The Need for Expositional Preaching (pt. 2): A Biblical Defense

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I recently shared this article with our deacons. This post which focuses on the practice of preaching in the Old Testament is part two of four.

The simple answer for why expositional preaching is necessary is that the health of the church depends on the regular reading of God’s word and the full explanation of the whole counsel of God. This claim can be supported by church history (as seen yesterday), but it can also be seen in Scripture. And in Scripture, expositional preaching is supported by both the doctrine of God’s word and the practice of God’s people. Today we will consider the doctrine of Scripture and the practice in the Old Testament; tomorrow and Friday we will consider the practice of Jesus himself and the apostles.

A Short Doctrine of Scripture

First, as to doctrine, the belief that God’s word is powerful is seen in the way that God’s created the light by his word (Gen 1:3); he upholds the universe with his word (Heb 1:3); and he raises the dead to life  with his word (Ezekiel 37; John 11). Understanding the power of God’s Word, preachers who are unashamed of the Word must labor to expound God’s word and not arrange Bible verses around their own words, ideas, or outlines.

The power of preaching is not in the preaching of the Word; it is the Word preached. A short list of verses can illustrate this point.

  • The prophets of old never spoke for themselves; they always began their messages, “Thus says the Lord.” For these messengers of God; the power of their ‘preaching’ was in God’s oracle; not in there rhetorical giftedness.
  • Accordingly Isaiah says that God’s word never returns void and always accomplishes what God purposes. (55:10-11)
  • In Jesus’ parable of the four soils, the seed was the word of God; and the seed had power to create life when it landed on the good soil. (Matthew 13).
  • In another parable of the kingdom, Jesus spoke of the word growing when the farmer slept. (Mark 4; 1 Corinthians 3).
  • God’s word is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword; thus, only the word has the power to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
  • After hearing the voice of God on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter writes that there is more certainty in Old Testament Scriptures than in his own personal encounter with God. In other words, the Bible is more reliable and authoritative than our subjective experiences. (2 Pet 1:19-21)

In short, expositional preaching can only be seen as effective when the doctrine of God’s word informs our theology. A high view of God’s word will enable us to preach the word in season and our of season; a low view of God’s word exposes us to the temptation of looking for something with more immediate flash and less eternal impact. For these reasons, expositional preaching is the method of preaching which best conveys the form and substance of God’s word.

In the Old Testament

Still there is another reason why expositional preaching is necessary—it is modeled by God’s people. In the Old Testament, a kind of expositional preaching occurred when the Levites gave the sense of the text to the nation of Israel on a feast day that commemorated their return to the land. Listen to Nehemiah 8:5-8.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Carrying out their priestly duties (cf. Lev 10:11; Deut 33:10-11; Mal 2:1-9), these servants of the Word enabled the righteous remnant to understand what God expected of them. Tragically, the nation of Israel suffered greatly when the priests failed to instruct the people with the Law (Mal 2:1-9). When the Old Testament “pastors” failed to feed God’s people from the book of Moses, the people starved spiritually and went in search for other deities.

Summary

Applied to today, could it not be the case that one reason why expositional preachers pack stadiums today is because there is a hunger for the Word of God among God’s people (cf. Amos 8:3)? True believers hunger and thirst for God’s word and they are willing to go anywhere to feast on his Word. As a preacher, who also hungers for the word of God, I know of no better way to ensure that God’s people hear God’s voice than by regularly preaching the Word as it was inspired, praying that God would illuminate eyes and captivate hearts as the Scriptures are explained and applied, verse-by-verse, week-after-week.

Tomorrow, we’ll pick up the biblical argument for expositional preaching in the New Testament.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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