Classes were suspended as we heard some of the nation’s leading Bible teachers expound the scriptures. My heart was warmed. I remember thinking to myself, “That truth was there all the time. Why didn’t I see it?” Those gifted teachers made plain to us students what the holy scriptures were saying. This was soul-satisfying.
This was further reinforced during my student years as I was employed during the summers at World of Life camps and conference center in New York. I was privileged to hear outstanding Bible teaching there too. Those speakers were, like Apollos, “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24). I was developing the conviction that if I should ever become a preacher, then I must be an expository preacher.
The most significant encouragement in this direction during my seminary training came not from courses on preaching, but from my Greek professor, David Winget, who taught principles of biblical exegesis. Exegesis is the discovery of what the biblical text says and means (preferably from the original languages of the Bible). He demonstrated that sound exegesis is the foundation for a ministry of expository preaching.
Expository preaching seeks to explain the text of Scripture in such a way as to help listeners understand its meaning and make relevant application of its truths to their lives. The authority in this communication rests within the divinely-inspired biblical text, not with the preacher.
I have had the high honor of serving as pastor of two great churches, Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, and Metropolitan Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. In each place I was preceded by well-known pastors who were faithful and effective expository preachers.
The people of these congregations were wise enough, kind enough and mature enough not to expect me to fill the shoes of my esteemed predecessors. Instead, they encouraged me to be myself. They knew that I aspired to faithfully and systematically teach the Word of God. That was what they wanted. They had been nourished by sound Bible teaching in the past and they appreciated the fact that that was what I wanted to continue to do, by God’s grace.
In his book The Living Church John Stott wrote, “We do not occupy the pulpit in order to preach ourselves, broadcast our theories or ventilate our opinions. No! Our understanding of preaching is that it is essentially an exposition of the Word of God. In this sense, all Christian preaching is ‘expository’ preaching . . . in the broad sense (it opens up a biblical text).”
He went on to say that biblical exposition is like building a bridge from the ancient biblical world to our contemporary setting. That bridge aims to cross a cultural divide of over two thousand years. “Authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation. It relates the text to the context in such a way as to be both faithful to the biblical text and sensitive to the modern context.”
The famous nineteenth century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon told young preachers, “I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository. . . . I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.”
So you will not be not surprised to read here that I believe that people need expository preaching Sunday after Sunday, from pastors whose hearts burn within them with passion for the truth of God’s Word. Here are some reasons why I say that.
1. The Sunday morning preaching event is the single most important moment in the life of any congregation. I use the word “moment” advisedly. The preaching of the Word of God is momentous! It centers the gathered congregation on God’s revelation of himself and his will for our lives. It unifies the congregation around a shared commitment to God’s revealed truth.
2. The Bible is truthful and trustworthy in all that it affirms. It is an infallible guide to a Christian’s belief and conduct. Expository preaching provides reliable instruction in what we are to believe and how we are to live to be pleasing to God.
3. Anything less than the healthy food of God’s word will leave people spiritually undernourished. It is both “milk” for infants in the faith, and “adult food” (“meat”) for the spiritually mature. Therapeutic pop psychology or social commentary cannot feed hungry souls. Without the teaching of the Bible, God’s people cannot grow spiritually.
4. The Bible is relevant for all peoples, all cultures, all times and all places. Wherever it has gone, the Bible has elevated civilizations, and advanced the progress of cultures. This is true in the local church. The preacher’s task is not to make the Bible relevant, but to show the Bible’s relevance to our lives, guided by the Holy Spirit.
5. The teaching of Scripture leads people to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminded young Timothy that the holy scriptures were able to make him “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). Jesus had told his disciples, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”(John 20:29). How would those who had not seen Jesus in person come to believe in him? It would be through the witness of those first-century apostles (John 17:20)! Their writings about Jesus became the New Testament scriptures. The scriptures proclaim the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For these reasons, and others, throughout my pastoral ministry I made a priority of the study and teaching of the Bible. I wanted to be like Ezra, who “devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Like Paul, I aspired to obey “the commission God gave me to present . . . the word of God in its fullness” (Colossians 1:27).
One of the prominent Bible expositors I heard during my student years was Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whose recorded messages, long after his death, are now still heard on the “Thru the Bible Radio Ministry.” I remember a message he gave for the commencement ceremonies when my brother Steve graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. It was based on the famous text which was the seminary motto: “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).
During his talk he must have repeated that theme more than twenty times! I was reminded of the sacred privilege and solemn responsibility of my calling. I was both humbled and energized. And frankly, I couldn’t wait for the next great opportunity that would be mine to “preach the word!”
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on His Will Blog April 9, 2021. Used with permission