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In its simplest form, biblical expository preaching is explaining and applying the meaning of a text of Scripture in its context. Haddon Robinson’s definition (Biblical Preaching [Baker, 1980], 20): “Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.” Or, more briefly, Phillips Brooks described preaching as “truth poured through personality” (ibid. 24).
My goal is always that when I’m done, people can look at the text which I preached and say, “I understand what that text is saying and how it applies to my life.” Nehemiah 8:8 relates what happened when Ezra brought the law of God before the people who had returned from Babylon: “And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” John Calvin said (Calvin’s Preaching [Westminster/ John Knox Press], T. H. L. Parker, 11-12), “When I expound Holy Scripture, I must always make this my rule: That those who hear me may receive profit from the teaching I put forward and be edified unto salvation.” (I highly recommend that book, which gives an interesting and helpful description of how Calvin preached through the Scriptures verse by verse, book by book, in Geneva.) The great Anglican preacher, Charles Simeon, said that his aim in preaching was always to humble the sinner, to exalt the Savior, and to promote holiness (cited by J. I. Packer (A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life [Crossway Books], 286; another excellent book!).
As Dr Robinson’s definition states, to preach an expository sermon, the truth must first be applied by the Holy Spirit in the life of the preacher. Calvin made the point that the point of Scripture is to reform our life (Parker, 15, 26). He said (Parker, 40), “It would be better for [the preacher] to break his neck going up into the pulpit if he does not take pains to be the first to follow God.” Thus we must first preach the Word to ourselves and only then to others.
We need expository preaching because God gave us the Bible book by book until we had the full canon. Jesus prayed (John 17:17), “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” In contrast, He declared that Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Lies destroy people, whereas truth builds them up in the Lord and causes them to grow in holiness. Satan continually seeks to spread lies among God’s people. Thus one of the main jobs of an elder (or pastor) is (Titus 1:9) to hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” Thus Paul’s final solemn charge to Timothy should weigh continually on every pastor (2 Tim. 4:1-5):
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
Jesus said that as the end of this age draws near, there will be increasing spiritual deception, causing many to fall away, and most people’s love will grow cold. Even the elect will be in danger of being led astray (Matt. 24:4-5, 10, 12, 24). Therefore, the job of explaining and applying God’s truth becomes even more important as the day of the Lord draws near. Packer (Quest for Godliness, 277ff.) shows the prime importance of expository preaching for the Puritans. They saw it as an act of worship and as the prime means of grace to the church (281). He cites John Owen (283), “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word…. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor.”
Expository preaching can cover something as broad as the entire Bible (although preaching it well in one sermon would be quite a task!) to as narrow as a single verse or even a phrase. But normally, an expository preacher should work through a book of the Bible paragraph by paragraph. If a church is biblically ignorant, it might be helpful to preach an overview of each book (one message per book or two per book if they are shorter books). You might find it helpful to just work through and preach an overview of every book of the Bible. I have never done that, but I think Mark Dever did that. But you have to be alert to the needs of your people and help them to grow with respect to salvation. I trust that things will be clearer as I answer questions in the next section.
This article is the transcript of the talk by Brother Steven J. Cole in the meeting held in July 2021 entitled ‘Expository Preaching.'
Please click here to watch the video on 'What is Expository Preaching?' by Bro. Steven J. Cole.
Please click here to read Part 1 of the Q&A session article on "Expository Preaching" by Bro. Steven J. Cole.
Please click here to read Part 2 of the Q&A session article on "Expository Preaching" by Bro. Steven J. Cole.
Please click here to read Part 3 of the Q&A session article on “Expository Preaching” by Bro. Steven J. Cole.
Please click here to read Part 4 of the Q&A session article on “Expository Preaching” by Bro. Steven J. Cole.