It was on his second missionary journey around AD 50 when the Apostle Paul visited Corinth, a city steeped in sin and in desperate need of the Savior. Paul preached Christ, reasoning in the synagogue week after week and then preaching to the Gentiles. Many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized, including Crispus the leader of the synagogue (Acts 18:1–8, 1 Corinthians 1:14–16).
There was always the threat of persecution, but the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision charging him, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” After a year and a half of “teaching the Word of God among them,” Paul departed for Ephesus (Acts 18:9–11, 19), leaving behind a church gifted in the Spirit yet tempted by the flesh (1 Corinthians 1:6–7).
One would imagine a church with such beginnings and such patient tutelage from Paul would be thriving and growing. But within five years, the church at Corinth became carnal. They were tolerating sin, divided among themselves, and doctrinally confused. Paul wrote to address their sin and to answer questions by way of the epistle of 1 Corinthians.
In chapter 1, Paul revealed their core issue: they were displacing the authority of Scripture in their lives. The Grecian culture was formed around human philosophy. Corinth had a number of conflicting philosophies, none of which provided an absolute view of truth. It was evident from the report from the House of Chloe that this cultural influence had pervaded the church. The practice of adding human philosophy to truth was causing division.
It was speaking into this need that Paul proclaimed he was not ashamed of biblical preaching. He brought them back into focus by reminding them that “…the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). They didn’t need another opinion or philosophy; they needed the Word of God to do its powerful transformational work. As the world and our society fall victim to sin, we’re instructed in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” The antidote today to Corinthian-like carnality and confusion is biblical, expository preaching.
Consider three aspects of this approach.
Lift Up the Cross
Biblical, expository preaching is God’s way of lifting up the cross and equipping God’s people for life and godliness.
Like Corinth, our culture is antagonistic to authority. Some preachers have responded to this by a willingness to communicate without the authority of the Word of God. They desire to become “unhitched” to Scripture and speak without the foundation of biblical authority. This has resulted in carnality and confusion.
Without Scripture, preaching becomes repackaged human philosophy with self-help therapy and management principles. It results in people remaining servants of sin and their own selfishness (Isaiah 40:8; Romans 6:19–22; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 2:15).
On the other side of the spectrum, when a preacher forces his own opinion on Scripture and calls it “Bible preaching,” he is also falling prey to a philosophy that is unhitched from biblical authority. This preaching becomes repackaged human philosophy with societal reform and moralistic principles.
Both errors are to be avoided, and both are answered by biblical, expository preaching.
Expose the Word of God
Biblical, expository preaching is to expose the Word of God and bring it to bear in the lives of our hearers.
Some people think of expository preaching as only being word studies. In reality, expository preaching is opening and explaining God’s Word. That certainly includes understanding individual words in their context, but the larger point is that we are rightly dividing and correctly applying what Scripture actually says.
And if you feel concern that expository preaching will limit people’s understanding of or willingness to submit to the authority of Scripture, then you don’t understand the power of God’s Word. After all, it is biblical preaching that gives the means to make morality possible—through the cross of Jesus Christ. To quote again from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18, from a human standpoint, “the preaching of the cross is…foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
H. A. Ironside said it well: “To add to His Word is but to pervert it. Neither tradition, nor the voice of the church, nor yet fancied superior intellectual illumination, can complete that which is already perfect—the revelation of the mind of God in His Holy Word.”
We aren’t called just to preach, but to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). Our message is either from the text, or forced upon it. G. Campbell Morgan known, as the “Prince of Expositors,” rightly described a biblical sermon as “the text repeated more fully.”
Explain and Apply
Biblical, expository preaching is both explanation and application.
Biblical preaching is not merely theoretical. If we preach Scripture for knowledge only, there is no reason to preach. We must both accurately explain the text and accurately apply it. Otherwise, how will those who listen be both hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1:22)?
Certainly we rely on the Holy Spirit to apply His Word in the hearts of hearers. But as preachers, we must not shirk our duty or forget that He has called us to expound through application as well. This is the pattern that Ezra gave us in Nehemiah 8 as he read the Scripture, interpreted the Scripture, and applied the Scripture: “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: … So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:5, 8).
We recently held an Expositors Bible Conference at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Wilson, North Carolina, where we modeled and mentored in biblical, expository preaching. We opened the conference with a quote from Pastor J. D. Howell of First Baptist Church in Bridgeport, MI: “I am convinced that one of the best ways to communicate the Word of God is through clear, simple expository preaching; preaching that foundationally explains concepts found in the text of Scripture and brings clear and practical application from that foundation. This method is the antithesis of forcing one’s opinions on Scripture but instead allows the Word of God to do its powerful transformational work. This brings to forefront the Word of God which is authoritative, pierces through my hardness, and discerns the thoughts and intents of my heart.”
In times like these, we need more of God’s truth. Studying the Scriptures accurately is vital to applying His truth to our lives as we seek to become more like our Savior.
When Paul was initially at Corinth, the Lord Jesus encouraged him to “speak, and hold not thy peace” (Acts 18:9). He responded in obedience by faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God. May we strive to model the same in our churches and never be ashamed of biblical preaching.