A Brief Word
I wrote this small paper for an internship that I am doing at First Baptist Church Durham in North Carolina. This paper is not exhaustive by any means. This is but an introduction to why Expository preaching is so important. With that being said, I hope to only gain your interest in this subject so that you can put some thought in it yourself. That is the only reason I am posting this!
The Main Word
In chapter one of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever lists expository preaching as the most important mark of a healthy church. Dever is right. Expository preaching is foundational within the life of a local church. There are numerous reasons to explain why this is true. Dever gives numerous of them throughout this chapter. In order to understand the importance of expository preaching though, we will discuss the flaws of topological preaching.
There is no doubt that topological preaching can be done well if it is done rarely and expositionally. Topological preaching is centered on a subject of particular interest. This particular subject is supported with biblical text. All of this is presented to the congregation in the form of a sermon. If this is done frequently, there is great danger in taking a particular passage and preaching a sermon that is not centered on the main point of the passage. This is a horrible mistake to make in the ministry of the word. It is all the more terrible when one begins to think about judgment day. It is on judgment day that a preacher will have to give an account for his faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Word.
Another great danger in topological preaching is that it leaves the congregation malnourished. I say this for multiple reasons. The first reason is because the preacher that preaches topological sermons usually preaches on topics that are of particular interest to him. If he is keenly interested in the grace of God in Christ, then he will rarely ever choose to preach from a passage that deals with eternal judgment in the lake of fire for all of eternity. If he is deeply interested in the free will of man, then he will seek to avoid certain text that go against his theological viewpoint. This is a dangerous place to be. The preacher is only preaching on what he knows. He cannot say to his church like the Apostle Paul, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). He cannot look into the eyes of his congregation and say that he is innocent of the blood of them all! He has not proclaimed the whole counsel of God. He has not proclaimed the depth, width, height, and length of the wisdom of God revealed in the Scriptures. This is what the people need. This is what their soul longs for.
This not only has ramifications for the congregation though. It does not only leave the congregation malnourished. It leaves the preacher malnourished. The preacher is opening the Bible to a particular place already knowing what he intends to find there. He is also reading with presuppositions as to certain truths that he wants to get across to the congregation. This is not feasting on the Word. I would venture to say that this is not sitting under the Word, and taking heed to what it says. Rather, this is sitting over the Word with the great danger of forcing the Word to say what you desire. This leaves the soul wanting.
Expository preaching, however, does not present these types of problems. In expository preaching, the pastor is seeking to preach through specific books of the Bible with his congregation. As he preaches through books of the Bible, he is seeking to get the main meaning of a particular passage so that he can thrust that authoritative; God inspired meaning before his congregation. As he thrust that authoritative word before the congregation, they are able to see the relevance for every verse of Scripture. They are able to see the whole counsel of God. Everything that God has addressed through the Word is being presented to the people of God.
Expository preaching is forcing the preacher to study the Bible diligently week in and week out. He has to immerse himself in the Word. As he immerses himself in the Word, his presuppositions are being challenged. His former theological beliefs are being tested. This drives him deeper and deeper into the Word. This diving into the Word is allowing his soul to feast. He is being strengthened and transformed by the Spirit working through the Word. He then gets into the pulpit having gained a better understanding about the person of God, and also having his affections for Christ stirred up by the living Word of God. He then stands before the congregation and delivers, with great passion, the glorious truths that caused his soul to exult in God. That is but a glimpse to the benefits of expository preaching compared to topological preaching.
It is important to note that expository preaching is not simply laying out each individual truth that one finds in a passage of the Bible. That is what we have commentaries and other resources for. Expository preaching, when done faithfully, is so much more. This is where it is helpful to look into Jonathon Edwards and John Piper’s teachings on preaching. It is here that we will see what expository preaching should consist of.
A pastor is to know and understand that preaching is a gift of God that serves in the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the saints. This means that salvation is at stake every time the pastor ascends the pulpit. Piper says, “Therefore, every sermon is a ‘salvation sermon’-not just because of its aim to convert sinners, but also in its aim to preserve the holy affections of the saints and so enable them to confirm their calling and election and be saved” (pg. 81). This should make the pastor tremble. The weight of what is happening in a sermon is breathtaking. The ministry of the Word is a solemn responsibility and is to be taken seriously.
Since preaching is so very important and is to be taken seriously, there is a great need to do it in a way that is the most effective. What is most effective is showing to the unbeliever and believer alike that God is absolutely supreme. The preacher is to show all who are there that God reigns forever more, and nobody can contend for his throne and win. In doing this, we are to seek to stir up people’s affections for the things of God. In stirring up their affections for the things of God, every action they do will be one that is pleasing to God. This is the case because they will not be obedient to God begrudgingly, rather they will be obedient to God delightfully which is true and proper obedience (pg. 85).
Another thing a preacher of the word is to do is enlighten the mind with doctrinal truths. This will serve in creating good, holy affections. Preachers are to teach the great doctrines of the Bible. They are to seek to explain these doctrines clearly. This reveals the wisdom of God. The preacher is to show the mind these doctrines by the power of the Holy Spirit in hopes that by the power of the Holy Spirit the congregation will delight in them. This way of renewing the mind leads to true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:23-24).
Of course, none of this is possible apart from a deep delight in the Scriptures. A pastor will never be able to increase his people’s affections for Christ if he has no delight in the Word of God. He will not be able to enlighten the mind with deep doctrinal truths apart from a deep desire to know the word and to make the word known. In short, he will not be able to exult in what he is preaching in because he cannot exult in the God of the Scriptures. With this being said, the great need that a preacher has is to love the Word. In doing this, preaching the Word will come with great power.