Why Biblical Exposition? It respects the God-given shape of Scripture
At Westgate, we are committed to what is often called biblical exposition. It’s the kind of preaching where the message and aim of the sermon are controlled by the message and aim of the biblical passage being preached.
In our first post in this series, we talked about what biblical exposition is. Now our question is why biblical exposition is necessary for the life and health of our church. In the last post we suggested that exposition is necessary because it reflects a healthy doctrine of Scripture. Here we consider a second reason: biblical exposition respects the God-given shape of Scripture.
BIBLICAL EXPOSITION RESPECTS THE GOD-GIVEN SHAPE OF SCRIPTURE
It’s painfully obvious but extremely important to note that God did not reveal his authoritative, inspired Word to us in the shape of a systematic theology. Nor did he give us the Bible in chronological order, or organize it according to different topics. Neither did he use some other medium like film or music.
The Bible has a God-given shape. It contains 66 books, which employ a variety of literary genres (like narrative, poetry, epistle, apocalyptic) and have their own particular structure, themes, and overarching message. And the fact that the Bible has come down to us in this particular shape is not an accident of history. It’s not incidental. It’s essential to what the Bible is and how it communicates its message. Which means, that a preacher, as a herald of God’s Word, must pay careful attention to that shape and message in order to faithfully preach the text.
This is where the fifth mark of an exposition from our first post comes into play, and why I think it’s critical that the expositor primarily teach through books of the Bible. Because the message of an individual passage is inextricably linked to the context and content of book that it is part of. And the best way to understand a passage is to understand it as it fits into and contributes to the overall message of that book.
This is not to say that topical sermons or topical series are never appropriate. But I’m not sure they should be the norm if we take seriously the shape of the Bible that God has given us. Moreover, I think there are several serious benefits of preaching through passages and whole books in accordance with their God-given shape in Scripture.
1. It models for others how to read the Bible.
Walking people through a passage, and ultimately through a book of the Bible (and eventually through different kinds of books in both the Old and the New Testaments) not only declares the Word of God, it also teaches people how to read the Word of God for themselves. This is lost if a preacher is constantly jumping from passage to passage and point to point each week without showing his people where those ideas came from. This can actually make the congregation dependent on the preacher for hearing God in his Word, instead of helping them see and hear God’s voice in the Scriptures themselves.
If you’re a preacher, there’s a huge difference between someone coming up to you after a sermon and saying, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before, but it’s so clear now,’ and saying, ‘Wow, I could have never got that point from that passage. You’re amazing!’ You want to hear the former—they’re learning how to read their Bibles. You don’t want to hear the latter.
2. It guards against selectivity in one’s preaching diet.
When we prioritize preaching through books of the Bible, the preacher is forced to deal with topics he might otherwise never preach on. For instance, I don’t like preaching about money. That’s the people-pleaser in me who doesn’t want people to think that I’m manipulating them. But in preaching through Philippians a couple years ago, eventually you come to chapter 4, and you have to talk about giving. And it’s good to do that.
Another example: When I preached through Ecclesiastes in 2012, I planned the preaching schedule in February of that year. When I did so, I scheduled Ecclesiastes 7:1-13 for August 19—the passage that talks about how “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (7:2). When I scheduled that, I had no idea we would have three deaths in our congregation that week. Nor would I have picked to preach that passage that week given the circumstances. But God in his providence was so kind to bring us to that passage, and minister directly to the sorrow in our hearts through his Word.
Now obviously a preacher is making choices about which books he’s preaching. And a good shepherd is always mindful of the condition of his flock. What books do we need to hear to address this need or for this stage of life and ministry? And there are certainly times when we need to break from our normal course to respond to a national or local crisis (e.g. preaching Psalm 46 after the Boston Marathon bombing). But when our preaching respects the God-given shape of Scripture and works through books of the Bible, it’s much harder to be selective in our preaching diet to the church.
3. It frees the preacher from the pressure to constantly come up with new content.
I have to confess here, I’m not a very creative person. And I’m certainly not creative enough to come up with a new series idea every four to six weeks. I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about this when I’m working through books of the Bible. Exposition keeps me focused on listening to God’s Word rather than trying to come up with my own.
We are committed to biblical exposition not only because it reflects a healthy doctrine of Scripture, but because it respects the God-given shape of Scripture. Two reasons down; one to go . . .