by Tony Merida
Expository preaching is an approach that is founded on certain theological beliefs, such as the role of the preacher according to Scripture, the nature of the Scripture, and the work of the Spirit. Therefore, many of the benefits for doing exposition are hard to measure. However, nine practical-theological benefits are worth noting.
First, exposition calls for attention to be given to biblical doctrine. One has to preach on every doctrinal issue if they preach the whole council of God. This keeps the preacher from only dealing with his favorite subjects, and it will give the hearers theological stability.
Second, exposition, done well, is good for both audiences: believers and non-believers. If one preaches the Scriptures in view of its redemptive history that culminates in Jesus, then the gospel will be integrated naturally into every sermon. The unbeliever will be confronted with his need for repentance and his hope that is in Christ. On the other hand, exposition will grow the believers in the church and remind them that they do not work for grace but from grace and by grace. So I am a huge fan, and hopefully a practitioner of, gospel-filled exposition.
Third, exposition gives authority to the message. Preachers that just try to be cutting-edge, or fill their sermons with endless stories, lose authority. The authority of the sermon is not in the suggestions, stories, or observations of the preacher. Authority comes from God’s Word.
Fourth, exposition magnifies Scripture. Preachers may claim to believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word, but if they do not take people for a swim in the text, then they deny their belief in practice. You will show your people what you believe about the Bible by how you use it. This is how you magnify the nature of Scripture with something more than repeated clichés.
Fifth, exposition is God-centered not man-centered. By starting with God’s Word instead of a popular idea or a perceived need, the preacher will expose the nature and truth of the Triune God to people—which is their greatest need.
Sixth, exposition provides a wealth of material for preaching. By moving through the Scriptures, you will avoid reductionism; that is, picking only the topics that seem important (money, sex, and power). The Bible will provide you with more subjects to preach on than you ever dreamed. A holistic approach will produce holistic Christians.
Seventh, exposition grows the person delivering the Word. This is the most enjoyable part of committing to exposition. By studying the text week by week, you will be developed as a disciple and you will continue to fill your soul with spiritual nourishment.
Eighth, exposition ensures the highest level of biblical knowledge for the congregation. By regularly expounding the Word of God, you will train a group of people who know the Scriptures. Further, you will not only remind them of who they are in Christ and how to glorify God, but you will also train them to think Christianly. Other types of preaching may put a band aid on people’s felt needs, but such will not transform their worldview unless they understand the mind of the Holy Spirit in the Word. Exposition is a primary means of transforming people by the renewal of their mind (Rom 12:2).
Finally, exposition teaches people how to study the Bible on their own. The old saying is true, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” By moving systematically through passages and books you will teach the people how to engage the text. They will understand the importance of context, words, and biblical genres. After doing exposition in various places, I have discovered that the people are able to predict my next point, and see how I got it. Expository preaching will produce expository preachers and expository students.
Therefore, the benefits of exposition are numerous. No other approach to preaching seems to provide such advantages. Why would we want to do anything else?
What Are the Dangers of Exposition?
In championing expository preaching, I must point out that there are several dangers to avoid. One problem is dullness. The Word needs to pass through us before it passes from us. If we are dull, then it probably means that we have not let the Word do its work in our own hearts first.
Another danger related to this one is irrelevancy. The goal of exposition is not information, but personal transformation. The preacher must show how the text has implications on the hearers’ lives.
Expositors should also watch out for monotony. The preacher should work hard at presenting the Word in fresh ways. Starting the sermon off the same way, or using the same types of illustrations becomes predictable and frustrating to the hearer. Creativity and freshness is not to be spurned, especially when it is part of the preacher’s personality.
In addition, preachers should watch out for detail overload. Sometimes the hardest part of preparing expository sermons is deciding what to leave out. Good expository preaching has one dominant theme. The preacher takes this theme and supports it, in order to drill this truth into the minds of the hearers. Simplicity and clarity are especially important to remember if you begin doing exposition in a church that has never heard it before.
Intellectual pride is a deadly shark to avoid as well. It comes in two ways. One way is when the preacher tries to impress the audience with his knowledge of biblical backgrounds and biblical languages. Our role is not to impress people but to present the Word plainly and clearly to them. Pride also creeps in when a preacher dogmatically preaches a difficult text, insisting that his interpretation is the only correct view. My philosophy is to present all of the views on such texts and then state my own view, giving reasons to support it. Balancing authority with humility is often difficult for preachers who cannot distinguish between first, second, and third tier doctrines. By giving options, you will help people develop a Christian mind and learn to study on their own. You will also build credibility with your hearers, as you practice humble exegesis.
The final shark is very deadly. We must avoid Christ-less sermons. Often expositors miss the forest of the Bible (God’s redemption in Jesus) for the trees (a particular passage). According to some hermeneutical plans, one could preach through the book of Nehemiah verse by verse, yet never mention Jesus—and the sermon would be classified as expository! What is wrong with this method? It has missed the greater context of the whole Bible. Every expositor should try to identify where the selected passage is located in redemptive history. Is it before the cross or after it? I am not proposing that we try to “find Jesus under every rock,” but I do want to contend that despite some discontinuity, the Bible is one Christian book. In fact, Jesus told the disciples that the Old Testament pointed to Himself (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47). No Jewish rabbi should be able to sit comfortably under our preaching from the Old Testament. Expositors should work hard at finding the redemptive connections within the text, and make a grace-filled application of it.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity by Tony Merida.
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