Why is biblical exposition necessary?
The simple answer is that the health of the church depends on the regular reading and preaching of God’s Word. This claim can be supported by church history, but it can also be seen in Scripture itself. And in Scripture, expositional preaching is supported by both the doctrine of God’s Word and the practice of God’s people.
Today I will add to the blogpost from yesterday and consider the doctrine of Scripture and the practice in the Old Testament. Next week I will come back and consider the practice of Jesus 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, faithful preachers must labor to expound God’s Word and not their own. The goal of preaching is not arranging Bible verses around their own words, ideas, or outlines, but highlighting what God has already spoken.
The power of preaching, therefore, is not, as Bryan Chappell has said, the preaching of the Word; it is the Word preached. A short list of verses 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 God’s word never returns void and always accomplishes what God purposes. (Isaiah 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 power to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 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 Peter 1:19-21)
In short, expositional preaching is the natural practice of those who are convinced God’s Word is efficacious to save and sanctify. From this high view of God’s word, preachers and churches will order their preaching and hearing to seek what’s God’s Word says, not what God’s man says about God’s Word.
By contrast, a low view of God’s Word exposes us to the temptation of looking for something beyond God’s Word, something with more immediate flash, or something with more earthly benefit. For these reasons and more, expositional preaching is the method of preaching which best conveys the form and substance of God’s word. Moreover, the commitment to expositional preaching (or the lack thereof) reveals what a church believes about Scripture.
In the Old Testament
Still there is another reason why expositional preaching is necessary: It is biblical. It is modeled throughout the Bible.
For instance, in Deuteronomy 5 recites the Ten Words from Exodus 20. Then, in the next 21 chapters, he expounds and applies everyone of God’s instructions to Israel. Moses is Prophet of God, but in Deuteronomy, when he preaches three sermons to God’s people, he models biblical exposition.
Similarly, when he gives the priests the task of reading the Scripture (Deut 31) and Levites are placed in towns throughout Israel, these servants of God would be teachers of the Word. In the Old Testament, prophets received a word from God. But priests and Levites were teachers of God’s revealed word (see Lev 10:11: Deut 33:8–11).
From Moses forward, when God’s people kept the covenant, it was because the priests and Levites taught them. By contrast, when these priests failed to teach the people, the people broke covenant with God (see e.g., Hosea 4:6). Similarly, when God restored Israel to the land, it came through expositional preaching—the kind described in 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. How? By reading the word and giving the sense. In context this may relate to translation, but it also relates to explanation and teaching. This is what biblical exposition does.
Today, we find people willing to travel thousands of miles to hear expositional preaching. (Think of gatherings like Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition). There are many reasons for this, but could be the case that one reason why expositional preaching draws such attention is because there is a hunger for the Word of God among God’s local churches (cf. Amos 8:3)?
True believers hunger and thirst for God’s Word and they are willing to go anywhere to hear it. 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. Indeed, such exposition of God’s Word makes God large and the preacher small, and when done with prayer and Spirit-given skill it illumines eyes and captivate hearts as the Scriptures are explained and applied, verse-by-verse, week-after-week.
Next week I will continue to show how biblical exposition occurs in the New Testament. But I pray that tomorrow you will be in a gathering where the Word of God is faithfully exposited. May more pastors labor in this work and feed the flock of God with the Word he as given to us.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds