I was jogging recently when I passed a guy driving a Mustang. His front license plate said SEXY 1. My first thought was, “You better be sure!” Before you advertise to the world how attractive you are, you better be attractive. In a similar vein I hear the term expository preaching used a lot these days. But I submit to you that everyone who uses the term is not truly an expository preacher. If you label your preaching as expository, you better be sure!
So what exactly is expository preaching? I like Haddon Robinson’s definition is his classic work Biblical Preaching:
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to the hearers.
Notice that the biblical concept that’s being preached comes from a passage in its proper context. And notice that before the message is preached it must first be applied to the preacher. Expository preaching is not just preparing a Bible study for others, it is when God takes a passage you are studying and grips your heart with it. Then you preach from the overflow of what He is doing in your life.
I also appreciate this definition of expository preaching from Bryan Chappell in his wonderful book Christ-Centered Preaching:
The meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon.
This simple statement reminds us that the structure, genre, and meaning of a text of Scripture drives the structure, style, and content of the sermon. In other words, the sermon stays tethered to the text. When we highlight a point in the sermon we should direct people’s attention to the verse from which the point originated. I would suggest that if the only time we have our people look at their Bibles is at the beginning of the sermon, we are probably not preaching an expository message.
So expository preaching happens when we wrestle with a passage of the Bible in our study. We dig in to establish the historical, redemptive-historical, literary, and grammatical context. We work hard to establish the main point of the text. Our studies become “holy ground” as God speaks to us through His Word. We think deeply how to organize our thoughts and present them to the congregation. We give careful thought as to how the text points to Jesus (1 Cor.2:2) and applies to the listeners (1 Tim. 4:13). We pray throughout the process that the Holy Spirit would give His illuminating light and that He would anoint us with His power (1 Cor.2:4). Then we stand in our pulpits and read the passage and explain the passage and apply the passage (Nehemiah 8:8). And then we call people to respond to what God has said.
God has spoken to us through His Word. May we take what He says seriously.