How to Preach Expository Sermons

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What is expository preaching?  How does one do it?  Is it the best method of preaching a sermon?  Why do pastors use expository preaching while others do not?

Expository Preaching – What it is Not

You will have no trouble finding sermons on topics or themes.  The preacher will focus on one subject and use Scripture throughout the Bible to expound and expand on it.  Some themes include giving, some on love, others on the resurrection and yet others on growing in holiness.  The problem with this is that congregation or listeners might have a hard time keeping up with the verses that are thrown out at them.  Many times they would be lifting out text from within the context of chapters or books.  The Bible is meant to be read book by book and chapter by chapter for the most part. This does not mean that someone can’t find a section and start reading there or jump to the Psalms and then to Proverbs and finish with Revelation.  The point is that when we read just a few verses from a book or chapter, we may miss much of the context and what came before the verses we read and what follows.  These missing verses enhance the meaning of what the readers reads.  The same can be true for those who hear sermons like these.

Context is Everything

I have heard some people say that they were going to just open up the Bible to search for the will of God in their lives and find out what God wants them to do.  It was a seek and search mission.  They would just let the Bible fall open or just open it by chance and even close their eyes and point to a certain Scripture.  The problem with this is that one might find a verse that says, “Judas went out and hanged himself” and then blindly find another Scripture that says, “Go and do likewise.”  You see the point.  Seek and search Bible reading leaves so much of the Bible out that we can hardly tell the context of what the author is saying.  When we start at places like “Therefore…” we must go back and see what the “therefore” is there for! If you don’t read what the author wrote before the “therefore” you will miss much of why he is writing what he is writing.  Context is everything.  The old saying is true:  Taking text out of context makes it a pretext and usually a false one at that!  That is why some believe expository preaching is better than other styles of preaching.  This is what Jesus did and the apostles, and for the most part, what the writers of the Old Testament did.

Here is a good example of non-expository teaching where one verse is expounded at the expense of others.  John 3:16 is one of the most recognized verses in the Bible and even among non-Christians.  This verse reminds everyone that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us.  The predominant theme makes us believe that God‘s love is all that is necessary to know but John 3:16 means nothing without reading John 3:17 and 18.  Here is why I say that:

John 3:16-18  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Now everyone knows that God so loved the world…but precious little attention is given to the completion of the thought that Jesus was giving to Nicodemus about being born again.  No one can enter heaven without being born again…in fact, no one can even see heaven without this new birth.  If we just quote John 3:16 we focus on God’s love.  God is love yes, but this love of God is a holy, just, and demanding love.  Verse 17 says that Jesus didn’t come into the world to judge the world but at the same time that God is love, whoever doesn’t believe in Jesus stands condemned (v 18). Rejecting this belief in Jesus means condemnation.  And the word “believe” technically means “to be living” or “to be walking in.”  To believe means that you rely upon, trust on, and have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Even the Devil and the demons believe in God but they do not trust in Him or have faith in Him.  So John 3:16 is like taking 1/3 of your letter to a friend and throwing out the rest (with the exclusion of John 3:17-18).

Expository Preaching – What it is

Expository teaching doesn’t necessarily dwell on one particular text or passage of text like John 3:16.  It more likely covers the entire chapter or several of the verses in John 3.  Expository preaching does not dwell on non-biblical topics.  One pastor’s sermon title I heard about recently was “Would Jesus Use Facebook?” while another was “Would Jesus Tweet?”  Really!?  This type of sermon has no power for the power is in the Word of God and pastors and priests ought to use it!  Expository preaching rarely includes jokes, short stories, human examples or anecdotes.  Not that you couldn’t use one or two of these but this should not be the primary focus.  The Word of God should be the main focus of all preaching and teaching.  As I have heard before, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing…” and that is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Expository teaching can also be called a systematic exposition of particular Scriptures, verses, chapters, or books of the Bible.  For the last year or so, I have gone through the gospel of Matthew and the books of Romans, Ephesians, Leviticus, 1 John, and a few others.  Sometimes it takes a few messages to complete these sermons but the systematic exposition of these books allows us to see the meaning of the book, the author’s intent, the context of the message, the purpose of the book, the background, and the setting.  Expository preaching is like throwing light on or exposing by illuminating particular Scriptures.  This is what Jesus did when He read out of the Book of Isaiah in the temple.  He was careful to draw out of the text the exact meaning of what Isaiah wrote and He did so perfectly because He not only shed light on it, He was and is that Light.  Expository preaching or a systematic exposition is not like exegeses.  It would be like a Rabbi explaining the meaning of a passage or passages from the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament).

When Jesus preached, He presented expositional preaching and emphasized the application of His messages.  Of course, Jesus Christ being the literal and actual Word of God, everything He spoke was Scripture but there was never anything that Jesus spoke or preached that did not have a specific application and His Word had power because it was the very Word of God.  He was certainly all about shedding light on the Scriptures because He is that light and He is the Word (John 1).

How to Preach Expository Sermons

We have seen what expository preaching is.  How to present expository preaching is to follow the examples of Jesus, and of the apostles Paul and Peter (in Acts) and of Stephen too.  Even the deacon and evangelist Phillip used expository preaching when he tried to fill in the details on who Isaiah was writing about when he was speaking to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:30-35:

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”

The Eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7-8 and so Phillip revealed that these verses were about Jesus Christ and the Passion at Calvary.  Phillip’s exposition of these verses resulted in the gospel being taken into Africa where it later thrived. Isaiah was using expository writing because he was using an example of a lamb being led to the slaughter just as Jesus was, shedding light on Jesus’ purpose.  Phillip made the verses understandable, he provided meaning for them, he gave the background of Jesus’ mission and purpose, and he proclaimed the good news of the gospel.  As a result of this, the Eunuch trusted in Christ and was immediately baptized.  He understood that he needed a Savior and that he also needed to take this message back to Ethiopia with him to tell others.  In doing so, he naturally could use the scroll that included Isaiah 53 which was the prophesied coming of the Savior of the world and he had heard of the fulfillment of these verses from Phillip.

Read some of Paul’s expository preaching where he often quoted the Old Testament.  That is all that they had at the time of course.  Read Paul’s famous sermon in Acts 17:16-34 to the Greeks or his exposition to King Agrippa, Stephen’s testimony to the Council, Peter’s expositional sermon on the day of Pentecost. Of course about anything Jesus ever said, including His amazing Sermon on the Mount (the Beatitudes), was powerful expository preaching as well.

Author Bryan Chappell explained that expository preaching is where the, “preacher becomes a bond servant to the text.” He believes that this type of preaching is walking in the “same steps as the author.”  Expository preaching binds the preacher to the Word and the message of the Scriptures gives the preacher the authority of what God has spoken.   This allows the power in the Word to take its full effect.  God has said that His Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11).  That means that the Word will not return without accomplishing what He wills and what He designed for those particular Scriptures.  There is power in the Word, not the man.  The power is in the message and not the messenger.  So unleash the power of the Word of God in expository preaching. There are many examples we have already given.  You know what it is. You know what it is not.  Take God at His Word:

Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

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Sources

New International Version Bible (NIV)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

YouTube video “The Beatitudes” Matthew 5:1-10, music by Chris Wilmoore

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert October 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Fantastic article Jack,
Expository preaching is my favorite. John MacArthur is a fantastic expository preacher (as I’m sure you are too). You are absolutely right about the power of the Word coming out in an expository sermon. Thank you for this explanation of the different kinds of preaching also. God bless you, brother.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman October 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Thank you Robert. One things for sure, I have no power, so why not utilize God’s power that is available in His Word. I so agree with John MacArthur’s preaching style. Great example. I appreciate, as always, your encouragement sir.

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Josh October 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Great article Jack. My favorite sermons to listen to are expository!

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Jack Wellman October 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Thank you very much Josh. I believe I am with you on that.

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ken October 26, 2012 at 2:02 am

expositorz is the waz to go

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Gil October 27, 2012 at 10:53 am

I really learned a lot in your article, Thank you for your contribution to me learning more about, what it means to be a student of the word of God. I am applying this to my own reading and study of the Bible. I believe it will help me keep thing in proper context, as I apply the principles to my life. Thanks again.

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Joe Sewell October 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Expository preaching and study forces you to deal with all the dirty little nooks & crannies of Scripture that your upbringing or current faith may not want you to see. The John 3:16 example is a good example … who knew that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world, but that the world was already condemned? Few people who make John 3:16 their “life verse” realize that, or they might but not realize that support is just around the corner.

On the other hand, there are plenty of false teachers who deceive people by skipping important verses that contradict their own slant on their particular teaching. Our pastor likes to present some of these false teachers and their messages as warnings. One came from Creflo Dollar, trying to justify the notion that Jesus was rich. I don’t recall what part of Acts (I think it was) that he mentioned, but he “conveniently” skipped right over the section that proved that the people discussed were poorer than most Americans have ever encountered.

As I type this, I’m chatting on Facebook with someone about the Westboro Baptist crew. (I was relating your story of how you & your church set a great example of how to handle them, Jack.) I also mentioned an article, I believe it was on Christian Post, about a discharged soldier who decided to interview them about why they did what they did. To his surprise, he found that most of them had caring hearts — and none of them harassed him because he was one of those “evil military people.” (He was not able to interview the pastor, and I don’t recall if Mrs. Phelps was available.) What I saw, though, was hunt-and-peck “cherry-picking” of Scriptures to support the lop-sided view Phelps presents.

I can understand people who want to bypass all the “begats” found in Genesis, Matthew, and Luke. I can also understand that some people’s eyes glaze over if they get hit with a detailed analysis of just about anything. It’s sad, though, to see so many people hungry for expository teaching and so few getting it, just being satisfied with the pablum of random verses plucked out to make a feel-good point or to satisfy the requirement of the lectionary of the week.

To be picky, I can justify people observing the chapter & verse divisions in some areas, such as Psalms and Proverbs, because those are two places where the divisions are probably in the original texts (especially Psalms). I can also handle people taking away a single verse to use for a reminder.

The verse taken out of context, though, is often the seed of heresy.

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Jack Wellman October 27, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Thank you Joe. Your biblical wisdom always adds so much to the posts. Your life “The verse taken out of context, though, is often the seed of heresy” is spot on and one that I wish I had the commons sense to include. Sterling comment as always and I will not take your comment out of context! LOL

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Omarrow July 16, 2015 at 2:31 pm

I like this Jack i think this is the best way to go

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Jack Wellman July 16, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Thank you so much my friend.

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James Griffin November 15, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Jack, I just stumbled on your article and appreciate it very much. I was a member of PCUSA for over fifty years and had become disillusioned by the PC messages that I was subjected to weekly to the point that I looked for any excuse to miss church. Eventually, the church left me (I refuse to say that I left it) over the homosexual issue. I retired to a ski village in New Mexico and was invited by another refugee from PCUSA to visit a small Baptist church with a minister who had just left the mission field and was learning to preach. His style is strictly expositional. He has made me realize just why God inspired man to write the Bible and has turned both my wife and me back to God and Jesus. Just this year, we were baptised and have begun a new life in our blessed Saviour.
Although our health is failing and our children beg us to move back to Texas, we can not think about leaving this wonderful church. I suspect that your church is likeours.

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Jack Wellman November 15, 2015 at 9:48 pm

Thank you Mr. Griffin. Praise God for your turning to God. You are so encouraging sir. Our church is very close knit for sure and like me, we have room for improvement. May God richly bless you and your beloved wife sir.

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Matthew April 15, 2016 at 9:14 pm

I am doing a research on expository preaching and that how I got to your article, good job Sir.

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