What Is Expository Preaching? (pt. 1)

George Whitefield Preaching in Moorfields

Donald Grey Barnhouse said, “No man is ever going to be able to fill the pulpit adequately unless he spends thousands of hours year after year in the study of God’s Word.” [1]. Unfortunately, the popular pulpiteer is not trying to fill his pulpit as much as he is trying to fill his pews. Because of the great stress upon mega-church growth and pop psychology that has infected the church, many pulpits ring hollow on Sundays. The Word of God is no longer central in many churches and as can be expected when the church is not fed, it has become weak and malnourished on a steady diet of spiritual fast food (2Tim. 4:3).

In order for the church to once again become faithful and true to the One who bought her, she must return to the biblical mandate to preach the Word. Like a lion released from its cage, the Word needs to be proclaimed boldly from the pulpits once again. To return to this state, the church must embrace true expository preaching. I say “true” expositional preaching because so many today claim this term for their own brand of preaching all the while merely paying lip service to the Word and the exposition of its message.
So, what is an expository sermon? To begin with, we must examine the necessary foundation of every true expository sermon–the biblical text. Second, we must look at the acceptable method for proclaiming the truth of God. Finally, we will look at the powerful effect that such preaching will have upon those who hear the Word of God when it is allowed to speak for itself.
Let there be no doubt, as Donald Grey Barnhouse declared, expository preaching has come upon hard times among preachers because it takes hours of fervent labor. It is also not very popular amongst many in the pew who would rather have their felt needs met by a slick communicator who can relate to pop culture better than Bible times, while avoiding offensive themes such as sin and hell (2Tim. 4:3). Be assured that those who seek to please their Lord by proclaiming the unadulterated message of their God, there is no greater reward for the pastor or the flock that he tends.

Just in proportion as the Bible is honored or not, light or darkness, morality or immorality, true religion or superstition, liberty or despotism, good laws or bad, will be found in a land. …Read it in the history of the Church of Christ in the Middle Ages. What can be worse than the accounts we have of ignorance and superstition? But who can wonder? The times might well be dark, when men had not the light of the Bible? [2]

As Bishop Ryle noted, the times are darkest when the Scriptures are not placed up high to allow its light to shine into this dark world. This is the beauty of the expository sermon. By placing the text as king over the preacher and the congregation, the power of G0d’s voice is allowed to speak for itself the message that God intends.
The Text Drives the Sermon
Paul writing to his young disciple Timothy reminded him that it is the Scriptures alone he needed for his ministry in Ephesus. Referring to the Old Testament, Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:16-17). That this was the main meat of what Timothy was to be teaching is evident. Paul instructed Timothy, “Until I come, give attention tot he public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching….Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1Tim 4:13, 16). It is the Bible that has “the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16) and nothing else. Since there is no higher authority than God Himself, the text of Scripture must be central to the preaching task.
The following sections will deal with how that is to be properly carried out in expository preaching.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, 1001 Great Stories & Quotes (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), 329.

[2] J. C. Ryle, Light From Old Times (London, England: Charles J. Thynne & Jarvis, Ltd., 1924; reprint, Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2000), 27-28.

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