The Exceptional Value of Expository Preaching
The century to which we currently belong is one that suffers from the curse of mediocrity. It is drowning in the waters of want that the Scripture calls covetousness. It is pointlessly expressing itself in purposeless avenues that lead to darkness and decay. Mankind cries for help from the obscurity of a nation yea a world that is losing its values in rapid decline. They cry out for help from of the tides of meandering solutions to legitimate needs that to this day have only been pacified by illegitimate answers. They bellow a mantra that questions why they live. What is the purpose of life?
There is an answer in Scripture that captures the agenda of the preacher, the Christian and the Church itself. Notice the letter to the Ephesians the third chapter verses eight through twelve.
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him (New American Standard Bible 1995update).
The apostle describes the individual calling for himself, the collective calling of the church, and the unique result of every Christians following of God. We are all living expositions of the will and word of God that is designed to set forth the meaning and relevance of the many sided wisdom of God. This is the grand cause of God and the timeless expression of His word that is climaxed in the coming Christ and the calling of the church! This call is still being heralded and heard through the preached word of God.
About preaching some have said:
"I preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men." - Richard Baxter
"Nothing will give such power to our sermons, as when they are the sermons of many prayers. The best sermons are lost, except they be watered by prayer. It is easy to bring to our people the product of our own study; but the blessing belongs to the message delivered to them, as from the mouth of God."- Charles Bridges
"The state of the pulpit may always be taken as an index of that of the church. Whenever the pulpit is evangelical, the piety of the people is in some degree healthy; a perversion of the pulpit is surely followed by spiritual apostasy in the church." -R. L. Dabney
"I would say that a 'dull preacher' is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher."
"The man who is called by God is a man who realizes what he is called to do, and he so realizes the awfulness of the task that he shrinks from it. Nothing but this overwhelming sense of being called, and of compulsion, should ever lead anyone to preach."- David Martyn Lloyd-Jones
"It is not so much great talents that God blesses, as great likeness to Christ."- Robert Murray M'Cheyne
"In preaching (or spiritual training of any sort) there is the need for an experience of the power of the truth in our won souls; if it does not dwell in power in us, it will not pass in power from us."- John Owen
"The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be the converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert the soul."- Charles H. Spurgeon
"Preach not calmly and quietly as though you were asleep, but preach with fire and pathos and passion." - Charles H. Spurgeon
"Our ministry must be emphatic, or it will never affect these thoughtless times; and to this end our hearts must be habitually fervent, and our whole nature must be fired with an all-consuming passion for the glory of God and the good of men." - Charles H. Spurgeon
"Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive. We ought to be driven forth with abhorrence from the society of honest men for daring to speak in the name of the Lord if the Spirit of God rests not upon us." - Charles H. Spurgeon
"If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons, it would be a righteous judgment upon them; but they would soon cry out with Cain, "My punishment is greater than I can bear."-Anonymous
"Would ministers preach for eternity? They would then act the part of true Christian orators, and not only calmly and coolly inform the understanding, but, by persuasive, pathetic address, endeavor to move the affections and warm the heart."- George Whitefield
However, the issue before us is not that of just preaching but the place of preaching in the century of which we live. The concern of this text is the place of expository preaching in a humanistic society. What is its place? Does it still have dignity? How do we define it? How does man attempt to defy it? What is the duty of the church?
The purpose of this paper is to consider and respond to these questions with hopes that the relevance of this subject will continue to permeate the heart of every prognosticator of the oracles of God!
The Dignity of Exposition
Exposition means a setting forth of meaning or purpose (as of writing); a discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand. The expositor is one who explains, makes known, makes plain or understandable. He gives the reason for the cause of a thing. He makes something plain and understandable. He brings clarity for the reason of a thing, and in this case this clarity is on the Biblical text. There remains no greater calling on the life of a man than that of preaching the glorious, unsearchable, undeniable, undying, unchanging Word of God. The Bible is the greatest book known to man. It is the message of hope from God to the created nuisance known as humanity. It is the character of deity in the pages of life given to the hurting, lost and needy souls of man.
"The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church it is obviously the greatest need of the world also." The key phrase in this forthright statement is, of course, 'true preaching.' To him this was expository preaching, which he defines in his volume on 2 Peter as "preaching which is concerned to expound the Word of God and not merely to express the ideas of the preacher, preaching which is not merely topical and intended to suit the popular palate and conditions prevailing at the moment (Jones 1972)."
What we have come to know of the benefits of expository preaching transcend the regular and mundane and set on end the response of man to a society that is looks for restoration and renewal from the tragedy of being held and some taken captive by sin, self and Satan. It is from the vantage point of renewal, and rebuilding that we appreciate scriptural paradigms of exposition. The Bible declares this most excellent action. Dignity is the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. It is is the high rank, office, or position of something. This is what the repeated place of expository preaching has held in the Word of God. Whenever we read of preaching it has to be expository preaching. “All true preaching is expository preaching,” David Wilson. The Bible expounds a repeated refrain of this thought. Moses was told, ““Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” It was the same with Jeremiah. “Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant (New American Standard Bible 1995update).” This leaves the message in the hands of the sender, God. Exposition comes from the revelation of God to man. It is unveiling the will and Word of God; and showcasing for man.
It is the impressive nature of reading the Word of God and submitting to the agenda of the Scripture and what it contains over and above the harmonizing, weaving, and assembling of thoughts, concepts, and or inclinations of the speaker. Expository preaching includes the reading of the Word of God. The God breathed source of communication is the life of man and the life of exposition. It is dignified in its reading.
It is dignified also from its hearing. We are hearing the source of life in our place of human history. Like nothing else we are challenged by the meaning of a moment with God and confronted with the ramifications for our today. We are given the graceful pleasure of laying our lives alongside the word of God and so long as breath is given we have a chance. We can see and appreciate the character differences and change that which is not in harmony with God. It is dignified in it hearing.
It is also dignified in its explanation. Expository preaching calls for, demand, implore, and insist honor among the communication of the Word of God. One cannot honestly deal with a text without appreciating the nuances and subtleties of the Voice of God before him. It is like sitting with your father and missing the importance of this moment because you are rushing to another moment that is far often unlike this moment. The dignity of exposition calls for honest in the moment of a passage. It is a dishonest man who will run to substantiate one passage with its context, language, syntax, culture, and history with another having not considered the scene of each moment for what it is worth. It is dignified in its explanation.
It is also dignified in its application. Exposition calls men to action. Whenever one has been brought before the presence of God you are left lacking. The scales of the person of God are much weightier than the shaft like makeup of man. We fail before His presence and His presence is showcased though exposition which causes one to change. God has never been one who exerts force by reason or weight alone without motion. He calls and appeals for action. Exposition is dignified in its application.
It is dignified in its Scriptural example. The Bible contains old and new example of the nature of Exposition from which it dignity can be seen.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. Neh 8:5-8 (KJV)
They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Neh 8:8 (ESV)
And they gave out the words of the book the law of God, clearly, and gave the sense of it, so that their minds were able to take it in. Neh 8:8 (BBE)
They read the Book of God's Teachings clearly and explained the meaning so that the people could understand what was read. Neh 8:8 (GW)
for I did not keep back from declaring to you all the counsel of God. ‘Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to feed the assembly of God that He acquired through His own blood, for I have known this, that there shall enter in, after my departing, grievous wolves unto you, not sparing the flock, and of your own selves there shall arise men, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:27-30 (YLT)
For I have not kept back from you anything of the purpose of God. Acts 20:27 (BBE)
for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God Acts 20:27 (ESV)
for I have not shrunk from announcing to you all the counsel of God. Acts 20:27 (Darby)
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Acts 20:27 (KJV)
These passages paint an impressive picture of the telling, declaration and profusion of the counsel of God, not man, not the flesh, but God.
The Definition of Exposition
Exposition is not so much defined by the form of the message as it is by the source and process through which the message was formed. Unger poignantly captures this sense:
No matter what the length of the portion explained may be, if it is handled in such a way that its real and essential meaning as it existed in the mind of the particular Biblical writer and as it exists in the light of the overall context of Scripture is made plain and applied to the present-day needs of the hearers, it may properly be said to be expository preaching.… It is emphatically not preaching about the Bible, but preaching the Bible. “What saith the Lord” is the alpha and the omega of expository preaching. It begins in the Bible and ends in the Bible and all that intervenes springs from the Bible. In other words, expository preaching is Bible-centered preaching. Merrill F. Unger, Principles, 33. See also William G. Houser, “Puritan Homiletics: A Caveat,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 53, no. 4 (October 1989): 255–70.
Two other definitions of exposition help clarify what it is:
At its best, expository preaching is “the presentation of biblical truth, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, Spirit-guided study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit applies first to the life of the preacher and then through him to his congregation.”
In the 1950’ ML-J [D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones] was virtually alone in England in engaging in what he meant by ‘expository preaching’. For preaching to qualify for that designation it was not enough, in his view, that its content be biblical; addresses which concentrated upon word-studies, or which gave running commentary and analyses of whole chapters, might be termed ‘biblical’, but that is not the same as exposition. To expound is not simply to give the correct grammatical sense of a verse or passage, it is rather to set out principles or doctrines which the words are intended to convey. True expository preaching is, therefore, doctrinal preaching, it is preaching which addresses specific truths from God to man. The expository preacher is not one who ‘shares his studies’ with others, he is an ambassador and a messenger, authoritatively delivering the Word of God to men. Such preaching presents a text, then, with that text in sight throughout, there is deduction, argument and appeal, the whole making up a message which bears the authority of Scripture itself. Given such a conception, a faithful discharge of the teaching office necessitates the preacher being able to say, with Paul, ‘We are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ’ (2 Cor. 2:17). If this involves a staggeringly high view of preaching, it was nothing more, Dr. Lloyd-Jones believed, than is required of the ministerial office (J. MacArthur 1992).
Still the definition can be concluded to have at least a usable formula of sorts. Expository preaching is that preaching which is housed in the text itself. It is the unfolding of a passage’s jewels and beauty through persistent and systematic observation. It is the interpretation of a passages language, culture, geography, history and contextual connections. It is the application of a passage in its setting and for the time and matters at hand for the time in which we live. It is the honest appreciation of each text of the Holy Scripture.
The Dilemma of Today
The dilemma for which the section heading suggest is the state of the society and the subjective and selfish and drive of a world that is led by the nuisance of carnality. This nuisance is now characterized as humanism. Humanism has infiltrated our society with such prominence that our churches are blinded and beguiled with the subtleties that only those who love the word of God can sight. It is a most dangerous philosophy and it has born children with the like venomous potential. This must be combated through the church and that begins with preaching. Except for the growing worldliness of its members, the pulpit is the church’s weak spot (Ray 1940).
One source says that Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom and individualism are intrinsic (natural) parts of, or are at least compatible with, Christian doctrine and practice. It is a philosophical union of Christian and humanist principles. Christian humanism may have begun as early as the 2nd century, with the writings of Justin Martyr. While far from radical, Justin suggested a value in the achievements of Classical culture in his Apology Influential letters by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa confirmed the commitment to using pre-Christian knowledge, particularly as it touched the material world and not metaphysical beliefs. Already the formal aspects of Greek philosophy, namely syllogistic reasoning, arose in both the Byzantine Empire and Western European circles in the eleventh century to inform the process of theology. However, the Byzantine hierarchy during the reign of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) convicted several thinkers of applying ""human"" logic to ""divine"" matters. Peter Abelard's work encountered similar ecclesiastical resistance in the West in the same period. Petrarch (1304-1374) is also considered a father of humanism. The traditional teaching that humans are made in the image of God, or in Latin the Imago Dei, also supports individual worth and dignity (a website maintained by John P. Bequette, Ph.D., Historical Theology 2008).
Josh McDowell writes of humanism that is not only dangerous but challenging.
One of the most organized, most challenging and most clearly non-Christian philosophies of today is secular humanism. It is ably represented and defended by a core of prominent scientists and philosophers at the forefront of new scientific and philosophical thought. Secular humanism has its own meetings, its own "clergy" of spokesmen, its own "creed" called The Humanist Manifesto, and its own goals toward which it desires all of humanity to work.
The term humanism by itself is not automatically anti-God or pro-God, as many have tried so often to maintain. Historically, during Renaissance times, the word emphasized the importance of man, not to the exclusion of God, but simply with little emphasis on God. Sometimes humanism is defined as the study of the worth and dignity of man as such worth is given to him by God. As Christians, we must be careful not to build a false case about all uses of the word humanism and then attempt to refute that false case. In fact, this is what some secular humanist writers do when they unfairly paint a caricature of Christianity and then attempt to tear that down.
We will make a working definition of secular humanism, adapting it from the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras, who said, "Man is the measure of all things." Today this view holds that man is the ultimate standard by which all life is measured and judged. Thus values, law, justice, good, beauty, and right and wrong all are to be judged by man-made rules with no credence to either God or the Bible. We identify this position as secular (non-theistic) humanism (in distinction to the ambiguous and broad term humanism). The humanist believes that man will be able to solve all his own problems. This creed that "man is the measure of all things" offers no concrete solution to those looking for a way out, yet today in our world, humanism is quite popular (McDowell 2002).
The author correctly proves the fallacy in this philosophy by further stating:
Humanism fails on two counts, though. First, man operating by himself cannot set up true standards of justice or values in the world without God. If one man decides his human view of values is correct and another man decides his view, which is different, is correct, who will decide between them?
Who would decide between the Nazis and the Jewish race in World War II? Each had a set of values, but who was right? The majority? The nicest? The meanest?
Without a higher standard of authority to go to, which is God, all of life is based on the values of the majority or of a dictator in power. They have no sure truth to turn to; it is all a matter of opinion.
Second, humanism believes man is "getting better and better every day in every way." However, with two world wars in this century and the world on the brink of nuclear holocaust, the demise of optimistic humanism is a foregone conclusion.
Thus humanism offers not hope but despair. Humanism does not solve problems; it creates them. If humanism is honestly examined, it leads man not to look to man, but beyond himself, for the answers (McDowell 2002).
Even its history traces and shows the danger that its continuance would and can have on the world in which we live.
One can trace the roots of modern secular humanism back to the renewed emphasis on man during the Renaissance. This revival of classical learning and emphasis on man did not exclude God as man's Maker, but it focused attention away from Him, as man made great strides on his own.
Later God was de-emphasized to the point where He was no longer seen as an intimate worker in creation and Father to mankind, and before long, deism became a prominent view. Deism affirmed belief in God, but a God who was not involved in the affairs of men. Deism soon gave way to naturalism, a worldview which dismissed God completely from the scene.
Humanism entered the nineteenth century through the French philosopher, Comte, who was committed to the secularization of science, and through British utilitarianism via English deism. These serve as a backdrop for twentieth century naturalism and pragmatism. Through such men as Schiller and especially Dewey, the modern tenets of secular humanism began to take their expressed form.
Today this self-centered system of ideas exerts influence in all of our lives. Its assumptions and dogmas continue to be adopted by more and more people, and as a result, many secular humanist organizations are in existence both in Europe and in America, some of which have been around for a long time. Two prominent organizations, The American Humanist Association and The British Humanist Association, are both front-runners in the secular humanist cause. Another secular humanist-oriented organization is The Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. 4 The Aspen Institute is a motivator for thought and action on cultural issues affecting man and society. Committed to and rooted in a secular humanistic approach, it seeks solutions to local, national, and international problems.t
The Duty of Expository preachers
These references are sited to show the damage of such philosophy. The preaching of the whole counsel of God is the remedy of such chaos in the Church. We are inundated with a Christendom that has lost the reverence of the Word of God. “But the glory of the Christian pulpit is a borrowed glow.… To an alarming extent the glory is departing from the pulpit of the twentieth century.… The Word of God has been denied the throne and given a subordinate place (Unger 1955).” “Yet it remains true that “whatever be the marks of the contemporary pulpit, the centrality of Biblical preaching is not one of them (Howington 1959).”” This must be recaptured by they that love the would simply follow the pattern and principles of truth and the call of biblical preaching.
Biblical preaching’s authenticity is significantly tarnished by contemporary communicators who are more concerned with personal relevance than with God’s revelation. Scripture unmistakably requires a proclamation focused on God’s will and mankind’s obligation to obey. With men wholly committed to God’s Word, the expository pattern commends itself as preaching that is true to the Bible. Exposition presupposes an exegetical process to extract the God-intended meaning of Scripture and an explanation of that meaning in a contemporary way. The biblical essence and apostolic spirit of expository preaching needs to be recaptured in the training and preaching of men who are freshly committed to “preaching the Word (J. MacArthur 1992).”
In conclusion the call for expository preaching in world that is plagued by humanism and its children pragmatism and socialism is a great one. We cannot as people driven by a carnal appetite arrive at the correct conclusions of life without a relevant understanding of the Word of God. We cannot have an accurate and significant appreciation of this Word without genuine exposition. Therefore the ability to seize a society from the grips of humanism is through exposition.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5 KJV).
A website maintained by John P. Bequette, Ph.D., Historical Theology . Christian Humanism. march 25,
2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_humanism (accessed march 31, 2008).
Howington, Nolan. "Expository Preaching." Review and Expositor, January 1959: 56.
Jones, D. Martyn Lloyd. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House,
MacArthur, John F. Ashamed of The Gospel. Wheaton, illinois: Crossway Books, 1993.
MacArthur, John. Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Dallas: Word Pub.,1997, 1992.
McDowell, Josh. Agnosticism, Atheism and Secular Humanism. May 30, 2002. http://www.greatcom.org/resources/areadydefense/ch30/default.htm (accessed March 31, 2008).
New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995update.
Ray, Jeff D. Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940.
Stott, John R.W. Between Two Worlds. Grand Rapids, Michigin: William B. Eerdmans Publiching
Unger, Merrill F. Principles of Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1955.