What is expository preaching?

Just this past Sunday a person congratulated me at church on pursuing my Doctorate in Expository Preaching and Teaching. After they congratulated me their very first question was, “what is expository preaching?”

What an excellent question! ‘Expository’ is certainly not a word we use in everyday life. I am going to allow Pastor H.B. Charles Jr to answer that question for us. First of all he will tell us what expository preaching is and then in the second article he tells us why expository preaching is important. (I will add a few of my own thoughts along the way).

1ST ARTICLE: 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. (I would add that this might be the difference between teaching and preaching. To borrow from another pastor, teaching is aimed at the head and preaching is aimed at the heart.)

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. (I, Michael, see this all the time. Preachers taking 4 verses from very different passages and they attempt to make a sermon out of it. Most of the time the preacher is communicating what he wants to say, not what the writer of Scripture is communicating.)

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. (I love the emphasis on doing both in this last sentence!)

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. (Amen! could not agree with this last sentence more.)

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.

2ND ARTICLE: Why do expository preaching? Why is it important?

My father – H.B. Charles, Sr. – was a faithful preacher. He was not, however, an expositor. His messages were thoroughly biblical. But they were not expositional. My dad was more a textual preacher. He would often lift a verse and keep turning it to show the beautiful gospel implications in it. But the main point of the text was not necessarily the main point of his sermon.

I was not led to Christ by expository preaching. The preaching that nurtured my faith was not expositional, either. Much of the preaching that continues to feed my soul is not classic Bible exposition. So I would not dare claim that expository preaching is the only right way to preach. But I firmly believe that expository preaching is the most faithful way to preach.

What is expository preaching?

My commitment to expository preaching is rooted in my convictions about the Bible. I believe the Bible is God-breathed scripture.

 “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 complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Bible does not merely contain the word of God. It is the word of God. As the word of God, all scripture is necessary, true, full of wisdom, without error, spiritually profitable, life-changing, clear, exclusively authoritative, and sufficient.

Do you share these convictions about the Bible? If you do not not, you should not preach. If a man who does not believe the Bible is the word of God occupies the pulpit, it is not a Christian pulpit. God’s sent preachers are not motivational speakers, self-help gurus, or social justice champions. We are heralds commissioned to proclaim the message of the king. And the word of God is found in the word of God – the Bible. If you do not believe the Bible is the word of God, you have forsaken your calling and you have nothing to say for God.

Do you believe the Bible is the word of God? If so, why would you not preach expositionally? Do you think you – or some other source – has something more important or relevant or helpful to say than God’s word? If God speaks in and through scripture, you should give your life to studying scripture to understand it properly and explain it clearly in preaching.

Is expository preaching a matter of style? 

The reason why you should be a student of expositional preaching is not about a style of preaching. What you preach is infinitely more important than how you preach. The act of preaching is in vain if the message preached is not true. Paul charged Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2a). He did not charge Timothy to preach, as if the function of preaching has any power of its own. Paul instructed Timothy that he must preach. Moreover, he explicitly stated what Timothy must preach. The pulpit is not a place for personal opinion, human wisdom, or worldly philosophies. The pulpit is the platform for the proclamation of the glorious word of God and the saving testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. The act of preaching is in vain if the message preached is not true.

The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. It was written in complete thoughts. (Don’t miss the importance of that last sentence!) The end of 2 Timothy 3 is about the nature of scripture. The beginning of 2 Timothy 4 is about the duty of preaching. These two statements are inextricably linked. The nature of scripture must shape the duty of preaching. The duty of preaching must be rooted in the nature of scripture. The divine inspiration of scripture is the unavoidable mandate for expository preaching.

Expository preaching is hard work. It is not always the most “enjoyable” style of preaching for a congregation to hear. After all, an expository sermon is governed by the truth of the text, not the agenda of the pulpit or pew. Expository preaching may or may not have been the historic way preachers have preached. It is definitely not the way most high-profile preachers today handle the word of God. Expository preaching may not easily lend itself to “vision casting” and other ways pastors want to use the pulpit to lead the congregation. We live in a biblically illiterate culture, where many churchgoers will not endure sound doctrine. Many people view expository preaching to be synonymous with boring preaching.

There are many reasons given to make a case against expository preaching. I believe all of the arguments against Bible exposition can be rebutted. But there really is only one primary reason why you should strive to preach and teach in such a way that properly explains and clearly applies biblical texts: What do you believe about the Bible?

  • Do you believe the Bible is the word of God?
  • Do you believe God wrote a book?
  • Do you believe all scripture is breathed out by God?
  • Do you believe it is profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and instruction in righteousness?
  • Do you believe the word is sufficient to make the man of God competent and fully equipped for every good work?

How you preach reveals what you believe about the Bible. You can readily and freely sign an orthodox statement of faith. But that does not prove what you really believe. Your true convictions are betrayed by what you preach and how you preach. Paul’s charge to Timothy is the Lord’s charge to you…

“I 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 kingdom: preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-5

LINK to first article.

LINK to second article.

I will also add that expository preaching helps our people to know how to study the Word of God on their own. Each week expository preaching reveals to the congregants how to dig into the Bible and discover the truth that has the power to change their life.

If you have questions about expository preaching I would be happy to hear from you! Leave me a comment and I will respond.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s