"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: November 2018 (Page 2 of 2)

Is Expository Preaching Biblical? (Part 4)

(see parts 1-3 of this series for the larger context)

To that end, we ought to permit ourselves to broaden our view from the NT and include the OT. The synagogue movement and its practices, it is widely recognized, probably began during the exile. So does the Scripture provide us any view of what this looked like?

Indeed it does. – “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra was something of a prototype of what synagogue leaders were to become. And the synagogue practice (in terms of Scripture reading and exposition) was assumed and perpetuated in the Christian churches Paul planted.

Do we have an example of the kind of teaching Ezra undertook? We do, in Nehemiah 8. I will refer you to chapter 10 of my Revival in the Rubble (pp.163-182) for a fuller explanation of that example. It is, as an example, subject to the objection “that’s just what happened, but you can’t prove that is what is supposed to happen.” Or, put another way, how do we know this example is to be normative for God’s people today? For one thing, it might be argued, it was a situational thing—not a regular synagogue meeting, but a somewhat spontaneous revival, a unique moving of God’s Spirit. To which I would simply respond, “Isn’t that what we want when our local churches gather?” Some of the details ought not to be pressed (the building of a platform, etc.), but surely the gist of this stands as something God affirms to us as a desirable practice.

Is Expository Preaching Biblical? (Part 3)

(see parts 1 and 2 of this series for fuller context)

Then, too, consider Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13-16: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 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.”

Perhaps you’ll want to read the section in my Pastoral Epistles for Pastors on this (pp.184-193). But let me make just a few observations here …

  • “the public reading of Scripture” – more lit., “the reading” … it refers to the Jewish custom of reading the Scriptures aloud in the synagogue (cf. the only other usages in the NT: Acts 13:15; 2 Cor. 3:14). Paul views the public, corporate reading of Scripture as an indispensable part of the local church’s experience of worship and discipleship together.
  • “to exhortation” – Thayer indicates that in this context it denotes an official “hortatory discourse” (p.483). This was a corporate experience of the local church, as the context makes clear. It is what we would call preaching.
  • “to teaching” – The corporate “hortatory discourse” was not to be merely moral exhortation, but to include instruction as well. Gospel imperatives are based on gospel indicatives; gospel commands rest on gospel grace and that grace needs to be expounded upon so that commands can be rightly embraced.
  • Paul charges Timothy, “devote yourself” to this. The present tense imperative demands this become the continual and ongoing and habitual preoccupation of Timothy.
  • I’ll let you read the commentary on v.14 (lest this grows longer than it is already becoming!)
  • Actually, I’ll let you do the same on vv.15-16 … except to draw attention to the present tense imperatives here. Paul does not leave this as an option … it must become the continuing, habitual, regular practice as Timothy leads the church in Ephesus …
    • “Practice these things” –
    • “immerse yourself in them” –
    • “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” –
    • “Persist in this” –

So this demonstrates that Paul was assuming the replication in the Christian church of the Jewish practice of regular, corporate reading of God’s Word followed by an unfolding of what that passage means and how it ought to apply to our lives (Psalm 119:130a). Perhaps we do not have many examples of this recorded for us in the NT because Paul was assuming its presence and necessity and thus felt it unnecessary to provide examples. Rather like some people want to argue that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. But He was assuming the previous Scripture’s instruction about it and, in the immediate context, did not feel it necessary to repeat what had already become the fixed belief of God’s people.

Is Expository Preaching Biblical? (Part 2)

(see Part 1 of this blog post for fuller context)

Someone objects: “Show me an example of expository preaching in the NT!”

The question is sometimes asked as if the questioner has just played the trump card which ends all discussion.

I read somewhere recently that John Stott said that the NT nowhere gives us a description of a Christian worship service which includes preaching except Acts 20:7. I’m not sure about the accuracy of that, but it is instructive that Stott goes on to point out that this is no reason to believe preaching was an exception to the rule.

The question of NT examples of Biblical (or more specifically “expository”) preaching in a Christian worship service is a good question and hopefully an honest one. But it isn’t the only or even the best question.

What do we have recorded for us in Scripture? In the book of Acts we find narratives that largely describe evangelistic messages made in public forums … not examples of the gathered church in worship. While we do not have many such examples, we do have instruction about what those settings are to include.

Among others things …

Let’s take for example, the way Paul ends the book of Romans. In what seems to be his most thorough exposition of the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ Paul ends by saying this: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you …” (16:25a). I think “strengthen” is better rendered “establish” (cf. NIV, NASB, NKJV, etc.). The idea there is to make steady, make firm, make strong, found, establish. Sounds like discipleship to me. How did he suggest to the Roman believers this was able to happen? “… according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (vv.25-27). How are disciples grounded and founded and established in their faith?

1) through the gospel of Jesus Christ (“according to my gospel”) … Yes, of course, we say!; but there is more … disciples are established …

2) through the gospel of Jesus Christ preached (“my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ”); but there is yet more …

3) through the gospel of Jesus Christ preached from the Bible (“according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations”).

It would be wrong, in my opinion, to conclude this is the only thing Paul has to say about establishing disciples in their faith. Surely there are other components, like one-on-one or small group kinds of things (to use our jargon). But it would be equally wrong to conclude that anything else he said about establishing disciples of Jesus (i.e., “to bring about the obedience of faith”) would exclude the need to preach the gospel of Jesus and its implications to the already-saved from the Bible as a part of their steady diet of discipleship.

Is Expository Preaching Biblical? (Part 1)

Not long ago I was contacted by a friend who is a denominational leader. He is tasked with raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders in his denomination. He had one question: Is expository preaching biblical?

To some the question may seem alarming—after all the heart of expository preaching is to be biblical. So to ask the question is to strike at the essence of the very thing itself. Yet from another angle the question may be viewed as welcome and helpful—for shouldn’t we be asking that about everything we do in pastoral ministry?

So I responded to his query . . . at length. I thought it might be helpful to others if I shared my response here. It is, as I mentioned, long. So I’ll break it up into several posts. I’ll clean up any grammar issues from the original, but otherwise I’ll leave it as presented. I hope you find it helpful.


Dear ______,

You raise a number of questions, but seem to settle on one: “Is expository preaching biblical?”

You’ve asked for my opinion, and so I’ll simply say in reply, “Yes.”

Some opine that “expository” preaching (or, in some folk’s minds, preaching of any kind) as a part of Christian worship is a dated, left-over relic from the Reformation, an antiquated practice that may not have much validity as we strive to “move in the apostolic” in our ministries today.

I wonder, however, if we might find, upon closer examination, that expository preaching was not invented by the Reformers, but recovered by them. It was, after all, a re-formation of the church around the apostolic necessities … a rediscovery of that which is essential and had been lost.

First, a word about the term “expository” preaching. It is just that, a term. At one time it probably meant something fairly clear, but like so many of our terms (e.g., “evangelical”) it became over time weighted down with so many divergent notions that it has become almost useless in actually describing anything.

I like the notion of “text-driven” preaching. The text of Scripture drives the sermon, not the preacher’s internal feelings/leadings/nudges/notions, not the trends of the day, etc., etc., etc. That doesn’t negate the need to exegete the culture and our particular audience. It simply says that the preaching act itself ought to be an act in which the proclaimer submits himself, his sermon preparation and delivery, and his listeners to the authority of God’s written Word. The text of Scripture ought to determine the shape, substance and spirit of the sermon.

Is that biblical? Yes, I think so.

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