As I mentioned to you this morning, I want to talk to you a little bit - more like a sort of a personal lecture than a sermon - about the emphasis that we have here on the exposition of the Word of God. This church is known all over the world for the fact that we are committed to Scripture. We are known because of the ministry that we have had here for well into five decades now of explaining the Bible, and this is the best thing that a church can be known for, the explanation of Scripture.
It is what we do. It is what we train men to do. It is what the men who go out of this church and the people who go out of this church to other places do and expect to be done, and the Lord, by His mercy and grace, has allowed us to spread this emphasis and this vision across the face of the earth with our missionaries and their wonderful ministries and training centers all over the globe. They continue to emphasize the exposition of Scripture and to train people to do the exposition of Scripture and to train men and women in the church who will never exposit the Word of God from a pulpit to expect it to be done by whoever is in the pulpit.
So we raise the awareness of Bible exposition. We train men to do that and we encourage people to expect that in their churches.
Christian ministry comes down to one clear duty, essentially, of 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word. Be instant in season and out of season.” In other words, do it on the spot, do it immediately, and do it all the time. In season and out of season, that’s the only possibilities. Whatever that means, it’s all there is. You’re either in it or out of it. Do the same thing, preach the Word. Bring the truth of God’s Word to the people. This is a very simple command. Our responsibility is then to explain the meaning of Scripture.
It was a number of years ago now, I don’t remember exactly how many years ago, that we were having a pastors’ seminar here for a week and I was asked to give reasons why we do Bible exposition, reasons why we exposit, the verb is to exposit, to explain the meaning of Scripture. And my responsibility was going to be to take two or three days and talk about that. So I thought, “Well, I’ll make a list of the reasons we do this,” and so I started, and I kept going and going and going, and by the time I showed up on a Monday, I had 63 reasons why we do what we do.
Well, I’ve sort of brought that together, reduced it a little bit, combined some things, and come up with about fifteen reasons why we do what we do. Whatever the form a ministry may take, the purpose of ministry is for people to understand the Word of God. There’s only one instrument by which the Spirit redeems. We are begotten again by the Word of truth, Scripture. There’s only one instrument by which we are sanctified. Jesus, in John 17:17, said, “Sanctify them by thy truth. Thy Word is truth.” The concern, obviously, of God is that the truth of Scripture, His holy revelation, be brought, first of all, to His own people and then, through them, to the world.
My task is simple. The task of anyone who preaches or teaches in the church is to explain accurately the meaning of Scripture. That is why we are commanded to be diligent, to be diligent, the old Authorized says, “To study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth,” handling the Word of God accurately. This is our responsibility because the truth, essentially, is everything.
And wherever I go in the world, whether it’s in a Shepherds’ Conference here or whether it’s in another country or it might be a sort of random question-and-answer event with the spiritual leaders here and there, I always go back to this foundational responsibility to explain the meaning of the revelation of God in Scripture. That is the heart of all ministry because that is the truth that saves, the truth that sanctifies, and the truth that gives the hope of glory.
The 63 that I came up - I unloaded on those poor, unsuspecting pastors. I think there were about a dozen of them that week, and it was like drinking out of a fire hose, I admit that. And over a period of time, I kind of condensed it, and the little list that I developed then has showed up in various places in print. But I wanted to bring it to you because most of the time, it is something that is heard by or read by those who are in pastoral leadership, but I want you to understand why we do what we do, why our missionaries do what they do, because it’s important for all of us to be supportive of this most essential enterprise.
A good place to start - turn in your Bible to the two little epistles that are after 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and you have in these two little epistles a kind of a final emphasis in the New Testament. Just to touch lightly on this, a kind of final emphasis. Here is the final Word, instructive Word, coming from the apostle John, who is the last living apostle, closing out the first century, and he’s writing this at the end of the first century, maybe around 90 or so, the year 90 A.D., and all the other apostles are gone, and John has a final message for us, and that final message is very clear.
The first letter that I want you to look at is written to a lady - she’s unnamed but she is a believing lady - and her children. John is the elder to the chosen lady and her children, unnamed, but I want you to notice the emphasis. He speaks of her in this endearing way, “Whom I love in truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth.” There is a bond here that John talks about that stretches from himself as an apostle and an intimate companion of the Lord Jesus Christ (when He was alive on earth) all the way to a lady who is unnamed and her children and everybody else who is in Christ, and it is a bond around the truth. It is a love connected to the truth.
There’s no such thing as a legitimate Christian love that is disconnected from the truth. John loves this woman in the truth and not only John but all who know the truth. The core of our love, what defines the reality of our loving relationship, is a common understanding of the truth. And he carries that out into verse 2, “I am writing this, I’m expressing my love for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” We are forever, now and forever a fellowship of people who are tied together with the truth, a common love for one another based upon a common understanding of divine revelation.
Then comes a greeting in verse 3, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father, from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” And again he’s emphasizing this same great reality. Now, I understand that you hear a lot about love, and everybody needs to love each other in the church, and we don’t want to talk about things that divide us, but the Bible never allows us to have a legitimate, spiritual, loving relationship apart from a common understanding of the truth.
And so in verse 4, he follows it up again. “I was very glad to find some of your children,” he says to this lady, “walking in truth.” Again, not only do we love in truth but we walk in truth, and the verb “walking” is the most familiar verb to express daily spiritual conduct. So here is a lady and her children who conduct their lives in line with the truth as revealed from God.
In verse 5, “I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we’ve had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love that we walk according to His commandments.” And then comes a warning. “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.” What do they do? “They tamper with the truth. They adulterate the truth. This is a deceiver, an antichrist.” He even says, verse 9, “Anyone who goes too far doesn’t abide in the teaching of Christ, which is the truth, doesn’t have God, the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” So if someone comes to you, doesn’t bring this teaching, the truth, don’t receive him into your house, don’t give him a greeting, for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
Of all the things to sign off the apostolic era, isn’t it amazing that John is consumed with this idea of truth, which he mentions five times in the opening handful of verses? It is about the truth, and then he follows it up with a warning about those who corrupt the truth.
And then comes that third letter from John. This one not written to a lady but written to a man who is named, his name is Gaius, and again John says, “This is a man to which I write whom I love in truth.” That is the common bond. This is not sentimental affection, this is not something that overlooks error, this is love in truth. Verse 3, he says, “I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth.”
What do you mean? “That is how you are walking in truth.” And again, like the children of this woman who are walking in the truth, this man is also walking in the truth, conducting his life consistently with the Word of God. Or in the language we just read, being obedient to the commandments of God, which is the essence of living in love. And John sums it up in verse 4, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” That’s his supreme joy because that’s the fulfillment of his supreme duty. That is what we do, we give people the truth so that they may live according to the truth, so that they may love according to the truth.
There is further instruction in this little epistle in verse 8 that we ought to support such men. What men? The men that went out, the missionaries that went out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles for the sake of the name of the Lord. We ought to support such men so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. Now, there’s a mandate for missions. There’s a mandate for what we do. We have many faithful missionaries who have gone out for the sake of the name.
They have made great sacrifices, life-long sacrifices, to go out for the sake of the name. They have gone, accepting nothing from the people that they take the message to, being supported by us. We support such because we want to be fellow workers with the truth.
There’s a warning again in this epistle in verse 12. “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone and from the truth itself, and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.” The warning is you want to make sure that you can give a full testimony as to the legitimacy and the integrity and the truthfulness of those who represent Christ. Beware, he says in verse 9, of a Diotrephes who loves to be first. Don’t accept what he says. Again, the emphasis here, just so that you understand it, is all about the truth.
In the epistle of Jude, which is the final little postcard letter before the looming book of Revelation, there is a further emphasis on the truth. This is truly a warning. Verse 4 tells us that there will be certain men creeping in unnoticed who long beforehand were marked out for condemnation, ungodly persons who turned the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. Get ready, false teachers are on the horizon all the time. The rest of the epistle talks about them, defines them, describes them.
Now, how do we cope with that? We cope with that by backing up into verse 3, “I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation,” maybe a celebratory kind of letter, affirming the wonders of salvation, but he never could do that because he felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you earnestly contend for the faith. That’s the content of the Christian faith, that’s divine revelation, that’s the truth, which was once for all handed down to the saints.
That’s the body of inspired revelation that we know as Scripture. Fight for it, battle for it because it’s going to be under assault by false teachers and deceivers. In verse 17, he reminds them to remember the words of the apostles. In verse 20, he says, “Build up your most holy faith.” That’s not faith as a subjective reality, it’s a faith as an objective content, a body of truth.
So the concern of a New Testament is with regard to this body of revealed Scripture that we know as the Bible and that we have the responsibility to know the truth, to love in the truth, and to live in the truth. Obviously, then, ministry comes down to proclaiming the truth. And I want to give you a number of reasons why we do that, and they should be obvious. One would be enough, because we’re commanded to do it, “Preach the Word.”
And I will confess to being a little bit a Johannine here. John likes to kind of circle around his argument and hit it from another angle repeatedly, at least he does a lot of that in his first epistle and even some of that in his gospel. So I may sort of weave my way around some of these points and they will overlap a little bit.
The purpose of this is for you to understand that we’re not just out there doing all the kinds of things that we can think of or all the things that many other folks think need to be done. We do one thing, we tell people what Scripture means and we train other people to be able to tell people what Scripture means. We train expositors of Holy Scripture and we train lay people in the Scripture as far as we can and with the expectation that whoever shepherds them and pastors them will have the same commitment to Scripture that is granted to those who are called to minister to them.
Now let me give you some reasons, okay? Number one: The exposition of Scripture establishes the authority of God over the mind and soul of the hearer. The exposition of Scripture establishes the authority of God over the mind and soul of the hearer. It is a question of authority. It is a question of who is sovereign, who has the right to speak, whose words are pure, whose words are perfect, whose words are convicting, whose words are saving and sanctifying. This is the basic issue. Who is the authority?
Every time a preacher enters into a pulpit, he establishes in the minds of his people who the authority is. And if you were to line preachers up and say, “Do you believe in the authority of the Word of God?” certainly all the ones that we know would say, “Absolutely, I believe in that, I believe in the inspiration of Scripture, I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, believe in the veracity of Scripture, believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, we adhere to the Scripture, we love the Scripture.” And that’s fine, I’m happy for that confession.
But I will tell you when I listen to a preacher whether or not that’s genuine because I will be able to discern (and so will you) where his authority comes from. If it comes from his own insights and his own cleverness and his own experience, if it comes out of his own illustrations and his own stories, then we know where the authority is in his mind. If it relentlessly comes out of the pages of Scripture, then we understand that he knows who the authority is. That is the essential foundation in all preaching and teaching, is the reality of the authority.
I’ve heard a lot of interesting preachers. I’ve heard a lot of preachers who are clever, a lot of preachers who had some good stories and some nice points, and very rational, reasonable preachers, but that’s not the authority. That’s not the authority. When you exposit the Scripture, when you systematically explain the meaning of Scripture and the doctrine that Scripture affirms and declares, you are establishing in the mind of the hearer that God is the authority. The issue is what God has said.
Now, is there room for some personal insight? Sure. Is there room for some kind of an illustration? Of course. But that is the exception. That is not the rule, that is not the norm. That might have a role to play in clarifying Scripture, but it should become obvious to anybody who’s listening where the authority lies, and that will only be true if what is being preached and being taught is literally yielded up by the Scripture itself. That is why when I teach you, when others teach you, we explain to you not only what the Scripture means but we show you how that is the only way to understand what it means.
In other words, you become part of the process. It’s not enough to just say, “This is what it means, let’s go to the next point. This means this, this means this.” You’ve got to see the reasonableness of that. You’ve got to see the validity of that. You’ve got to see the truthfulness of that by being led into the context. There should never be a question about the authority in any church.
A number of years ago, I was in a Scottish Presbyterian church in London, and there was a little ceremony that surprised me. Patricia and I were there together, and we’ve never forgotten it. The service began with the playing of an organ, and then we stood up, and we weren’t quite sure exactly what was going to happen. But when we stood up, there was a man who came in the back door (we were sitting near the back) and down the aisle, and he had the Word of God lifted up like this - held high.
And everybody stood at attention while the organ played a great hymn as he walked down the aisle and placed that Bible, open then, when he reached the pulpit, on the pulpit, and then we sung a hymn and sat down. And the man eventually got up and preached and said absolutely nothing from the Bible. It was a nice ceremony signifying absolutely nothing. The one who has a right to be heard is God and He is the One who must speak. After all, it is the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. It belongs to Him.
And following that up, let me give you a second, and it’s the parallel to the first, really. Exposition of Scripture affirms the lordship of Christ over His church - it affirms the lordship of Christ over His church. I continue to be amazed at this whole issue of Christ’s lordship in the church. You know me, I’ve been on this lordship emphasis for decades of my life and will continue to be there. It is unquestionable in the New Testament that Jesus is the head of the church, right? But, boy, is that an embattled doctrine.
I was reading again this afternoon some more of this biography on John Knox, and I was reading about how this poor little beleaguered preacher in Scotland, who was the meek and mild and weak little guy until he started to preach, and then he would preach three hours a sermon, and he would preach at least three sermons a week, and each lasted three hours. And he had no notes, he just had an open Bible. And he would make people shudder under the power of his preaching.
And the theme of his message was a denunciation of all the popes and all the monarchs and all the people in the clerical garb who thought themselves to be the officious ones who ran the church. He just went after them with a vengeance. And then he would pray the imprecatory Psalms on their head, essentially saying, “God, kill them - kill them, send them to hell.” You know, he was a fireball. And, of course, they all wanted him dead. But it came - you know, it was God’s care of him to protect him and he was in Europe safely in the care of John Calvin for a while, and then he was sold as a slave in a French galley for almost two years. He pulled an oar and the Lord was doing some refining in his life then.
But the whole issue with Knox was the same issue that it was with all those other Reformers, it was who was the head of the church? Who’s in charge? Who is Lord? You know, we blithely talk about Christ being the head of the church, but we don’t think about the fact that that doctrine, which we all affirm, has sailed down to us in this generation on a sea of blood. Massive number of martyrs perished over that very issue.
Bloody Mary herself killed 270-some over the issue of who is the head of the church and the fact that they wouldn’t bow to the Catholic view of the Mass, transubstantiation, they wouldn’t bow to the papacy. This issue of lordship is a critical, critical issue. Written a lot of books on Christ as the Lord of the church. But what it comes down to is - look, whoever is lord of the church has the right to speak to the church, right? To command. What does it mean to be lord? It means you’re in charge, your will is done, your voice is heard. And Christ is the unilateral single and only sovereign in His church. We are battling for that even today, as strange as it is.
There’s a wonderful passage on this that I would just point out to you. Ephesians 1 - Ephesians 1, it’s such a rich statement on Christ as the head of the church, and there are other portions of Scripture (Colossians 1, Colossians 2) that said similar things about Him being the head of the church. If you look at - we won’t go through all of it, but just look at Ephesians chapter 1, down to verse 20, we’ll pick it up there, talks about how God raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places.
And then it says this, that Christ, when He was seated in the heavenlies after His resurrection and His ascension, was seated in the heavenlies far above - far above - not just above, but far above, a strong verb is used to describe this with a preposition - far above all rule, and the “all” is implied all the way across, all authority, all power, and all dominion. All forms of authority. All forms of power. All nobilities, all lordships. There’s even a word, kuriotēs, here, which means lordships, dominions, monarchies, sovereignties.
He’s above them all, He’s far above them all; that is, all institutions, all monarchies, all governments, all sovereignties. He’s far above them all and all persons, every name that is named. Names are for persons, whether they be angelic or human, He is far above them and all times. Not only in this age, but in the one to come. And not only is He over all sovereignties, all kingdoms, all dominions, all persons - that is, human and angelic - in this age and the age to come, but He’s over all things, verse 22. He’s put all things in subjection under His feet.
So here is the establishment of the absolute overarching sovereignty of Jesus Christ over everything. And then it says, “He gave Him as head over all things to the church.” That’s a very important statement. He gave the church to be its head the One who is already the head over all things. You remember when Christ is exalted in Philippians 2, it says He’s given a name which is above every name, and that name is not Jesus, Jesus is just a name, the name above every name is the name Lord, that at the name Lord, every knee would bow in heaven and in earth and things under the earth.
In other words, He’s the absolute and total sovereign over everything and everyone. And then it says in verse 22, “He gave that One who is sovereign over everything to the church to be its head.” Amazing. He didn’t give us Michael, He didn’t give us Gabriel, He didn’t give us a coalition of great angels, He didn’t give us apostles, He didn’t give us prophets, they were foundation stones in the church - they’re not the head of the church. He didn’t give us great preachers and great scholars, great intellects. He gave us Christ to be the head of the church. He gave us the One who is Lord over everything.
It seems to me that the One who is Lord over everything has the right to speak in His church. How can Christ be heard in His church? He can only be heard in His church if His will is expressed. In 1 Corinthians 2:16, it says, “We have the mind of Christ.” Where do we have the mind of Christ? We have the mind of Christ right here. In Romans 10, it’s called the Word concerning Christ. It is the Word concerning Christ, and it is the mind of Christ. Does the church want to know His mind? Do you want to know what He thinks about anything and everything? That’s what the church needs to know.
You don’t need to know what I think. Why do you care what I think? What I think doesn’t even matter. It’s pointless, useless, temporal. Do I have opinions? Sure, but are they worth communicating? Oh, maybe in a casual conversation. But when anybody stands up behind a sacred desk and opens his mouth with a Bible in hand, the church needs to hear from the head of the church. And here is where He has spoken in His Word. Here, His mind is revealed. It’s an amazing thing to think about that, that we have the mind of Christ.
People don’t really understand that. You know, I’m always staggered by the fact that I, along with you and everybody else who has a Bible in hand and knows what’s in it, literally knows how Christ, the head of the church, thinks. This is what’s such a wonderful thing about sending out these people around the world, they know the mind of Christ and they bring the opportunity for churches all over the planet to hear from the head of the church.
When I was in Russia - or Ukraine, rather, in Kiev, having a wonderful time, a young pastor came up to me and he said, “Pastor MacArthur,” he speaks kind of broken English, “I have to tell you some good news.” I said, “Great, what is it?” Standing in a little hallway, central church there. He said, “I brought a whole group of pastors to come and hear you.” And I said, “Well, great, thank you.” He said, “Yes, it’s great.” He said, “They didn’t used to like you but now they like you.”
I didn’t even know what to say to the guy, like, “What is that? What do you mean now they like me?” I think I knew what he meant, “They appreciated what you said.” But the point is not to be liked. I was a little disappointed on that, frankly. Although it is interesting that I would be able to preach repeatedly and have anybody like me because sometimes the message is pretty strong. But that’s not the point. The point is the lordship of Christ over the church, but even among pastors, preachers can be sort of something you sort of taste and, you know - call it sermon tasting.
It’s not about being liked - did you hear the Lord of the church speak to His church? Well, the only way that’s going to happen is when you open the Word of God to the church and the mind of Christ is revealed.
Now, this is - I don’t know where along the line the Lord embedded that into my mind, but if there’s anything about me that has stuck in my life, it is that, that I am consumed with the truth, I’m literally consumed with it all the time. I live, eat, breathe, sleep the truth, the knowledge of the truth, the accuracy of the truth, the proclamation of the truth, the loving in the truth, the living in the truth, the walking in the truth, it’s - everything is about the truth, that is what consumes my life.
Let me give you a third point and this, again, is an overlapping point because we’re talking about the Trinity. First of all, Bible exposition establishes the authority of God over the mind and soul of the hearer and, secondly, it affirms the lordship of Christ over His church. Thirdly, it enables the work of the Holy Spirit - it enables the work of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing in the Bible promises the Holy Spirit is going to use my clever ideas, my insights, my illustrations, my spiritual stories, my technique, nothing - there’s no promise about that. There’s no promise that my style is going to be used effectively. In fact, I always think about the parable of the sower. When you think about evangelism, the sower goes out to sow, and he sows, and he got some soil, nothing happens, no fruit, and you’ve got some soil where you get fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.
And you ask the question, “What’s the difference?” And you say, “Well, maybe it was the way the sower sowed.” No. Doesn’t say anything about the sower at all, nothing, nothing whatsoever. And you remember the apostle Paul who said, “I didn’t come to you with words of human wisdom. In fact, I came to you just the opposite, trembling and in fear, no brash boldness. And I was determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified so that your faith might stand not in the wisdom of man but in the power of God.”
The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as the means of saving people. “We are begotten again by the truth,” 1 Peter 1:23. I say that so often as I go around. John 17:17, “Sanctified by the truth.” The Spirit uses the truth, uses the Scripture. “The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword,” Hebrews 4:12. It is the most powerful weapon. Now, people will say, “I believe that, I believe that.” And then you listen to them, and you - where’s the Scripture? If you believe the power’s there, then that’s what ought to be the source of everything. The knowledge of the Word is what the Spirit uses. Faith comes by hearing the Word concerning Christ, Romans 10 says.
There’s a fourth point that I will give you. These are obvious, I know, but it’s good to think them through and kind of sort them out. And this sort of pulls the other three together, in a sense, and it is this: Expositional ministry, ministry that explains the meaning of Scripture, manifests true submission to the Bible - true submission to the Bible - which is what we’re all called to do, to submit, to obey. It would be unthinkable - would it not? - for a preacher to demonstrate anything other than submission to the Scripture if that is to be the responsibility of every believer?
I mean just take Psalm 119 - we won’t go through it, you know the 176 verses there - just take Psalm 119 and listen to David talking about the virtues of Scripture over and over and over and over and over and saying it’s my love, it’s my delight, it’s my joy, et cetera, et cetera, 175 times and the 176th time, he confesses his own inadequacies and his own spiritual failures, even in spite of his love for Scripture. But that is an entire Psalm that is laid out to emphasize the role that Scripture plays in the life of a believer.
Or Psalm 1, which in some ways is connected to 119, “How blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the path of sinners nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord. In His law, he meditates day and night.” Day and night he meditates in the law of the Lord, that’s his food. You know, Job says, “I have considered your Word more than my necessary food.” We live by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
You know, as a pastor what I want for you is that kind of submission to Scripture. Why? Not because it’s some kind of bondage but because it’s the path of joy. “These things I write unto you,” 1 John says, “that your joy might be full. Whoever hears my Word and keeps it experiences joy. Blessed is the man who hears my Word and does it. Happy is the man who obeys me.” That’s both Old Testament and repeated by Jesus in the New Testament. What I want for you is blessing. What I want for you is joy. What I want for you is usefulness, and that comes by obedience to the Word of God, submission to Holy Scripture.
I’ll tell you, that is a great delight to me because that is the kind of congregation we have, that’s the kind of people you are, and that is a tremendous joy. You don’t fight against the truth of Scripture, you embrace the truth of Scripture, you seek it, you love it, you desire it, you long for it, and that is a profound delight to me. The heart of preaching, then, has to be love for the truth. If that’s not in the preacher’s heart, if he’s not consumed with love for the truth and the desire to see that submission to Scripture that produces profound blessing in the lives of his people, then there is something seriously wrong. Truth is not in a church, it’s not in a man, it’s not in an experience, it’s in a book - all of it in one book.
We talked about Martin Luther because we were listening to “A Mighty Fortress.” Luther’s conviction was that the Roman Catholic Church didn’t speak for God - only Scripture did - only Scripture - and that everyone had to absolutely and completely submit to Scripture. Well, that was more than people could handle - far more. But that’s the truth, and that’s what you want people to do. If I’m not around (and that’s going to happen sooner rather than later) and if nobody else is around, the Word of God will always be around, won’t it? His Word will never pass away. Men will come and go, preachers will come and go, the Word of God remains.
R. L. Dabney, kind of an American-come-lately Puritan said this: “All the leading Reformers were expositors.” And again, I was reading about John Knox today and it was saying about him - and this is in a day - you have to understand what preaching was like in the day of John Knox. There was no such thing - not talking about anything that you would be familiar with. The clergy of the Roman Catholic Church were abysmally ignorant. I mean they didn’t know anything about the Bible. They couldn’t tell you anything at all about the Bible.
One historian says they weren’t interested in the Bible, they were too busy chasing the lassies. They were Godless. There was no such thing as preaching. And whatever they did, they did in a language that nobody understood, and it was all ceremonial ritual. Here comes a man preaching and what’s he doing? He’s explaining the Scripture and he’s calling hellfire and damnation on the heads of the religious elite. Knox was true to his fellows in the Reformation in that, like the rest of them, he was one who explained the meaning of Scripture.
Dabney has some interesting insight into that. He said there are three stages through which preaching has repeatedly passed. It cycles through these. He says the first stage of preaching, when it comes to the front, is Scripture truth, Dabney says, in Scripture dress. What does he mean by that? All the truths of the Bible presented from the Bible as the Holy Spirit presented them. And Dabney says that in history, that’s always the golden age. Biblical truth in biblical garb. Biblical truth in biblical dress; that is, biblical truth from Scripture itself. Out of the Scripture, illustrated from the Scripture, compared with the Scripture.
Then comes the decline, and you get Scripture truth in cultural dress. That is the truth of the Bible molded into conformity to cultural moods. God’s truth is now stripped down, it is shorn of its total power. You say, “Oh, well, I believe in those doctrines. I believe in those things.” But you’ve just stripped the garments off them that the Holy Spirit revealed and clothed those doctrines with in Scripture. So you go from Scripture truth in Scripture dress to Scripture truth in cultural dress. And third step is cultural philosophy and no Scripture, contradicting the Bible.
And Dabney, for his day, and I guess I would do the same today, would plead for Bible truth in Bible dress as the Holy Spirit gave it to us. You hear people say, “Well, yeah, we have to do those truths that are in the Bible but want to get them out of the Bible, get them into contemporary settings, and get them into things that people can understand, they can identify with.” And they’ve stripped part of the Bible because not only is the doctrine in the Bible, but it’s dressed in the biblical context, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, everlastingly true, and by God’s own design the best way to communicate the truth.
There’s a fifth reason we do exposition. The first three have to do with honoring the Trinity and submitting to Scripture. Number five - and this is a very important one and very personal one: We do Bible exposition because it connects the preacher personally to the regular sanctifying grace of Scripture - connects the preacher personally to the regular sanctifying grace of Scripture.
Look, I’m just like you. All preachers are. We’re just Christians on the same journey that you’re on. That’s why Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15, “Let your progress be evident to all.” Let your progress be evident to all. People ought to see you being sanctified. You need to be an example to the believers, he says to Timothy. They should be able to follow you. Show yourself an example to the believer.
Let me tell you something, if you don’t do the hard work all the time of digging out the meaning of Scripture, you will forfeit the most powerful tool for your own sanctification. And an unsanctified preacher is, on all fronts, a tragedy. Not that any of us attains perfect sanctification, we press toward the mark. Not that any of us is what we should be, certainly I’m not. But I will tell you this: Week by week by week by week, year after year, decade after decade of studying in the Word of God with a diligent effort to dig down as far as I can go to draw out the glories of its truth is the most sanctifying enterprise that any person could ever engage in because the work of the Word is wrought in the preacher’s heart.
You wonder why somebody like John Calvin, say, was such a profound Christian. Well, maybe there are some ways to understand that. Every two weeks he preached ten sermons, all of them expositions of Scripture, every two weeks, ten of them, different, from 1536 to 1564. He had a three-year hiatus when he had to get out for his life, go to another city. And when he came back, he picked up at the next verse that he’d left three years before. In the meantime, through all of this, his wife died, he was sick, very sick, spitting blood, gout, kidney stones, persecution.
He had nine children to raise without a wife, some of them not even his own. He was trying to run the city, solve all the issues. But the Word did its work in his heart. It was the diligence in the study that made him what he was.
Think about Luther. A Sunday at Wittenberg went like this for Luther: At 5:00 a.m., he exposited an epistle. At 10:00 a.m., he exposited one of the gospels. At 5:00 p.m., he exposited a passage from the Old Testament. In a four-year period, from 1520 to 1524, Martin Luther wrote 700 different works on the Scripture. This is where the preacher must be if the preacher would be sanctified in any measure because that’s what the Word does in his life.
I love what it says about Ezra, Ezra 7:10. Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it and to teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel. First to study it and then to do it and then to teach it. And I was saying this to somebody somewhere on this trip in some language that I don’t remember at the moment, that if I never preached a sermon in my life, I wouldn’t change the way I was able to live my life. If I never had the opportunity to preach, I still would want to have spent my life in the study of the Word of God if I never had anything to say to anybody because of its own work in my life.
I think one of the reasons we have to many disappointments in ministry with men is because they have the position but they do not discipline themselves in the study of the Word of God so that the Word of God can do its sanctifying work.
All right, let me give you a sixth. This is an important one. I’ve thought about saying this a lot of different ways but I’ll give you what I’ve got. Another reason to do Bible exposition is because it provides spiritual depth and transcendence for the souls of people. It provides spiritual depth and transcendence for the souls of people. If I were to spin that negatively, it would sound like this: A failure to do Bible exposition removes spiritual depth and transcendence from the souls of people.
Another way to say it would be this: Unless you have a deep understanding of the Word of God and, therefore, the God of the Word, your worship is crippled. We hear a lot about worship today, and I just want you to know music doesn’t produce worship. Music does not produce worship. No kind of music will produce worship. Worship is a heart attitude. What produces worship is understanding of the truth. Whatever you know to be true about God, whatever you believe to be true about God, is what informs your worship.
And so a superficial view of God will produce superficial worship, no matter how loud it is, no matter how many attending accoutrements are added, smoke and mirrors and microphones and loudspeakers, and you can crank it up like the proverbial rock concert, that’s not going to produce worship, no matter what you do. Worship is not produced by music. Worship is produced by understanding. It is what I know to be true that sets my soul on fire. And worship is from the heart, boiling over. Music is simply a vehicle but it will never be anything more than I bring to it.
So I say the continual, faithful, systematic exposition of the Scripture produces depth - depth of understanding about God, about Christ, about all things revealed in Scripture. And it is that depth that produces the transcendence. In other words, the further down you go in your understanding, the higher you go in your worship. And most people just kind of live in the flatland in the middle. They have a sort of a minimal view of the Word of God and, consequently, their worship is little more than an orchestrated event.
And while people would say, “Boy, we had a great worship time tonight because it was loud and because it was well done and because it was in the vernacular that people liked,” that is not how you evaluate worship. True worship is a heart exercise. It doesn’t need music, it doesn’t need other people, it doesn’t need a leader, it doesn’t need an orchestrator. But we love corporate worship, we’re lifted up. We need that expression. We’ll explode if we don’t have that. This church sings and it sings loud. Why? Because it understands deeply the things that it sings about.
People say, “Why do you sing the hymns?” “Why do you sing the hymns?” Because they convey theology. Look, I’m not into the seven-eleven, seven words repeated eleven times, that doesn’t do anything for me. I like a hymn that’s got some nuance, some subtlety, some expressions of theology. The reason those things are around is because they’ve been good in a lot of generations because they convey things. We’re still singing what Luther wrote because we understand it and it gives expression to what we know to be true.
When you’re taken down deep into the Scripture and you understand the revelation that comes from the Scripture, you will be taken high in your worship. And I’ll tell you something else, you’ll be more drawn to the kind of worship that is elevated and dignified and high quality because that’s how you understand God. The more lofty your understanding of God, the more exalted your understanding of Christ, the more exalted will be your worship, the more lofty will be your expression.
I see a lot of things that are called worship, but they are highly emotional, feeling-induced experiences that may be a far cry from being in awe of God’s glory, in awe of Christ’s majesty, in awe of the wonder of the work of the Spirit, in awe of the glories of Holy Scripture. But when you do Bible exposition, when the Word of God is explained and the revelation of God is then unfolded to the soul, it’s the depth and richness of that knowledge that causes the transcendent elevation of worship.
Well, I’ll give you one more. That’s good. I got fifteen, we’ll go to seven. Doing Bible exposition causes the preacher to give full attention to the revelation of God - full attention to the revelation of God. In other words, you have the mind of Christ on all matters. It’s not just this subject and that subject and bouncing here and bouncing there. Systematic, careful exposition lets Christ, the head of the church, not only speak to His church but speak to His church on every issue in His revelation.
I wish I had enough years to do the whole Old Testament. I would love to be able to do that. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that, so given the choice, I knew as a minister of the new covenant that needed to be the New Testament. I’m so thankful that the Lord allowed me to do that, to be able to tell you all that the New Testament contains for the church from the Lord of the church, the head of the church, from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit expressing the will and the nature of our God. I’m grateful that I have been able to understand the full revelation of the New Testament insofar as I’ve understood it.
I’m grateful that I’m not left in the shallows and there are things about the revelation of Christ that I have not considered. You just wonder about some people who sit in a church where they hear only a certain message in a certain way, nuanced a certain way, and they never get beyond it. And so they don’t hear Christ speak fully on every issue. So important. And again, that overlaps what we said about Christ being the head of the church and about us having the mind of Christ.
Now let me close by saying this: What I’m saying to you is this mandate, this commitment, this approach to ministry is what we do here and it is we train people to do wherever they go, whether it’s our men going out to pastor churches - we have nine men that went out to start new churches with Grace Advance, and this is what they will do. We have more missionaries heading to the mission field now along with all the ones that are out there.
I spent time with some of our best missionaries, and what do they do? They do exactly that. They follow the mandate to preach the Word and these are the reasons they do it. And believe me, when they come to the end of the day and they look back, they’re going to be able to understand that whatever happened happened because they were faithful to the Word of God. And the record will be established on that faithfulness before God. So it’s a joy and a delight. This is what we do, this is what goes on in all these places.
And what is so interesting to me is that they just reproduce it. They keep doing it, they train other people, those people go train other people. I met a man who’d been trained by our men who has now gone to Israel to work with Russian immigrants in the land of Israel and establish a training center to train men there to do what he’s been trained to do in Israel, and it just goes and goes wherever they go. We are trying in a small, humble way to start a kind of reformation back to the exposition of Scripture.
All that to say that what I do is not simply a cultural mandate, it’s not simply a preference on my part, it is a responsibility that I have before God to preach the Word. It is all I know to do. And I’m so thankful the Lord has raised up so many, and more coming all the time, to go and do the same thing. You can pray for them.
You know, we have a great ministry here. The Lord has blessed us abundantly. Some of them are struggling in places where it’s much more difficult than it is for me and for us who are here. They need our prayers, they need our encouragement. Be a real encouragement to our missionaries every way you can, and continue to support them and give to the Faith Promise whatever you can trust the Lord for so that we don’t lose the opportunity to continue to sustain them and to send more to do this great work.
We’re not able to do this in our own strength. We wouldn’t say that for a moment. It’s dependence on the Holy Spirit that gives us understanding of the Scripture. No matter how diligently we work at it, we can’t understand it on our own. We can only understand it if the Spirit of God gives us that understanding, but He promises to do that and to lead us into truth. That was not only a promise to the ones who wrote the Scripture but it is to those of us who are studying it that we would be illuminated by Him.
So we give Him all the glory for what He has done. It is the Word that does the work, not us. We’re humble, we dig down the best we can in this ministry, and all praise goes to the Spirit of God who enables the Word of God to go forth with power.
You are part of a very unusual, unusual ministry extended around the world. It’s the best-kept missionary secret on the planet. There are all kinds of high-promotion enterprises around the world. This is really a powerful ministry that has gone out from our church, and we want you to know that it needs your prayers and continued support, and you need to hold these missionaries up on a regular basis and pray that God will raise up even more, and let’s see what He’ll do until Jesus comes.
Father, we thank you for our time tonight, just a talk from the heart on this important issue. We thank you for your Word and we thank you that we have it in our hands. What an incalculable treasure it is. Without it, we would have nothing. We have no intuition, we have no insight, we have no wisdom given to man apart from the revelation of Scripture that could ever lead us to the truth that saves and sanctifies. We thank you for your Word.
We thank you for faithful men who have preserved it and brought it down to us under the care of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for faithful preachers and teachers. Thank you for especially our missionaries, and what a joy it was to be in their presence and see the great work that you’re doing through their faithful efforts. Bless them, protect them, guard them, use them, empower them, multiply their influence for the advancement of the glory of the gospel of Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.
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