We are on a track for last Sunday night and this Sunday night, to talk about expositional preaching. Again this is part of the celebration of our 40 years together as a pastor and people. And last week I told you where this all sort of came from. I was asked to teach a seminary...actually a class associated with the seminary, to pastors on the theme of expository preaching and I was asked if I would put together some reasons to do Bible exposition. It was suggested that maybe I could put together ten reasons why we must exposit the Scripture. And I started my list, and as I told you last week, I ended up with 61 reasons why to preach expositionally and over a period of time sort of condensed that down to a more manageable number of about 15 of them that are the core reasons. And in order to give it a little more impact, I kind of turned it on its head and address the issue of expository preaching from the negative side, the consequence of non-expositional preaching.
Now for those of you who weren't with us last time, just a simple definition. To exposit means to explain. It is not the same as the verb exposed, that's a completely different verb. Exposition comes from exposit which simply means to explain. It should be obvious to all of us that any kind of preaching that is faithful to the Word of God is that kind of preaching which explains the Bible, that is what expositional preaching is. There are many ways to do it. There are many styles of doing it. There are different features that you can develop and emphasize in the process, but the objective of expositional preaching is to take a portion of Scripture and explain its meaning so that people understand it. We are concerned with people understanding the interpretation and then understanding the implication of that interpretation which is a universal implication, and then that the Holy Spirit may make a personal application.
It is essential, if one is to be faithful, to the mandate of Scripture that we preach the Word. I think we have made this not only clear in defending what we do, but perhaps even more clear in the doing of it. Through these 40 years together, we have endeavored every time we meet to explain to you the meaning of the Scripture.
Now it is essential for us to understand that the Bible is clear and is intended to be understood. That is at the foundation. It is important for us to recognize that we do not have an incomprehensible book, as some would make us think today. We do not have an unclear revelation but rather the Scripture is clear. It is to be understood with the rational mind. There are no secret meanings.
It is normal language, actual events, real people, true history and divine revelation of the spiritual realities that are embedded in this history. The Bible is clear. It is to be understood by the normal, rational means. You apply your mind to the text and you can understand its meaning...the same way you would solve a math problem, not by feelings, not by some esoteric experience, not by some transcendental idea, not by some intuition, but by dealing with your mind applied to the facts. There are no myths in the Bible. There are no allegories in the Bible. There are no transcendent mystical secrets to be revealed. This is just plain truth revealed in such a way as to be apprehended by normal reason.
What it yields is truth...divine truth. The essence of a Christian perspective is that when you apply your mind to the objective revelation of Scripture, that is a revelation outside of you rather than subjected, that would be something inside of you, when you apply yourself to this objective revelation with your mind, it will yield the truth that God wants you to know. And you don't really have the revelation, you don't really have the Scripture until you know that truth. Once you know that truth, it bears authority.
So you start out with an objective text, that is something outside of us, not something inside of us. We bring nothing inside of us to the interpretation of Scripture. It is totally outside of us. When we, using our minds, understand its meaning, we come to the truth of it that God wants is to know and that truth then bears authority. It becomes the authoritative statement.
The next thing that becomes very apparent to us is that this truth, being fixed and authoritative, is incompatible with all other competing ideas. In other words, it is not right to say that every religion has its own truth, that every person has his or her own truth. There is only one true revelation from God and anything that contradicts it is a lie. This is critical to understand that the authoritative truth of Scripture is incompatible with all other competing ideas. First John 2:21 says, “No lie is of the truth. No lie is of the truth.” That is a mutual exclusivity. It cannot be a lie and the truth. It cannot be truth and a lie. Once we determine what the truth is, then we immediately know what a lie is. Now once we have this truth which is incompatible with all competing ideas, it is our responsibility to live that truth.
Now the objective then for us in ministry in the end is to get you to live the truth for the glory of God and your own blessing. To get you to understand its authority, we must therefore get you to understand its truth. In order for you to understand its truth, we have to take our minds and apply them to the Word of God so that truth can be yielded to us. In a sense, that is what it means to exposit Scripture...to take you in to the Scripture, help you use your mind to understand its meaning which is the truth, which is authoritative, which is incompatible with all that is not the truth and which then gives you the essential realities upon which you are to live your life. To do anything less than that is to fail to fulfill the responsibility that God has given to every minister and every pastor.
And so, we began our list last week about why it's important to exposit the Scripture, to do Bible exposition. Only we did it from a negative perspective. The failure to preach exposition, a quick review, usurps the authority of God over the mind and soul of the hearer. If in the church the Word of God is not explained, then God is silenced, God is not heard and someone else usurps divine authority over the mind and soul of the hearers.
Secondly we said a failure to preach expositions of Scripture usurps the lordship of Christ over His church. The only way the head of the church can lead the church is if He speaks to the church. If we put anything in the place of the Scriptures, we have, in effect, silenced the head of the church and we have a usurper speaking to the church.
Thirdly we said that failure to exposit the Scripture hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. It hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, it does not help the work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you hear people say, “We don't want to have people come to our church and hear some kind of a boring message from the Bible.” Well that boring message that comes from the Bible is essentially what the Holy Spirit uses to do His work. The Spirit of God uses Scripture to save.
We are begotten again by the Word of Truth to sanctify. We are sanctified by the truth. And it is the truth that gives us the hope of glory. The whole work of salvation comes by the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing the Word concerning Christ, Romans 10 says. So, first we start with a trinitarian perspective then that if Bible exposition doesn't dominate the pulpit, then the authority of God is usurped, the headship of Christ is usurped and the work of the Holy Spirit is hindered.
Fourthly, a failure to do Bible exposition legitimizes a lack of submission to Scripture. It legitimizes a lack of submission to Scripture. If you are asking people to submit to your own ideas, your own insights, your own intuition, your own perspectives, if you put anything in the place of Scripture, you are legitimizing a lack of submission to Scripture. This is not the way the Thessalonians received it, the word of men...it is the Word of God. You don't want to do anything that legitimizes a non-submissive attitude toward Scripture by putting something in its place to which you submit instead.
And number five, a very important one and I talked a little about this last week...a failure to do regular Bible exposition severs the preacher personally from the regular sanctifying work of the Scripture. You don't want an unsanctified minister. Spurgeon said, “That is like a mole trying to educate eagles.” You want a sanctified minister opening up the Word of God because part of being able to open up the Word of God is to be pure in your heart. Peter says it this way, “Laying aside all evil...he says...let us like babes desire the pure milk of the Word that we may grow thereby.” The Word doesn't really do its pure and powerful work unless sinful things are set aside. “Whoever lives a blameless life, the psalmist said... he will minister to me.” Paul says, “I have to beat my body into submission lest in preaching to others I become disqualified.”
And so, one of the great benefits of regular exposition of Scripture is its sanctifying work in the heart of the minister in the relentless discipline of study. I think we remember a verse that just came to mind that says this in such a wonderful way, in Ezra chapter 7 and verse 10 it tells us about Ezra. Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it...and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.
First you study the law of the Lord to do it yourself. And then to teach it to somebody else.
Number six, we looked at the fact that a failure to do Bible exposition removes spiritual depth and transcendence from the souls of the people and therefore cripples worship. All that is left is to try to manipulate people emotionally. And what do I mean by that? Spiritual depth is critical, you have to go down before you can go up. The height of your worship is in direct proportion to the depth of your understanding. Shallow understanding leads to shallow worship. Deep understanding leads to deep worship because you infuse into the expressions of worship all your theology. When you hear Fernando sing, “Jesus, King of angels,” if you have only a very minimal understanding of that, then your praise is minimal. But if you understand what it means in the Scripture in the fullest sense revealed there that Jesus is the sovereign over the angelic hosts, the richer your understanding of that, the richer your expression of worship in the singing of it or the hearing of it. Your ability to go up in worship is in direct proportion to your ability to go down in understanding. And there's nothing more wonderful than a congregation of people who are deep in the things of the Lord, who understand the subtleties of the hymns, who understand the nuances of theology, who have some breadth and depth and length and height in their understanding of Scripture so that their worship is truly high and it's not the result of any kind of emotional manipulation.
Number seven, a failure to do Bible exposition prevents the preacher from fully speaking for Christ. It prevents the preacher from fully speaking for Christ. And any preacher knows that he has been called to speak in behalf of Christ to his church as an under-shepherd. We have the mind of Christ revealed here, we need to know it so that we can proclaim it. He who does not understand the mind of Christ, does not know how Christ thinks, does not know Christ's will is revealed in Scripture, cannot speak for Christ to every issue. There's no premium on shallowness, on lack of knowledge of Scripture. We should be and must be experts in the revelation of Scripture and that only comes from diligence in every passage week after week, month after month, year after year, so that we can truly say, “Thus says the Lord.”
And then we ended up with number eight. A failure to do Bible exposition depreciates by example the spiritual duty and benefit of studying Scripture. In other words, if the preacher doesn't bother to do it, why should somebody in the pew do it? On the other hand, if the preacher does do it, and proclaims what it yields, then you get the message of how wonderful it is, how life transforming it is. Where there are pulpits and the Word of God is not proclaimed, the people do not see t he value of studying the Word of God with depth. If their pastor doesn't do it, why in the world would they do it? If it's not the consuming passion of the pulpit, why in the world would it be any kind of passion in the pew? Preachers not only do what they do, they model what they do.
And that brings us to number nine. A failure to do Bible exposition breeds a congregation weak and indifferent to the glory of God. It breeds a congregation weak and indifferent to the glory of God. A failure to do Bible exposition redirects people from loving Christ, from loving God, from loving truth...redirects them away from finding their joy and their delight and their satisfaction in the Word. Inevitably, if the Word is not regularly proclaimed from the pulpit, the people become absorbed with themselves. And in the place of Scripture, messages are given that become attractive to people as if the people were the ones to define what is done, consumed with their own interests, their own well-being. Churches like this become very self-centered.
I said this to you years ago, hard, convicting, biblical preaching makes soft people cause it breaks down their pride, breaks down their selfishness, breaks down their self-centeredness, brings them in to submission, brings them in to worship, makes them desire to glorify God. You might say hard preaching makes soft people. On the other hand, soft preaching makes hard people. Preaching that is intended only to superficially wound, feeds people's self-centered preoccupations and in the end, produces people that are self-centered, don't know what it means to make sacrifices either for God or for each other.
The last thing any servant of the Lord would want, you would think, would be a congregation weak and indifferent to the glory of God and the glory of Christ. And yet there are so many that way because they have not been exposed to the Scripture which constantly directs them to God and to Christ and to the things pertaining to the Trinity, rather than those things which are personally preferred.
Well for the sake of time, let me give you the last little group. Number ten, this should be obvious, it's critically important. A failure to do Bible exposition robs people of their only true source of help...it robs people of their only true source of help. There is really no help apart from the Lord. There is no help apart from understanding our God, understanding His promises, understanding His covenants, understanding His love, His care, His compassion, His mercy, His grace, understanding His sovereignty, understanding His providence, understanding all of these things. This is where the true help comes from.
And when that is not the steady diet of people and they become dependent on stories, or they become dependent on analogies, or clever insights, or slick programs and are unable to feed themselves, able only to receive milk, you are really doing what Jeremiah 8:11 calls treating people's wounds superficially. The obligation of the preacher is not to try to alter people by some cleverness, but rather to have God alter their lives because they come to understand His truth.
I know this, that when you face a crisis in life, the only real help you're going to get is from the truth revealed in Scripture. When somebody comes in and says that your wife has cancer and not long to live, or your son has a terminal illness, or your baby daughter has an incurable disease, when some disaster looms in front of you, it is your theology that anchors you. It is what you know to be true about God, about His Word, about His power, about His purpose, about His sovereignty, about His compassion and mercy and all of those things that is your true help. And when you're struggling in a difficult marriage, the only real help for that marriage is not some psychological gimmick, the only real help for that marriage is to begin to apply biblical principles of godliness. The only help fore that marriage is that each person be rightly related to Jesus Christ and therefore be rightly related to each other. When there are struggles in your home and there's conflict between children and parents, there's a biblical pattern to resolve that laid out in Scripture. There are principles of spiritual life that alone can alter those kinds of relationships at a deep level, at a permanent level.
And when people have a shallow understanding of Scripture, they literally are robbed of the only true source of help. People who spend their lives in a superficial religious environment, in a shallow kind of environment, shallow Christian environment, when they face the crises of life, can't stand because they have nothing to stand on.
Number eleven. A failure to do Bible exposition creates a destructive disconnect between sound doctrine and life. And this is connected to the one I just gave you. A failure to teach the Word of God creates a destructive disconnect between sound doctrine and life.
Now look, I am very aware of the criticisms that have come my way through the years, that I'm not practical, my preaching isn't applicable, I never make an application, I don't tell a lot of stories, I'm not relevant, I've heard that. There was even a period of time at Grace church when some of the elders of the church thought my preaching was so theological, it was irrelevant. And there is this idea that somehow if you want to be relevant, you've got to abandon theology.
Well I want you to know there's a simple little principle to keep in mind. Life imitates theology...life imitates theology. You live your beliefs. And if they're weak and confused and shallow, that's how you're going to live, in a weak, confused and shallow way, and that's how you're going to respond to the issues of life over which you have no control. People who are taught to trust their intuition or human insights are going to be massively disappointed.
But when you teach Scripture and you teach theology, you do it relentlessly and consistently, you are all the time saying to people, “This is the foundation of your living. This is not irrelevant. This is what is relevant. You live your theology.”
There are many trends that have come into the church. One of the worst ones started long before sort of the current forms, twenty years ago, maybe, maybe more...and that was the idea that we've got to get theology out of the church because theology is divisive. Theology is narrow. Theology is ivory tower, egghead kind of stuff, not practical, not relevant. You can't make theology an issue or we'll have conflict with those folks over there who have a different theology. And so there was a jettisoning of theology as if it's a bad word. It's the best word. Theology is simply the things that are true about God. There is no disconnect between sound doctrine in life, there is an immediate connection. And if you have weak theology, you're going to be weak in the vicissitudes of life.
Number twelve, a failure to do Bible exposition dishonors God by omitting those truths that trouble, offend and terrify sinners. Now the modern approach to church is not to terrify sinners, would you agree? It's to do anything but that...to shmooze them, I guess you could say. So in order to do this, you have to gag God, you have to muzzle God. And the way you muzzle God is by saying, “Whoa, I would never bring that up in our church because we don't want to offend anyone.” The gagging of God, frankly, is pride at an incomprehensible level. We want to trim down the message, over-simply the message, just strip it bare of anything that might offend anyone...when, in fact, Scripture is full of troubling truth, in fact terrifying truth because it is essential to terrify the lost, it is essential, as Paul says, for the space of three years, I've not failed to warn you, to the Ephesians elders, we read that this morning in Acts 20.
There is the essential reality of death, hell, eternal punishment. And if you just go through the Scriptures as they are laid out verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, you don't gag God, you don't edit God. Remember this morning, Paul said, “I've not failed to declare unto you the whole council of God, I didn't shrink back...is the verb in the NAS...I didn't shrink back from anything because it might offend somebody.” This is God's Word, it is up to us to be faithful to proclaim it. To me it is utterly inconceivable that anyone would be so audacious as to see something in the Scripture and make a determination that God has to be edited at that point.
Now I'm used to being edited. I write things in a book, and sometimes I see the copy coming back to me and what I put there is gone because some editor somewhere in another place working for a publisher makes a determination that I shouldn't say that, that that's going to get into trouble.
I remember years ago when I wrote a book called Our Sufficiency in Christ. The editor, who is now with the Lord, flew out here and said, “I have to have a meeting with you.” And we sat down to talk about what I said in that book about psychology and the non-role that psychology should play in spiritual life.
Well this was really counter-current evangelical culture. And I'll never forget sitting on his chair looking at this really wonderful guy and I got to know him and he said, “Do you understand how many people are going to be offended if I leave this in the book?” And, of course, my response is a whole lot more than I imagined. I'm sure there are many more people who would be offended than I could come up with in my little list. But he said, “It's not so much the number, it's do you know WHO these people are who will defend...offended?” And he rattled off some of the most prominent names in evangelicalism...to which I responded, “Well, if we don't offend them, we can't fix them.” We can't...we can't correct them, we can't push them in a new direction if we don't offend them in the direction they're currently going.
So, we offended them. And I think you're probably pretty much aware of the fact that the movement called Christian Psychology twenty years ago has disappeared, virtually disappeared because it had no part to play in the work of the Spirit of God in sanctification.
So you can't gag God without usurping a very, very dangerous place. And that is what was part of the attraction to me of just going through verse after verse, book after book, front to back, whatever's there, that's exactly what we proclaim.
Number thirteen, a failure to do Bible exposition disconnects people from the legacy of the past...disconnects people from the legacy of the past.
Just to give you a little insight into what I do...every week of my life...on Monday, or for sure on Tuesday, I start to work on the next passage. The first thing I do is look into the original language, working in the New Testament, the Greek New Testament, go through the Greek text and make sure I understand what it says in the original, jot down a whole lot of notes. And then I go to my shelf and I reach for the books written by dead people...really dead people, not recently dead, long dead. And I read them...I read them. I think I've read in preparation for Mark, I think I've read about 30 commentators and I've read at least 30 commentaries on Mark, most of them are dead writers because I honor the work of the Spirit of God in the past. I have great respect for t he illumination of the Spirit on great godly students of Scripture in the past. And I'll tell you this, folks, the critical doctrines...the critical truths of Scripture have long before me been interpreted accurately.
And when I come up with something that nobody has ever said, gag me. I stand in a long line of people who have long before me gotten it right. The critical doctrines, the critical interpretations, the challenging difficult passages have all been interpreted by faithful men in the past and I want to stand in that great long line. I think it's a very proud thing to make people think that the truth arrived with you. You're the cool dude who shows up and says it like nobody else has ever said it. And, in fact, you treat the people in the past with scorn. Very popular to do that these days. I'm so thankful for the dead guys who in the providence of God worked diligently and wrote down their understanding of Scripture and left me such a great body of work. I am indebted to past illumination, redemptive history. I want to link my understanding of Scripture with those in the past who understood it, as well as many today who also link with those in the past. There is this indifference that is rampant today to the great scholars of the past, clear interpreters of Scripture and theologians. You will notice if you listen to me preach that I quote them frequently. How sad to disconnect from this vast, rich legacy of illumination by the Spirit of God in the lives of these great men.
Number fourteen, a failure to do Bible exposition removes protection from error that is deadly to the church. Faithful shepherds understand they have to protect the sheep. They understand what we read this morning that perverse men rise up inside the church and great grievous wolves come from the outside and the church is always under assault because that's what Satan does. He's a liar and the father of lies and all of his agents appear as angels of light in religious deception. And that's why we have to watch and warn. That's why we have to guard the truth as we commented on in 1 Timothy and in 2 Timothy today. We are faithful shepherds necessarily building up the sheep so they're protected from being tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine and the deceit and the craftiness of those who would manipulate them into error. There's nothing sadder than an undiscerning Christian, someone who can't tell truth from error, someone like a little child crawling around the floor sticking everything in their mouths. Very dangerous situation.
Unless we clarify doctrine, unless we defend threatened truth, unless we guard the truth of Scripture, unless we expose error, we are not faithful shepherds. We are leaving our people vulnerable to the wolves and the perverse on the inside. I want you to be able to discern and to defend yourselves from error.
I have said through the years, and even wrote a book on it, that the greatest problem in the church is a lack of discernment. It's like spiritual AIDS, you don't die of AIDS, you die of a thousand diseases because your immune system is so compromised. And the church has a case of spiritual AIDS and it can die of a thousand heresies. That's why we, Jude 3, earnestly...earnestly contend for the once-for-all-delivered to the saints faith.
Well, one final point. A failure to do Bible exposition deceives people that they have heard from God when they haven't...that they have heard from God when they haven't. Or that they have heard something profound when, in fact, they haven't.
I think people do need to hear from God. I think they deserve to hear from God. I think God's people want to hear from God. And the way you guarantee that is by giving them the Word God has spoken on the pages of holy Scripture. You don't want to have them deceived. They come to church, you talk, they think they've heard from God, but all they've heard is your opinion, your insights, your ideas. That's a deception.
This, I think, is perhaps a summary of all 61 of those. I've tried to squeeze them in to those 15. But I think you get the picture. All of them could be embellished, enriched, enlarged a little bit and angles and nuances could be approached. But if you want to get this in print, there's a book that was done some...a couple of years ago called Fools Gold and in that book there's a chapter that I did which lays these out in some further detail.
Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, because you've rejected knowledge I will also reject you from being My priests.” Everything is based on knowledge of the truth. In the end, that's why we do what we do.
Now this is 40 years of doing this, from the first Sunday that we came together to now, this has been the pattern of what the Lord has done in our midst, the teaching of Scripture. I'm not the only one who does this, by any means. Everybody does this. We all do this.
If you go to a fellowship group, you're going to hear somebody explain the meaning of Scripture. If you go to a home Bible study, somebody there will explain to you the meaning of Scripture. I've been asked t he question, “You know, isn't this kind of overload?” Impossible, impossible. First of all, if I asked you on Tuesday what you heard on Sunday, you'd have a hard time recalling it. Listen, preaching in a church service like this is an event, it is a spiritual event. And it works powerfully on your heart. It doesn't necessarily all stick in your memory bank but it moves you in a new direction toward the things of God. In the experience of that great event, you move in the right direction. And even though you don't remember the details, you come the next week and you're moved again and progressively, closer and closer you come to the very image of Christ. It's not about being able to remember everything, it's about the power that the Word of God has in the actual event of teaching or preaching to bring to bear on your mind to clarify, to convict, to comfort, to direct. And that experience in and of itself moves you in the right direction toward holiness and faithfulness and obedience and understanding.
And you come back again, you go to a Bible study and you're moved again in that direction. And you read a good book you got in the bookstore. You listen to a CD, you listen to a message, you come back on another Sunday and all of this is moving you down the path. I know you don't remember at all. I don't remember it all...and I listen to every word...most of the time. But it's the power of the event that grabs you and threatens you and encourages you and comforts you and instructs you and convicts you and delights you. And it's reinforced as we worship and sing together and fellowship together. And this great...this great experience that we have under the power of the Word on the Lord's day or in a class or a Bible study is all a part of that forward motion that the Holy Spirit is producing in our lives as we move toward being like Christ. And we've all, some of us, for many years experienced it here. And some of us, of course, all along the way.
People always say to me, “I came to the church in 2 Corinthians 6...or I came in Acts 14...or I came in Luke 8...” And I know that's how you think because that's what we do and you get on board and you go through these experiences here at this church where you're exposed regularly to the Word of God in every possible ministry that we have. And all of this is directing you in the right way because the Word is what sanctifies.
Well, again just a reminder to pray for us this week as we have the Shepherds' Conference, I'm looking forward to it. Some of you have asked me what I'm going to speak on and I sort of know, but, you know, I kind of leave room for the Holy Spirit to move me one way or another as I get closer to t he very day. But we would all appreciate your prayers as we have a great week together. Let's bow in prayer.
Our Father, we are so grateful for Your Word. What would we do if we didn't have it, and to have the complete revelation, what would we do if we were missing Romans, or if we were missing 1 Corinthians, or if we were missing Galatians, or the great Apocalypse, or even the book of Isaiah with all the promises of the future restoration of Israel and the suffering servant, Messiah? We're so thankful that we have the whole Scripture and that it closes with the warning not to take anything away or add anything to it...this is it. We thank You for the complete Word. We thank You, Lord, that You've put us in a place to understand it and for it to do its mighty work in our hearts. Move us because of the wonderful exposure we've had even today to Your Word, and send us through this week with great hope and great victory as we see Your hand in this conference that is ahead of us. We pray, Lord, for people who are here visiting with us who don't know Christ, even some perhaps coming back time again, but have never embraced the gospel, have never come to Christ. Lord, would You be gracious to those sinners and rescue them even today? We pray for those that are struggling to decide whether they should be obedient and become a part of the church and be baptized and take their place with Your people, some who are struggling with issues in their lives of sin, difficulty and challenges, some who are struggling with doubts. We pray, Lord, that You would show Yourself mighty and faithful in behalf of all these people and accomplish all Your good purpose. The glory goes to You and we gladly give it. We understand that we are not able to do anything, not able to contribute anything except by Your grace and Your power. Thank You for that privilege.
Bless us now as we part. Use us for Your glory, we pray in Christ's name. Amen.