Expository Sermons Are the
Best Type of Sermons

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Expository Sermons are the "Crown Jewels" of the Preaching Ministry, unfolding, explaining, applying a passage of Scripture. Even though some feel it is the hardest type of sermon to develop, they also feel it is the best type of sermon and the most Biblical. Yet, sad to say, many preachers have never really preached many, if any, expository sermons.

Jeff D. Ray in his book "Expository Preaching," said that there may have been a great expositor who was not a great preacher, but there has never been a great preacher who was not a great expositor." Some preachers have tried and feel it is too difficult and have quit trying.

One great reason why many ministers find expository preaching difficult is that they have not been sufficiently accustomed to studying the Bible. I learned early in my school years that studying involves work.

I would not want to accuse any preacher of being lazy, but I think if we are not careful, especially with all or our other responsibilities in the ministry, we can develop lazy habits when it comes to our study for sermon preparation and delivery. And sometimes, unfortunately, the study is non-existent!

Some preachers don't really know what expository sermons are so they continue to preach the way they were taught or the way it was modeled to them as they grew up. But even many who do know what expository sermons are, though admitting that it is the best style of preaching, still don't use that method for one reason or another.

William Evans in his book "How to Prepare Sermons," asks if preaching expository sermons is the best way to preach and even if a preacher does not have the gift to prepare to preach them, "ought not the preacher to cultivate and stir up such a gift?" If he admits that that expository preaching is one of the best, if not the very best method of preaching, should he not learn to preach in that way?

What is this type of sermon?

Let's face it, Some preachers just don't know what this type of preaching really is. While teaching at a small Bible College, I announced to the sponsoring church while preaching there one service that I would be teaching the Expository Preaching method in my Homiletics class.

The pastor asked later, and this is the truth, "What is that 'Suppository' type of preaching you are talking about?" I told him facetiously, "It's the kind of preaching that reams you!"

F.B. Meyer defined expository preaching as "the consecutive treatment of some book or extended portion of Scripture on which the preacher has concentrated...until it has yielded up its inner secret, and the spirit of it has passed into his spirit." Of course it's not going to yield anything until it is actually studied!

Andrew Blackwood in his book, "Preaching From the Bible" said, "In the broad sense, this sort of sermon is the unfolding of the truth contained in a passage longer than two or three consecutive verses. Often the unit is a single paragraph.

Again the chosen passage may be a chapter, or some other cluster of paragraphs. Occasionally the sermon has to do with an entire book of the Bible...Accordingly to the present book, therefore, any pulpit message which is based on a fairly long biblical passage is an expository sermon."

Donald Miller in his book, "The Way to Biblical Preaching" says, "Expository preaching is an act wherein the living truth of some portion of Holy Scripture, understood in the light of solid exegetical and historical study and made a living reality to the preacher by the Holy Spirit, comes alive to the hearer as he is confronted by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in judgment and redemption."

Miller goes on to say that the end of this kind of preaching is that the sermon situation should be transformed from a human encounter between the preacher and his congregation into a divine encounter between God and both preacher and people.

Jeff Ray said that in preaching, exposition is the detailed interpretation, logical amplification and practical application of a passage of Scripture.

Byington said that an expository sermon is one based on a passage of Scripture, which it seeks to illuminate; from which it seeks to draw a concise and comprehensive theme and sermon points, and which applies to the lives of the people. The theme must cover all, and all the points must come out of the message.

I like Alfred Gibbs' analogy of the expository sermon as a wheel. The main theme of the passage is the hub, and the contributing thoughts in the passage, which throw further light upon the theme, or which spring from this theme, are the spokes of the wheel which radiate from the hub, thus presenting a complete unit.

By this method of preaching, all the truth contained in this particular paragraph of Scripture is dealt with, opened up and applied to the hearer. Thus the audience is left in no doubt as to what the theme is, or what God's Word has to say about this particular subject in the passage under consideration.

Haddon Robinson in his book, "Biblical Preaching," probably has the best and most concise definition. Robinson is probably considered the modern day authority on expository preaching and you would do well to get a copy of his book.

He said that "Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers."

By exposition is meant the opening up or exposing or unfolding and explaining of a passage of Scripture. The word comes from two Latin words, "ex" meaning "out," and "pono" meaning "to place." Thus it means to place out, to display, or to exhibit.

An "exposition," like "The World Expo" used to be, is a public exhibit of arts and manufacturing and anything worth displaying.

The dictionary (Word Web-Princeton University) says that "exposition" is "an account that sets forth the meaning or intent of a writing or discourse." So the expository sermon is a sermon that is based on a Scriptural passage in which the meaning and intent is set forth or exposed.

What is Positive about this type of sermon?

Naturally, just like the textual sermon, expository sermons center around the text or the passage in this case. As with the textual sermon, this type of sermon brings the actual words of the Bible before the hearers, and it gives Divine authority to the message, as well.

Remember Breed, in his "Preparing to Preach" said that the textual sermon method is closely allied to the expository and the line of demarcation can not be sharply drawn.

In the expository sermon more attention is generally given to special words or expressions, with more particular and extended explanation. This, of course, is true because in the longer expository sermon passage, there are more words and expressions to expound.

The disadvantages of these methods (expository and textual) is apparent; they do not afford the range of the topical method. But they have this great advantage in that the preacher who employs them deals with distinctively Scriptural themes that come right out of the text.

And Broadus in his "Preparation and Delivery of Sermons," says that an expository discourse (dealing largely in explanation of the passage) may be defined as one which is occupied mainly, or at any rate very largely, with the exposition of Scripture.

He goes on to say that a strictly expository sermon is one in which not only the leading ideas of the passage are brought out but its details are suitably explained and made to furnish the chief material of the discourse.

J. W. Alexander, in his "Thoughts On Preaching" said, that this method better corresponds with the very idea and design of preaching, is the primitive and ancient method, insures a better knowledge of the Scriptures (for preacher and hearer), causes sermons to contain more of pure Scripture truths and views, gives occasion for remarking on many passages of the Bible, and greatly diminishes the temptation to misinterpret texts by allegorizing.

Gibbs says that an expository sermon puts the supreme emphasis on the Word of God itself, makes for a broad knowledge of the Scriptures as a whole, and provides an opportunity for speaking on many passages of Scripture which would otherwise be neglected.

It also makes for variety in the ministry of the Word, enables the preacher to deal with current evils as they arise in the Scripture instead of just when they arise in the life of the hearer, delivers the preacher from the tendency to a fanciful use or abuse of isolated texts, and furnishes the preacher with enough material for a lifetime of preaching.

Do you realize that there are 1189 chapters in the Bible? If you preached one chapter a week (and it would take longer than a week for most chapters, since we recommend preaching paragraphs or passages, and most chapters have several paragraphs), it would take you almost twenty three years to preach through the whole Bible, preaching whole chapters.

It would take over 45 years (probably much more) to preach through the whole Bible preaching a paragraph or passage at a time. And if you added some topical and textual sermons along the way to teach doctrine or emphasize certain verses, you would certainly have a lifetime of preaching material.

The simple fact is, if you just preach each paragraph in the Bible, you would never run out of sermon material and you would never have to preach the same sermon twice.

What is Negative about this type of sermon?

So, what could be wrong with a preaching style that highlights the Word of God and causes the preacher to study the Bible and model proper Bible study to the hearers? What could be wrong with a method that exposes the truth that comes from God in the historical context of its original writing? What could be wrong with a method that provides material for a lifetime of true Biblical preaching?

I mean if the subject, the points, the supporting material, and the historical setting all come right out of the Scripture passage in its context, what could possible be wrong with expository sermons?

The answer is simple. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this style of preaching when it is done right. Like with most good things, however, it is not the use of it that makes is a problem, it is the abuse of it that makes it problematic.

How do preachers abuse the preaching of expository sermons? Before I answer that, let me say that I am assuming that the preacher researches and studies the passage properly and thoroughly, because that would be the greatest abuse and would disqualify the sermon from being truly expositional. But to answer the question of abuse I'll ask three questions.

First question: Have you ever heard a preacher preach an expository sermon and it sounded like he was reading a commentary? That's abuse of this type of preaching. We don't need a running commentary; we need a sermon that speaks to us personally.

Merrill Unger, in his book "Principles of Expository Preaching," says that if one insists that a message must possess homiletical structure to classify as a sermon, this type of expository discourse would be excluded from the sermonic category as it reduces sermonic structure to a minimum or ignores it altogether.

The running comentary approach focuses attention upon the Biblical text itself rather than upon outlines or upon logical development of the passage.

Second question: Have you ever heard a preacher preach an expository sermon and it sounded like he was reading a dictionary? That's abuse of this type of preaching. We don't need every word and phrase in the passage defined; we need a sermon that speaks to us personally.

Unger says that the necessary elements of effective proclamation of Biblical truth to a normal audience, such as formal sermonic structure, illustration, application, argumentation and exhortation, are absent or reduced to a minimum. Stress is laid on setting forth the meaning of a paragraph, chapter, or book, and every word and phrase in it.

Third question: Have you ever heard a preacher preach an expository sermon and it sounded like he was reading a history book? That's abuse of this type of preaching. We don't need a history lesson; we need a sermon that speaks to us personally.

History is good, especially the Biblical history of God and His creation of mankind and His dealing with mankind through the years. The history of the Biblical characters and events is necessary to preach a sermon in context.

But to leave the sermon in history without applying it to the present is an abuse of the expository method of preaching. That makes it a history lesson but not a sermon.

I am of the personal opinion that a preacher can preach expository sermons that are very well studied, very well interpreted, very well organized (with the subject and main points and supporting material coming straight out of the passage), very well illustrated, very well applied, and still very well energized.

I believe that the best way to preach is using the expository preaching style, but I don't believe a preacher is evil or ignorant just because he doesn't use this method. However, I do think a preacher would be wise to explore this type of preaching, regardless of his preconceptions about it.

If one learns how to develop and preach expository sermons right, I believe that preacher will rejuvenate his preaching ministry and help his hearers approach the Bible in the right way as well.

What is Practical about this type of sermon?

Unger, in "Principles of Expository Preaching," says that the sermonizing method of expository preaching is the highest type of expository work, demanding not only a clear understanding of the chosen passage but a logical and finished presentation and application of it in full sermonic form to the needs of the audience.

The topic and main divisions are drawn from the passage, and the treatment adheres in the closest possible manner to it in conscientious attempt to teach what the Spirit of God meant to teach by it. The preacher will take a passage or paragraph, since he is paramountly interested in the message of God's revealed truth, and of necessity in its contextual relationship.

Unger goes on to say that expository preaching is first and foremost Biblical preaching. It's not preaching about the Bible, but preaching the Bible. "What saith the Lord" is the alpha and omega of expository preaching.

Expository preaching is Biblically instructive preaching. Ames Montgomery said, "the expository preacher purposes above everything else to make clear the teaching and the content of the Bible." Unfortunately, in most churches, the hearers are Biblical illiterates.

Expository preaching is preaching that expounds the Scriptures as a coherent and coordinated body of revealed truth. The true expositor not only believes that the Bible is a unified whole with definite plan and purpose, but makes every effort to understand that overall plan and purpose and to relate whatever portion of the Scripture he may be expounding to the whole.

Breed in "Preparing to Preach" says that unity is the chief requisite for developing expository sermons. All that is included in the paragraph which he is expounding resembles a pile of stones dumped down before the mason who is engaged in erecting a wall. He must choose his material stone by stone, select it with reference to the place in which he is to put it, fit it, and settle it in position.

Without this unity the sermon is likely to be only a collection of disjointed remarks, some upon one expression, some upon another, and instead of the preacher producing one sermon he will find that he has produced several little sermons, brought together in a mechanical or artificial way. Do what the mason does...select the material which is suited to his subject and reject the rest.

Another requisite for developing expository sermons is structure. By structure we mean that the materials selected from the passage are organized in order to develop the subject of that passage. They are to be put together so that each point builds upon the other and all proceed together toward the conclusion.

And to develop expository sermons properly the preacher must have a mastery of the details. All the details in the passage must be studied, whether they are to be used or not. None of them may be slighted. If the preacher does not carefully inquire concerning all of them he will be unable to make a proper selection and a proper grouping of any of them.

When all the details have been studied, and studied with the author's point of view in mind, the preacher will select the subject which seems to him to be the most appropriate subject to preach. It must be true to the passage and to the Bible, but the selecting and grouping of material cannot be done until this subject has been found and stated.

But don't include too many details. Sometimes too much information impairs the force and weight of the Biblical principles that need to be preached in relation to the subject selected. Also, make sure that the details are pertinent. That will be the details that should be included in developing the expository sermon.

The details should not only be pertinent, but they should also be comprehensive. In other words, look for the significant and important teaching and not for that which is incidental or comparatively insignificant.

Throughout the sermon make sure you don't lose sight of your theme, use parallel passages, don't make difficult passages more difficult, and remember that your end goal is to be helpful in the hearer's spiritual growth.

A Biblical sermon is not just an essay or lecture where one meanders through a number of verses making comments, no matter how truthful these remarks are. It is the exposition of a Biblical passage and arranged into definite form.

It is the exposition of a Biblical passage that is organized and shaped into a Bible sermon which flows from beginning to end with a spiritual purpose and goal in mind.

Expository sermons are the product of exegesis (an explanation or critical interpretation), but they are in no sense just its exhibition. Make the exegetical part of the sermon brief and to the point. Do not let the interpretation spin out into too much wordiness. Put it as compactly as clearness will permit.

Breed quoted Sewall as saying, "Exegesis is not the ultimate aim of the sermon; it is simply the instrument which we use to dig out the truth on which we intend to preach. When the truth is dug out, then preach. It is folly to keep on digging. Many a good sermon has been spoiled by too much exegesis."

Yes, I believe that the best type of sermons to preach are expository sermons, but they don't have to be verse by verse boredom type of sermons. If we do it right, they can be personalized passage power type of sermons for us and everyone who hears us. Let's do it right for the sake of ourselves and our listeners.

What is an Example of this type of sermon?

The Believer's Walk

by William Evans

Colossians 1:9-12

Explain the believer's walk.

I. The Nature of the Walk.

  1. Worthy of the Lord (v.10).
  2. According to the revealed will of God (v.9).

II. The Motive of the Walk.

  1. To do right (worthy) (v.10a).
  2. To please the Lord (v.10b).

III. The Means of the Walk.

  1. Faith in Christ--the beginning (v.4).
  2. Prayer--continued by (v.9).
  3. The Word of God--source of knowledge of God's will (v.9).
  4. The indwelling Spirit of God (v.4)

IV. The Results of the Walk.

  1. Well-pleasing to God (v.10).
  2. Fruitful in every good work (v.10).
  3. An increasing knowledge of God (v.10).
  4. Spiritual graces: patience, long-suffering, joy, thankfulness (vv.11-12).
  5. An inheritance with the saints in light (v.12).

God wants us to walk worthy. How are you doing? Do you see the results?

More examples of Expository Sermons later.

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