What is expository preaching?
Expository preaching explains what the text means by what it says, seeking to exhort the hearers to trust and obey the God-intended message of the text. It is preaching in which the point of the message is rooted in, aligns with, and flows from the primary meaning of the sermon text.
I believe expository preaching is the most faithful way to preach the word of God. Understanding and practicing expository preaching helps the preacher rightly handle the word of truth. But it is also important to understand what expository preaching is not, as well as what it is.
Many preachers reject expository preaching, without really knowing what it is. Others seek to practice it, without really knowing what it is. But you should not react to a caricature of expository preaching. And you should learn a craft before you try to practice it.
Here are fifteen myths about expository preaching that should be exposed to help the preacher rightly understand and faithfully practice expository preaching.Expository preaching is not whatever someone calls expository preaching. There is a growing interest in expository preaching these days. This is an encouraging fact; inasmuch as biblical preaching is the first step to true revival. Many preachers claim to be expositors now, wanting to be a part of the trend. Beware, much preaching that is called expository preaching simply is not.
Expository preaching is not merely drawing ideas from the text. Just because a preacher reads the text, refers to the text, or makes points from the text, does not make it expository preaching. The expository sermon preaches the intended meaning and primary message of the text. The study of the text should begin with observations that determine what the text says. But observation must lead to interpretation and result in application for the sermon to be true exposition.
Expository preaching is not a theological lecture. While much of what is called expository preaching is not true exposition; much of what is called expository preaching is also not true preaching. A lecture about the doctrinal themes related to the text is not an expository sermon. The pulpit is the herald’s platform, not the professor’s classroom. We are called to preach the word, not review the syllabus.
Expository preaching is not pulpit exegesis. Exegesis is essential to exposition. But exegesis is not equal to exposition. A preacher must study the words, grammar, literary context, and historical background to come to a proper interpretation of a text. But exegetical research is not a sermon. It is the ingredients of a sermon. Expository preaching is proclaiming a biblical message, not rehearsing research material.
Expository preaching is not a running commentary on the text. The expository preacher is not a glorified Sunday school teacher, who reads a verse and comments on it. And continues in this manner until they run out of text or out of time. The expository sermon has hermeneutical integrity and homiletical structure. It is a sermon that has purpose, derived from the meaning of the text. The elements of the sermon support the purpose and move the message to a logical conclusion.
Expository preaching is not textual preaching. Textual preaching can be biblically faithful. My father, under whose preaching I trusted Christ, was a textual preacher. Charles Spurgeon, “the Prince of Preachers,” was a textual preacher, not an expositor. But textual preaching is not true exposition. Textual preaching builds the sermon around the wording of the text. Expository preaching builds the sermon around the meaning of the text.
Expository preaching is not selective exposition of the text. There may be multiple biblical themes in a text. But there is only one primary truth. The expository preacher seeks to understand and communicate the central theme of the text. It is not exposition if you select the portions of the text that say what you want, and neglect the rest. The Bible often messes up great sermon ideas. The expositor welcomes this intrusion, not ignores it. Hard texts make good preachers.
Expository preaching is not always historically-redemptive preaching. Biblical preaching proclaims the Person and Work of Christ. It also explains what the text means by what it says. Surveying the history of redemption may present the gospel and protect the sermon from moralism. But faithful preaching does not ignore the historical and literary setting of the text. 1 Samuel 16 is not primarily about how Christ slays the giant of sin for us. It is about how God helped David defeat Goliath to introduce the young shepherd as the newly-anointed king. We must preach the former without neglecting the latter.
Expository preaching is not a homiletical survey of the text. A sermon outline consisting of (1) David’s dilemma, (2) David’s devotion, and (3) David’s deliverance may have a problem, beyond the possible alliteration issue. It may reflect a sermon that merely describes David’s situation, rather than prescribing truth to the hearer. As Paul models in his New Testament epistles, we must teach doctrine and duty. The expositor lands and lives in the text, but seeks to get back to the future to bring the truth to bear on the lives of the hearer.
Expository preaching is not about the length of the sermon text. An expositor will typically select the natural divisions of a passage to preach. But expository preaching is not about the length of the text. It is about how you treat the text. The text can be long or short. What matters is whether you preach what the text means by what it says. Text divisions are executive decisions each pastor must prayerfully make as he ministers to his congregation.
Expository preaching is not about how many points the sermon outline has. How many points should a sermon have? The congregation hopes it has at least one! Sermon outline points should be necessary and natural. You should have as many points as the text requires. If it has too many points, you may have a series, not a sermon. But three-point sermon outlines do not automatically make an expository message.
Expository preaching is not a pretext for predetermined convictions. Expository preaching is truth-driven and text-driven. You are not an expositor if you have a one-track mind that drives your convictions into every text you read. That is imposition, not exposition. The expositor submits to the authority of the text to set the agenda for the sermon. Golfers play the ball where it lies. Expositors preach what the text means by what it says.
Expository preaching is not necessarily consecutive exposition. A true commitment to expository preaching often produces an organic commitment to consecutive exposition through books of the Bible. It is the most faithful way to preach the text in context. But books series and expository preaching are not the same thing. Consecutive exposition is another executive decision a local pastor must make for his church. A topical series of biblical messages may be best and can still be expository preaching.
Expository preaching is not truth divorced from life. Exposition involves both explanation and exhortation. Expository preachers are rightly driven to explain truth. But the expositor must live in two worlds – the world of the text and the world of the hearer. The expository preacher builds a bridge between these two worlds. Expository preaching is doctrinally sound, homiletically structured, and pastorally sensitive.
Expository preaching is not boring preaching. Expository preaching aims to teach, convert, and renew the mind. Expositors do not play with people’s emotions. But expositors do not ignore the emotions, either. It should be a sin to bore people with the gospel! Faithful preaching should be faithful, clear, and passionate. Expositors are heralds who persuade, not journalists who report. We should preach like satisfied customers, not paid advertisers.
What do you think expository preaching is and is not? Join the conversation in the comments section.