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Expository Preaching

Cornerstone Baptist Church is a church that is committed to expository preaching.

What is expository preaching?

Most simply, expository preaching is a form of preaching that bases its positions on the inspired meaning of the biblical text. Because expository preaching bases its conclusions on the meaning of a text, expository preachers therefore “exposit” or explain the meaning of the text to their audience before they try to explain the implications of a passage of Scripture. This requires expository preachers to seek to understand the meaning of a text as it was intended by the original author to his original audience before they draw conclusions on what a passage of Scripture has to say on a particular issue, and often expository preachers will even seek to explain the meaning of the text by also explaining the significant grammatical, literary, and historical elements of a verse so that its original meaning can be discerned by the audience. In short, expository preaching attempts a thoroughly text-driven approach to preaching.

Expository preaching is based on two key principles: 1) the Scripture is the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21) and 2) every passage of Scripture has only one intended meaning (though there may be many different applications). Because the intended meaning is God’s inspired meaning, expositors seek to honor the Word of God by supplying a thorough explanation of His intended meaning to Scripture before they try to apply it.

This method of preaching differs from topical sermons, which “usually combine a series of Bible verses that loosely connect with a theme,” and textual preaching which, “uses a short text or passage that generally serves as a gateway into whatever subject the preacher chooses to address.”[1] Though it is possible for thematic messages to be expository in nature, expository sermons usually focus on a single text (though the conclusion of the sermon is often cross-referenced by other texts), and it is common for expository preachers to exposit texts consecutively as they move verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph through an entire book of the Bible.

Dr. Richard Mayhue defines expository preaching along the following principles:

1. The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.[2]

Why is the verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture the preferred method of preaching?

Verse-by-verse exposition is a form of expository preaching that explains a passage or an entire book of the Bible as the preacher moves through the verses of a passage or book consecutively over the course of several weeks or (in the case of entire books) even years. This form of exposition isn’t necessarily the only correct method of preaching. The inspiration of Scripture demands that any type of preaching proclaim the Word of God as it was meant by the original authors, and it is certainly possible for topical or even textual preachers to proclaim the Scripture in a way that is faithful to the original meaning of a biblical text. However, the verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture is to be preferred for a number of reasons.

1. Verse-by-verse exposition honors the inspiration of Scripture by allowing the text to drive the preacher’s understanding of Scripture. Because the Scripture is inspired, it is the intended meaning of Scripture that is important to the congregation, not the opinions of the preacher. However, everyone has experienced the consequences either of having a statement they have made taken out of context or of having taken someone else’s statement out of context. Context can dramatically alter the perceived meaning of statement. This is because the meaning of any statement, biblical or non-biblical, is altered by its context. The same can be said for Scripture. Every statement of Scripture was made by a particular person to particular people at a particular time in the context of a particular relationship and dialogue. Failure to take this context into account opens up the possibility for a reader of Scripture to misunderstand the intended (and inspired) meaning of a passage. Verse-by-verse exposition helps prevent this error by setting a verse within its context as the preacher and congregation move consecutively through a book. Any expository preacher who has preached for even the shortest amount of time can recall instances when, after studying a familiar passage in-depth within the flow of the author’s thought, he suddenly realized it actually meant something entirely different than he had previously thought. By studying passages within their literary context, preachers honor the inspiration of Scripture by allowing the meaning of a text to be drawn out of the passage as it is defined by its own context rather than inserting their own theological opinions and even their pre-conceived understanding of Scripture into the interpretation of a text. Again, while it is certainly possible for other types of preaching to proclaim the Bible accurately, verse-by-verse exposition best honors the inspiration of God’s Word by allowing the text to drive a preacher’s (and, by association, his congregation’s) understanding of Scripture.

2. Verse-by-verse exposition plumbs the depths of God’s Word as the shifting nuances of verses or paragraphs are explained within their original flow of thought. Because the meaning of any statement is ultimately determined by its context, the greater one understands the context of a statement the better they understand the precise meaning of that statement. Even when one has understood the general meaning of a passage correctly, as they discipline themselves to studying a text within its context, their understanding of the meaning text becomes more and more precise. As one understands the meaning of a passage with greater precision, it allows them to understand the various implications of that meaning with greater clarity. Verse-by-verse exposition allows the depth of God’s Word to be explored by allowing the nuances of a passage’s implications to be understood with more clearly as a passage’s context allow the meaning of a text to be understood more precisely.

3. Verse-by-verse exposition honors the inspiration of God’s Word by teaching the whole counsel of God. There are a number of passages in Scripture that can tend to be neglected for any number of reasons. Either they are difficult passages that a preacher may want to avoid in order evade potential theological controversies in the church or they are passages that are not considered “relevant” enough for the congregation to take any interest in them. However, the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture means that “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 competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). This includes the difficult and “boring” passages. All of it is important and useful for the church. Verse-by-verse exposition honors the Word of God by forcing the preacher to preach all the verses of a chosen book, regardless of their difficult or “relevance.”

4. Verse-by-verse exposition prevents the preacher from overemphasizing the importance of his favorite theological issues or applications. This point is similar to #3 above, but from a slightly different perspective. Any Christian is prone to allow their attention to gravitate towards certain preferred theological issues or applications, even if they do not entirely realize it. This is a result both of our finite minds and of the personality that God has given each of us, and those preferences are simply a part of the unique ministry every saint performs to the body for the benefit of the church. Pastors are no different. However, even though God uses the unique personality of every pastor to minister to the various local churches that He has called them to in unique way, one must still keep in mind that these preferences are not inspired. Once again, the church needs to hear all of the Word of God because all of it is inspired and profitable for sanctification. This is especially true for the Sunday preaching event, as it simultaneously ministers to all of the saints of the church with all their unique personalities. The whole counsel of God cannot be neglected. Verse-by-verse exposition prevents a pastor from overemphasizing his preferences to the congregation to the neglect of the rest of Scripture by forcing him to preach all the verses of a chosen book, regardless of whether or not the passage fall into one of his preferred topics. The personality of the pastor will still alter his explanation of the text and enable the congregation to uniquely benefit from the gifts that God has given him without unnecessarily restricting the full scope of Scripture.

5. Verse-by-verse exposition teaches the congregation how to study and interpret Scripture. Since there is only one intended meaning for every passage of Scripture and since that meaning is always established by the context in which a statement is made, the methods that a pastor uses to uncover the original intended meaning of Scripture are the same methods that every member of the congregation must use if they wish to discover the meaning of Scripture in their own personal Bible study. While not every Christian can enjoy the same level of training and the same amount of study time as their pastor as they seek to discover the meaning of a text, there are still general principles of interpretation that can be applied by every believer every time they open the Bible. Verse-by-verse exposition models these principles for the congregation by interpreting a text within its context, thus training the congregation in how to apply this principle of interpretation for their own personal study by example. In other words, the benefits of expository preaching for the congregation extend beyond the text that is explained on Sunday morning.

[1] Richard L. Mayhue, “Rediscovering Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, (Nashville: W Publishing Group, a Division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1992), 9.

[2] Ibid., 12-13.