[ 3 minutes to read ]It’s not complicated. Preaching the word means taking the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and preaching it. Expository, or expositional preaching is a common phrase today. It’s trendy now to refer to oneself as an expository preacher, but what does it mean? I’ve seen numerous definitions and heard sermons that were called expository that didn’t seem to be expository at all. If a sermon is not expository it doesn’t mean it’s a bad sermon, but only that it is not expository. There are many different sermon types and all should involve at least some exposition.
What exposition meaneth, I wot not
Exposition is not a church-word. The word is not found in the Bible anywhere. It’s not a word we hear everyday outside of church but it enjoys much use in the world. Exposition is, “A comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.”[ref]exposition. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/exposition (accessed July 26, 2016).[/ref] The definition is general but it is commonly applied to a text, where exposition is a comprehensive explanation of the text under consideration, e.g. a work of literature, scientific text, etc. Whenever someone explains a policy, terms and conditions statement, or a contract to you, they have done an exposition of that document.
Exposition is a comprehensive explanation of some source material, which means it is tied to the material it is explaining and the purpose of the exposition is to make the meaning of the material clear and understandable. If you sought an agent to buy a life insurance policy, you would expect that agent to explain the policy to you so that you understood it and could make an intelligent decision whether to buy it or not. If the agent came to your home, took out the policy, and proceeded to talk about the weather, sports, politics, and his cute little yorkie at home, he would not be doing his job and you should find another agent.
Expository preaching is taking a text passage from the Bible and giving a comprehensive explanation of what the passage means. Expository preaching is not thinking up a sermon and then finding a text to preach it from. Expository preaching is not starting with a text and then stringing together a bunch of bumper sticker slogans. Expository preaching is not telling jokes and stories. Expository preaching is preaching that is tied to the Bible. Whatever else may be involved, an expository sermon should make clear the meaning of the text in its original intent.
What meaneth this bleating of the sheep?
When you listen to talks on preaching or read books and articles on preaching, you will notice that the most time is spent on illustrations and applications. This is true even of much material that is supposed to be about expository preaching. It seems in settings where Q&A is had about preaching, a lot of the questions tend to the issues of application and illustrations. It seems impossible to think or talk about preaching without getting back to these two.
If we are to “preach the word,” we can easily overdo application and illustration. My chief complaint with much of modern preaching is that it is way too focused on application and illustration and not concerned enough about explaining the meaning of the passage in front of them comprehensively. I once heard about a preacher who brought a live sheep on the platform to “illustrate” something about sheep from his sermon text. Of course, he laughed later about the giggles elicited from the crowd as the sheep did things that sheep tend to at that time, temperature, and barometric pressure. This sermon was not preached on a farm but in an urban setting. I grant that most of the people had probably never seen a sheep in person, but I question if it truly enriched their understanding of the Bible rather than distracting and entertaining their minds. If a preacher cannot use his words to explain what needs to be known about a sheep from the passage, I question if they have the gift of teaching necessary for a pastor (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24).
Illustration and application are parts of good preaching. However, they are places where caution must be exercised. They present easy opportunities to become untethered from the text. Once untethered from the text, we are no longer preaching the word. R. Kent Hughes addressed this issue succinctly in the video embedded below. Consider what he has to say.