Archives For Expository Preaching

In his book 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching, Wayne McDill gives seven qualities of effective expository preaching:

  1. The preacher’s first aim is to discover the text writer’s intended theological meaning in the selected text.
  2. The preacher seeks to let the text speak again through the sermon with the same theological message.
  3. The preacher of expository sermons discovers the meaning of the text through a careful exegetical analysis of the text in all its particulars.
  4. Expository preaching calls for careful consideration of the contexts in which the text was originally written.
  5. An expository sermon is organized with due consideration to the structure and genre of the selected passage.
  6. The expository preacher will seek to influence the audience through the use of the rhetorical elements common to persuasion.
  7. Expository preaching aims for a response of faith and obedience to the biblical truth on the part of the audience(8-9, numbers added; other formatting original; discussion between points removed)

In this video interview with David Platt, Mark Dever argues that

if you’re going to have a healthy church you begin by letting it be calibrated by God and God’s revelation of himself, and that’s the Word.

And why is that? Why must the Word be at the center of church life? Because

apart from God speaking to us, we would just be lost in darkness. We’d be on our own way.

That’s why expository preaching is the first mark of a healthy church. Because it’s the Word that does the work.

Any preacher knows that by experience. Dever relates that Sinclair Ferguson once preached a sermon and didn’t feel very good about it. Later someone remarked about how powerfully God had used that message in another person’s life. Ferguson responded by saying, “That man heard a better sermon than I preached.”

I think I feel that way nearly every time I preach. I find myself having to fall back on the bedrock conviction that God is at work to accomplish his purposes through his Word. And that’s why I keep preaching it no matter how inadequately I do it.

In a recent Preaching Points podcast Jeffrey Arthurs argues that the exegetical idea is the foundation of an expository sermon.

What is the exegetical idea? It is essentially “a summary of the text.” It is when you “bring all of your exegetical details together and show how they relate to each other to state the dominant idea.”

An expository sermon, then, is at its core the proclamation of this central idea. It has to be that way, as Arthurs notes, because as God’s messengers

we don’t make up this message. We don’t alter this message. We simply herald what God has already communicated.

If you’ve read Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching, you’ll remember that the exegetical idea, as he defines it, is comprised of two parts: the subject and the complement. The subject is the question the author is seeking to answer, and the complement is the answer the author gives to that question. The subject and complement combined make up the exegetical idea.

Need an example? Arthurs takes a brief look at Psalm 133 to illustrate.

David writes,

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

The thesis of Psalm 133 is presented right out of the gate. David is clearly talking about unity. However, Arthurs’ comments at this point are highly instructive and extremely important. Don’t miss what he says.

Most preachers will be satisfied simply to preach about unity from this text, because obviously that’s what it deals with. But we want to go further and deal more specifically with the authorial intention. And the discipline of the exegetical idea will help you get there. (emphasis mine)

He’s right. Our tendency as preachers is to stay on the surface and preach on the general subject matter of our text. But in doing so, we often fail to really communicate the uniqueness of the text and convey the a/Author’s intended message.

In other words, if the author’s intention is a nail and our exegetical idea is the hammer, it is our job to hit the nail squarely on the head. If we don’t, we may still hit the nail but do damage to it in the process. The original author’s message may come out slightly slanted or badly bent.

Here, then, are the two components of Arthurs’ exegetical idea for Psalm 133:

  1. Subject (Question): “How did David extol the goodness and pleasantness of unity among God’s people?”
  2. Complement (Answer): “By comparing that unity to the anointing oil poured on Aaron at his consecration and comparing it to the copious, life-giving dew of mount Hermon falling on Mount Zion.”

Yes, when combined the two end up becoming a “long, fairly complicated sentence,” but the idea behind the exegetical idea is to summarize what the author said. In the case of a short poem like Psalm 133, the exegetical idea ends up being a restatement of the text to a large degree.

Why is this exercise and discipline critically important? Because once you have your exegetical idea, you have your message. But if you hit the nail squarely on the head, it’s not really your message. It’s God’s message. And that’s why it can be said that “the foundation of an expository sermon is . . . [an accurately derived and formulated] exegetical idea.”

Mike Bullmore begins his 9Marks at Southern 2013 session with this “strong claim:”

Preaching God’s word is the fundamental task of pastoral ministry and there is no more important or effective way that you can build up . . . your church than in your preparation to preach week by week and in your presentation of the Word on Sunday.

That’s quite a claim. “No more important or effective way” to build your church than through preaching. But not just any kind of preaching. The kind of preaching Bullmore is talking about here is biblical exposition,

that in which both the content and the intent of the sermon is controlled by . . . the content and intent of a particular passage of Scripture.

In other words, it’s not “just coverage of biblical material.” It’s the “accomplishment of a biblical intention.”

The Necessity of Biblical Exposition

So why would anyone continue to engage in biblical preaching when there are so many attractive alternatives out there?

Bullmore gives four general answers to that question:

  1. People’s lives are at stake.
  2. The health of the church is at stake.
  3. Our own integrity is at stake.
  4. Ultimately, the glory of God is at stake.

But in this session Bullmore narrows the focus to one particular answer based on Dueteronomy 8:2-3:

The Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

So why is biblical exposition necessary? Because, Bullmore argues, “the people to whom you are preaching need it in order to live.” It’s like in John 6 when “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go aways as well?” and Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Four Theological Convictions

What exactly is it about the word of God that serves to motivate us in preaching it expositionally? Bullmore enumerates four theological convictions that argue for perseverance in biblical exposition:

1. The God-breathedness of Scripture

Our God speaks and writes and continues to speak by what he has spoken.

Therefore, “we preach the Bible because God said something here and your job is to say what God said.” And that’s why it is imperative, Bullmore contends, that we not “tamper with God’s word. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to God.”

This theological conviction also serves as motivation to fulfill the biblical injunction in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.”

2. The Understandableness of Scripture

God isn’t hiding from us or playing games with us. He took the initiative to reveal himself to us so we could know him.

It’s not surprising then that Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” That is to say, there is a right handling of the word of truth and a wrong handling.

Admittedly, certain parts of the Bible are difficult to grasp, and that’s why Bullmore says there is “no room for arrogance.” However, there is still “lots of room for confidence. In fact, there is room for conviction. The Scripture will yield to believing study.”

3. The Usefulness of Scripture

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that because the Scripture is God-breathed it is necessarily “profitable.” The Bible is both useful and valuable. Therefore, Bullmore rightly concludes,

God’s word can be trusted to set the agenda for your preaching. God’s word can be trusted to set an agenda of usefulness for your people. You don’t have to fish around trying to find relevant stuff to preach on.

Be assured that whenever you give people the word of God you give them something inherently valuable and useful.

4. The Efficacy of Scripture

Do you know of any other book that “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”?

Scripture, Bullmore reminds us, initiates faith, gives new spiritual life, helps us grow, sanctifies, searches and convicts, liberates, refreshes and renews. So if you want your listeners to experience the saving and sanctifying power of God’s word, then give them the Bible in your preaching and watch God work.


So why is biblical exposition necessary? Here’s why:

Because of the God-breathedness of Scripture and because exposition is a way of speaking that. And because of the understandableness of Scirpture and because exposition is a way of achieving that. Because of the usefulness of Scripture and because exposition is a way of demonstrating that. And because of the powerful efficacy of scripture and because exposition is a way of touching that off, igniting that. This is why we preach God’s word according to its nature and its purpose. This is why we do faithful exposition of Scripture.

A provocative title, for sure. What is Mohler talking about–expository preaching a bad idea? Isn’t Al Mohler an advocate for expository preaching in our day? Yes, he is. But in this session, part of the 9 Marks at Southern 2013 series, Mohler addresses the intentional eradication and marginalization of biblical exposition in the church by raising and addressing the common contemporary arguments against expository preaching.

He argues that there are a number of historical influences that have contributed to the near eclipse of expository preaching in the church.

  1. Pietism, Revivalism, and Pragmatism
  2. Liberalism, Existentialism, and Consumerism

So, why do some argue that expository preaching is such a bad idea? Mohler gives 7 common arguments against exposition:

  1. No one listens to a long or significant oration anymore. The age of speech is simply over.
  2. No one knows the Bible anyway. People know too little of the Bible to connect with it.
  3. It is too preacher-centric. Education today is not fostered by the “sage on the stage” but the “guide on the side.”
  4. It does not relate to my everyday life.
  5. It will kill a church.
  6. Not every text of Scripture deserves to be preached.
  7. It is based on outdate, outmoded ideas of authority.

However, every criticism leveled against expository preaching, Mohler says, is based on the assumption that human beings have changed fundamentally in their nature. That, however, is not the case. Sure, cultures change, and Mohler notes that “most often the cultural analysis [reflected in the arguments against expository preaching] is keenly correct. It’s just beside the point.”

The central issue in arriving at a right understanding of the proper mode of Christian preaching is the Scripture “as the oracular Word of God.” This one timeless and unchanging truth, he contends, implies and requires expository preaching.

Mohler’s conclusion?

The Reformers had it absolutely right. Not only is the shape of worship to be centered in the sermon. But the shape of the sermon is to be nothing other than exposition: the reading of the text and the explanation of the text in such a way that the people of God are shaped into the image of Christ as the Holy Spirit applies the Word to their hearts.

So, how committed are we to one of the worst ideas in the world?

Expository preaching is so bad that only a sovereign God would come up with it to show His glory in a fallen world by using it to call sinners to Christ and to mold believers into conformity with the image of His Son.