Right now I’m preaching through the book of Hosea. I honestly had no idea how tough this book really is until I read through it several times in preparation for this series. I had read the book a few years ago when I was taking Old Testament survey, but it was different then. Then I was reading the book just for familiarity. This time, however, I am reading it in order to preach it. Big difference!
One of the things that I’ve constantly come back to for the purpose of soothing my soul as I’ve dived into this difficult book is my belief that expositional preaching is most glorious to God and most beneficial for the congregation. Expositional preaching is the method of preaching whereby I choose one primary text, and the point of that text becomes the point of my message. Therefore, it’s inductive by nature in that I begin with a text and move toward a preaching point. In other words, I don’t really know what I’m going to preach until I have studied the text. Usually, expositional preaching moves verse by verse through a book of the Bible or a section of a book of the Bible.
The opposite of expositional preaching would be topical preaching. Topical preaching is the method of preaching whereby I choose a preaching point and then find texts to support my point. Therefore, it is deductive by nature in that I begin with a preaching point and move toward textual support. In other words, I really don’t know what texts I’m going to use until I have decided what to preach about. Let me emphasize the word “texts” in my definition of topical preaching. Usually, a topical preacher will pull several Scriptures from all over the Bible to support the point that he’s trying to make.
There is a mediating method of preaching. It’s called, not surprisingly, topical-expositional. Topical-expositional preaching is the method of preaching whereby I choose a general topic to preach about and then find a single primary text that addresses my topic, and the point of that text becomes the point of my message. Therefore, this method begins by being deductive in that I choose a topic and move toward a text but ends up by being inductive in that I then move from the text to a preaching point. Usually, the topical-expositional preacher will cover texts from various books of the Bible as he preaches through the topical series.
I have used all three methods of preaching, and each has its advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion, as I’ve already stated, I believe that expositional preaching is most glorifying to God and most beneficial to a congregation. I guess if I had to rank them, topical-exposition would be second-most, and topical would be third.
Why is expositional preaching most glorifying to God and most beneficial to a congregation? I have five reasons as to why this is so.
First, expositional preaching brings high esteem to the Bible. Everything we say, believe, and do, we want it to be found in the text. This desire explicitly says, “The Bible is authoritative and sufficient.” Furthermore, it encourages the congregation to have their Bibles out and open to the text. All of these things raise in our minds the esteem of the Bible, which glorifies God.
Second, expositional preaching helps insure that what I’m saying is what God says. I’ve heard a lot of men in the past preach around the Bible. What I mean is that they certainly said Christian truth, but they didn’t exactly say what God says. This scenario is okay, but it’s much better to actually preach the Bible, to open it up and declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Naturally, this approach adds instant authority and credibility to the message. The preacher’s not really the one saying it. He’s just showing what God said and where He said it.
Third, expositional preaching keeps me from preaching about my pet peeves and pet doctrines. I’m sure you’ve sat under preaching before where it seemed like the preacher had a bone to pick or an axe to grind. I’ve even sat under preaching that seemed to be addressed to certain individuals. Expositional preaching helps ensure that I don’t bring my pet peeves or grievances into the pulpit to blast away on. I’ve also sat under preaching where it seemed the same doctrine was coming up again and again. Every message seemed to be on the same topic. Expositional preaching helps ensure that I’m preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word and not just my pet doctrines. Again, expositional preaching saves us from pet peeves and pet doctrines because I’m not choosing what to preach on. The text is doing that for me.
Fourth, expositional preaching delivers me from preaching to felt needs. If every week or every sermon planning session I approach my preparation by saying, “What do they need to hear this week?”, is that a bad thing? Well, it’s not on face value. We certainly want to be relevant and preach something that will be beneficial to the congregation, but this type of thinking can be fraught with difficulties. First, I can easily become overwhelmed because there is so much going on in the lives of our people that I simply can’t speak to all the needs in a relevant time frame. Susie’s thinking about aborting her baby. Johnny’s struggling with anger. Joe’s doubting the Scripture’s inerrancy. Jane’s fallen into the heresy of universalism. Which one do I take on first? They all need to hear their message this week! These examples all have a felt need that I feel like I must meet, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are at least as many issues present at any church gathering as there are people. I end up sort of being a fireman who’s hopelessly stomping out fires only to see another one spring up on the other side of the room. Plain and simple, if I’m preaching to felt needs, I get overwhelmed. Second is that preaching to felt needs often downplays the truths that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17); that God will providentially oversee the preaching of His Word so that the message preached is the exact message needed; and that we really don’t know what we need. In short, expositional preaching rests on the sovereignty and wisdom of God.
Fifth and final, expositional preaching causes me to preach hard and controversial texts. If it’s up to me to just choose what passages to preach, I would rarely choose to preach passages that are full of difficulty or are pregnant with the possibility of controversy. Expositional preaching says, “They’re in God’s Word. Preach them anyway!” Again, this idea draws right off of the truth quoted above in 2 Timothy 3:16.
As I look at these five benefits of expositional preaching, I easily conclude that this method is most glorifying to God and most beneficial to a congregation. Topical preaching doesn’t accomplish any of these five. Topical-Expositional affords only the first two benefits. It’s for this reason that I rarely preach a topical sermon, occasionally preach a topical-expositional sermon, and regularly preach expositional sermons.
This brings me back to the book that’s gotten my mind going down this line of thinking—Hosea. It’s hard, but it’s in the Bible and is profitable for the saints of God. I’m approaching it in faith that God will use it in ways that I would never be able to foresee. I’m standing on faith that God’s Word will not return void because the Holy Spirit will take the proclamation of God’s Word and plant it deep in our souls so that in due time it will bear much fruit. May God bless my feeble preaching of Hosea.