. He spends more time on that point and yells louder. The other two points may have been very good but you will be sure to remember number three! This can happen in expository preaching. It is very rare since the passage will actually speak to the issue and it will not come up as often since you must follow the outline or tenor of the entire book.

II. It makes it harder to preach in the emotions of the flesh.

All preachers are subject to immense stress and receive unjust accusations. It is easy to use the pulpit as a whipping post or a place of vindication if you are not systematically teaching the whole counsel of God through study of the history, syntax, theology, and grammar. The “I’ll teach them!” sermons are never in the Spirit.
I will admit it is easier to build a whole message on the sensationalism of a current event rather than mentioning it in passing or applying the Scripture, you are teaching if it fits appropriately. However, sensationalism sows sickly, shallow seed.

I. It limits accusations.

Tying in with the previous point, it will be harder for a person to say that you are preaching solely to them or revealing confidences. I have heard many sermons where the preacher said; “You do not know this person.” The preacher did not name the individual and made an effort to infer that the event occurred somewhere else. However, it was clear to almost everyone in the church who the person was he was talking about. After all, the event happened only last week and was discussed by the pastor with several people. It made “good preaching” and the preacher was vindicated and the rascal rightfully trounced.
Usually, the person’s sin was needlessly publicized. This meant that it would be harder for the person to repent and return to the church since he had his bridges burned for him by the pastor. He was virtually excommunicated for something that did not fit the third phase of Matthew 18.
If you were preaching systematically, you would have time to forget the emotional instance, pray about the sin and for the sinner. You might even have him reclaimed before everyone knew about it. They would be moved by your love and example to forgive and love him as well thus fulfilling the spirit of Matthew 18.
If you tell the preacher something in confidence on Friday and he preaches it on Sunday (disguised, of course), you will lose confidence in that man. You will seek counseling elsewhere or leave the church completely.
I have known preachers who were going to preach one sermon until a woman in slacks or a man with long hair walked in. They were suddenly “led of the Lord” to switch to Deuteronomy 22:5 or I Corinthians 11. This is not conducive to conversions or growth. You cannot convert or teach a person whose head is lopped off in the first two minutes of the sermon.
You are preaching the book of I Corinthians. A man or woman in violation happens to walk in on I Cor. 11. You preached I Cor. 10 the week before. They could not say you were picking on them. Just show them your outline for next week to show that God planned their arrival in your teaching.
It does not prevent every case of accusation. His member told one pastor that he was preaching the book of Corinthians just to pick on him. Now, that is conviction when the whole book steps on your toes!

IV. It makes it harder to read into the Scriptures.

While in college, two Mormon lads tried to tell me that in the book of Ezekiel the sticks called “Beauty and Bands” meant the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I asked them if this was in the Hebrew or Greek since it was nowhere in the English or context. They said it was in their footnotes placed in their bibles by their elders. (Church member, study!) I asked them if they believed it just because a preacher said it, although they could not prove it or understand it. They replied yes. You can expect that kind of interpretation and blind following of the leaders in cults. Unfortunately, it happens in Fundamental circles!
I heard one man teach that the trumpets in Numbers 10 were the Old and New Testaments and that the trumpeters were preachers. Does this type of interpretation sound familiar? This was in a super, fighting, Fundamental Baptist Church by a man who graduated from a highly respected school. He could no more prove that than the Mormons. His people believed it because he said it. They would say that I was “up against the preacher” if I challenged that interpretation. One of his deacons said that he would believe the pastor if he said a black wall was white. Shades of Jim Jones! Church member, you are as responsible for rightly dividing the Word of Truth as the pastor. I doubt that God will let you off by saying, “I only believed what my preacher told me.” If it is error, you will be called into account!
Using expository preaching would solve another problem. I call it pulling Oreo cookies out of a Vanilla Wafer box. False advertising or packaging, if you please. This happens when a man reads his text or passage and then preaches a message that might be very good in content but is not related to his text. You sit there bewildered trying to figure out why he used the text he did. Since the Biblical definition of preaching is proclaiming or heralding the truth, let us do that and stop trying to be flowery orators with no power.

V. You can preach the WHOLE counsel of God systematically.

Some people will never hear a message out of Obadiah, Habakkuk, Philemon or Hebrews (unless it is Hebrews 13:17) because the Spirit just never seems to lead the preacher to those books. Yet, God took the trouble to lead someone to write those books. I am sure He must want them read and taught.
Systematic preaching, which still needs the Spirit’s leading and anointing to be effective, will give new converts time to grow before you hit some sore spots. It also gives you more opportunity to meet more people’s needs more often. Repetition is good and God does repeat doctrines. However, if you pick a list of four or five dirty subjects and continually hammer those points you will desensitize your people. You will also miss a lot of other sins as well as leave many needs unmet as you try to meet those needs based only upon your feelings or perspective.
Constant repetition of a dirty dozen of do’s (or don’ts) can lead to a false sense of security and self-righteousness while carnality is rampant in the pews. A member may attend faithfully, tithe, not smoke or drink but, what about his pride, peevishness, laziness, etc?

VI. Principles taught now prepare for applications later.

I have found it is best to lay solid bedrock of principles before you make specific applications. Humanism, materialism, New Age philosophy, and many other “isms” have so infiltrated the church that people are usually not able to bear some applications before learning the Biblical principle supporting it. Issues are seen as the preacher’s opinions or convictions and not necessarily relevant to anyone else. If they are accepted, it is often because of the charisma of the preacher. If another man comes along with greater charisma and different convictions, the people will follow him because the man has touched them rather than the issues.

Teaching principles and the Biblical definition of separation will give the Christian something to chew on while the Holy Spirit works on him. By the time, you get to the Scripture that will make a specific application of the principle there may be no controversy. Examples would be music, clothing drinking, hair, etc. The Holy Spirit may have already convicted someone to give up or start something before you ever get to the appropriate Scriptures. Then when you touch on it in your preaching you will get an “AMEN!” instead of a “Stone him!” or an “Oh, me!” rather than an “OUT YE!” You may still get rebellion when you name the sin or make the application of the principle. It is far better that they react to the Word or the Spirit’s conviction than to you as a person. You can rest in the fact that you were faithful and God can handle the arguments that people have with Him.

VII. It best fulfills Nehemiah 8:7,8.

They read in the law distinctly. The word distinctly in Hebrew means exact statement, to make clear, or to translate. They gave the sense (Heb. understanding, wisdom) of it and caused them to understand (Heb. emphasis on ability to understand) it. Here is the basic principle of expository preaching and yea, the duty of all men called of God to teach the Word! We are to say exactly what He says in a way that people will have the ability to understand and with understanding will do what God is saying! A messenger who deviated one word from his master’s message was put to death! Praise His grace that He does not do that to us!
Kodak instamatic doctrine is not God’s doctrine! We are not to turn the Word of God into a photo album by using excessive pictures and types when cold, hard facts are before us! Nor are we to dazzle our audience with our storytelling ability or colorful language to the point where it shades the Word to our preferences or obscures it completely! We are not Liberals! The Word means what it says so say what it means!

VIII. It best follows Christ’s and the 1st Century Church practice.

While Christ spoke on many topics and quoted texts from the Old Testament, He did so in an expository manner! Christ spoke in dark sayings to unbelievers and those who opposed Him. In Mark, 4:34 He tells us that He “expounded all things to His disciples”. That word means to solve or explain. This is the goal of the expositor. He seeks to explain and solve the sometimes seemingly mysterious things of God’s Word to his congregation!
Luke 24:27 tells us that He “expounded unto them all the scriptures the things concerning Himself”. The word expound here is where we get our word Hermeneutics. It means to interpret fully or to intensively interpret. That is expository preaching! His audience later said that He “opened” the Scripture to them. They had no doubts as to what He or the Scriptures meant.
Christ had to berate the religious leaders of His day for failing to do this very thing. How often did He say that the Word says this, but you say or you have heard it said but I say unto you? Why? Because rather than expositing the Scriptures they quoted each other and explained away Scripture in order to color it to meet their own desires. This kept the people ignorant and under their control.
Old Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees never die; they just change their names. We expect them in cults. They also wear fundamental garb. True expository preaching flushes out the wolves and straightens out the sincere but erring Christian.
We like to say we are fighting, fundamental, first century churches. What did they do? They did not really use topics or texts. They read the entire epistle at one service. Try doing that in the twenty minutes allowed the preacher at most churches. The Scriptures were written in a continual, systematic and logical progression. Line upon line and precept upon precept was the rule. It has been said that expository preaching is not Spirit led. If you took a book and exposited it in the manner that the Holy Spirit inspired it, which would keep everything in context, how could you go wrong or not be Spirit led?

IX. It creates balance.

It is easier to balance zeal and knowledge, which produces stronger disciples with expository preaching. A saint that is all charged up and half cocked due to a lack of knowledge is as bad and maybe even more dangerous than a soaked in the facts person that does not have the zeal to share the knowledge. Both situations are unbalanced and undesirable.
A good expositor can create the balance. A poor one might be dry. A poor topical preacher creates wildfire. A good one that does not exposit his topic produces shallow disciples who can only mimic him. No one really desires either of these conditions.
Hosea said God’s people perished for a lack of knowledge. Paul said the Jews had zeal without knowledge. Balance preserves all men. Accurate knowledge of the Word will produce more zeal than witty sayings.
I fear that many do not teach their people to dig for themselves because it would destroy the empire they are building for themselves. Ignorant people can be controlled. Just ask the Catholic Institution why they kept the Word from their people for so long. A church built on interpolations of one man instead of solid exegesis falls at the death of that man. A church built on sound doctrine stands victorious as long as it stands on that doctrine.
Another aspect of this is that God may use another brother to teach you something that you missed in your research or can point out to you that you are fighting the conviction that you may be receiving on the subject. Yes, preachers can fight the Spirit’s conviction, too. However, if you preach by charisma or “authority” only, then you ARE the authority on the subject and cannot be taught since no one would dare question you.
How does one speak to an Oracle or Pope? Brother preacher, it is better to teach your people how to study and let them find any faults you may have in your interpretation now then to let God find them later and call you into account for the failure of the church after you die.
Churches go without pastors for excessive periods because they cannot find anyone to duplicate Pastor Goodwords. Maybe they cannot because his ministry was based on oratory talent rather than sound doctrine. Many good men cannot find churches because people do not like their “style.” I do not find that qualification in I Timothy 3, but it seems to be priority one for pulpit committees. A man may meet all the spiritual qualifications and be doctrinally sound but he does not have the style of Pastor Goodwords.
If Pastor Goodwords would have been expositing the Word, these churches would have known what God deems as priority qualifications and they would not be so dependent upon carnal subjective whims. They would have scriptural and spiritual discernment.

X. It provides Liberty in variety.

Since expository means to actually teach what is really contained in the passage based upon language, context and comparison with other Scriptures the principle provides for a variety of preaching. It really is more of a philosophy and principle than a style. All styles should be based upon this philosophy. You can exposit a text, topic, passage, or a book. This means that you can do an expository Mother’s Day sermon. You can exposit your life verse, favorite passage, or the book that reflects the state of your church or its needs at the time.
Let me say, as kindly as I can that any of these varieties that are not based upon the principle of expositing is not true Biblical preaching! It is cheerleading or storytelling but not preaching the Word!
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ…. Preach the Word…” II Timothy 4:1,2

(This has been published in a seminary periodical. 1988)





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