A pastor's job is not simply to give an inspirational speech to make us feel good about ourselves or to deliver a biblical monologue. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg exhorts pastors to return to genuine expository preaching. He explains how this approach to teaching God's Word benefits both the pastor and the congregation.
Not only does expository preaching begin with the text and seek to fuse the two horizons, but expository preaching encourages the listener to understand why a first century letter to the church in Corinth could ever be relevant to a 21st century congregation living in Cleveland. Because some of them assume that the message is irrelevant. The flip side of the concern though is that there are individuals who regard the message as immediately relevant.
Not irrelevant, but immediately relevant. And this is the kind of listener who wants to move immediately to application. These people in the Bible studies don't want immediately to say, well, thank you for reading that passage. You've hardly finished reading the passage as the leader. And they say, what this means to me is, they say, well, with all due respect, why don't you just go get yourself another cup of coffee and hold that thought, and maybe for the rest of your life. Because we're not remotely interested in what it means to you.
Not yet. We may be in a minute, but we are not interested in what it means to me until we have discovered what it means. Because it is only once we know what it means then we can make any application as to what it might mean to me. And without having established, and this is the role of the pastor and the teacher, without having established the meaning of the text, we daren't allow our people or ourselves immediately to jump off and make application to our circumstances. The rush to personalize the text, remove from the necessary understanding of what the passage means in its original context is a real dilemma.
But there are all kinds of illustrations of it. I mean, we do it all the time with Romans 8.28, for example. You can preach a glorious message on Romans 8.28 that doesn't bear any reference to verse 27 or verse 29. So the expositor, what we're saying is that the expositor needs to be under the control of the Bible. When you read the Westminster Directory for public worship, as I'm sure you often do with your conflicts, you will discover that this is actually the third of three principles of faithful exposition that the Westminster Directory lays down.
These are the three, actually. One, the matter we preach should be true. That is, in light of general doctrines of Scripture. Two, it should be the truth contained in the text or passage we are expounding. And thirdly, and here's the reason for mentioning this, it should be the truth preached under the control of the rest of Scripture.
Now brethren, when we take this seriously, then we will be at least seeking to ensure that our pulpits do not afford a place for theorizing and speculation, or for sloganeering and manipulation, or for tall stories and emotionalism. In an earlier era in Scotland, when great pains were taken to abide by these principles that I've just iterated, the impact was obvious. The knowledge of the Bible possessed by ordinary congregations in earlier generations in Scotland was a significant knowledge. In light of what we quoted last evening from Alexander, he said that the congregations listened attentively, carried their Bible, turned it up. And even for myself, being born in the early 50s, although I was beyond that time, I still have a vivid recollection of the Bible never being read in my hearing, and the gathering of God's people, without either my father or my mother turning to it, and from my very, very earliest years, to see my father's finger tracing the line across the text as the pastor read the passage of Scripture for the day. Now was I actually taking it all in?
Probably not. I was probably going like this, that he never ever deviated from it, he still said, Son, you better look here. If he'd never done that, I couldn't tell you that.
And if he'd never done that, I wouldn't know how important it is. And he was just underscoring the importance of the exposition of the Bible. But you see, we'll never have the dads in our congregations tracking the text with their fingers, unless there is a need for them to track the text with their fingers, because we are committed to working through the Bible in a way that is expositional. Are there compelling arguments as to why genuine expository preaching needs to be rediscovered and faithfully practiced in our day?
I think so. Number one, and this is so obvious because we've said it so many times already, it gives glory to God alone. Expository preaching gives glory to God, which ought to be the ultimate end of all we do. This kind of preaching is going to be markedly different from one in which sermons constantly find their origin in the felt needs of the people. Secondly, it makes the preacher study the Bible. Expository preaching demands that the preacher become a student of the Word of God. I hope none of us are going to be guilty of putting together a few sermons, and then once we've exhausted them, moving on to some other congregation and blessing them with the pathetic offerings that we just annoyed our previous congregation with. You remember Spurgeon said, keep all your old sermons to weep over.
If you think your sermons are good some evening when you don't have much to do, just say to your wife, hey honey, why don't you sit down for half an hour and let me read you one of my old sermons? We'll never do exposition unless we become students of the Bible. And when we are committed to the systematic and consecutive exposition of the Scripture, then we'll never come to an end of our task. If we're not learning, we're not growing.
If we're stuck, we can be certain that our people are stuck. It is absolutely vital that we come to the Bible with a spirit of discovery, that we come looking for the surprises in the passage, that we come, if you like, agnostic to the text. Not immediately assuming that we understand everything just because we spent time in the passage before.
That's one of the great dangers for us. For example, the other evening I tried to expound 2 Timothy 2, and I went through 2 Timothy 2 verses 1 to 6, the metaphors there, the soldier, the athlete, the farmer. And then I came to verse 7, where Paul says, reflect on what I'm saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all of this. And I think I said you'll notice the little bridge that is here in verse 7. It's good to reflect on these things.
We really don't reflect on things quite enough these days. And the Lord gives you insight. Now let's go to verse 8. When I was coming back on the plane, I was reading notes from a seminar on preaching that I had attended some years ago. And funnily enough, I found a little piece on 2 Timothy 2, 7. And I had written down on two lines in my notes 2 Timothy 2, 7. And it said, reflect on what I'm saying. And then underneath it had written, for the Lord will give you insight into all of this. And then the individual teaching the seminar had pointed out that reflect on what I'm saying is our part. The Lord will give you insight into all of this is God's part.
He had then pointed out that it is absolutely essential that both parts are in place. If we fall down in emphasis only on the first part, reflect on what I'm saying, then the danger is that we become rationalists. If we fall down in the second part, which is the Lord will give you insight into all of this, then the danger is we become fanatics. So he said, let's make sure that we are doing our part, which is to reflect on what the Word is saying. And then let us remember that in all of our reflection, it is God who gives us insight into all of this.
And let's teach our people to do the same. And I said to myself, and I thought that I was expounding 2 Timothy chapter 2 with a passing note of it's good for us to reflect. You see? What I'm saying is this, what we already know, that if we'll go back to our Bibles again and again and again on our knees and with our minds open, then the Lord will give us insight into all these things.
And that there are fresh discoveries for us to make. I use a hymn book a lot in my private devotions because I'm good at singing. I'm not rotten at singing, but I love the hymnody. And so a line or two from the hymn, I want to make my own. Oh, teach me Lord that I may teach the precious things thou dost impart and wing my words that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart. So you want to have that notion in your mind all the time.
I know I must. Oh, teach me Lord that I may teach the hidden things thou dost impart. The Lord will give him insight into all of this and wing my words that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart. You see, the first heart that God needs to reach is our heart, right? There is no benefit to our people from expository preaching unless we ourselves are impacted by the scripture we're preparing to preach. It is imperative not only that we are dealing with the biblical text, but that we are being dealt with by the biblical text, that we are personally being changed by it. John Owen, speaking of this necessity said, a man only preaches a sermon well to others if he has first preached it to himself.
If he does not thrive on the food he prepares, he will not be skilled at making it appetizing for others. If the word does not dwell in power in us, it will not pass in power from us unless it's making a powerful impact upon us. And what I'm suggesting to you is that expository preaching, the systematic consecutive exposition of the scriptures, not only begins with God and his glory, but it also makes us students of the Bible. It also, thirdly, helps the congregation.
It enables the congregation to learn the Bible in the most obvious and natural way so that our congregations begin to understand that the reason the thing was put down in sentences and paragraphs and so on is so that they might be able to understand it. We wouldn't expect a university professor to teach from a textbook on human anatomy by picking out parts of sentences at random and using them for his lecture. Rather, we would anticipate that he would work through the material in an orderly fashion so that his students come to an understanding of how all the pieces of the anatomy fit together.
I mean, it's just so obvious, isn't it? And there are many analogies we can think of in the realm of sports, the interrelated nature of plays in a game. They're not isolated from one another.
One constituent element has to be shown how it relates to all the others. Otherwise, people may be able to call all kinds of plays, but people will go off in all kinds of directions. And many men are capable of delivering excellent talks, producing touching illustrations, uttering stirring exhortations, all based on scriptural material. But as expositors of scripture, they're actually ineffective. It's a spurgeon to his students again. I believe the remark is too well-grounded that if you attend to a lecture on astronomy or geology during a short course, you'll obtain a tolerably clear view of his system. But if you listen not only for 12 months, but for 12 years to the common run of preachers, you will not arrive at anything like an idea of their system of theology.
You go to the average business gathering, and within a short time you'll understand where the fellow's coming from and what he's on about. But people can sit under the teaching of the Bible, and they're not really making headway at all. And yet, expositional preaching ought to enable our congregations. By my preaching, by your preaching, we either help our people or we hinder our people in the task of interpreting scripture. The next benefit is it demands treatment of the entire Bible. It demands treatment of the entire Bible.
Expository preaching prevents the preacher from avoiding difficult passages or from dwelling on his favorite texts. And this is no small matter. On your computers, you have a screensaver, right? Whenever there's been an absence of activity for any significant length of time, it automatically defaults to one particular image. For mine, it's a little airplane that goes up and down, goes off the screen, comes back and all around. And anyone coming into my room says, well, he hasn't looked at that in a long while. And there it flips around.
It automatically defaults. In a similar fashion, when we as preachers have not been active in the systematic study of the Bible, we will default to our pet passages to save our faces. We will default to our pet issues, whether it's higher life teaching or an emphasis on the risen life of Christ.
Some of us default into flights of eschatological fancy that are guaranteed to intrigue but seldom manage to instruct. Whatever the emphasis may be, it will in time become an overemphasis, and the congregation will come to expect only that for which the preacher has become known. And so by such a methodology, congregations are denied the opportunity to wrestle, for example, with the mind-stretching, soul-stirring doctrine of election.
Others have never examined the issue of spiritual gifts, have never managed to consider controversial subjects like homosexuality, the role of women, or the future of Israel. And if you and I will commit ourselves to exposition of Scripture that is systematic in its pattern, then we won't allow our congregations to do that. It forces us to deal with the whole Bible. And the corollary to that is that it provides a balanced diet. Expository preaching assures the congregation of enjoying a balanced diet. This is just the reverse of the previous point. It is exposition which constantly affirms the priority and the sufficiency of the text.
And when we do that, we prevent imbalances from taking place. Not that the teaching of the Bible should lack variety. There is an inherent variety in the Bible itself, and expositional preaching didn't be limited to exhaustive and exhausting studies through books of the Bible. We can still be expository while doing character studies, or a series on the parables, or in Luke, or even on key Christian doctrines.
And then just one other thing. The great value of expository preaching for me is that it eliminates Saturday night fever. Expository preaching liberates the preacher from the pressure of last minute preparation on Saturday night. Our congregations at the same time don't approach the church asking themselves, I wonder what the minister will preach about today. And at the same time, the pastor is freed from facing the same question, I wonder what I will preach about today.
And facing it with painful, relentless regularity. From a purely pragmatic perspective, that alone is enough to convince me of the value of expository preaching. If there were no other reason at all, I would still do it for that reason.
As a pragmatist, I would do it. And I am in awe of the individuals who tell me that Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, they start all over again, and they put their head down and determine just where it is they're going next week. Now, it's good, incidentally, to take breaks in the course of series of expositions, particularly if they're peculiarly long.
Every so often to interrupt a series and address something else, still in an expositional way, but just to change the tone a little. If there's something happens that turns the nation in a particular direction, we may choose to deal with that. My approach to things is that when the bird flies into the room and the whole congregation goes to the bird, then you better include the bird in your proclamation.
So there is a flexibility that we possess, that we're not slaves to our systems. That is very different, however, from the familiar picture of a pastor in his study on a Saturday evening with his hair all disheveled, surrounded by balls of paper, each of which represents a sermon idea that refused to be born. And you've got that classic thing that all of us have cut out from Leadership Magazine years ago, where you've got that picture of the man who's standing forward at the podium, and he's saying, and we're now waiting to hear with great anticipation what our dear brother, Begg, has upon his heart from God, what he is so faithfully prepared to deliver to us today.
And then it cuts back, and the guy's got his pad in front of him, and he's got all these various sermon titles that he's still scribbling on, things like, Will Dogs Be in Heaven? And he's got that scrub of that. He's got something like, How Many Elect Are There? And he's got that knocked out.
Who are the 144,000? He's got that all out. And frankly, he doesn't have a clue what he's doing, and the guy's saying, we're greatly waiting for the God to speak to us, or the thing.
And the poor soul doesn't know where he is. Well, you know, Spurgeon came perilously close to that, didn't he? Listen to Spurgeon. To me, still, I must confess, my text selection is a very great embarrassment. I confess that I frequently sit hour after hour praying and waiting for a subject, and that this is the main part of my study.
Now, if you've been there, you know what a tyranny that is. Well, I don't know if I can, you know, I don't know if I can preach that. I don't know if I can preach that.
We're not doing any study of the Bible. We're waiting for some, you know, divine effusion that will tell us that this passage is right. So you know, you've been through 64 of the books of the Bible, and it still hasn't happened. And you know that if it doesn't happen in the next two, and you're hoping that it doesn't happen in Revelation, that you're going to have to go back and start in Genesis again.
Or maybe you're going to do the whole random thing. You know? And then you're going to give it, and the Lord moved my heart just last evening. Moved your heart.
Should have moved your house. That is the main part of my study. Much hard labor have I spent in manipulating topics. This is Spurgeon ruminating upon points of doctrine, making skeletons out of verses, and then burying every bone of them in the catacombs of oblivion.
Which is where a bunch of our material should be, incidentally. Sailing on and on over leagues of broken water till I see the red lights, and make sail direct to the desired haven. What a genius that he could describe his confusion in such poetic terms, you know? He can make even fouling up sound like something you want to do, you know?
I believe that almost any Saturday in my life I make enough outlines of sermons if I felt the liberty to preach them to last me for a month. But I no more dare to use them than an honest mariner would run to shore a cargo of contraband goods. Now, Spurgeon was unique. Probably a genius. So we're not going to allow his pattern to overturn the points that we've made.
At least I hope not. In this, though, let us remind ourselves of this, that God does not come upon methods, but he comes upon men. And even when our methods may not give the appearance of being the best or the wisest, he may still come upon us for the glory of his name, for the good of his people. I've often imagined, and I think some of you would probably concur with this, I've often imagined what it would have been like to be able to turn to volumes of Spurgeon's consecutive exposition rather than to the volumes of the collected sermons that he has left to us as rich as they are. I wish actually that somebody could have got to Spurgeon and said to him, hey, you know, maybe what you ought to do is just try the Book of James and do that for the next week while. Don't sit up into the early hours of Sunday morning wondering what is God's word for the moment. It is all God's word, and this is the moment.
So bring it to bear. Spurgeon actually, and we'll close here, serves as a reminder to us that the best of men are men at best, and that there has only been one perfect preacher ever, and that was Jesus himself. Effective preaching will glorify God and point people back to his word, to all of his word, on the difficult parts. You're listening to Truth for Life, that is Alistair Begg addressing the importance of expository preaching. This month is Pastor Appreciation Month, and we have compiled for you an assortment of books and studies, articles that will help pastors with Christ-centered preaching, along with many of the challenges pastors face in church leadership.
Visit truthforlife.org slash pastor to browse through our recommended resources that we have curated specifically for you. Most of us love receiving gifts, but it's easy for us to forget that God is ultimately the giver of all good gifts, and we can fail to direct our gratitude appropriately to him. Well, the book we want to recommend to you today helps us acknowledge this more fully. It's called The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks. The Grumbler's Guide is a great book to help you refocus and redirect your thankfulness to God, not only for what he provides, but for who he is. Request your copy of the book The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. We've learned about the importance of expository preaching today, so how do we get people to listen to that kind of preaching? Alistair Begg has some practical pointers tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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