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Why Exposition?

December 11, 2012

There is a theological “battle” that is being waged in American Christianity today, and even in our Anabaptist circles, that is well worth our contemplation and discussion. This battle is over what form our preaching should take, and usually the two opposing sides are “topical” preaching and “expository” preaching. Just so there are no surprises, I am going to argue that expository preaching is far superior to topical preaching by simply describing the purpose of exposition. That being said, I think that it is foolish to argue for exposition to the exclusion of topical preaching because I do think that there is a place for topical preaching. I am going to barely scratch the surface here but I hope it is informative…

So why Expository Preaching?

1) Expositional preaching at its simplest is preaching that is focused on explaining the meaning of Scripture in its historical and grammatical context. This form of preaching is built off of the belief that the Scripture truly is the inspired Word of God.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2) Expositional preaching seeks to emphasis the power and wisdom of God made visible through the Cross (1 Corinthians) instead of lifting up human wisdom or thoughts…

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

3) Humans are hard headed creatures who are content to sit staring at trees while missing the beauty and importance of the forest, and preachers are no exception.  I am sure that you have heard of “that preacher” who has a couple topics that he likes to talk about and he rarely goes much beyond them in his preaching. While exposition doesn’t totally solve this problem, it has as its goal the proclamation of the entire counsel of God. Expository preaching forces preachers to deal with texts that they would probably feel more comfortable skipping over.

Acts 20:26-28 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. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

4) Expositional preaching has this curious way of confronting the theological idols that the average lay person tends to collect. This happens for lay people in much the same way that it does for the preacher. There are passages in the scripture that we would rather not deal with and expositional preaching forces us to hear those passages. Also, due to the fact that exposition is simply showing you what the Scripture says, you are forced to deal with the authority of Scripture and not the opinions of a man.

Common Objections:

1) Sometimes there are issues that need immediate addressing in a particular congregation but you can’t because you are preaching through Philippians (or any other book)….

This is the reason that I said at the beginning that there is a place for topical preaching.

2) Expositional preaching isn’t relevant enough. A preacher is supposed to meet the needs of the people in his congregation and that can’t happen if the preacher is getting so caught up in explaining verbs and nouns.

What can be more relevant to people today than hearing the very works, words, thoughts, and commands from the One True God? Many Mega-church leaders structure all their sermons around a question that they think their congregations need answered (topical preaching) rather than structuring their sermons around the inspired, inherent Word of God. They do this because they think that this will be more relevant and attract more people into their Church. The problem with this is that the people in the pew on Sunday are vastly different when it comes to their spiritual journey and many of the burdens that they carry. When a preacher faithfully opens the Scripture and he labors to explain God’s words in a way that is clear, that Word pierces the hearer (Heb. 4:12) and may provide answers in a way that a “relevant” pastor never could.

3) If we are supposed to preach through a book and have to spend all of our time talking about theological and doctrinal issues, how are we supposed to reach those that are far from God?

This again, is a common objection given by leaders of Mega-churches. The problem here is a lack of understanding of the job of the preacher. Jesus told Peter three times that he is to feed Christ’s sheep (John 21:15-17). The purpose of a pastor on Sunday morning is to provide for the church (the called out ones) and to feed them by rightly dividing the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). The purpose of the pastor is to ‘equip’ Christians to go out and evangelize the world…

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”

All that being said, exposition of Scripture that is meant to feed Christ’s sheep is the very thing that reaches unbelievers. As Romans 10:17 says, it is the hearing of the Word that causes faith. Faith does not occur because a pastor is “relevant” enough or when a person gains enough knowledge. Instead, faith occurs when a preacher faithfully proclaims the ‘Word of Christ’.

One last answer to this objection. Expositional preaching recognizes that the whole of Scripture is like a big finger that points to Christ. Creation, fall, redemption, and restoration all point to Christ and so an essential part of exposition is the proclamation of Christ and the Gospel.images

John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

4) We want our people to experience “life-change” and that won’t happen through exposition but it can happen if we spend our time searching through scripture and talk about those principles that people can apply to their life.

This will be easier with an example. Justification is one of those things that you can’t tell people to do because it is something done to you. People don’t need to be hearing about this Justification thing because it happens through faith and what we really need from our people is obedience. People need to learn more about sanctification, not justification.

Expositional preaching sees that the root and “powerhouse” that enables sanctification is found only in the Gospel and the forensic justification that it brings.

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Proclaiming something as ‘irrelevant’ as justification is essential in our ongoing sanctification. Whereas the proclamation of sanctification apart from justification and the work of Christ on our behalf is what is known as “Legalism”…

In other words, the Imperatives of Scripture ALWAYS follow and are in light of the Indicatives of Scripture…

That’s why…

What do you think?

For more teaching on the purpose of expositional preaching, I would recommend John Piper’s sermon Why Expositional Preaching Is Particularly Glorifying to God.

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