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, Grace. I want you to consider two simple questions. First, what types of things do you tend to want to listen to? In other words, what do you seek out to hear? And second, why do you want to listen to those things? Or, what is it about them that makes you want to hear them?
If you like to listen to music, what type of music and why? If you like to listen to audio books, what type and why? If you like to listen to debates, what topics and why? You get the idea.
In my experience most people primarily choose to listen to things they find entertaining and/or novel. The music we listen to keeps our attention and engages us. The stories we take in stir our imaginations and give us an escape. The “debates” we choose to observe are often more about the potential train wreck they promise than a genuine search for knowledge.
Further, for many of us we listen to the things we listen to passively, demanding that the voice speaking or singing keep our attention or we’ll quickly check out and move on to someone who will. Consequently, there’s often very little patience and appetite for things that take work on our part or go more than an inch deep.
If my observations are accurate, we should not be surprised to find that this shallowness has leaked into the Church as well. Indeed it has. Even a simple browsing of the average sermon today quickly reveals that rather than fighting against the demand for entertainment and novelty, many churches are embracing it. Many things offered as sermons today have more of a feel of story time or a coffee shop chat than a serious attempt to engage the will of God. They are designed to entertain the listener, assuming little to nothing from him or her. In fact, this is even a point of advertisement for many churches.
As a listener and as a preacher, I can certainly understand the temptation to this. As a listener I like to hear good, engaging stories. I like to listen to catchy music. I like to be entertained. I like to have someone else do all the heavy lifting for me. I don’t want to be board. And as a preacher, I want people to stay engaged. I want people to remember the message. I want people to like my preaching. I don’t want to bore people.
And yet, Grace, when it comes to preaching and listening to sermons, I believe that God’s Word calls us to something more. I believe God’s Word tells us we need something more. And I believe God’s Word offers something more, much more. That’s the point of this sermon—to describe for you what our sermon diet ought to be: God’s word, all of it.
Let’s pray, then, that God would help us understand the nature of his word such that, that sentence would make sense. Let’s also pray that our appetite for God’s word would increase to the point where our souls can only find satisfaction in it.
I just suggested that what we need most from preaching is the word of God, the bible. With that conviction, I want to highlight two things for you this morning. First, I want to highlight the type of preaching we believe best gives you the bible (expository preaching), and then I want to highlight some of the main assumptions of expository preaching. In other words, I want to help you understand what expository preaching is and why we are committed to it as the main preaching diet of grace church.
First, what is expository preaching?
David Helm (of 9 Marks Ministries) writes, “Expositional preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text” (Expositional Preaching, 13).
In other words, expository preaching is simply preaching that’s committed to making the main point(s) of the biblical text the main point(s) of the sermon. The aim of expository preaching is a Holy Spirit empowered explaining/heralding of the bible and an earnest calling to respond to it in appropriate ways.
There are three phases to good expository preaching. 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.
As you’ve likely noticed the vast majority of our sermons at Grace have and will continue to walk us through the bible, verse by verse and book by book in an attempt to unfold the entire counsel of God in just this way.
This is not to say that that there is no place for other types of preaching (topical for instance—which this sermon is for the most part). There are times when it is good to eat mac and cheese or frozen pizza or to go out to dinner for chicken tenders and cheese curds. However, it is not good for those things to be our main diet. Our main diet, if we are to be healthy, will be much better balanced and much less processed. Therefore, this is to say that generally speaking, once again, it is our conviction that expository preaching ought to be the main diet of God’s people.
With that, as you can imagine, there are a number assumptions we’re making when it comes to this conviction on expository preaching. Before I begin another expository series in 1 Peter, we wanted to explicitly name those assumptions so you’re best prepared to eat and be satisfied.
REASONS FOR EXPOSITORY PREACHING
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to do two things this morning. First, I wanted to explain what we mean by expository preaching. It is, as we just saw, preaching that makes the main point of the biblical text the main point of the sermon.
The second thing I want to do, then, is to explain why we believe preaching must be biblical, and why we believe expository preaching is the best way for preaching to be biblical. That is, I want to now offer you a number of reasons for expository preaching (most from our passage in 2 Timothy).
The bible is God’s Word.
The first reason, which we see clearly in 2 Timothy 3:16, is that the bible is God’s word (“all Scripture is breathed out by God”). Grace, the bible is God’s word! The bible isn’t merely a collection of wise sayings or helpful tips for life. The bible is God’s authoritative, inerrant, clear, necessary, and sufficient word to his people.
• It is authoritative in that as God’s word the bible has the same binding effect on us as it would if God were to speak directly to us right now. Indeed, it is God speaking directly to us right now. Just as the prophets, who received revelation directly from God, were able to preface their prophecy with “Hear the word of the LORD” and “Thus says the LORD,” so are we able to receive the words of the bible. The bible is God’s word and as such it is absolutely authoritative. To disobey the words of Scripture (rightly understood) is to disobey God himself.
• The biblical writings are inerrant in that they contain no mistakes as they were originally written. That is, God, who never lies and who has perfect knowledge of all things past, present, and future, inspired men to write down his thoughts. We have those perfect, errorless thoughts in the bible.
• The bible is clear in that it is not intentionally misleading and that it is able to be understood by all who have been given spiritual eyes and ears; that is, by all who have the Spirit of God in them. We may misunderstand the bible, but only because of limits in us, not a lack of clarity in it.
• The bible is necessary in that apart from it we do not know God or his will for us. Creation declares certain things about God (his bigness and power and wisdom for instance), and the Spirit testified to our spirits about the reality and holiness of God, but the bible alone reveals God’s authoritative will to us.
What’s more, the bible is necessary in that it alone is “able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Romans 1 teaches us that natural revelation is sufficient to let us know that there is a God, that we’ve sinned against him, and that we need saving. But 2 Timothy and the rest of the NT teaches us that the bible alone is sufficient to let us know how we can be reconciled to God. It is, therefore, necessary for knowledge of God’s will and for salvation.
We need God’s word to know God’s will and salvation. And we need all of God’s word for these things. The bible is not God’s blog. He did not just throw some things out there that he thought would be interesting. Before the foundation of the world God determined what his people needed to know him and glorify him and find salvation through his Son. He has given us these things in the entirety of the bible and, therefore, we need it, all of it.
• And the bible is sufficient in that it is all we need to live in a manner pleasing to God. Indeed, it is sufficient to teach us what we need to know about God and his creation (including ourselves and the people around us), to reprove us (show us where we’re wrong), to correct us (show us how to get back on the right track after being reproved), and to train us in how to live righteously. It truly is sufficient to equip us “for every good work” (3:17).
The first reason we are committed to expository preaching as the primary method of preaching at Grace is because the bible alone contains the authoritative, inerrant, clear, necessary, and sufficient word of God. Other types of preaching may acknowledge this, but expository preaching seems to be the most natural outworking of this. That is, in being so tied to the biblical text—rather than the ideas of the pastor or the “needs” of the congregation or the current events of the day—expository preaching by its very nature highlights and depends on the fact that the bible is the word of God.
The bible as God’s word has life and power from the Holy Spirit.
The second reason for expository preaching is that the bible is not a lifeless, impotent document. It is, rather, alive and powerful.
Hebrews 4:12 says that it “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
And Romans 1:16 says, the Word of God—the gospel—“is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”.
That it is alive means that it is, as Hebrews 4 says, active. It works in God’s people. Specifically, this passage teaches, it is active to reveal and change human hearts.
That it is powerful means that, as Romans 1 says, it—the word of God; the bible—has the ability to save every single person who will believe it.
In other words, it is the bible, as God’s word (not the preacher), that does the work of changing hearts and saving souls. This means that good preaching isn’t dependent the preacher being charismatic or eloquent or relevant or cool or entertaining or novel enough, but on God’s word being alive and powerful enough.
Again, while other types of preaching may acknowledge this, expository preaching seems to be the most natural expression of this. By its nature it is about the preacher getting the meaning of the biblical text and its implications right and then getting out of the way as the Spirit and word of God do their work.
This doesn’t mean that good expositors/good preachers are intentionally dull or boring (may it never be since God’s word is never dull nor boring), but it does mean that the more eloquent and gifted a preacher is, the more difficult it is to tell if whatever stirs in you is the work of the preacher or the word.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard a certain local pastor preach (he was in Indianapolis at the time). I had never heard anyone so passionate about God and his glory. I didn’t really understand most of what he was saying at the time but I was amazed by his handling of the bible, his reverence and love for it and his trust in it. Because of his personality and gifting I was inspired to read it more for myself and get to know God like he did.
But I’ll also never forget the first time I went to church in MN. An acquaintance invited Gerri and I to attend church with him and his wife. They assured us that we’d love the church. We went and found it to be exceptionally welcoming, cheerful and diverse. The thing I noticed most, however, was the preacher. He spoke so eloquently and persuasively and passionately. He believed what he was saying and earnestly wanted all of us to believe it too. Though something didn’t seem quite right about the unspoken foundation of his message I found myself wanting to agree with him because of his zeal. I found out shortly after that he was one of the lead proponents of a then emerging heretical idea known as open theism.
The knowledge that charisma and conviction and eloquence can make it harder to distinguish between the natural result of hearing a gifted speaker and the saving and sanctifying effect of the word of God, is what led the apostle Paul to write, in 1 Corinthians 1:17, that Christ sent him to preach the gospel “not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
In other words Paul preached (at least in this case) without significant eloquence so that his audience would know that any lasting effect of his preaching was the result of the work of the living and powerful word of God and not Paul’s preaching prowess.
Although good preaching can be enhanced by the giftedness of the preacher, it is not dependent on it (and it is in some ways more difficult because of it). It is, rather, dependent on the life and power of God’s word.
The second reason for expository preaching is that the bible is alive and powerful and that it, not the preacher, is what we need for spiritual life and growth.
We need to know what God has told us more than what we think we need to know.
A third primary reason for expository preaching that I want to draw your attention to is the fact that we need to know what God has told us more than what we think we need to know.
We all want to hear what God’s Word has to say about what whatever life situation we’re going through. In many ways that’s a good thing. When we’re having money problems and need money wisdom, we want to hear sermons on money. When we are having relationship or marriage problems, we want to hear sermons on relationships or marriage. When someone we love is sick or has recently deceased, we want to hear sermons about God’s healing power or heaven. This is natural and understandable, and there are times when it is appropriate for a pastor to preach to the felt needs of his congregation. However, there are a few reasons that preaching to felt needs (rather than through the bible) is inadequate as a main preaching diet.
First, felt needs are particular. While your marriage is struggling, someone else’s kids are graduating. While your job is being outsourced, someone else just found out they have cancer. While you have a friend who is contemplating divorce, someone else just led their friend to Christ.
While some felt needs are more universal than others, they are all more applicable to us at particular times. When we are taught that sermons must deal with the things we’re dealing with when we’re dealing with them, we will tune in and out accordingly.
Second, felt needs are deceitful. Sometimes we feel needs that we really don’t have and sometimes we don’t feel needs we really do have. If there’s one thing the bible makes clear it’s that our hearts and minds deceive us. The prophet Jeremiah said, ” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?
We think we need deliverance from persecution when God promises to strengthen us and glorify himself through it. We think we need lots of money when the bible says that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to get through the eye of a needle. We think we need a stable home life when we’re told that all we need is in Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, we typically don’t feel the need to spend ourselves serving the poor or putting our lives and families lives at risk by taking the gospel to the hostile ends of the earth or fasting from food to express and strengthen our longing for God.
Expecting our main preaching diet to be about our felt needs ignores the fact that they are deceitful.
And third, our tendency will usually be to want to hear not only the topics, but the answers we want to hear. This, I believe, is exactly what Paul is referring to in 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.”
Because Jesus’ work isn’t finished in us all too often we want what we want apart from whether or not we should want it.
Again, expository preaching seems to be the most well-equipped means of combating these things. It is able to overcome the particular nature of topical, felt-needs preaching by allowing God’s word to set the topic. It is able to overcome the deceitful nature of topical, felt-needs preaching by allowing God’s word to tell us what we need. And it is able to overcome our selfish demand to have our ears itched by inherently refusing to do so—you can’t preach expositorily and scratch ears at the same time.
Expository preaching is preaching that makes the main point of a biblical text the main point of the sermon. It has been and will continue to be the main preaching diet at Grace Church. We saw three reasons for this this morning: 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.
Grace, fight to love God such that his words are your joy and life and sweetness and satisfaction. I can assure you that where we lack joy and life and sweetness and satisfaction in God’s word we’ll find many, many better ways to keep ourselves entertained and our ears scratched than expository preaching. When, however, the Spirit grants us these things (love for God and joy and life and sweetness and satisfaction in his word) we’ll want less and less stories and humanly wisdom and novel takes on things, and more and more of God’s word read and heralded and explained and pleaded for.
It is my prayer that as the Spirit sees fit to do this good work in us, your charge and prayer for me will increasingly be Paul’s charge to Timothy, “We charge you, Pastor Dave, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word! We don’t need more stories. We don’t need more jokes. We don’t need more videos. We don’t need more clever twists of phrase. We don’t need more sermons whose points spell out a word. We need more of Christ. We need more of the Spirit working in us. We need to know more of the Father’s love for us. And we know those things come to us through the power of the living word of God. Preach the word!
May God grant us such things, swiftly, by the Spirit, on account of the gospel, according to the Father’s love, and for the sake of the glory of Christ. Amen.