Thursday, September 26, 2013

EDITED Thoughtful Thursday: Exposition of Scripture

After some wise counsel and prayer I've decided to red-pen this post for my benefit and yours.  The editing has happened in my heart...but wouldn't benefit you if I didn't, here it is...

I've been listening to a lot of sermons and in person...and I know what I'm looking for, and why.  Top of the list:  Exposition of Scripture.

Expository preaching involves the exposition, or comprehensive explanation, of the Scripture; that is, expository preaching presents the meaning and intent of a biblical text, providing commentary and examples to make the passage clear and understandable. The word exposition is related to the word expose — the expository preacher’s goal is simply to expose the meaning of the Bible, verse by verse. 

It is very different from topical or textual preaching.

When a pastor preaches on a topic, he must first choose the topic and then find a passage in the Bible that addresses that topic.  Generally, he refers here, there and everywhere.  None of the passages are really studied in depth but they all support the topic.  I'm not saying there is never a time for a topical sermon, but I think they should be rare.  It opens up all too many doors for pride and pet projects.  This is obviously an easier way to prepare...especially since many topical series come pre-packaged with catchy themes and such.  I find myself having to pay close attention during topical sermons because I fear the lack of study involved and find myself watching for the pitfalls that are, I feel, inevitable.  
I really shouldn't be accusing anyone of pride here.  At the most, lack of imagination.  I myself get stuck on pet projects and hot button issues...and I'm sure teaching the church must be a daunting and humbling task.  My biggest beef with topical sermons is that by not preaching through whole books there are important things that they will never get around to preaching about.

Please note: A topical message can be done well if a person chooses one passage to preach and does that expositionally. For example, the topic is the resurrection of Christ, so they might preach a thorough message on 1 Corinthians 15.
Which leads me to segue into textual sermons, where the pastor uses verses to make a point without examining the true intent of the passage.  I once heard someone say that they'd always wanted to preach a sermon on coffee...and then proceeded to abuse God's Word to make it work.  However, the ridiculous aside, this is always taking Isaiah 66 and the beginning of Timothy and using it to preach about motherhood.  Nopity, nope, nope.

I got a bit confused here.  Here's how it was explained to me...A textual message is tougher to define because it has been used in different ways in different eras, but the primary characteristic is that it takes too little a bit of scripture to look at. Typically this means he reads a few verses and then preaches a whole sermon of devotional thoughts that were prompted by those verses. In an expository sermon the preacher chooses a passage that includes a whole thought and that thought becomes the central point of the message, but in textual preaching a word or phrase becomes the focus quite apart from the bigger context of the verse that is being used.

Typically the text in the textual message is a jumping off place that suggests the things that the person wants to preach. For example, "God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" is frequently preached out of context and takes on a lot of emotional references that were not intended by the original author in the context.

Here's the problem as I see topical and textual preaching, the Bible passage is used as supporting material for the topic. In expository sermons, the Bible passage is the topic, and support materials are used to explain and clarify it.  I found this nifty quote by C. Campbell Morgan who was evidently a really amazing expositor of the Word, "The sermon is the text repeated more fully."
I think that Pastors that are dedicated to truly expositing the Word of God show that they believe the following:

1) The Bible is God’s Word.  It is pure and true and can be trusted.

"The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6

"The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous."  Psalm 19:9

"Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them."  Psalm 119:40

2) Men need God's wisdom to understand the Word.

"What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.  The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”  But we have the mind of Christ."  1 Cor. 2:12-16

3) The preacher is subject to the text, not the other way around. Scripture is the authority, and its message must be presented honestly, apart from personal bias.  He is kept honest and humble by following closely to God's Word and not his own opinions.

4) The preacher’s job is to clarify the text and cause his audience to think and change.

With those things in his mind, I think I'm more likely to find a humble shepherd.  He'll not be so interested in hearing my praise as he is hearing that I am walking away better able to understand and apply those Scriptures to my life.


Barbara H. said...

A former pastor who was a master expositor used to say that when he first started preaching, he would approach a passage asking himself, "What can I say about this passage?" But after a while he realized the question he should be asking is, "What does this passage say?" That makes all the difference in the world, and, unfortunately, a lot of sermons and books and devotionals seem to address the first question rather than the second.

I much prefer expository preaching, too. We get so much more out of the passage when it is explained in context. Wrenching it out of its context can dim if not obscure the meaning entirely.

Nonnie said...

I agree with you. Here's something I read just yesterday.