This is part one of a three-part series where we asked Dr. Steven J. Lawson some questions on expository preaching, inerrancy, current issues facing evangelicals, and more about Expositor magazine.
Define expository preaching.
There are two words in expository preaching: one is expository and the other is preaching. Expository is the adjective and preaching is the noun. Expository preaching defines a certain kind of preaching. It is the kind of preaching that is prescribed in Scripture itself. The word ‘expository’ carries the idea of explaining the meaning of a text. The word ‘preaching’ describes the manner with which this instruction and explanation is brought. Expository preaching is the kind of preaching that begins with a passage of Scripture and explains the authorial intent of that passage, while making application with exhortation to the life of the listener.
I believe that the Apostle Paul lays out the essentials of preaching in 1 Timothy 4:13 when he writes, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching.” In true expository preaching, there must be the reading of the text, the teaching of the text, and the exhorting with the text. Expository preaching informs the mind, ignites the heart, and impels the will. The supposed preaching that only instructs the mind is not a sermon, but a lecture. The supposed preaching that merely touches the heart is not a sermon, but a mere devotion. The supposed preaching that merely challenges the will is not a sermon, but a manipulation. True expository preaching must address all three aspects of the inner life of a person — mind, emotion, and will. Anything less, is not expository preaching.
What are some essential marks of expository preaching?
First, expository preaching is text-driven. That is to say, the expositor must start with a text of Scripture and stay with that text throughout the sermon. He must say what the text says and promise what the text promises. He must warn where the text warns and he must offer what the text offers. In expository preaching, the preacher is the mouthpiece for a text of Scripture. The preacher has nothing to say apart from the Word of God.
Second, expository preaching is God-exalting. The primary thrust of the Word of God is the magnification of the God of the Word. All true expository preaching is focused on the greatness and glory of God. After someone hears an expository sermon, they should be captivated with the grandeur of God. This is because the Bible is the self-revelation of God Himself.
Third, expository preaching is Christ-centered. Beginning in Genesis 1:1 and extending all the way through Revelation 22, the primary thrust of Scripture is the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you preach the Bible rightly, you will preach Christ regularly. Jesus bore witness that the entire Scripture speaks of Him. The Apostle Paul said, “We proclaim Him” (Col 1:28). To preach the Bible is to preach the Lord Jesus Christ.
Fourth, expository preaching is Spirit-empowered. Those who are expositors in the truest sense of the Word are those who recognize their utter need for the inward ministry of the Spirit in their preaching. Jesus Christ was anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit as He began His public ministry, which at its heart was the preaching of the gospel. In an argument from the greater to the lesser, how much more must every expositor be supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Fifth, expository preaching is exegetically-grounded. Expository preaching necessitates digging into a passage of Scripture and studying it with precision in its most basic parts. This requires working with the original language, grammar and syntax, parsing verbs, historical background, and geographical context. Further, the expositor must give attention to where his passage fits in the overall flow of the Bible. No one passage can be understood apart from the entire Bible.
Sixth, expository preaching is theologically-precise. The entire Bible speaks with one voice. It never contradicts itself. There are doctrines that run through the entirety of Scripture, which provide theological substance that must be expounded in the text. Martyn Lloyd Jones has said, “preaching is theology on fire.” When the church began, they continually devoted themselves first and foremost to the Apostles’ teaching. The pastoral epistles make repeated emphasis on the preacher teaching sound doctrine.
Seventh, expository preaching is practically-relevant. Expository preaching must show the implications of a passage of Scripture for a person’s life. It must also make application to the lives of those who listen. The Bible is the most relevant book that has ever been written. It must bring Scripture to bear upon the lives of those who listen. The preacher must be continually exhorting, encouraging, comforting, confronting, challenging, rebuking, and reproving.
It depends upon which part of the body of Christ in which one finds himself. What is missing in preaching today depends upon what kind of church you are in. In so many churches, what is missing is the opening up of a passage of Scripture in order to convey its true meaning. In these churches, there is very little Bible preaching. In its place, there is an endless litany of stories and home-spun insights and an endless flow of exhortations. The problem is, there is precious little, if any, explaining and teaching a text of Scripture.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are churches which give great attention to the Scripture, but there is no preaching that takes place. In other words, it is all lecturing about the Bible, but it lacked the essential element of pleading, urging, exhorting, and summoning the listener to respond to the Word of God. In between these two extremes are various levels of differentiation. What is so desperately needed today is that there be the teaching of the text and the passionate delivery of its truths to the listener, making demands upon the life of those who sit under its message.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. He also is the Executive Editor of Expositor magazine.
Expositor magazine, the print magazine of OnePassion Ministries, is a bi-monthly publication through which we desire to address the historical, biblical, and theological dynamics and practice of expository preaching.
OnePassion Ministries exists to ignite a supreme passion for God and His glory in all people throughout the world. As our name indicates, the strategic goal of this ministry is to enflame hearts with an all-consuming desire for Jesus Christ and His gospel. Our primary aim for believers from every walk of life is that they be revived and emboldened to live exclusively for the greatness of God. This intentional focus is to impart the knowledge of the truth by equipping pastors and church leaders, maturing lay people, and launching a new reformation in the church today. Most specifically, OnePassion is committed to training pastors in expository preaching that is firmly anchored in proclaiming God’s Word.