What is expositional preaching, and why does it matter in the life of the church?
Expositional preaching is gospel-centered preaching that exposes the text within its own context as well as within the faithful context of the whole counsel of God. One of the first examples in the early church (outside of Jesus’ teachings) that displays expositional preaching is Peter in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost where he preaches from Joel and Psalms, pointing to Jesus and calling the listener to repent and believe.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says it this way: “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.”
If Scripture is breathed by God for these reasons and uses, we are to rightly use the word of God, which is from God, to lead us in the pursuit of God by the power of the Spirit and grace of God in Jesus our Savior.
“Them and then”
Expositional preaching is a process by which the preacher first spends time studying the specific text to gain understanding of its original meaning by the author to the original audience.
2 Timothy 2:15 says that we are to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This first step of seeking the author’s intended meaning can be understood as seeking the “them/then” of the text. When the Holy Spirit moved the Biblical authors to write, there was an intended and timeless meaning and significance in those texts. Expositional preaching seeks to expose the text, first in this original context.
From there, as with all Scripture, we seek to lead people with that meaning to the cross of Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 speaks of gospel preaching as that which is of first importance: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The Scriptures as a whole are written to point to the redemptive work of Jesus, the Son of God. The New Testament preachers clearly displayed this understanding of the Old Testament in their preaching of those texts. Peter in Acts 2, Paul in Romans (among other places), and Stephen in Acts 7 all approached the Old Testament through the lens of the promise of Christ.
Without seeing the Scriptures as primarily Christiological, we lose a gospel that is based in Christ and take on a gospel that is rooted in man’s efforts of obedience. And that would give us a works-based salvation, destined for hopelessness. This particular part of the study and proclamation of God‘s word is most necessary to the soul as we look to Christ as our Savior and Lord who has purchased redemption for us by his death and resurrection. Without this reflection, preaching would become simply moralistic teachings like all the man-made religions of the world.
“Us and now”
Paul, writing to Timothy, speaks to how preaching seeks to apply the text by using it to faithfully “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). As we look to the cross, we continue in the process of preaching by applying what we see of Christ. Because Christ is our example, we then respond to that example. This last part of expositional preaching is called application or the “us/now” of the text. The application is specific ways that the text calls us directly or implies indirectly that we respond to the text. It is the imperatives of the text. It is important to note that all of this process is to be done prayerfully on the part of the preacher, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit all along the way.
Psalm 19:7-11 speaks of God’s word as a delight, perfect, and reviving the soul. We read that “the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” and “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
Expositional preaching of the Word is then necessary to the life and growth of the church because without this process being carried out in its proper and fullest way, our hearts would not be confronted with the reality of God‘s word, Christ’s work, and then the call on our life to obedience in following Christ. And because expositional preaching is firmly rooted in the view of the cross from the text, grace is a central component of each sermon. This grace is the kindness of God proclaimed over us that leads us to consistent repentance by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we hear the text proclaimed.