2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 4:1 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 his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 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, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Good morning. This morning’s sermon is part two of a two-part sermon series on expository preaching. In the way of a reminder for those of you who were here last week, and to quickly bring up to speed those who weren’t, here’s my conclusion from last week:
Expository preaching is preaching that makes the main point [and emphasis] of a biblical text the main point [and emphasis] of the sermon. It has been and will continue to be the main preaching diet at Grace Church. We saw three reasons for this [last week]: 1) the bible is God’s word and expository preaching seems to be the most natural outworking of this; 2) the bible is living and powerful and expository preaching uniquely acknowledges, highlights, and depends on this; and 3) we need to know what God has told us more than what we think we need to know and expository preaching is most inherently committed to this.
In simplest terms, at Grace Church we primarily preach through books of the bible, verse by verse. Our aim is to explain what the biblical text means within its original context, within the context of the entire bible (particularly the gospel), and for us today. We’re committed to this type of preaching because we believe it is most consistent with the nature of God’s word and most necessary for our souls.
Again, last week we looked at three reasons for this conviction. This week we’ll look at four assumptions behind the conviction. Please pray with me that God would impress them upon us such that we’d all be able to joyfully and eagerly continue in what we have learned and firmly believed…the entire counsel of God, which is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
ASSUMPTIONS OF EXPOSITORY PREACHING
Once again, last week we considered the following three reasons for expository preaching. That is, we’re committed to primarily preaching expository sermons at Grace because…
The bible is God’s Word.
The bible as God’s word has life and power from the Holy Spirit.
We need to know what God has told us more than what we think we need to know.
And again, this week we’ll look at four assumptions behind the conviction that expository preaching ought to be the main preaching diet of God’s people.
Faithfulness to the biblical text, not numerical growth, is the charge of the preacher.
Anecdotally, it seems to me that pastors and churches avoid expository preaching for two main reasons: 1) it’s hard; and 2) it isn’t as effective as other kinds of preaching. We’ll get to the first of these (it’s hard) next. Here, however, I want to address the second (that it isn’t as effective).
In a certain sense this critique is correct. Expository preaching often isn’t as effective as other types of preaching at drawing a crowd, grabbing people’s attention, or meeting felt-needs—the things most people are after. That is, almost every time, shorter sermons with an engaging story and a simple life lesson will attract and keep the attention of more people better than an expository sermon. Likewise, almost every time, topical sermons like “God’s Rescue from Money Problems” or “Making your Marriage Great” or “How Jesus Helps Overcome Relational Conflict” or “Helping Your Kids Be Faithful and Obedient” or “The Spirit’s Comforting Power in Times of Suffering” will peak people’s interest and allow them to leave with a sense of being helped better than an expository sermon.
Here’s what we need to ask ourselves, though: are these the right effects? Are these the things we ought to be pursuing as primary? Are drawing a crowd, easily grabbing people’s attention, and directly and immediately addressing the problems people feel the right goals of preaching? And if not, what is the right goal?
Grace, while no type of preaching should seek to drive people away, bore people, or make it harder for people to find help in times of need, these things must never be the ultimate goal of preaching (or anything else for that matter). In fact, the ultimate goal of preaching must never be about people at all. Instead, the ultimate goal of preaching is the ultimate goal of all ministry is the ultimate goal of all of life: the glory of God.
The aim of everything we do (including preaching) must be to put the infinite greatness and majesty and wonder and power and wisdom and splendor and love—the infinite glory—of God on display. That is, of course, great for mankind too (the more God is lifted up, the more our souls can find joy and satisfaction and help and healing), but the good of mankind is always after the glory of God.
The real question, then, is: if not by numerical growth or attention grabbing or felt-needs meeting, how does preaching most glorify God? Or, how does preaching most put the greatness and majesty and wonder and power and wisdom and splendor and love of God on display? The answer, I believe, is when it allows God’s word to define all of these things and acknowledges that they are most clearly seen in the cross of Jesus.
In other words, preaching must be aimed ultimately at the glory of God (not the needs or desires or spiritual encouragement of people). Preaching best aims at the glory of God when it submits itself to God’s definition of how he’s to be glorified. God tells us how he’s most glorified in the whole of the scriptures. And the whole of scriptures put God’s glory on display by pointing to the cross of Jesus—the gospel.
Paul tells Timothy, ” 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 his kingdom: preach the word…”. He does not charge him to develop a large following (in fact, he says the opposite is likely to occur—”the time is coming when people will not endure [good preaching]”). Paul does not charge Timothy to concern himself with entertaining the listeners (in fact, he says that in one sense, that’s the mark of sin—”but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”). And Paul does not charge Timothy to overly concern himself with addressing the felt-needs of the people (in fact, he’s explicit concerning the content or Timothy’s preaching—the word”).
Successful preaching, then, isn’t defined by about how many people respond to the word of God, but by how faithfully it is proclaimed. The pastor is charged to faithfully preach the whole counsel of God and call his people to respond in faith; not to overly concern himself with how or how many or how favorably people respond to it. Good pastors care about these things because souls are at stake, but good pastors never care first or most about these things.
Expository preaching is hard work.
The next assumption of expository preaching is that it is hard work. Do you remember the steps to good exposition from last week?
First, the preacher must come to understand what the biblical text originally meant within its context. Second, the preacher must give careful and prayerful thought to how the text fits within the whole of scripture and the gospel in particular. And third, the preacher must help his congregation understand how the text (in light of its original meaning and relationship to the gospel) applies to them today.
In order to come to understand what the original text meant within its original context, much thought, prayer, and study is needed. The original context of Paul’s writings, for instance, includes being a Jew, a Pharisee (Jewish leader), in a Middle Eastern culture, written in Koine Greek, and all around 2000 years ago, largely based on a set of promises made around 3500 years ago. What’s more, each of Paul’s letters was written for a particular set of purposes (which are not always explicitly stated) and to a particular audience (which is not always clear).
As you can imagine, coming to understand all of this takes a great deal of work.
From there, expository preaching requires the preacher to reflect on the passage at hand through both a biblical and systematic theology lenses. We need to come to grips with what the entire bible has to say about the given subject matter (systematic theology) and how it relates to the overall story of the bible (biblical theology).
This too, requires earnestness and discipline and focus over the course of years before it can ever be done well over the course of a week.
And finally, an expositional preacher must cry out to God for wisdom to know how to translate all of that into modern day, practical applications with which to reprove, rebuke, exhort, and teach his congregation. Sometimes this is easy and obvious from the text, but many times it is not.
All of this is certainly on Paul’s mind when he writes:
2 Timothy 3:14-15 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings…
Continuing in the “sacred writings” is a prerequisite to “preach the word” (4:2).
Again, the practical implication of all this is mainly prayer and conviction. Pray for me, Matt, Kyle, the future elders of Grace, and all the pastors of all of God’s people. Pray that we’d not be lazy. Pray that God would continue to develop our minds. Pray that we’d not give in to the temptation to take the easy route. Pray that we’d preach out of an overwhelming love for God and you. And, above all, pray that we’d get God’s word right.
And second, because preaching this way requires much work, you all must be willing to free me up to do it (and you have, graciously, over the years). There are always more meetings I could attend or more one-on-one discipleship I could do or more crisis counseling that I could give time to. All of those things are important, but a commitment to expository preaching is one that we must all share such that you all demand that I say no to countless good things each week in order to give the proper time to this better thing.
With all the (usually good) demands on a pastor’s time, one assumption of expository preaching is that it is hard work and that it takes a congregation-wide commitment to it.
Expository listening is hard work.
Right on the heels of this last point is the assumption that expository preaching requires expository listening. And while good expository preaching is difficult, so is good expository listening. This does not mean that you need high levels of education in order to grasp an expository sermon, but it does mean that you need some level of preparation, every time.
Not long ago the DGs all read through a book called “Expository Listening”. I’d like to point you all back to that book as you seek to really apply this point. You all should have received a quick reference guide from this book when you came in. It suggests very practical ways to prepare before the preaching, listen well, and then respond afterward. I want to quickly highlight one or two from each section and encourage all of you to go over it carefully on your own.
The most significant way you can prepare to hear expository preaching is by spending the entire week developing a love for the word of God. If you are not having consistent, significant, satisfying times in the word throughout the week your likelihood of having one through the Sunday morning sermon is significantly less.
A second exceedingly important way to prepare to receive God’s word in preaching is to make sure we’re examining our hearts. As we noted in the previous point, preaching is meant to reprove, rebuke, exhort, and teach. Significantly, Paul gives the reason for this in the next verse.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 …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, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
We need to prepare our hearts in the knowledge that our hearts are fickle. It is hard work to keep our hearts reigned in. Left alone they will not tend toward godliness in many cases. They will instead tend toward a desire for unsound teaching, itching ears, sinful passions, lies, and myths.
We prepare our hearts first by acknowledging these things and crying out to God for help. Additionally, I admonish all of you to prepare your hearts by committing Saturday night and Sunday morning to lassoing in your heart. Come home early on Saturdays so that you can give yourself to reading and reflecting on the text for the sermon and praying over it. Go to bed early so your mind and body are fresh. Get up early to pray for yourself, your pastor, and the people of God. Arrive at church early so that you are not hurried and you can calm your heart.
To listen well when the sermon is preached, do your best to anticipate and alleviate any distractions that might get in your way. And second, take good notes. Write down the things you really want to remember as well as anything the Spirit convicts you to do.
And finally, we must remember that the end of the sermon is the beginning of obedience. The goal isn’t the sermon. The goal is glorifying God through the transformed hearts and minds that come from the sermon. Let the preacher know specifically how the message encouraged or challenged you. Get together with family and/or friends to discuss what you learned and what you are going to do about it. And spend time praying for God’s help in your life and in the lives of all of God’s people.
Expository listening isn’t passive and it always requires preparation, prayer, and a commitment to obey. This takes work, but it is work that always pays 100 fold.
Parents must help the next generation develop a taste for expository preaching.
Finally, before I begin preaching expositorially through 1 Peter next week I want to draw your attention to one more assumption of expository preaching: parents must help the next generation develop a taste for it.
Because we’re born with corrupted natures, we don’t naturally delight in the things of God—including the word of God. Therefore, it takes work to develop an appetite for expository preaching. Developing this appetite must begin as early as possible, and parents bear the primary responsibility for helping their children do so. That is, parents must help their kids develop a taste for God’s word and, therein, for preaching which is based on it.
Parents, read the word at home. Read it on your own and read it with your family. Share how it is affecting your life. Share how you must fight to believe the promises in it when you don’t feel like it. Share the glory you find in it. Share the repentance it leads you to. Share with your kids your trust in the fact that the only path to eternal joy is found in the word of God.
And parents, help your kids prepare to lean into the sermon on Sundays. Let them walk with you as you prepare in the ways we looked at earlier. Let them hear your prayers for yourself and them and your pastor and the rest of the people of God. Read the text with them. Help them know what to listen for. Discuss the biblical text and sermon after Church pray with them and share with them what you are going to do about it.
All of this is embedded in Paul’s words to Timothy in 3:14.
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings…
From childhood Timothy’s family had invested in him, helping him become acquainted with God’s word.
But let me say one final thing here: for those of you who don’t have a believing husband or wife, or for those of you who didn’t have believing parents, remember that Timothy didn’t have a believing father. It was his mother and grandmother who taught him the scriptures. Though families, led by godly men, are God’s usual means of transferring a love for the bible from one generation to the next, they are not his only means. Take heart single moms and dads. Take heart orphans. You have a Father in heaven who cares for you and is more than enough to overcome any shortcomings your earthly parents might have.
Expository preaching is preaching that makes the main point and emphasis of a biblical text the main point and emphasis of the sermon. Last week I shared three reasons as to why we’re committed to making it the main preaching style at Grace: 1) the bible is God’s word and expository preaching seems to be the most natural outworking of this; 2) the bible is living and powerful and expository preaching uniquely acknowledges, highlights, and depends on this; and 3) we need to know what God has told us more than what we think we need to know and expository preaching is most inherently committed to this. And this morning we saw four assumptions of expository preaching: 1) faithfulness to the biblical text, not numerical growth, is the aim of the preacher; 2) expository preaching is hard work; 3) expository listening is hard work; and 4) parents bear the primary responsibility for developing an appetite for expository preaching in their children.
Grace, God’s word contains glories beyond measure. Any lack of appetite we have for it is the result of something deficient in us, not in it. The simple fact is, I’ve never preached perfectly and you’ve never listened perfectly because all of us lack an appropriate appetite for the scriptures. But thanks be to God that he sent his Son to die for our sins and to renew our appetites for the things of God. Let’s recommit ourselves to trusting in the promises of God rather than our fickle feelings. And let’s rest in the fact that the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is already working this in all who are trusting in him. Amen.