Mandates of Expository Preaching

Article: Mandates of Expository Preaching by Eric Davis (original source here)

Expository preaching is that type of preaching which seeks to approach the word of God in a manner befitting of the God of the word. As such, its aim is to submit to the authorial intent of a passage, unpacking the meaning in its grammatical and historical context, then explaining, illustrating, and applying the text accordingly.

Therefore, expository preaching is that method of preaching which keeps most in step with the way in which the Holy Spirit inspired the word. It seeks full submission to what the Spirit laid down in Scripture.

Recently, John MacArthur taught a seminar in a doctorate program at the Master’s Seminary for expository preaching titled, “Mandates of Expository Preaching.” With over 50 years experience in weekly expository preaching, the church does well to listen to what he has to say on the matter. Here is a summary of what was taught.

Expository preaching establishes the authority of God over the mind of the hearer.

Churches whose teaching and preaching are more loosely tied to sound exposition from Scripture can tend towards demagoguery. In those cases, the authority is more in the guy than God. That is an unsafe place to be, both as a leadership and congregation.

Expository preaching is a safer place to be simply because the ministry philosophy is submission to every word of God. And submission to the word of God is submission to the God of the word.

The primary duty of the pastor is to establish that God is the authority, not him (Titus 2:15). Preaching is to be authoritative which means it must have a transcendent and divine authority. Our authority is a delegated authority. When you are an expositor of Scripture, you are constantly declaring the authority of the word of God.

Expository preaching affirms the lordship of Christ over the church.

There is a de facto assault by self-appointed, narcissistic pastors who present themselves as if they’re the head of the church by making the dominance of their personality the functional head of the church. Pastors won’t verbally deny the headship of Christ over the church, but they do in practice. They do so when they remove the Bible from its governing position in the church. Doing so usurps the place which belongs only to Christ.

Christ functionally exercises headship over churches when he is allowed to speak. He is allowed to speak, not through a ministry loosely tethered to Scripture, but tightly. We have the mind of Christ in Scripture. Exposition reveals his mind on everything. If you are an expositor, you allow his Majesty to speak fully on every issue.

And as a pertinent sidenote, it behooves us to recall that many of the 17th century Scotland Covenanters died for refusing to recognize anyone but Christ as head of the church.

Expository preaching facilitates the work of the Holy Spirit.

The instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to do his work is what he has spoken; the Bible. He does not use our words or cleverness to do his work.

As Jesus revealed in John 16:8-11, he convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. But we cannot know what this means unless we know Scripture. The Spirit does not do his work in a vacuum. Thus, understanding the work of the Spirit means understanding Scripture.

Much of what he does includes the miracles of regeneration and sanctification. And the instrument which the Spirit delegates for both is his word.

He produces regeneration. Saving faith comes by hearing. Hearing comes by the word (Rom. 10:17). The Holy Spirit’s miracle par excellence is regeneration.

He also produces sanctification for all the regenerate. The primary task of the shepherd is to feed God’s flock his word. That word is the Spirit’s chosen instrument for sanctification (John 17:17, 2 Cor. 3:18).

Expository preaching demonstrates submission to Scripture.

The Son of God lived in submission to the Bible in every way (e.g. Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 14:21; Luke 4:16), 22:37, 24:46). His slaves must do likewise.

If a pastor commits himself to truly preach expositionally, he will have to submit to Scripture. He need not pick and choose what to do, but set himself to coming under the flow of each book of the Bible.

If he will not do so, there are several problems. Ministry mavericks do not submit to biblical truth. It’s more thrilling to put themselves on display. But, the preacher who does not submit to Scripture reveals a lack of love for God and Christ. He lacks understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit since he turns to other things for ministry prowess. If a preacher will not submit to God’s word, what will he submit to? If he cannot submit to Scripture in public, there’s little question that he is submitting to it in private. That is frightening. Nothing is more unthinkable for the believer than refusing to come under Scripture.

Expository preaching connects the preacher personally to the regular sanctifying grace of Scripture.

Chances are, if your pastor preaches expositionally, he is regularly coming under the sanctifying grace of God. Expository preaching forces him to meditate in the word day and night. That has a safe, sanctifying effect. You can’t help, for the most part, to be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. Week by week intense study of Scripture exposes the preacher’s soul to its cleansing power. That’s the kind of pastor you want.

Further, in exposition, you always have to fight for clarity; to comprehend the text. You have to know what you’re talking about. Which means, we will need to ask and answer many questions of the text. We must force ourselves to clarity. What does that have to do with sanctification? Clarity has a sanctifying impact on the soul.

Expository preaching provides spiritual depth and transcendence for the congregation.

We often hear people say, “We need to bring the Bible into modern times.” But the Bible is transcendent because of its Author. This is not a time to have sermons that cannot be understood outside of your zip code.

The preaching event is going down then going up. We go down into the depths of God’s inexhaustible word. Understanding it rightly, we rise up in worship of him. People can go up in true worship only to the level that they have gone deep in understanding. Most people live in the shallows. Sadly, a lot of so-called worship is a mere emotional stimulation. When the pulpit goes to the shallows, the whole church goes with it.

What a church sings is a barometer for the depth of its theology. Theologically rich music will be demanded by theologically deep people. Inject that into a superficial congregation and it just seems out of touch.

A man-centered church sabotages worship because it channels people towards self-focus. But that’s what many want. If you’re theatrical, you’ll attract people who want that. If you’re a Bible teacher, you’ll attract people who want that. But when the word of God reigns in a church, that church will be redirected towards God, not man.

Overall, the height of worship is the preaching of Scripture. If someone were to ask, “How can you have worship with so much preaching?” we could rightly respond, “How can you have worship with so little preaching?”

Expository preaching gives people their only true source of help.

Life is full of crises. If you live long enough, you will see it all. Sin and sickness pile up and we cannot stop them. Life doesn’t get prettier the longer you live in that sense.

How are people going to survive spiritually? They are not going to be sustained in dire circumstances on a pastor’s cleverness and insight. We must transfer all the dependence to God. When the full weight of the Fall comes crashing down, all the false crutches will be pulled away. Only the rock of Scripture will do. And, the pastor doesn’t want to put himself in the position of trying to be everybody’s anchor. He needs to transfer that to the Scripture.

Expository preaching systematically unpacks the only true source of help from Scripture, while equipping souls to weather inevitable tragedy. It creates an essential connection between doctrine and life. Pastors can’t hold our hand through everything. Instead, they are called to give us the theology which will sustain us.

Expository preaching honors God by revealing those truths that trouble, offend, and terrify sinners.

The Bible is designed to offend everyone who has offended God. If preaching doesn’t terrify sinners, then the ruggedness of the message is omitted which is needed to offend the sinner’s comfort. There is a sense in which this is part of the feminization of pastors and the church. When the unconverted are not rightly terrified through the unpacking of Scripture, then the real danger of judgment is eliminated. Consequently, the tender comfort of gospel grace is forfeited. If we are weak on law and judgment, then by default, we are weak on grace and forgiveness.

The goal is not to comfort unbelievers in their unregenerate state. Until they fear God’s judgment, they will not understand the need of the gospel. A biblical church is a place where the unconverted are made uncomfortable and converted, not made comfortable and thus remain unconverted.

This sheds light on people leaving the church. When people leave, it sometimes has to do with being made uncomfortable by the word preached. They may say that logistics are not convenient, but that’s not always the real reason. In the end, the people who stay at a place where the Bible is preached expositionally love and embrace the confrontation of Scripture because they love and embrace God.

Expository preaching connects people to the legacy of the past.

Contemporary church movements sometimes seek a connection to current culture. They major on contemporary style more than historic faithfulness. A church’s functional motto should not be, “We’re creating a new experience.”

We ought to ensure that congregation know that their church does not exist in isolation. Christ has a long legacy of caring for his church which started way before we came on the scene. It’s important for people to understand that they belong to something which God is doing through the ages. They ought not be denied learning about expositors of the past such as Huss, Knox, Whitefield, Luther, and Calvin. Sound men of history such as these practiced expository preaching. Many things in their lives are worth emulating; they can shake us out of the crust of contemporary culture.

In the process of interpreting Scripture, you will visit the things which Spirit-illumined men from long ago taught, wrote, believed. Thus, the church will be necessarily humbled in understanding that they are in a massive movement of God sweeping through redemptive history. It’s not our little show in our day.

Expository preaching provides protection from error.

We are most likened to sheep in Scripture. Sheep are susceptible to many dangers, in part since they are like a ball of glue. Everything sticks to them, including their back side. They will die if not given the proper care and protection.

Shepherding involves protecting the sheep. We have abandoned shepherding if we will not protect from error. However, it’s nearly impossible to particularly address every error that comes. That’s why expository preaching is so effective. It unpacks the whole counsel of God, equipping the sheep to discern. They overcome the wicked one by being strong in the word. If a pastor will not exposit the word of God, he puts the flock in a position where they are unable to defend themselves.

Expository preaching convinces people that they have heard from God.

In all a pastor does, he should want people to walk away knowing that they heard the word of God. During expository preaching, they will see the clarity of how God speaks from his word through proper interpretation. They will be convinced that Scripture means what it means because the preacher has shown them. An expositor’s job is not to just tell people what Scripture means, but show them how it means what it means.

If we don’t preach expositionally, we risk deceiving people into thinking they have heard the word of God when they probably have not.