I believe preaching best suited for lasting fruit is expository in nature. It is preaching that is firmly rooted in God’s Word. Expository preaching means that the text of Scripture is the starting point of the message. The text provides the basis for the sermon’s theme and shape. It also means that the meaning of the text is the goal of the sermon as any application must be rightly related to what God intended to convey in His Word. In simple terms, the point of the passage is the point of the sermon. God wants people to hear from Him, not us.
Christian preaching is expository preaching; that is, it endeavors to explain the biblical text in its literary and historical context and applies the message to the needs and problems of the audience. Put simply, the goal of preaching is to explain the intention of the biblical author for the building up of the congregation (Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 160).
However, don’t think that expository preaching is a mere methodology or a formula to follow. It is not an exegetical lecture or a meandering through a passage merely rehashing the arguments of commentaries. It is a philosophy of preaching that sees the goal of the sermon as conveying the truth that the Spirit intended in giving the Word. The result is the Spirit uses our sermons in ways that we could never anticipate.
Here are four of the benefits of expository preaching:
1) Expository preaching demonstrates proper handling of God’s Word to the congregation:
Christians often pick and choose what parts of the Bible are relevant for them to read. Consequently, they find themselves flipping back and forth through NT epistles––sometimes almost exclusively. Additionally, Christians can read their Bibles with little to no regard for the meaning of words or the importance of context––a venture that results in incorrect interpretation of the Bible. Such a method reflects that (1) the individual––not God––determines what is relevant to ponder, and (2) that the careful handling of Scripture is not important. Expository preaching, however, provides the congregation with a model of how to handle God’s Word. The congregation sees in the pastor not only how to approach the Scripture with a God-honoring attitude, but also they learn how to apply a sound method for interpretation. Expository preaching demonstrates to the congregation careful attention to the meaning of passages, the necessity of reading books in the way they were originally read by the early church, and the obligation for Christians to give careful attention to the immediate context of a passage, as well as to the context of the entire book, paying attention to repeated words, concepts, and theological themes.
2) Expository preaching has practical and spiritual benefit:
The pastor is not left to think up the next preaching series and then to start from scratch with a new topic. Expository preaching’s teaching schedule is determined by the next text in the book being taught. The pastor knows what he is preaching well in advance and can prepare accordingly. Moreover, expositional preaching deepens the pastor’s understanding of the Bible and his love for God as the pastor moves verse by verse through the text, watering the seeds of faithful study with thoughtful meditation. Consequently, the congregation’s understanding of Scriptural truth is deepened as they hear sermons taught by pastors who rightly discern the meaning of texts and whose hearts have been set aflame by biblical truth.
3) Expository preaching guards the pastor from Scriptural neglect:
Systematically preaching through books of the Bible ensures that your agenda is the next passage. Difficult passages of Scripture are often skipped. In contrast, expositional preaching forces the pastor to teach what he would otherwise neglect (e.g., Gen 33, 38). Teaching difficult passages exposes the congregation to the whole counsel of God’s Word while also helping them to see the spiritual profitability of all Scripture, including the difficult passages (2 Tim 3:16–17).
John Stott offers clear counsel here: “One way to escape extremes of neglect and overemphasis is to work steadily through books of the Bible or at least whole chapters, expounding everything, shirking nothing” (The Preacher’s Portrait, 26).
4) Expository preaching balances the message from theological overemphasis:
Providing undue attention to topics one finds important, culturally relevant, or interesting will always be a temptation. Expositional preaching guards the pastor from emphasizing personal hobbyhorses or passing cultural fads.
Much is made today about contextualization. The sermon should speak clearly and plainly to the intended audience, but preachers should not seek to address every perceived need or fad in order to make the text relevant. This is because the plain meaning of Scripture is already relevant to every age and culture. Relevancy comes when the sermon exposes the meaning the Spirit inspired, then showing its application for life.
This balance will cultivate timeless sermons. A timeless sermon is one that is rooted in the text with a focus on the abiding truths of the passage. This is why some of the most effective preachers can speak clearly and authoritatively across international boarders and in most cultural situations without changing the heart of their messages. I’ve heard John MacArthur say numerous times, “You can have a ministry that will go on until Jesus comes as long as your sermons are not bound by the culture.”
1) If you are new to expositional preaching, hear and read sermons by pastors who do it well (e.g., John MacArthur, Kent Hughes, David Jackman, Conrad Mbewe). Doing so helps you understand what true exposition looks like in practice.
2) Read helpful books on expositional preaching. In doing so, you will better understand how to discern the meaning of texts in their historical and cultural contexts while also learning how to effectively communicate the Bible’s meaning.
3) Begin your expositional ministry by preaching through a short, New Testament epistle (e.g., Philippians, Colossians, 1 Peter). Short epistles are typically easier to understand and apply as opposed to narrative portions. As your skill in teaching God’s Word increases, move to books that are lengthier and from a different literary genre (e.g., narrative, Psalms).
4) As you preach expositionally, give attention not only to the meaning of the immediate passage you are preaching but also to the general context of the book. Doing so helps you understand the individual parts of the book more thoroughly and accurately.
5) Handle difficult passages with humility and sensitivity. Though all of God’s Word is profitable for your congregation, you want to explain it in a way that is helpful and persuasive, not needlessly shocking or offensive.
Paul Lamey is one of our eleven TES campus pastors, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.