Mark 1 – Expository Preaching – Part 2
To begin with I want to draw your attention to two passages of Scripture that send chills up and down my spine as I imagine a world where what they express is true…
11“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12
Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 1 Samuel 3:1
So, the question is screaming at us…Is the Word of God “rare” in our day and age?
Think about it…we have tons of Bible’s don’t we? I remember counting how many Bible’s I owned personally and it was staggering. Then add to that how many I have in my home. As I have worked with the people of Russia people have asked me, “Can we send over some Bible’s with you?” and I have to respond, “No, they have plenty of Bible’s”…and the people are shocked but it is true. Bible’s we have…volumes and volumes of them.
So, I ask the question again, “Is the Word of God “rare”?” And the answer to that question is, in one sense no, because we have so many Bibles and resources available to us on the internet, etc. On the other hand the answer is yes. We have the Word of God but does the Word of God have us? What I mean is this: Do we love it, read it, study it, breathe it, live it? Is it proclaimed from our pulpits? Is it truly our guide for living?
And friends, that is what brings us to this very important topic, Expository Preaching.
Listen to what Alistair Begg says…
“Large sections of the church are oblivious to the fact that they are being administered a placebo rather than the medicine they need. They are satisfied with the feeling that it has done them some good, a feeling that disguises the seriousness of the situation. In the absence of bread the population grows accustomed to cake! Pulpits are for preachers. We build stages for performers.” Begg, pg. 11
Those are some sobering thoughts from a pastor that believes wholeheartedly in the exclusivity of expository preaching. Another pastor, John Piper, taking on contemporary preaching from a different angle says,
“Laughter seems to have replaced repentance as the goal of many preachers. Laughter means people feel good. It means they like you. It means you have moved them. It means you have some measure of power. It seems to have all the marks of successful communication – if the depth of sin and the holiness of God and the danger of hell and need for broken hearts is left out of account.” (“The Supremacy of God in Preaching.” Pg. 55-56)
Again, listen to the wisdom and counsel given by C. H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers on this subject…
“Evangelism of the humorous type may attract multitudes but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion.” (“Forgotten Spurgeon” by Ian Murray, pg. 38)
What is interesting is that Spurgeon balances out this statement in his “lectures to students stressing the need for and the proper place of humor in the life and ministry of the Pastor. (Lectures, pg. 212.)
When people are nurtured on cake it is no wonder that they want the icing with all the sprinkles too. You can’t blame them! The fault doesn’t lie on the part of the listener but on the part of the man of God called with the task to “preach the Word.” Either he is going to be faithful to that command or he is not.
This was such a serious matter that Paul’s last few words to Timothy emphasized this priority on the part of the pastor. Here is what he says.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)
It doesn’t take long for mature believers in Christ to look around at Christian culture and see that people are gathering to themselves teachers who will say what they want them to say.
Speaking personally from experience I have been told the following (and this is just a short list):
- “Pastor, you talk way too much about sin!”
- “It seems that every time you preach that you zing us with something. What we need is to be encouraged.”
- “Don’t you know that people’s attention span is only 20 minutes? They can’t listen to you after that, so you have to say all you need to say in that amount of time.”
- “Pastor, it is your job to send us away feeling good about our relationship with God, that we are under grace and with practical tools to face the world we live in.”
Now, my first response to all of those comments is to humbly ask God to reveal too me if there is any way that I am being disobedient to Him in my manner, tone and expression of loving care for the flock. I recognize that I am a sinful servant of God and that my sinfulness can get in the way of God’s people hearing God’s truth. I want to know that and be teachable. That, however, is not what is usually going on.
As I review 2 Timothy 4:1-5 I see expressions like, “people will not endure sound teaching” and the commands to “rebuke” and “reprove” as well as “exhort.” To be faithful with the charge I have been given means that I must take seriously what God is saying to Timothy through Paul and to me through His inspired Word. I have a God-given responsibility to “reprove” and “rebuke” just as much as I have the responsibility to encourage through exhortation.
The problem is, as Alistair Begg identified, that people are used to a diet of cake and don’t have the stomach to “endure” sound teaching. They are offended by it. Ultimately they don’t want to be told “Here is what God is saying to you through His Word!” Oh, they want to hear about all the blessings, the parts about forgiveness & grace, promises and hopes…but when you start to meddle with their souls then they become uncomfortable, angry and are willing to confront the pastor when he is simply doing what God has called him to do.
That calling is to “Preach the Word.” But what does that mean? Well, first, let me highlight what Preaching the Word is not…
- Preaching the Word is not entertaining the crowd so that they will like what you have to say and will respond according to a predetermined plan.
- It is not using the pulpit to fight for political causes. God is not a republican, nor is He a democrat. God is sovereign and sits on His throne.
- It is not conjuring up “new truths” that somehow only you have been able to glean from your own personal study of the Bible. If that is true you may end up making multiple predictions of the Lord’s Judgment and return and ultimately have to live with eternal egg on your face.
- It is not becoming a storyteller. Certainly in preaching the pastor will use stories to illustrate, explain or apply what he is unpacking, but telling a story should not replace or becomes that substitute.
- It is not “being real” in the pulpit. Too often there is a feeling that the preacher needs to be authentic to be sure his hearers know that he is a sinful struggler just like them. But friends, forced authenticity is very inauthentic, isn’t it. At times a faithful Preacher will share how a certain passage or theme is working in his life. That is a natural and, in my opinion, an appropriate use of authenticity. However, when there is a goal of authenticity we run the risk of drawing attention to ourselves and not to Christ.
- It is not sharing the latest pop-psychology. Certainly some psychological insights can be helpful or may give some practical directions, i.e. a person suffering with depression needs to implement arenas of structure in their life, etc. But that is simply not the Gospel or the Word of God.
Expository Preaching, however, looks at the preaching task in a far different manner. It has a different attitude to God and His Word. It approaches the task of preaching, the passage under consideration and the implications contained in that passage with a reverence that is rooted in the charge God has given.
To “preach” is to “Herald” (kerusso in the Greek). It is a word that describes the role of a herald that is a representative of a king. The herald is gathered to the king and is given a message to proclaim to the kingdom. The herald is then tasked by the king to go as his mouthpiece and proclaim that message to the towns and villages of the kingdom. His job is to speak the words of the king! He is not to think about the message, change the words, judge whether the message is harsh, loving, helpful or could be said in a better way. That is simply not his call. He is not the king, but simply a representative of the king and his job is to be sure that the message is communicated clearly.
The preacher, then, is to herald. But what is it that he is called to herald? Paul identifies that as “The Word”, which is really a synonym for other descriptions used in the Pastoral Epistles, i.e. deposit, commandments, sacred writings, scriptures, the faith, the truth, the gospel, etc.
So far we have seen that God has charged the Pastor/Teacher with the incredible task of “Preaching the Word”, but why use the expression Expository Preaching? Isn’t all preaching that uses the Word of God pretty much the same?
I will begin with that thought in my next article…