Ministry of the Word is much more than preaching
It is dangerous, then, to fall into the unbiblical belief that the ministry of the Word is simply preaching sermons. As Adam says, that will “make preaching carry a load which it cannot bear; that is, the burden of doing all the Bible expects of every form of ministry of the Word.” No church should expect that all the life transformation that comes from the Word of God (John 17:17; cf. Colossians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 5:18-20) comes strictly through preaching. I shouldn’t expect to be shaped into Christlikeness even by listening to the best sermons. I also need other Christians around me who are “handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) by encouraging me, instructing me, and counseling me. I also need the books of Christian authors whose writings build me up. Nor is it right to expect that those outside the church who need to hear and understand the gospel will be reached only through preaching. I myself found faith not through listening to preaching and speaking but through books. (Is anyone surprised by that?) We must beware of thinking the Sunday sermon can carry all the freight of any church’s ministry of the Word. P. 5
At the time Paul was writing, the only Scripture to preach from was what we now call the Old Testament. Yet even when preaching from these texts Paul “knew nothing” but Jesus-who did not appear by name in any of these texts. How could this be? Paul understood that all Scripture ultimately pointed to Jesus and his salvation; that every prophet, priest and king was shedding light on the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King. To present the Bible “in its fullness” was to preach Christ as the main theme and substance of the Bible’s message. P. 15
Jesus is the resolution of every plotline
Classical rhetoric allowed the speaker inventio-the choice of topic and the division of the topic into constituent parts, along with elaborate arguments and devices to support the speakers thesis. For Paul however, there is always one topic: Jesus. Wherever we go in the Bible, Jesus is the main subject. And even the breakdown of our topic is not completely left up to us-we are to lay out the topics and points about Jesus that the biblical texts itself gives us. We must “confine ourselves” to Jesus. Yet I can speak from forty years of experience as a preacher to tell you that the story of this one individual never needs to become repetitious-it contains the whole history of the universe and of humankind alike and is the only resolution of the plotlines of every one of our lives. P. 16
Creating life-changing sermons
So this is the Christian preacher’s power. This is how to deliver not just an informative lecture but a life-changing sermon. It is not merely to talk about Christ but to show him, to “demonstrate” his greatness and to reveal him as worthy of praise and adoration. If we do that, the Spirit will help us, because that is his great mission in the world. P. 17-18
Culture’s deepest longings can only be fulfilled in Christ
To reach people gospel preachers must challenge the culture’s story at points of confrontation and finally retell the culture’s story, as it were, revealing how its deepest aspirations for good can be fulfilled only in Christ. Like Paul, we must invite and attract people through their culture’s aspirations-calling them to come to Christ, the true wisdom, and the true righteousness, the true power, the true beauty. P. 20
A good sermon is not like a club
A good sermon is not like a club that beats upon the will but like a sword that cuts to the heart (Acts 2:37). P. 21
Biblical accuracy and Christocentricity are the same thing
Remember that biblical accuracy and Christocentricity are the same thing to Paul. You can’t properly preach any text-putting it into its rightful place in the whole Bible-unless you show how its themes find their fulfillment in the person of Christ. Likewise, you can’t really reach and restructure the affections of the heart unless you point through the biblical principles of the beauty of Jesus himself, showing clearly how the particular truth in your text can be practiced only through faith in the work of Christ. P. 22
Preaching with genuine spiritual power
According to Paul you can preach with genuine spiritual power only if you offer Christ as a living reality to be encountered and embraced by those who listen. This means to preach with awe and wonder at the greatness of what we have in Christ. It means to exhibit an uncontrived transparency, showing evidence of a heart that is being mended by the very truth you are presenting. It entails a kind of poise and authority rather than an insecure desire to please or perform. So your love, joy, peace, and wisdom must be evident as you speak. You should be something like a clear glass through which people can see a gospel-changed soul in such a way that they want it too, and so that they get a sense of God’s presence as well.
How do all these things happen? They all happen as we preach Christ. To preach the text truly and the gospel every time, to engage the culture and reach the heart, to cooperate with the Spirit’s mission in the world-we must preach Christ from all of Scripture. P. 23
6 reasons why expository preaching should be main diet of preaching
Expository preaching is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true. This approach testifies that you believe every part of the Bible to be God’s Word, not just particular themes and not just the parts you feel comfortable agreeing with.
…that a careful expository sermon makes it easier for the hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself.
Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community. Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. You set out into a book or a passage intent on submitting to its authority yourself and following where it may lead.
A related reason is that expository preaching lets the text set the agenda for the preacher as well. It helps preachers resist the pressure to adapt messages too much to the culture’s preferences. It brings you to subjects that you would rather not touch on and that you might not have chosen to address, since some of the Bible’s positions-on subjects like sexuality-are so unpopular right now. Expository preaching only encourages you to declare God’s will on such matters and also forces you to find ways of addressing and handling tough issues publicly.
A steady diet of expository sermons also teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles, how to think through a passage and figure it out. Exposition helps them pay more attention to the specifics of the text and helps them understand why different phrases mean what they so within the story line of the Bible. They become savvier and more sensitive readers in their own study.
As we saw, sustained expository preaching keeps you away from pet themes and gets you into a greater range of passages and subjects. Yet it should also lead you to see even more clearly the one main biblical theme…if you do this week after week (expository preaching) you will discover the main story line of the Bible-the gospel of Jesus itself. P. 32-38
What is expository preaching?
…to stick to the passage chosen and to set forth exclusively what it has to say or to suggest, so that the ideas and the principles enunciated during the course of the sermon plainly come out of the written Word of God, and have its authority for their support rather than just the opinion…of their human expositor. (quoting Alan M. Stibbs) P. 44
What needs to be in every sermon
Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and only Jesus can. P. 48
Avoiding legalism and antinomianism
It is crucial in our preaching that we do not simply tell people all the ways they must be moral and good without relating such exhortation to the gospel. Nor should we simply tell them over and over that they can be saved only by free grace without showing how salvation changes our lives. P. 51
Two ways to read the Bible
There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done? P. 60
Preach Christ from every genre of the Bible
He (Jesus) is the hope of the patriarchs. He’s the angel of the Lord. Then go to Exodus through Deuteronomy. He’s the rock of Moses. He’s the fulfiller of the law-both the ceremonial law, because he makes us clean in him, and the moral law, because he earns the blessing through his perfectly righteous life. He’s the final temple. Now go to the history of Israel after Moses. He’s the commander of the Lord’s host (Joshua 5). He’s the true king of Israel-indeed, he’s the true Israel. He fulfills everything Israel was supposed to do and be. Now look at the Psalms, the songs of David, in which Jesus is the sweet singer of Israel (Hebrews 2:12). Then go to the prophets, and there he is the promised king (Isaiah 1-39), the suffering servant (Isaiah 40-55), and the world healer (Isaiah 56-66). Go to Proverbs and find that he is the true wisdom of God. To those who are being saved, the cross is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). P. 71
David, Goliath and Jesus
If I read the story of David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then it is really about me. I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I think of the Bible as being about the Lord and his salvation, and if I read the David and Goliath text in that light, it throws many things into relief. The very point of the passage was that the Israelites could not face the giants themselves. They needed a substitute, who turned out to be not a strong person but a weak one. And God uses the deliverer’s weakness as the very means to bring about the destruction of Goliath. David triumphs through weakness and his victory is imputed to his people. In his triumph, they triumphed. How can one not recognize Jesus in this story? P. 84
Is expository preaching outdated? A response to Andy Stanley’s argument
Andy Stanley argues that biblical expository preaching worked in a time when our society agreed on the importance and truth of Scripture. That does not work now, he believes. Instead of starting with the Bible and ending with practical application-as in the traditional sermon-we should start with a current human need or contemporary question and then bring in the Bible for a response and solution.
…It isn’t true that Bible exposition developed only in an age where everyone was Christian. Hughes Old shows that expository preaching was the norm during the first five centuries of the church’s life, at a time when the society was not merely non-Christian but often virulently anti-Christian. Preachers did not begin with a contemporary problem and bring in the Bible to address it, though perhaps that would have followed the prevailing rhetorical wisdom of the time. It is therefore wrong to conclude that expository preaching belongs only in an a Christian-affirming society. P. 95-97
Quoting non-Christian people or sources in our sermons
We can discern several things that Paul does in pursuit of persuasion. He uses vocabulary and themes that are familiar, not obscure. In his speech in Athens, for example, Paul describes God in ways that many pagans could accept (Acts 17:22-23, 24-28). He quotes authorities that his listeners respect. Of course he cites the Bible when speaking to Jews or to Gentile “God-fearers” or to converts to Judaism. But when addressing the philosophers on Mars Hill he quotes Aratus, a pagan author (Acts 17:28). Paul always chooses “elements of contact”-points of actual agreement of some of the audience’s concerns, hopes, and needs. P. 100
The gospel is the solution to every problem
The gospel is not just the means by which people get converted but also the way Christians solve their problems and grow. The typical approach to the gospel is to see it as the “ABCs” of Christian doctrine only, the minimum truth required to be saved, the admissions test, the entry point. Then it is understood what we make progress in the Christian life through the application of other (more advanced) biblical principles. If that were the case, then of course we could not do both evangelism and spiritual formation at the same time. Yet the gospel not only is the way we are saved but also is always the solution to every problem and the way to advance at every stage in the Christian life. P. 119
Change happens by feeding the imagination new beauties
Whatever captures the heart’s trust and love also controls the feelings and behavior. What the heart most wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable. It is all-important, then, that preaching move the heart to stop trusting and loving other things more than God. What makes people into what they are is the order of their loves-what they love most, more, less, and least. That is more fundamental to who you are then even the beliefs to which you mentally subscribe. Your loves show what you actually believe in, not what you say you do. People, therefore, change not by merely changing their thinking, but by changing what they love most. Such a shift requires nothing less than changing your thinking, but it entails much more. So the goal of the sermon cannot be merely to make the truth clear and understandable to the mind, but must also be to make it gripping and real to the heart. Change happens not just by giving the mind new arguments but also by feeding the imagination new beauties. P. 159-160
We must always show how Christ is better, more fulfilling
If people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. It means they have not understood what it means that in Christ we have all the riches and treasures. They may subscribe to this as a doctrine, but the affections of their hearts are clinging to material things, finding them more excellent and beautiful than Jesus himself. They may have a superficial intellectual grasp of Jesus’ spiritual wealth, but they do not truly grasp it. Thus in preaching we must re-present Christ in the particular way that he replaces material things in their affections. This does not simply take rational argument and doctrinal teaching-though it does indeed include those; it also requires the presentation of the beauty of Christ as the one who gave up his riches for us. P. 161-162
Challenging cultural narratives
In our individualistic Western culture people live in the illusion that their hearts are the product of their own conscious decisions, but in fact their inner desires and questions have been shaped profoundly by their time and place. They are much more what the culture has told them they are than what they have decided to be. Good contextual preaching appreciates yet challenges cultural narratives and norms and helps people see things that are invisible to them but that control them. So contextualization can be quite liberating. P. 166
Maybe you have been delivering Sunday-school lessons, not sermons
We have said that the sermons may be nothing but good lectures until we “get to Jesus,” at which point they often move from being a Sunday-school lesson to being a sermon. P. 179
What does it look like to preach from the heart?
- You preach powerfully. You will have poise and confidence, striking a note of authority without swagger, without any indication that you enjoy authority for its own sake. You will not be insecure or nervous. You have confidence in your material and will not try to please or perform.
- You preach wondrously. There will be unmistakable awe and wonder at the greatness of the One you point people to. It is evident to listeners that you are “tasting” your salvation even as you offer it to others.
- You preach affectionately. You exhibit an unselfconscious transparency devoid of artifice. This doesn’t come by telling personal stories about yourself; it comes only from having had a broken heart mended by the truth of the gospel. You can’t fake that.
- You preach authentically. One paradox of preaching from the heart is that it bypasses all of the counterfeit mannerisms and emotional affectations that preachers have learned to adopt and that listeners have come to expect. Your language and tone of voice will be simple and unaffected.
- You preach Christ-adoringly. When you describe Jesus, you aren’t reciting facts or abstractions but enacting a vivid presentation of him. Many hearers will feel they can almost see him, so they cannot help but admire and worship him.
Feel overwhelmed? Me too. However, a key to developing these traits is not to directly try to have them. Instead, glory in your infirmities so his power may be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). P. 206
P 213 begins the Appendix which outlines a step by step process for putting together a good sermon.