What is Expository Preaching?

(and why does it matter?)

For some, the word expository may be familiar, but for others it may be a new idea. In this brief article, our aim is to clarify what expository preaching is and to make a case as to why we believe that this is the way in which God designed His Word to be preached.

There are different ways of defining expository preaching, but in its most simplistic sense, it refers to the process of preaching a text as the original Biblical author intended it to be preached. The word itself lends to this definition. The root word of expository is “expose”. Therefore, a faithful exposition of Scripture exposes the meaning of the text that the Biblical author had intended in his writing. This means that the point of the sermon intends to convey the point of the text

Some may ask, “what would it look like to approach preaching differently than exposition?” There are a couple of models of preaching that differ from exposition. One is deliberate and another is perhaps harder to spot.

  • Topical Preaching. There is nothing necessarily wrong with topical preaching. Indeed, from time to time, we at TBC take a few weeks at a time and consider certain topics, attempting to apply Scripture’s wisdom to them. Indeed, faithful exposition can be done with large portions of Scripture or even 1-2 verses. However, as a typical diet of the church, topical preaching risks skipping vast portions of Scripture in favor of preaching on what the staff believes the church to need. Exposition, however, assumes that God has given us what we need. It’s his mind that should set the agenda for what is taught from the pulpit. As a result, we normally teach through entire books of the Bible, a verse or a section at a time. This safeguards us from skipping difficult passages and from the temptation to talk only about our opinions or personal emphases.
  • Springboard Preaching. What we are calling “springboard preaching” is more of a reflex or tendency than a formal philosophy of preaching. Indeed, no one is writing a book to encourage preachers to do this. Springboard Preaching doesn’t seek to expose the text as much as it seeks to use the text to make a pre-determined point. The reason we call it “springboard” preaching is because the text becomes a kind of spring board, giving the sense of biblical warrant to a pastor “jumping off” into the pool of some other topic or point. As David Helm has pointed out, there’s a way to use the Bible like a drunk uses a lamp post: more for support than illumination. We don’t want to do this. Instead of using the Bible to say what we want to say, we desire to let the Bible speak for itself by exposing what God has placed there.

In short, we believe a steady diet of expositional preaching allows the congregation to receive the whole counsel of God. It keeps the preacher from skipping over the harder passages in the Bible and from taking out of context passages in the Bible. Charles Simeon, a faithful Bible expositor, explained it this way; “My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.”

Expositional preaching’s ultimate aim for each sermon is to:

  • Humble the sinner
  • Exalt the Savior
  • Promote holiness

(This fits with the overarching theme of the Bible)

Is Expository Preaching in the Bible? 

The conviction that expository preaching is the way in which God designed His Word to be preached comes from passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 - 4:2. Here Paul lays out the authority of God’s Word to reprove, correct and train and then charges him to “preach the word.” We also believe that much of the New Testament, is itself an exposition of the Old Testament. We see this pattern surface elsewhere in Scripture, too:

  • In Acts chapter 2 we read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. In his sermon he expounds upon truths revealed in Joel 2:28-32 and Psalm 16:8-11. 
  • In Nehemiah, when the people were returning to Jerusalem (and returning moreover to God after their waywardness), the Bible says that their teachers gave the sense of what they were reading (Neh 8:8). In other words, their preachers were explaining what was inherent within the text. 
  • The first 3 chapters of Hebrews are themselves expositions of the Old Testament. Stephen’s sermon in Acts chapter 7 was an exposition of God’s unfolding plan of redemption and its fulfillment in Christ. He used nearly the entirety of the Old Testament to make his argument. 

There are many more examples of expositional sermons throughout the Bible. Through expository preaching we hope to submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word and allow the author (God) to speak what He intends through the preacher to His people.

Finally, What’s the Heart Behind This? Why is Exposition Such a Big Deal?

This is such a crucial question. In our evangelical atmosphere, the two standards of success today seem to be emotive and numerical. As long as something is stirring our emotions or generating a sense of visible growth, many are satisfied. However, we are reminded by the words of Paul in 1 Timothy when he had to contend for pure doctrine. He reminds Timothy that “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). 

At TBC, we desire to safeguard ourselves from doctrinal error, emotional manipulation, prideful contrivances, and all manner of temptations of the human heart through simply setting on display what God has said, and letting that do the work. Exposition is one way we hope to love our people, maintain a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. We are praying for God to raise up not only more churches who value exposition, but an evangelical culture that will accept nothing less.

Article by Nathan Workman & Greg Mathis