4: The Sufficiency of God in the Exposition of Scripture
Today I want to talk to you about the exposition of Scripture.
I apologize that it has taken me so long to get the episode out to you. COVID confinement really changed our routine. Also during this time, I have returned to college to finally finish my degree. By next May I will have my Bachelor of Ministry in Missions. I already have plans to pursue a Masters in Divinity in Biblical Exposition. My dream is to use theological education in missions – to teach, train, and hopefully inspire passionate worship of our glorious God.
About 10 or 15 years ago I began pursuing a call to missions. This pursuit led to a deeper study of Scripture and theology – especially systematic and Biblical theology. I learned about hermeneutics, exegesis, and exposition. I have learned over the course of time how vital these elements are in our understanding of Scripture and how desperately they are needed in the church.
As I continued pursuit of missions, I was often frustrated that others didn’t have the same passion. They didn’t see how these verses applied to them or what they should do about it. Missions was a good idea and something that “the church” should do, but personal continuous involvement and commitment to missions was a foreign as the mission field. I believe some of this comes down to how we know, understand, and apply Scripture.
Understanding exposition of Scripture or Expository preaching is not just for preachers. The idea and concepts are vital to anyone in ministry – from senior pastors to VBS volunteers – and even to everyday saints. Because, as we will see, the goal of the pastor and teacher is to equip the saints for ministry. So, my friends, exposition is for you as well.
The meaning of the word exposition is to expound. The goal of Biblical Exposition is to expound upon Scripture – to bring to light what is there – and communicating this information. Exegesis is a fancy Greek word with a similar meaning of bringing out the meaning of a word. Exegesis in more about the grammatical, word analysis, historical context, etc. Exposition takes those exegetical findings and puts it into a communicable format. It is sharing that information.
Some people think of exposition as simply a preaching style or method amongst others to choose from. My husband used to ask me a lot, “If you were to preach a sermon, what would you preach on?” I would answer something like, “Well, it depends on what book of the Bible I’m preaching through,” which did not satisfy his question. Many people, like my husband, have not experienced true expositional preaching. Topical and textual are by far the most common. Not too long ago a friend sent me some information on organizing thoughts for a sermon, and one of the questions it asked was: what kind of sermon are you going to preach: topical, textual, or expository. My friends, expository isn’t a style or method. It is a conviction in the all sufficiency of the Word of God. Jesus said that ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4) We live on his every word. We should preach His every word.
John MacArthur and the faculty at the Master’s Seminary put together a book called Preaching: How to Preach Biblically. I read this book and took the Expository Preaching course through The Gospel Coalition website. I have actually taken all of their preaching courses. MacArthur begins this course and book with the negative effects of not preaching expositionally. I’d like to share a few of them with you.
- 1. It usurps the authority of God over the soul. Whether the preacher boldly proclaims the Word of God or not is ultimately a question of authority. Who has the right to speak to the church? The preacher, or God? Wherever anything is substituted for the preaching of the Word, God’s authority is usurped. …
- 2. It removes the lordship of Christ from his church. Who is the head of the church? Is Christ really the dominant teaching authority in the church? If so, why are there so many churches where His Word is not being faithfully proclaimed? […] When Jesus Christ is exalted among His people, His power is manifest in the church.
- 8. It depreciates by example the spiritual duty and priority of personal Bible study. Is personal Bible study important? Of course. But what example does the preacher set when he neglects the Bible in his own preaching? Why would people think they need to study the Bible if the preacher does not do serious study himself in the preparation of his sermons?
- 9. It prevents the preacher from being the voice of God on every issue of his time. […] When I speak, I want to be God’s messenger. I am not interested in exegeting what some psychologist or business guru or college professor has to say about an issue. My people do not need my opinion; they need to hear what God has to say. If we preach as Scripture commands us, there should be no ambiguity about whose message is coming from the pulpit.
- 10. It breeds a congregation that is as weak and indifferent to the glory of God as their pastor is. […] When you tell people that the church’s primary ministry is to fix for them whatever is wrong in this life to meet their needs, to help them cope with their worldly disappointments, and so on – the message you are sending I that their mundane problems are more important than the glory of God and the majesty of Christ.
- 11. It robs people of their only true source of help. People who sit under superficial preaching become dependent on the cleverness and the creativity of the speaker. When preachers punctuate their sermons with laser lights and smoke, video clips and live drama, the message they send is that there is not a prayer the people in the pew could ever extract such profound material on their own. Such gimmicks create a kind of dispensing mechanism that people cannot use to serve themselves. […] They have no particular interest in hearing the Bible because the sermons they hear do not cultivate that. They are wowed by the Preacher’s creativity and manipulated by the music, and that becomes the whole perspective on spirituality.
- 15. It put the responsibility on the preacher to change people with his cleverness. […] There is only One who can change sinners. That is God, and he does it by His Spirit through the Word.
From the introduction of Preaching: How to Preach Biblically; John MacArthur and the Faculty at The Master’s Seminary
Page 8 of this book lists what expository preaching is not:
- It is not a commentary running from word to word and verse to verse without unity, outlive, and pervasive drive.
- It is not rambling comments and offhand remarks about a passage without a background of thorough exegesis and logical order.
- It is not a mass of disconnected suggestions and inferences based on the surface meaning of a passage but not sustained by a depth and breadth study of the text.
- It is not pure exegesis, no matter how scholarly.
- It is not a mere structural outline of a passage with a few supporting comments.
- It is not a chopped-up collection of grammatical findings and quotations from commentaries.
- It is not a Sunday school type of discussion.
- It is not a Bible reading that links a number of scattered passages treating a common theme.
Now that we’ve covered the negative results and what it is not according to John MacArthur.
What is expository preaching? Steve Lawson says that very simple it is three elements: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. I talked a little about these last time on Understanding the Bible. Expository preaching takes the similar approach as inductive bible study and communicates it in a way that others can understand and offers an application appropriate for the congregation.
Bryan Chapell says that expository preaching is where the meaning of the text is the message of the sermon. The meaning of the text is the message of the sermon.
My favorite Biblical example of exposition is found in Nehemiah 8. After the exile and the Israelites returned to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah Chapter 8 (NASB)Read here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=neh+8&version=NASB
Ezra Reads the Law. 1 [a]Now when the seventh month came, the whole people gathered as one in the square in front of the Water Gate, and they called upon Ezra the scribe to bring forth the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded for Israel. 2 On the first day of the seventh month, therefore, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand. 3 In the square in front of the Water Gate, Ezra read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. 4 Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion; at his right side stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, and on his left Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it, for he was standing higher than any of the people. When he opened it, all the people stood. 6 Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” Then they knelt down and bowed before the Lord, their faces to the ground. 7 The Levites Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah explained the law to the people, who remained in their places. 8 Ezra read clearly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. 9 Then Nehemiah, that is, the governor, and Ezra the priest-scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not lament, do not weep!”—for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. 10 He continued: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength!” 11 And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Silence! Today is holy, do not be saddened.” 12 Then all the people began to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy, for they understood the words that had been explained to them.
God’s word is strong and powerful. It has the power to change the heart of stone. What we see in this passage I believe is a good example of what John Piper calls “Expository Exultation.”
“Preaching itself is worship and is appointed by God to awaken and intensify worship. It does this by heralding the reality communicated through the words of Scripture, which was written to create and sustain worship.
To say it another way, the preacher simultaneously explains the meaning of Scripture and exults over the God-glorifying reality in it. Exultation without explanation is not preaching. Explanation without exultation is not preaching. Therefore, preaching – expository exultation – is peculiarly suited for Christian corporate worship, for worship means knowing, treasuring, and showing the supreme worth and beauty of God. Preaching helps people do this by doing it. Preaching shows God’s supreme worth by making the meaning of Scripture known and simultaneously treasuring and expressing the glories of God revealed in that biblical meaning.” [p. 51]p. 51; Expository Exultation; John Piper
“Of course, mindless enthusiast who totally ignore the meaning of texts can exult as they preach, but not in the true meaning of the text and the reality behind it. So, exultation per se is not the defining mark of preaching. But together – exposition, as making clear what Scripture really means, and exultation, as openly treasuring the divine glories of that meaning – they combine to make preaching what it is.” [p. 53]p. 53; Expository Exultation; John Piper
This is what we see in the book of Nehemiah. Ezra, the scribe, the preacher, opens the Word, reads from it, and explain and interpret the texts so that the people can rightly understand its meaning. When they understood it, they were moved to tears and then rejoicing. They worshiped as a result.
Now we’ve heard a little bit from the big proponents of expository preaching. Now my turn: Expository preaching and teaching comes down to, not a methodology or style, but a conviction in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. 2 Timothy says that All Scripture is God-breathed. He has proceeded from the very mouth and heart of our Creator and Redeemer. He speaks through his Word. His Word is the Word of Life. And this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-sufficient God of Heaven and Earth revealed himself and inspired the writings of Scripture in various formats – in histories, chronologies, songs and psalms, letters, and pronouncements, through stories and parables, through apocalypse and proverbs. The biblical genres are part of their inspiration. We believe in the inspiration of Scripture. We believe in the authority of Scripture. We believe in the infallibility and sufficiency of Scripture. Then, the preaching of Scripture must be true to Scripture.
The damage of topical preaching where a preach decides on a topic and cuts and pastes verses to serve his purpose and prove his point do not demonstrate the fullness of Scripture and it does not teach the fullness of God. That is not how God gave it to us His Word. I have read a lot of CS Lewis quote extracted from many of his books. However, I have actually only read one of his books fully. I have no idea the context of the books from which the quotes came. I could guess or assume what he’s saying based on that quote, but really the quote is all I know for sure. He wrote books in many literary styles and to know truly what Lewis is trying to communicate I need to read the book and understand what style he’s writing in. If I didn’t understand the demon point of view of Screwtape and just extract a quote and say that Lewis said it. It would be true that Lewis did indeed say it, but it would lose a lot of its meaning without its historical and literary context.
In the same way, we need Scripture taught and preached in its context, in the way it was inspired and written. Remember: the meaning of the text should be the message of the sermon.
I once got into an argument about expository vs. Topical preaching. The person was arguing that topical was more loving because it could craft a sermon to topics that the pastor thought people needed to hear. I disagree agree. I believe the most loving thing a preacher can do is preach the Word in context. God speaks through the proclamation of His Word. The Holy Spirit moves and convicts through His Word. The believers are equipped through the preaching of the Word.
Eph. 4:1-16 – context
4 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore [a]it says,
“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what [b]does it mean except that He also [c]had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the [d]saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the [e]knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature [f]which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 [g]As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness [h]in deceitful scheming; 15 but [i]speaking the truth in love, [j]we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together [k]by what every joint supplies, according to the [l]proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.Read here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=eph+4&version=NASB
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the [a]saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the [b]knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature [c]which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
16 All Scripture is [a]inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for [b]training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
“Preach the Word”
4 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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with [c]great patience and instruction. 3 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, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.Read here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+3%3A16-4%3A5&version=NASB
Preach the Word. Preach the Word. The Word is Jesus. John 1 says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
There are some who think preaching the Word in this manner is unloving. My friend, it is the most loving. John Piper has a great illustration in the preface to the first edition of The Supremacy of God In Preaching.
“People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure. There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow. Preaching that does not have the aroma of God’s greatness may entertain for a season, but it will not touch the hidden cry of the soul: “Show me thy glory!”
Years ago […] I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. […]
6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The [a]whole earth is full of His glory.”
So, I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such a great and holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of our people. Application is essential in the normal course of preaching, but I felt led that day to make a test: Would the passionate portrayal of the greatness of God in and of itself meet the needs of people?
I didn’t realize that not long before this Sunday one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. It was incredibly traumatic. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message. I wonder how many advisors to us pastors today would have said, “Pastor Piper, can’t you see your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?” Some weeks later I learned the story. The husband took me aside one Sunday after service. “John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatest of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been the rock we could stand on.”
The greatness and glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.” [pp.13-14]pp. 13-14; Supremacy of God in Preaching; John Piper
Piper’s exposition of Isaiah 6 on the holiness of God was the most loving thing to preach on, because it was the very Word of God.
When preachers preach expositionally, the authority on which they speak is not their own. It is God’s authority. If the Word rightly divided, the preacher knows he is speaking God’s truth. The preacher is just the messenger – the servant of the King sent to proclaim and relay the message of the King. The messenger is not sent to the people of the King to deliver his own message about the King. The preacher can have full assurance that he is speaking the Word of God to the people when he proclaims the Word expositionally.
When preachers preach expositionally, they demonstrate by example how to read, understand, and apply the word. They give their people confidence and knowledge to understand it in their daily Bible intake. They show the authority of Scripture in context, give grammatical and historical insight so that those under their teaching can be equipped for the work of ministry in their own lives.
But some say that verse by verse or passage by passage exposition is cheating or easy. People can’t grow that way.
This is a false understanding of expository preaching. It takes a lot of research, learning, understanding to do proper exegesis and interpretation. It takes prayer and guidance of the Spirit to rightly divide and apply this Word of Truth. Paul says to “Study to show thyself approved.” “Endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” That is not easy. Expositional preaching forces preaches the preach on the hard things and subjects that they’d rare choose not to. It is saying what God is saying. Not reading into it your own ideas or agendas.
My friends, if you’re a preacher and you adhere to expositional verse-by-verse preaching and you skip a verse, you will be in trouble. I knew a preacher who was preaching through the First Corinthians and in the section of chapters 12-14 on the spiritual gifts, he continually stated that the “sign gifts”, that is tongues, prophecy, and healings, no longer existed. When he arrived at verse 39 of chapter 14, he skipped it. It states:
39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.I Corinthians 14:39-40 – Read here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=i+cor+14%3A39-40&version=NASB
It is also said that if a preacher only preached through a book of the bible he would rarely preach about Jesus.
And the Word of Truth properly expounded always points to Jesus. It always points to redemption. Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, expounds and unfolds Scripture for two men, showing them how all of Scripture pointed to himself. There are always two main characters in every portion of Scripture: fallen creatures in need of redemption and the God who redeems.
Every expositional sermon should be Christ-centered. It should be redemption focused. It should God glorifying and magnifying. For we are the fallen and God is the hero of every page of the story.
But, my friends, we also need application. We can’t just know all the right things. We need to be shown how to live. We can’t just be told to “be kind” or “do the right thing.” What is the right thing in this context? In the Biblical context and in my current situational context. We need to bridge that gap of first century culture and 21st century culture. That those Biblical truths and principles and put them in our setting. The meaning of Scripture never changes, because God never changes. But how we are to apply those principles in our own lives, situations, and cultures many change. As Eph 4 and 2 Tim says the believers are to be equipped for the work of ministry, to do every good work. To be trained and equipped we must apply the knowledge and put it into action.
For the proclamation of His glorious grace to all peoples!