Archive for the ‘application’ Category

Sound Doctrine & the Expository Pulpit (Part 6)

Similarity No. 5:

the Purity of Doctrine

Fifth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur have been keenly aware they must exposit doctrinal truths. This focus has yielded a depth lacking in other expositors.  Murray observes there is “a growing difference between the older, [G. Campbell] Morgan tradition of exposition and MacArthur’s. In his case, as with Lloyd-Jones, the devotional thought is grounded on the bringing out of clear doctrinal principles. Exposition needs to lead hearers to doctrinal certainties.”  Lloyd-Jones
and MacArthur have been committed to preaching biblical and systematic theology from each text.

 Theology on Fire

Lloyd-Jones was adamant that true preaching must be doctrinal preaching: “What is preaching? It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”  Each sermon, he maintained, must set forth doctrinal truths. To this point, Lloyd-Jones reiterates: “Preaching must always be theological, always based on a theological foundation…There is no type of preaching that should be non-theological.” With deep conviction, he states: “You cannot deal properly with repentance without dealing with the doctrine of man, the doctrine of the Fall, the doctrine of sin and the wrath of God against sin.”  In other words, preaching must be aimed at teaching “doctrinal certainties.”

Consequently, Lloyd-Jones believed that strong preaching demands that the preacher have a strategic grasp of systematic theology: “To me there is nothing more important in a preacher than that he should know it and be well grounded in it. This systematic theology, this body of truth which is derived from the Scripture, should always be present as a background and as a controlling influence in his preaching.”  For Lloyd-Jones, sound doctrine was the very backbone of his preaching. Each passage must be tested by the analogy of Scripture and show its perfect consistency with the rest of Scripture.

Murray explains that for Lloyd-Jones, preaching expositionally is “not simply to give the correct grammatical sense of a verse or passage. It is rather to set out the principles or doctrines which the words are intended to convey. True expository preaching is, therefore, doctrinal preaching, it is preaching which addresses specific truths from God to man.”  Without teaching the doctrine of a passage, a sermon is devoid of power. Thus, Lloyd-Jones asserted, “The purpose of studying the Scripture is to arrive at doctrine.”  Setting forth the doctrine of the passage, he believed, is essential to the sermon.

The Faith Once For All Delivered

This same focus upon sound doctrine is found in MacArthur’s preaching. This noted preacher writes: “The pastor’s purpose is not to make Scripture relevant to his people but to enable them to understand doctrine, which becomes the foundation of their spiritual living.”  No matter what people want, MacArthur states, solid theology must be put forth. He writes: “People’s ears may be itching for anything but sound doctrine, but the faithful pastor will defy the spirit of the age, confront his own fear, and boldly preach the truth anyway.”  Accordingly, he states: “In his preaching and teaching, it should be the pastor’s sole objective to enlighten his congregation in doctrine that protects and preserves their spiritual health.”  In other words, right living results from right doctrine.

In MacArthur’s preaching, Murray notes: “The necessity for doctrinal content—the making clear of biblical principles—became an increasingly important part of MacArthur’s preaching.” To this end, MacArthur states: “Authentic Christianity is concerned first and foremost with truth. The Christian faith is not primarily about feelings although deep feelings will surely result from the impact of truth on our hearts. It is not about human relationships, even though relationships are the main focus in many of today’s evangelical pulpits…Biblical Christianity is all about truth.”  Consequently, MacArthur stresses that the absolute nature of truth necessitates that every pastor teach sound doctrine. He writes: “An excellent minister is to disseminate sound teaching to all people at all times through all means. That is the heart and soul of the ministry.”

Regarding current trends, MacArthur notes: “There is much relational preaching today that attempts to make people feel better about themselves and about how God might feel about them, but there is little forceful defense of the full truth. As in most periods of church history, strong and effective defenders of the faith are at a premium.” Expositors of sound doctrine is the dire need in this present hour, he believes, those who uphold the standard of sound words. Such a commitment to preaching “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” galvanizes the pulpit.


Article by Dr. Steve Lawson (used with permission)


Fourth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur were equally committed to serious study in their sermon preparation. Possessing commanding intellects, these two master expositors feverishly devoted themselves to the diligent study of the Scripture. The depth of their sermon preparation has determined the breadth of their ministry. Both men have labored to search the Scripture in order to discover its essential meaning, key doctrines, and timeless principles.

Digging Into the Scripture

As a promising medical student, Lloyd-Jones knew the discipline required in rigorous academic study. Following his demanding schooling, he joined the staff of the foremost teaching hospital in the world, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. There he became the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, a leading heart physician and doctor to the royal family. Under this privileged tutelage, Horder’s Socratic approach to logic and learning sharpened the intellectual prowess of this future preacher. Horder acclaimed Lloyd-Jones to be “the most acute thinker that I ever knew.”  Once converted and called into ministry, Lloyd-Jones applied his ingenious mind to the study of Scripture.

As Lloyd-Jones approached the Bible, it was as though he was examining a patient. Of each text, he asked probing questions, synthesized his findings, and determined the proper diagnosis. He said: “You have to question your text, to put questions to it, and especially this question—What is this saying? What is the particular doctrine here, the special message? In the preparation of a sermon, nothing is more important than that.”  In scrutinizing the Scripture, Lloyd-Jones insisted that his analysis must involve studying in the original languages. He stated that the Greek and Hebrew “are of great value for the sake of accuracy; no more, that is all. They cannot guarantee accuracy, but they promote it.”  Thus, he insisted, linguistic tools need to be employed in interpreting the Scripture. After digging into the text, Lloyd-Jones then urged the consulting “commentaries or any aids that you may choose to employ.”

In this pursuit, Lloyd-Jones’s entire life was “immersed in Scripture.”  Using the Robert Murray McCheyne system of daily Scripture reading, he poured over four passages of Scripture each day, two in the morning and two at night. Those who knew him best said: “He knew that Bible inside and out!”  For Lloyd-Jones, this gave him a thorough knowledge of the whole Bible. As he dug into each text, he looked for the doctrine taught therein. Lloyd-Jones said: “Biblical study is of very little value if it ends in and of itself and is mainly a matter of the meaning of the words.  The purpose of studying the Scripture is to arrive at its doctrine.”  Like a hard-working miner, he explored each passage until he extracted its theological gems, core doctrines, and biblical principles. Out of this daily reading and sermon preparation, he was armed with the truth and, in turn, preached the Word.

Rightly Dividing the Word

Hard study has been equally present in MacArthur’s sermon preparation. Iain Murray notes this relentless pursuit in study of the Scripture: “For forty-four or forty-five Sundays, through forty years, two new sermons have been prepared every week; in the early years it was three, as MacArthur also spoke at the church on Wednesday nights. The pattern of his week has been to give the best of his time, from Tuesday to Friday, to preparation for preaching.”  This regimented study has been consistent over the lengthy span of more than four decades.  Murray adds: “In early years, this meant some fifteen hours of work for each sermon; and he still requires from eight to ten hours.”  Week after week, month after month, year after year, MacArthur has devoted himself to the meticulous study of the biblical text. The deeper he has dug down into the text, the stronger his pulpit has grown.

Regarding his approach, MacArthur states: “I always begin by reading the whole book. It is imperative for the expositor to be familiar with the overall message and flow of the book before he begins preaching any passages from it.” In so doing: “I also read the introductory sections in several good commentaries” in order to “become familiar with the author of the book, the addresses, the book’s theme or purpose, the date of its writing, and other important background material.”  With the individual passage isolated, “I ask myself, “What is the primary message of this passage? What is the central truth? What is the main expositional idea?” Having found the main point, “I begin to look for the subordinate points that support it.”   Subsequently, “The next step is a detailed analysis of its words and grammar” to find “any problems in the passage, such as an important textual variant, an unusual word, or a difficult grammatical construction.” Then he will “diagram the passage” to become “aware of the grammatical structure.” At last, “I put together a
preliminary outline.”

MacArthur contends, “Rightly dividing the Word of truth demands great effort. It was originally written many years ago in very different contexts, today’s exegete has to work hard to bridge the gaps of language, culture, geography, and history. He must also do his best to understand the flow of the argument, as it would have been understood by its original readers” and “intended by its original human author.” In summary, MacArthur states, “The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you do not have the interpretation of the passage right, then you do not have the Word of God, because only the true meaning is the Word of God.”   Consequently, MacArthur has shown himself firmly committed to finding the proper interpretation of the biblical text. Until he has it, he realizes, he can proceed no further.

Article by Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Used with Permission.

Jack of all trades, master of none

He’s the “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  I am referring of course to the role of Senior Pastor.  As the ‘leader among leaders’ I am responsible for providing overall oversight to all the ministries that make up the First Baptist Church of Freeport.  That does not mean however that my hand is equally deep in every pot.  I certainly embrace the plural leadership model but now I digress.

I am going on year four as the lead pastor/elder at FBC, Freeport.  My main task is to “feed Jesus’ sheep” (John 21:17).  To “devote myself to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).  To “preach the Word, in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2).  I am also responsible to shepherd the flock of God  (1 Peter 5:1-4) with my fellow undershepherds; and to provide pastoral oversight (1 Thessalonians 5:12, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17).

When I graduated from seminary I sort of thought that I would finally be able to read what I wanted to read rather than simply digest what my professors asked me/us to take in.  That assumption is partially right.  For example I am currently reading Rick Holland’s, Uneclipsing the Son, Earl Blackburn’s, Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You, Douglas Bond’s, The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, and Carl Trueman’s, Reformation; Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow for my soul’s sake.  Those books or authors peaked my interest and so upon purchasing them I evidentially got around to reading them.

This might surprise you but most ordinary pastors are not seminary professors.  Very few of us are subject matter experts on anything.  I love to study church history but I am certainly no Iain Murray or Nate Busenitz.   I love systematic theology but I am no Ph D.  I enjoy studying the original languages but I am most definitely not a Bill Barrick, a Bill Mounce, or an Abner Chou.

Part of this comes back to my opening sentence.  We local church pastors are the “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  For example, over the past few years I have read Singing and Making Music, Worship Matters, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, and parts of Christ-Centered Worship.  Why?  If I am going to provide helpful biblical oversight to a local church ministry in need of some TLC then I need to educate myself accordingly.

The same thing is true with my expository pulpit ministry.  I am currently preaching through Colossians 3:17-4:1 (the Lordship of Christ in Relationships).   When I finished my exegesis of verses 18-19 I then turned my attention to commentaries and to helpful books on marriage.  That meant over the past few weeks I’ve read or reread Feminine Appeal, Biblical Womanhood in the Home, and parts of Radical Womanhood and the Exemplary Husband.

I am also involved each year in a leadership training and development ministry at our church.   This particular ministry is exclusively geared towards our men (leaders and future leaders, per 2 Timothy 2:2).  Guess what?  That means that I need to reread the books that Pastor Steve and I are asking our guys to read.  So I am enjoying (again) books like When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, The Master’s Plan for the Church, Stop Dating the Church, Blame it on the Brain, He Is Not Silent, The New Testament Deacon, Grudem’s Systematic Theology etc, etc.

As the Senior Pastor I am also involved in various counseling relationships.  This means my wife and I may be enjoying for the eighth time the wonderful teaching of The Excellent Wife or the Exemplary Husband .  Or I may be reading with a counselee At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry or Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

At the end of the day what I thought six years ago when I graduated from seminary was only partially true.  I not only get to read what I want to read but I also read and study what I need to read and study.  That is one of the reasons why most of us pastors are indeed “the Jack of all trades, masters of none.”

Relevant preaching….

Relevant preaching must be biblical preaching or it’s not really edifying.

Pastor Jerry Wragg explains:  This kind of “extrapolating” has become the most popular technique of today’s preachers who claim to do Bible exposition. They assert principles from a passage which are then nuanced in clever “hipster-speak” so as to avoid anything “old” sounding. The net result, more often than not, is an imprecise explanation of the meaning of texts, and very little attention given to the ancient context before its present implications are preached. To be sure, all effective preaching exhorts the will of present-day hearers, bringing out the timeless spiritual implications God intends for His people. What is disturbing, however, about today’s trend is that those who most frequently do this seem largely unaware of just how illegitimate their “extrapolations” are at times, and they don’t seem able to discern what led to the interpretive errors. Hermeneutics of this sort are nothing more than looking at a passage in English, finding a familiar theme, drawing out a truth-claim related to contemporary life (usually surrounding some troubling, irritating, depressing, or rewarding part of earthly life), ignoring the cultural, geographical, language, and historical elements of the ancient context, and re-teaching the significance of the passage in the most attention-grabbing, pithy, in-your-face terminology possible.

A recent example may help:

On Paul’s preaching in Athens, one pastor asserted, “Even Paul quoted the two most popular rock stars of the day” (stated as a justification for beginning a worship service with provocative music from a secular band) – Now, Paul didn’t actually quote “rock stars,” but rather the popular poets of the day. Is it wrong to “extrapolate” that the famous poets of 1st century Athens were the equivalent of today’s popular music celebrities? Not necessarily. In fact, if public fame in the artistic arena today is similar to ancient times, no preacher is at fault for illustrating that fact as a way of bringing a more vivid understanding to the context of Scripture. But here’s the problem:

(1) Listeners sometimes miss the crucial distinction between drawing a general parallel for vividness and setting forth the historical and cultural facts of a text. It’s quite probable that without clarification, some listeners would be left with the impression that Acts 17 tells us Paul enjoyed, as a missionary, a steady diet of the secular music of his pop-culture (an unlikely notion wholly without warrant anywhere in Paul’s writings) –

(2) The more serious problem is that this particular pastor was using this “extrapolation” as a descriptive example of how Paul’s personal familiarity with secular pop-culture was used to attract unbelievers to the gospel. The pastor then used this alleged “Pauline technique” to justify playing highly controversial and morally questionable secular music at the beginning of a Sunday service where God’s people gather to worship Him.

So here we have an example of what some, at first glance, may assume is simply a helpful way of communicating the context of the Bible in clever contemporary lingo. When used, however, to justify the intrusion of morally questionable elements into the worship of God’s people it subtly undermines the proper interpretation and legitimate implications of the text being studied. I have no problem using today’s normal vocabulary to teach the truths of Scripture, and every effective preacher works hard to bring fresh, clear, and vivid articulations of all that God’s word reveals. The distinction must be made obvious, however, between using modern-day parallels of ancient things and the actual meaning and implications intended by the author and discovered by careful exegesis. The latter must always govern the former, never the other way around! Preachers today who are quick to pull contemporary rabbits out of ancient hats offer only the illusion of bible exposition. The real truth is found in the intent of the original!

Trembling at His Word,

Pastor Jerry Wragg

The Bipolar Nature of the Pulpit Ministry

Upon finishing my Sunday morning exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 I received two very different responses from persons within the congregation.  You brother-pastors know all about this experience.  One elderly man lectured me on how I really need to calm down when preaching in the pulpit.  My passion for the truth apparently distracts and even upsets this longtime member.  He said he wished his high school speech teacher were still alive so she could instruct me on how to give a more effective presentation.  He also told me that if I continue to preach as long as I have the past two Sundays that I’ll lose all of our members.

The second person I chatted with after the service had a different perspective on the sermon.  The brother followed up this brief Sunday conversation with a gracious email on Monday which you can read below.


I thank God for answered prayer. I have been seeking to see God’s hand move in a way only God could do in my life. I recognize this can be a “dangerous” prayer, but my desire is not just the normal, ordinary or mundane life. I seek not to be special, just to be part of something special.

The distractions of business and the world seems to rob one of the joy of life in Christ. I am seeking a re-focus so Christ remains the focus. The message from 1 Corinthians 15 this Sunday was just that.  I found myself being drawn into the message. It started out as a great information source with answers to questions I have been working with, but then a strange phenomenon began. Amidst the flood of information and knowledge most usable for everyday life, Christ as God became real. I wanted to “Amen”, but the voice wouldn’t respond. (I was ashamed that there wasn’t more response to the truth spoken, but I have to assume that others were sensing a similar condition.)

Then the final song came to mind, “Hallelujah, What A Savior!” I went into a near panic mode. How could such a song be sung from one so unworthy? I put the thoughts out of my mind and refocused on the message. I found myself trembling the more I listened. You continued to speak of the 3 distinct offices of the Trinity, yet equal as God. You spoke of all the enemies being conquered and Christ submitting Himself to the Father that God may be all in all. The scene was over-powering! I could hardly concentrate on the words.

I sensed, like Moses for a moment in time, I was given a glimpse of our great Savior and God. I don’t have a shine about my countenance like Moses, but seemed to sense the true Almighty God. Any more than that and the human mind, body and spirit could not handle it.  I do not believe in out-of-the-body experiences that one hears about in magazines and other articles, but I do think that God presents Himself in unique ways to people at different times. This may have been one of those times. The fact you waived the singing of the last song may have been God’s protection and mercy upon myself at that moment. I truly did not know what or how I was going to respond once on the platform.  I do not want to dwell on the experience of the day, but would rather consider the gracious work of God’s Spirit as He saw fit.  Thank you for preaching the Truth as the Spirit of God gives leading.

To the praise of His glory,


In some regards we pastors preach each and every sermon before an audience of One.  As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1f,  I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word;  If the Judge isn’t pleased with my exposition it would not matter if the entire flock gave me a standing ovation after each and every sermon.  If the Judge is pleased with our humble efforts (2 Tim 2:15) then it should not matter if the entire church wants to throw us out after our exposition of Scripture.  If the goal of our preaching is Romans 11:36 & Ephesians 4:11-15 then we do not need to be bipolar pastors even if we minister in bipolar congregations.

2 Timothy 4:2, Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 

Biblical Growth (Sanctification)

Biblical Growth (Sanctification as presented in Colossians 2:18-19)

is totally dependant on Christ (the Head).

is always stimulated by God the Father (the Source)

is according to the sovereign means He alone designs including but not limited to active body life. (the Plan)


Sermon Illustrations?

When you men find a good sermon illustration that was used by another preacher do you mention your illustration source when using that same story in your exposition?  How do you approach this topic?

John Kitchen’s response was so helpful (see comments section) that I am including his reply in this post below.

I have concluded that if it is a non-personal illustration that my people understand (whether consciously or not) that I must have gotten the information somewhere outside of myself. If it is a quotation I give the name of the person who said it. If it is a personal story from someone’s life (not mine) I do the same. But if it is simply a story which someone else repeated from somewhere else I might simply repeat it without verbal footnote (knowing my people will assume I heard/read it somewhere else) or I might say something like: “The other day I heard/read …” That lets them know it is not original with me.

I think that we need to let the people know when material is not our own. Yet in some cases that is obvious. In others we can indicate that fairly simply, as I’ve outlined above.

I think that the standard for “verbal footnoting” is somewhat different than when we are writing. The common denominator is that we need to acknowledge when material is not our own. But in the oral experience of preaching the precision/detail that we would use in a written footnote unnecessarily encumbers the communication process. In such cases we need give enough information to acknowledge when material is not our own, but I do not feel the necessity to give full bibliographic information. I should keep that information in my sermon file, but should not encumber the preaching event with that information.

The importance of heaven

This Sunday morning  I’ll preach sermon #61 through the book of Revelation.  I can’t wait to dive head first into Revelation 22:1-5 (this Sunday’s text).  I love the way in which the old Baptist preacher, B.H. Carroll, began his message covering this very text.

Carroll said, “I want to say, as impressively as I know how to say it, that the reason Christian people are no happier than they are, the reason they have so little power, is that they have such a misty conception of heaven, of the world to come.  And whatever is misty, is painful.  It is only those who, with a clear understanding of God’s Word as to the outcome of human life, those who by faith see eternal things, and feel the powers of the world to come, who can make any lasting impression for good in this world.  I do not care how much learning a preacher may have, if he has not a clear conception of heaven and its eternity, of hell and its eternity, he cannot be a man of spiritual power!”

Is it enough to claim “Christ-centered” in our preaching?

“It is not enough to focus on the great, central, epochal, events in the history of redemption. It is not enough to operate almost exclusively in the indicative mood. It is not enough to reduce the imperatives of the New Testament to the vague generality so often heard, namely, ‘Look to Christ!’ and to leave the application of the preached word to the Spirit of God.”[1]

[1] John Carrick, The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric (Carlisle, Penn: Banner of Truth, 2002), 144.

In defense of local church pastors

This coming Sunday morning I will be addressing “the Attitudes of a Godly Congregation.”  Those spiritual leaders who faithfully serve you in your local church should not be neglected.   

According to the text, A)  Biblical shepherds work diligently among the flock of God. B)  Biblical shepherds exercise faithful spiritual oversight. & C) Biblical shepherds provide timely biblical instruction.  In light of this we should appreciate them and hold them in the highest regard.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.

Hebrews 13:7-9, Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited.

Hebrews 13:17, Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

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