A Case for Consecutive Exposition

Once a pastor has committed himself to the faithful exposition of God’s Word—often known as expository preaching—he is faced with the question of what exactly to preach on a weekly basis. The Word of God, of course, but which specific passages? There are three basic approaches a preacher can follow.  

First, he can select a different passage every week, with each passage having little or no relationship to the previous one. In this way, each passage would be handled in an expository fashion, but there would be no deliberate flow or cohesiveness from one week to the next. For example, he might preach Ephesians 5:22-24 the first week, Psalm 119:9-16 the second week, Mark 10:13-16 the third week, and so on. You might call this random exposition. 

Second, he can select a group of passages, each of which deal with the same topic or theme, and then preach them week after week until the series is completed. For example, he could do a series on having a biblical view of God’s Word by preaching Psalm 19:7-11 the first week, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the second week, 1 Peter 2:1-3 the third week, etc., until he is ready to move on to the next series. You could call this thematic exposition. 

There is a third approach, however, which I believe is the best option for the preacher who is in the pulpit on a regular basis, and that is consecutive exposition. Put simply, consecutive exposition consists of preaching verse-by-verse through entire books of the Bible. On Sunday mornings I have most recently preached through the entirety of Philippians and Habakkuk, and I am currently preaching through 1 Peter. Last week I preached 1 Peter 2:4-8, this Sunday I will preach 1 Peter 2:9-10, followed by 1 Peter 2:11-12 the next week, and so on. When I complete 1 Peter, I may take a few weeks to do some “stand-alone” messages—or even a brief series of thematic exposition—but sooner than later I will start again on the very first verse of a new book. This is consecutive exposition.  

All things being equal, I highly recommend this as the primary approach for a pastor to take. There may be strategic times to step back from a book study, but I believe there are the most advantages to consistent consecutive exposition. Why do I say that? For several reasons, most of which I have probably borrowed from others, but here they are: 

1. It introduces the congregation to a wide range of Scripture. 

2. It ensures that infrequently traveled areas of Scripture are covered. 

3. It increases the probability of accurate interpretation. 

4. It cultivates sound habits of personal Bible study in the congregation. 

5. It saves the preacher time on:

  • selecting the next passage
  • planning the next series
  • studying the historical background and literary context of the next passage

6. It enables the preacher to plan ahead with ease. 

7. It prevents the preacher from:

  • constantly gravitating toward favorite passages or themes
  • avoiding passages that are difficult to interpret
  • avoiding passages that confront his beliefs or lifestyle
  • targeting the sin of specific individuals in the congregation
  • using the pulpit to battle theological opponents in the church

8. It provides opportunity for both the preacher and the congregation to see that all of Scripture is indeed profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, even those passages which don’t initially seem relevant to their lives.  

Questions to consider:  

  • What are some other advantages to consecutive exposition?
  • What are some potential disadvantages?
  • What are some good reasons to depart from consecutive exposition from time to time? 

18 responses to this post.

  1. Great stuff here! Thanks Matt.

  2. You asked: “What are some potential disadvantages?” I’m not sure if this was rhetorical or if you were asking for discussion. Here’s two cents worth…

    You know that I agree completely with consecutive exposition, but a disadvantage I often observe is how such consecutive exposition is carried out. That is, I get frustrated when I hear preaching that gets so bogged down in individual words, phrases, and sentences, that paragraphs, larger passages, and books as a whole are distorted. Or, to put it another way, the larger purposes and themes are ignored.

    What do you think? Any advice for me and others?

  3. Randy,

    Excellent observation. I think there is a real danger in zeroing in so closely on the details that you miss the overall intent of the author. The illustration I like to use is the guy who takes an oil painting and looks at it under a microscope. He is indeed able to see and describe the individual fibers of the canvas, but in doing so he completely misses what the artist was intending to communicate.

    I am working on an article entitled “How Deep is Too Deep?” in which I will suggest that some preachers dig so “deep” that they dig past the intent of the biblical writer and into soil of their own imaginations. A related error is what is commonly known as “totality transfer” (see Moises Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning, 25-27; D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 60-61).

    As a remedy, I always need to be asking myself if I understand how the details of my passage serve to support the main point of the pericope, and how this pericope supports the overall purpose or theme of the book I am preaching. To fail to tie all this together for the people is to fail to display accurately what is actually there in the text. In this way, I would say the scenario you described is not as much a downside to consecutive exposition as it is a departure from it. In fact, theoretically, “consecutive exposition” ought to guard against this pitfall more effectively than “random exposition” or “thematic exposition.” Make sense? But I totally know what you mean and am grateful for how you have pinpointed what is commonly done in the name of expository preaching.

    I’m sure other will have some helpful input. And yes, the questions at the close of the post were legitimate inquiries for the purpose of bring some discussion.

  4. they dig past the intent of the biblical writer and into soil of their own imaginations

    Great line…I’ve been guilty before, I pray that I am not these days…

    Matt, how about when teaching and not preaching, say Wednesday night “bible study”, what then of going into every reference, etc…is there a place for that other than personal study?

  5. Great observations Randy and Matt!

    You asked: “What are some other advantages to consecutive exposition?”

    I would say this follows the “preaching what is there” idea that you wrote about in your last post. In other words this is how the text has been given to us. It has not been preserved in a jumbled mess but book by book and verse by verse which I think should be reflected in our preaching.

    Reasons to depart? This will be different for each congregation but seasonal days (Christmas, Easter, etc), a local or national disaster, a church disruption (scandal, discipline, death of a pastor, etc) are a few reasons that come to mind.

  6. J.D. (“Even So”),

    If you are referring to topical sermons, I think there is definitely a place for that. I am thinking more in terms of one’s primary approach to preaching on a weekly basis and suggesting that it be consecutive exposition.

    If you mean cross-referencing in the process of doing consecutive exposition, I would issue a caution and ask whether the other passages are actually contributing anything to an understanding of the main text being proclaimed. Often the unintended result of lots of cross-referencing in an expository sermon is that the preacher gets off on rabbit trails, or worse, engages in eisegesis. Even in a bible study, I think cross-referencing is overrated and often serves as a substitute for looking hard at the text that one is studying. Many times preachers spend hours looking at various cross-references in their study, but when it’s time to deliver the goods, they still don’t know the basic syntax of the passage they are preaching, and therefore they are not able to communicate the flow of thought of the text they are putting on display.

    In re-reading your comment, I realize you may not be referring to cross-referencing at all (depends on what you meant by “going into every reference”). If you what you mean instead is digging deeply into the details of a passage, I think that is very important, but also that it must be done with a view to understanding how those details contribute to the whole.

  7. Matt, thank you, I was actually referring to both items.

    In truth, I have experienced exactly what you said, too many cross references became a logjam, and also a platform for me to “go off”, usually into something I had recently experienced and now wanted to expound upon (that is reading into the text in the worst sort of way). Of course I thought at the time it was God’s leading, but upon review, it most certainly was not.

    As well, becoming too atomisitc stifles the flow and we become mere note readers at best, and confused communicators.

    Again, thanks…I do consecutive exposition, and am always looking to be helped along as to “road hazards”…I would hope others might “fess up” so as to help others see wrong forks in the road…

  8. […] 17th, 2007 · No Comments Matt at Expository Thoughts has some excellent thoughts on consecutive exposition of the Scripture, which he believes is the […]

  9. Am really enjoying these posts. I’m preaching through Titus because of controversy in our local situation about qualifications for church leadership. Rather than just preaching those qualifications, I’m preaching through the whole book which helps put the individual qualifications as well as the qualification pericopes in perspective. Yet, because of the controversy, I’m spending eight weeks in detail among the qualifications. The danger of getting bogged down is great but if I deal with them in one sermon (which I have done in 1 Timothy), the forest keeps people from seeing the trees. However, as I study the passage and the book as a whole, I find within the epistle both exegetical and homiletical help. The key is certainly, as Matt said to let the context of the epistle determine what the emphasis on the individual phrase should be.

  10. Posted by Mike on January 18, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    I’m really enjoying these posts, Matt – this is exactly the kind of food for thought that draws me to check this site every day.

    I am in my first pastorate in a rural area of northern Louisiana, and coincidentally, in my first two years have preached through two books – Philippians and Habakkuk! (and most of John). I also preached a thematic series recently called ‘Can God Be Trusted?’, and traced the development of the Abrahamic covenant, noting how God’s faithfulness is proven through His constant determination and ability to keep His promises, from the birth of Isaac to the exodus from Egypt, to the birth and death of Christ and beyond, all to fulfill the covenant-promises. What a God!

    We do not currently have a Sunday evening service here, and so thus far, when preaching consecutively through a book I have taken a break at the end of each month, to keep things fresh. What do you think of that practice?

  11. Mike: Sounds like a great approach. Some of it seems to depend on where the people are at and where you want to take them. Thanks for your feedback. It’s a great encouragement to hear from men who are committed to the preaching of the Word. Keep pressing on!

    Paul: Good list of reasons to depart. To add one, sometimes I have departed to expand on something we encountered in our consecutive exposition, either with a stand-alone expositional message on a different passage or a topical sermon. For example, not too long ago I preached on a passage that raised the issue of baptism, so I took two weeks off from my regular series to preach on baptism.

  12. Posted by Chris Pixley on January 18, 2007 at 7:21 pm


    Where in northern LA are you ministering? My parents make a home in that part of the country and I’m always eager to commend a good ministry to them.

  13. Posted by Chris Pixley on January 18, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    By the way, Matt, this is a very good discussion you’ve started. I appreciate the simplicity and clarity with which you write about these practical matters.

  14. Posted by Mike on January 18, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    I pastor Aulds Chapel Bible Church, a small (avg. attendance of 65-75), IFCA-member church in Downsville, LA, about 15 miles west of Monroe.

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