The modern pulpit has been hijacked. At many times throughout history, pulpits have been filled with the preaching of the Word of God, but now they are often filled with the shifting opinions of men. The thrust of the problem in much of the preaching we see is the pervasiveness of weightless sermons devoid of biblical truth. Churchgoers are consistently fed a steady diet of junk food, which leaves their souls emaciated. This is a tragic thing.
It is from the pulpit that God speaks to His people through the preaching of His Word. When His voice is removed and replaced with another, the church is quickly led astray. History bears witness to the fact that when the church loses its influence, the culture suffers and degrades. But worse than the damage to culture is the absolute tragic end of souls who meet their demise without ever being reconciled to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church must be willing to herald God’s Word unashamed, and to do this, we must be willing to give our pulpits to God.
Through the years, much ink has been spilled on the topic of preaching. It is not my goal to exhaust this topic or to explore every element of it, but instead, to note three main characteristics that must exist in faithful preaching. If I may, let me submit that to give God the pulpit, we must preach biblically, expositionally, and passionately.
When Paul told Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2), he did not mean that Timothy was to make cursory references to obscure verses in his preaching, but rather, that he would make the Scriptures the source and the focus of his preaching. In other words, the content and main point of our preaching must be the special self-revelation of the person of God, which is found only in the Bible. Otherwise, it cannot be called biblical.
So, what does biblical preaching mean?
It means the Bible is our primary, secondary, and tertiary source. It means that the main idea of our sermons is not based on a TV show we recently watched or a chapter of a book we just read. It means that we are endeavoring to deliver to God’s people something from His Word. The Bible is our main text—the authoritative source of our sermons. Bryan Chapell is correct when he says, “Without the authority of the Word, preaching becomes an endless search for topics, therapies, and techniques that will win approval, promote acceptance, advance a cause, or soothe worry.”1
Further, our supporting texts are also from the Scriptures. The best way to interpret the Bible is not by bringing in some other authority. To do so would be to undermine the Bible’s inherent authority. We must understand and interpret Scripture with Scripture. This is called synthesis.
When we employ the method of synthesis—Scripture interpreting Scripture—we are also able to derive biblical doctrine. We do not derive Christian doctrine—our theology—ultimately from religious tradition, but from carefully interpreted, rightly synthesized verses of Holy Scripture.
The ultimate goal of biblical preaching is to drive believers back into the Word of God, which cleanses and nourishes them (Eph. 5:26–30). Understanding the Scriptures is the key to understanding God, because in them, we see the revelation of Jesus Christ, who is Himself “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). The way to ignite the church is to give them the unadulterated Word of God, because in His Word, we encounter the words and works of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Bible must be preached from our pulpits. As John MacArthur writes, “If there is to be a reformation of the pulpit, and a revival again in the church, it will only come about through God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered preaching. This and this alone is the kind of preaching God blesses—biblical preaching.”2
Expositional (or expository) preaching has gotten a bad rap through the years. Oftentimes, it is assumed that expository preaching means dry ninety-minute sermons or laboring in a single book of the Bible for decades or droning on with Hebrew and Greek word studies and tenses. But these are merely gross characterizations that do not really reflect the true heart of expository preaching.
At its most basic level, expository preaching starts from the biblical text and “exposes” its full meaning to the hearers. In fact, you might even call it “exploratory” preaching—the preacher endeavors to plumb the depths of a given verse or passage, unwilling to relent until a satisfactory understanding is attained. In their helpful book Preach, Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert define it this way: “Expositional preaching is preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.”3 Or, as J.I. Packer writes, it is simply “letting texts talk.”4 By committing himself to exposition, the preacher is deferring to God’s perfect judgment, allowing Him to speak to His own people. On this point, Bryan Chapell writes:
The expository preacher opens the Bible before God’s people and dares to say, “I will explain to you what this passage means.” The words are not meant to convey one’s own authority but rather humbly confess that the preacher has no better word than God’s word. Thus, the preacher’s mission and calling is to explain to God’s people what the Bible means.5
Expository preaching is an exercise in constantly asking God, “What do You want to say to Your people?” It’s an exploration of the very mind of God. Faithful exposition humbly unleashes a barrage of questions and seeks answers from the Scriptures. It is a relentless search for the divine truth contained in the inspired text. As John Stott eloquently writes, “The expositor pries open what appears closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed.”6
Expositional preaching and teaching is the discipline of delivering to the saints what was passed down from the Lord Jesus and subsequently from His Apostles. We see that even the first church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). If the command is to make disciples who are obedient to Christ’s commands, the only natural way to do it is to continuously expose them to the unadulterated biblical text.
Upon leaving the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul was confident that he had faithfully discharged his stewardship, stating, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26–27). It is the job of every preacher to stand before the people of God and faithfully discharge his ministry of reading, teaching, and exhorting with the Scriptures. As New England pastor Jonathan Edwards declared, “The primary importance of the pastor is to be an expository preacher.”7
According to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The preacher must never be dull, he must never be boring. . . . A ‘dull preacher’ is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher.”8 In fact, if a sermon is flat or boring, it’s not the Bible’s fault. It is the fault of the preacher. Further, Lloyd-Jones declared that true biblical preaching is “theology on fire.” However, so few preachers preach as though their hearts are burning within them. Why?
Passion is borne out of the soul, not out of the lungs. Louder preaching doesn’t equal better preaching. At best, a loud yet dispassionate preacher comes across as insincere, if not angry. The listeners of this kind of preaching will only feel yelled at, and they will likely shut down. From where, then, does the passion to preach originate? It radiates from the heart of God’s servant as it burns with passion for the Lord.
The passion to preach faithfully comes from the conviction of the preacher. A passionate preacher is a man who is fully convinced and convicted by the Word of God. The preacher must first be transformed at the heart level before he can preach God’s Word with passion. John Stott wrote: “The essential secret [of preaching] is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions. In other words, theology is more important than methodology.”9
A preacher who is himself engaged only in the ritualistic exercise of instructing others has bypassed the essential step of first being transformed by the Word of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has said, “[The] preacher’s first, and the most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon.”10 The Apostle Paul warns of this when he writes: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26–27). The danger is that the preacher will himself fail to be transformed by the very Scripture he is preaching.
Not only will an unconvinced, unconvicted, passionless preacher condemn himself, but he will also stunt the spiritual growth of the church. Mark Dever writes:
To charge someone with the spiritual oversight of a church who doesn’t in practice show a commitment to hear and to teach God’s Word is to hamper the growth of the church, in essence allowing it to grow only to the level of the pastor. The church will slowly be conformed to the pastor’s mind rather than to God’s mind.”11
A preacher who is himself committed to the Word of God in his own life will easily gush forth passion for it, because it holds a central place in his soul. Self-centered pastors think the church revolves around them, but Bible-centered pastors believe that all of life revolves around God and His revealed Word. When this is their focus, they cannot help but set off the sprinklers with their white-hot passion.
Preach the Word
In the spirit of 2 Timothy 4:2, I encourage you—no, I implore you—to preach the Word. There is nothing that will originate from within our brains or from TV or from the radio that will accomplish what needs be accomplished in Christ’s church. We must never underestimate the dynamic power of the Word of God when it is rightly divided through faithful study and set on fire through passionate preaching. Dever exhorts: “Let a good expositional ministry be established and watch what happens. Forget what the experts say. Watch hungry people have their lives transformed as the living God speaks to them through the power of His Word.”12
All the church growth strategies and clever communication techniques will never manufacture what God produces organically. The only way lost people are saved, weak believers are made strong, and mature saints are exhorted, is through biblical, expositional, and passionate preaching.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 13, 2019.
- Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1994), 32. ↩︎
- John MacArthur, from the foreword to Steven J. Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 2013), 9. ↩︎
- Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H, 2012), 36. ↩︎
- Quoted in Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching (Chicago: Moody, 2003), 19. ↩︎
- Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1994), 30. ↩︎
- John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982), 126. ↩︎
- Lawson, Famine in the Land, 34. ↩︎
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1971), 87. ↩︎
- Stott, Between Two Worlds, 92. ↩︎
- Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers, 166. ↩︎
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 42. ↩︎
- Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 54. ↩︎