Theology of Expository Preaching
Why do we preach? This question is at the forefront of determining a correct theology of expository preaching. Some churches treat sermons as weekly motivational speeches, and the pulpit exists to advance one's platform or social and political agenda. Other churches have closed the pulpit and replaced preaching with round table conversations or discussions. Why? Is preaching outdated? Are there better ways to communicate God's Word to the gathered church than preaching? I believe the answer to these questions is, No. Preaching has not expired, and there is no better way to communicate the word of God than preaching expositional sermons through books of the Bible. We preach because preaching is the form of communication that God chose to bring his message to his creation, and it is the form of communication He commands that we follow. Consider this charge from 2 Timothy 4:2, "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." In this verse, the Apostle Paul calls us not only to preach but to do so in an expository manner.
Bryan Chapell helps define expository preaching. He said, "The main idea of an expository sermon, the topic, the divisions of that idea, main points, and the development of those divisions, all come from truths the text itself contains. No significant portions of the text are ignored. In other words, expositors willingly stay within the boundaries of the text and do not leave until they have surveyed its entirety with its hearers." The expository preaching of God's Word is imperative. To faithfully accomplish this task, one must be a man who 1. is pursuing a life of holiness, 2. has a high view of Scripture, 3. has a realistic understanding of the sinfulness of man, and 4. has a clear awareness of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The following will consider each point to develop a theology of exposition.
A theology of exposition begins with a desire and commitment to pursue a life of holiness. The preacher must love Jesus, live like Jesus, and lead others to Jesus. Dr. Jason Allen says that "the spiritual life of the preacher impacts the overall effectiveness and authority of the sermon." The qualifications for an elder found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 detail the character the preacher must obtain. The non-negotiable qualifications are that the elder/preacher must be sexually faithful, manage his household well, humble, gentle, peaceable, reasonable, sober-minded, financially responsible, hospitable, self-controlled, upright character, above reproach, spiritually mature, respectable, and an example of Christian living.
The preacher must also practice humility, confession of sin, and repentance. The preacher must delight in God's Word not so that he can craft a faithful sermon but out of a desire to know his God more intimately. Godly character, spiritual discipline, and a devotion to Christ must characterize the preacher's life. Consider another charge Paul gave to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul encourages Timothy to live his life in such a way that he would be defined as Christ-centered, gospel-centric, and having godly conduct, all for the sake of the church and a lost world.
The preacher must have a high view of Scripture, and he must have the conviction to preach the gospel from the whole counsel of God's Word. The Bible is one unified story. From beginning to end, Scripture points us to who God is and what He has done through Jesus Christ to redeem us back to Himself. Mankind moves from death to life and is given the gift of faith by hearing God's inherent, infallible, and authoritative Word. Consider Paul's words from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” What a preacher believes about the Bible will determine how faithful he is to preach it. If he has a correct view of Scripture, he will remain devoted to the preaching of the text. If he has a low opinion of Scripture, he will be less faithful to preaching what the text is communicating. Having a low view of Scripture is dangerous and can lead the preacher to misuse and potentially even twist Scripture.
The preacher's goal should be to clearly communicate the gospel. To do this well, the preacher must have a clear understanding of the gospel, a clear grasp of the context of his congregation, and a sense of how to contextualize the gospel message to his hearers. One way to effectively do this is to have a deep understanding of the sinfulness of man. Jesus did not come into the world, live a perfect life, die, and raise from the dead so that all who believe in him would be a better, moral, and more religious people. No! Jesus died and rose from the grave to make dead people alive. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul informs us that people are dead in their sins. People aren't merely drowning and in need of a life raft, but they are dead with their feet encased in concrete stuck at the bottom of the sea. They have already drowned. They are dead and need someone to pull them up and breathe life into them. Preaching is the means that God has chosen to awaken sinners to an understanding of their depravity and their need for Jesus. Preaching is also the means that God has chosen to grow believers in their faith and godliness.
Finally, the preacher must be clearly aware of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in the preparation of the sermon. As the preacher studies and prepares, he should do so prayerfully and fully depend on the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text for him. The work of the Holy Spirit does not stop in the study but continues into the pulpit. The preacher should be fully dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit in the delivery of his sermon. The Holy Spirit also leads the hearer of the sermon to respond to the preaching of God's word appropriately. The Bible was written by men but inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the words of Scripture are the very Words of God. It is impossible to separate the ministry of the Word from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it would be unwise to do so.
If a man is called to preach, it is imperative that he have a Biblical theology of expositional preaching. The call to preach is a serious one and requires faithfulness and dedication. It requires a man to pursue holiness. It requires a man to have a firm conviction that the contents of the Bible are the very words of God Himself. It requires a man to see clearly that man is sinful both by nature and by choice, and the only hope of salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. He knows that faith comes by hearing God's word, and the implications of this truth are not lost on him. A call to preach requires complete dependence, not on your charisma, speaking ability, or good looks but upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Finally, faithful preaching will lead both the preacher and the congregation to join Paul in saying "to the praise of His glorious grace." (Eph. 1:6)
Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Bible (ESV) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2001).
Bryan Chappel, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994)
Jason K. Allen, Letters To My Students Vol. 1: On Preaching (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H, 2019)