Expository Preaching: A Display of What is There

There is something to be said for being concise. Maybe that’s why my favorite definition of expository preaching consists of only six words: a display of what is there. 

What I like about this definition (which is not original with me, by the way) is how it so simply captures the two core elements of expositional preaching—accurate interpretation and clear proclamation. Expository preaching, in other words, involves discovering what is there in the biblical text (accurate interpretation) and putting it on display (clear proclamation). If the goal of the preacher is to expose the meaning of God’s Word to His people, both are indispensable.  

Discovering What Is There (Exegesis)  

As one of my seminary professors used to say, the first job of an expositor is to make a beeline for a correct interpretation of the text. In other words, once the expositor has selected the passage he intends to preach, his immediate goal is to exegete this passage thoroughly, coming to a precise and accurate understanding of the author’s original intent. Put another way, he must be a student before he is a preacher, and a careful one at that.  

The focus of the exegetical process, of course, is what is there, actually there in the text. It sounds so obvious that it’s almost insulting, but this is not something to skip over lightly. I can’t tell you how many “expository” sermons I’ve heard which have contained so little of anything that is actually there in the passage supposedly being proclaimed. This kind of preaching always makes me wonder how much exegesis took place in the study.  

In contrast, the true expositor stays focused on discovering what is there in the passage he is to preach, and in the end, he knows the author’s intended meaning with accuracy and precision. Put simply, if you’re going to stand up before God’s people and proclaim, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” you had better be sure that this is what He said. Careful exegesis takes much time and effort (2 Tim 2:15), but the faithful preacher is convinced it is well worth it.  

Displaying What Is There (Homiletics)  

Lest all the blood, sweat, and tears of the exegetical process go to waste, the expositor must be committed to clarity in the pulpit. This involves a commitment to setting forth the meaning of the passage in a way that the people can understand. It also involves sharing the conviction of the apostle Paul who affirmed the need to make things clear in his own proclamation of divine truth (
Col 4:4).  

As a preacher, I spend considerable time seeking to articulate a clear thesis statement which captures the overall point of the text (what I call a proposition). I work equally hard to construct points of an outline and come up with illustrations of key concepts in the passage. I even endeavor to develop an introduction which goes somewhere beyond, “Please open your Bibles.” I also ponder how exactly to communicate the truth of the biblical text, oftentimes choosing my words very carefully. To some, all of this may seem misguided—after all, shouldn’t you just preach the Word? And didn’t Paul himself say that reliance upon rhetoric and fancy teaching techniques is a denial of the Spirit’s power (1 Cor 2:1-5)?  

My simple response is that I do all of these things not as a way to impress and wow the congregation, or bring more “power” to the message, but rather to display as clearly as possible the truths I have discovered during the exegetical process. In this way, my introduction, outline and illustrations are designed to lead the people into a clear understanding of what the passage teaches—to display what is there. 

To the degree that a preacher fails either to accurately interpret or clearly proclaim the biblical text, he has departed from expository preaching by failing to expose the meaning of God’s Word to His people. Think about it. On one hand, if he misinterprets the Word and clearly proclaims this errant interpretation of the passage, he has put something on display, but not the meaning of God’s Word. This is not faithful preaching. On the other hand, if he accurately interprets the passage and has a precise understanding of its meaning, and yet he is decidedly unclear in his presentation of the biblical text, he still has not exposed the meaning of God’s Word to His people. He may have this meaning hidden somewhere in his own mind, but he has not put it on display. For this reason, you might say that the most serious transgression in preaching is to be unbiblical, and the second is to be unclear. To be anything less than biblical and clear is to shortchange the people of God and be unfaithful to the divine mandate. 

In the end, perhaps few have said it better than John Stott in his classic book on preaching, Between Two Worlds. According to Stott, “To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed.” That is, he discovers what is there and puts it on display. And all of this to serve as the means through which God transforms the hearts of His people. What a privilege to be part of the process!

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9 responses to this post.

  1. […] lbc3 under Christianity , Preaching , Expository Preaching , Expository Thoughts  This is a nice article from Expository Thoughts describing the practice of “expository […]

  2. Posted by cumby on January 15, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for the fine post. Although I love to study the Word and put in plenty of time doing it, when it’s time for me to preach, I have one main problem which my pastor calls “rabbit hunting.”

    With every scripture my mind is bombarded by at least ten other scriptures and ten examples from life from which to choose. This invariably can lead to being scattered and moving away from the main message of the original text.

    It is a lack of discipline and steadfastness to the original purpose of the message that I deal with every time. I start at point A and end up somewhere else.

    Having preached for only 3 years however, I realize that God is patient and at least I’ve become aware of what needs to be worked on and improved.

  3. Cumby,

    Sounds to me that, by recognizing the problem, you are well on your way to overcoming it. I appreciate your humility and desire to grow. That is a great reminder for all of us.

    Along these lines, in the past, I have challenged some of the young men I have mentored to do this as an exercise: When you have completed your preaching notes, go back and delete every cross-reference you have listed and see what is left of your sermon. Some of the guys found that almost nothing was left, which helped them realize that their message was not an exposition of a biblical passage, but rather a topical sermon that used the original passage as a starting point. There is a massive difference between (a) exegeting a passage and displaying what is there, and (b) listing out a multitude of verses that the passage reminds me of.

    Blessings, brother. And keep preaching the Word!

  4. Great post. Thanks for your work.

    I have a question (or two) for you: Do you preach in an expository fashion every Sunday? Do you take “breaks” to focus on specific topics, such as stewardship?

    I have noticed our own preacher, once known as a pretty good expositor, has relied more and more on topical type sermons. I guess he feels led to cover these special topics, but before you know it, we’ve gone six months or so without any expository-type preaching.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

  5. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on January 16, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Ibc3,

    Excellent question. In looking back over my Sunday morning preaching schedule, I found that I have preached only four topical messages in the last two years. So obviously that is very much the exception for me and not the rule.

    At the same time, at our Sunday evening service, I usually teach in much more of a classroom kind of setting, with a syllabus, whiteboard, PowerPoint, and plenty of opportunity for questions and interaction. In the past two years I have taught classes on bibliology, hermeneutics, Roman Catholicism, and Lordship Salvation.

    Later today (or perhaps first thing tomorrow morning) I am planning to post an article here entitled “A Case for Consecutive Exposition.” This will address some of the reasons I think it is best to preach through entire books of the Bible as the primary approach.

  6. Thanks for the response.

    I look forward to the new post.

    Mike

  7. […] * Expository Thoughts had two excellent posts this week on expository preaching: Expository Preaching – A display of what is there; and A Case for Consecutive Exposition * Steve Weaver talks about one of his favourite preachers * […]

  8. Posted by Steve Jenkins on January 24, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks for the article. You really hit the “bull’s eye” regarding the tremendous mandate that’s upon the lives of those handling the word of God from the prospective of teaching others. Great material!! I look forward to the next post.

    God Bless You!!

  9. […] January 26th, 2007 Preaching * Expository Thoughts with a simple but helpful definition of expository preaching. * Bluefish posted two helpful articles on Lessons in Biblical Application […]

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