Why We Dislike Expository Preaching
One thing is clear from reading Arminius, he was an expositor of the Word of God. It was, in fact, Arminius’ preaching through the book of Romans that he first encountered his first controversy as he begin to preach through Romans 7. Arminius taught, contrary to the teachers of his day, that the man in Romans 7 was not a saved man but was lost. He was a moral man under the law of God who was lost because the law could not save him. This led to Arminius’ disagreements with various other preachers and theologians of his day as they took exception with his exegesis of Romans 7. The disagreement would erupt into the Synod of Dort following Arminius’ early death. My point here is that Arminius was preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. This was the common teaching form of the day for true Christians of that era. They had learned this from other great reformers before them including Martin Luther and John Calvin. Both Luther and Calvin were expository preachers. Calvin’s commentaries are from his preaching.
Yet today many preachers of the Word which would include both Arminians and Calvinists dislike expository preaching. I know few true expositors of the Word of God. The more prominent expositors are all Calvinists. Of course, we Arminians do have expositor preachers out there but they are not in the forefront like Calvinists such as John MacArthur or John Piper. Dr. Vic Reasoner, the editor for the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, is a strong proponent of expository preaching. Many Calvary Chapel brothers including Chuck Smith and Skip Heitzig are both expositors and both lean Arminian.
My cry is that God would restore expository preaching. Even among house churches, we need verse by verse teaching from anointed slaves of God. God has no doubt given us Bible teachers (Ephesians 4:11-16) and these teachers should be teaching verse by verse through the Word of God. Expository preaching, unlike other methods of preaching, focuses the teacher and the hearer upon the Word of God. Expository preaching helps the hearers learn how to interpret the Bible and teaches them how to hear from God for themselves (John 8:47). Expository preaching glorifies God because it focuses the teacher to focus on the Lord as they work through the Word of God since Jesus is the focus of Scripture (John 20:31; Colossians 1:15-20). Expository preaching keeps the focus on God, His kingdom, His salvation, His glory, His Word, and His promises instead of giving us cute stories from the teacher or personal and subjective experiences from the teacher. The teacher often is the focus when expository preaching is discarded.
So why don’t we like expository preaching in the Church today? The answers vary but let me give my own thoughts.
1. Our Flesh (Romans 3:10-18).
Expository preaching is a flesh killer. The Word of God cuts deep (Hebrews 4:12) and expository preaching takes the scalpel of the Word of God and it cuts us open before all (Hebrews 4:13). The Word of God sanctifies (John 17:17) and sanctification sometimes hurts our pride as God exposes our sins. The Word of God reveals our true feelings and true heart before God. The Word of God shows us that we are desperate, wicked sinners before a holy God (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We simply don’t like that. We want to hear that its “our best life now.” We want to hear “positive and encouraging” messages and “talks” instead of being cut by the Word of God. The last thing we want is to show up to our assemblies and hear a word from God that causes us to repent. We don’t like that.
2. Our Lack of Discipline (2 Timothy 2:15).
Topical preaching is easy. Just pick a subject and get a few Bible verses to back it up and fill it in with your own stories and illustrations and boom, you’ve got a topical sermon. Not so with expository preaching. Expository preaching makes you wrestle with the text. Expository preaching forces you to actually labor over the text and, at times, even weep over the text. Expository preaching makes the Bible teacher work through the verses. All of them. Not just the ones that you like. Expository preaching means you must deal even with difficult passages. Why? Because it is the Word of God! From Genesis to Revelation, the duty of the teacher is to proclaim all of God’s Word and not just what we feel is right or what we deem necessary for today. All of Scripture is given to us for our salvation and our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
3. Our Loss of God’s Glory In All Things (Philippians 1:20-21).
We live for ourselves. We don’t live for God. We don’t live with a focus on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). We don’t live as if this were our last day on the earth (James 4:13-17). We live focused on our needs, our comforts, our desires, our passions, our goals. Sadly, the topical driven sermon often feeds that view. Topical preaching appeals to the flesh because it means that the preaching is appealing to our flesh. I know that not all topical sermons are this way but a great many sermons I hear today are not at all focused on the Word of God but instead on the teacher or the hearer. The focus should be on the glory of God! Our aim should be to exalt Jesus in all that we say or do (Colossians 3:16-17). Jesus should be our passion and our focus. He is also our reward (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus is the one that we are seeking to please our in our Bible teaching and not people or anyone else. When Jesus is our focus, the issue of whether people will like our teachings or not is irrelevant.
4. Bible Teachers Are Not Psalm 1:1-3 People.
Psalm 1:1-3 says,
1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Are you filing your mind with the Word of God each and every day (John 8:31-32)? Are you faithfully opening the Scriptures and seeking to understand them to teach them faithfully to the people of God as Ezra did (Nehemiah 8:8)? Do you spend time reading and meditating on the Word of God so that you can teach the people of God the truths of Scripture knowing that James 3:1-2 is for us? All disciples of Jesus should abide in His teachings but the faithful Bible expositor should spend hours working through the text of Scripture as they seek to understand it and apply it to their life and the lives of their hearers.
5. We Have Lost Our Sense of 2 Timothy 4:2-3.
Our passion before God should be to first exalt Him and then to prepare God’s people for service (Ephesians 4:11-16) and to protect them from theological errors (Acts 20:28). 1 Timothy 4:16 applies to us as it says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” As we abide in the Word of God, we can be sure that God will guard our hearts from sin (Psalm 119:11) and the Word of God will enable us to faithfully proclaim His truths to the people of God. In this way, we are faithful to protect people from the errors of 2 Timothy 4:3. Do you desire this Bible teacher? Do you desire to protect the flock of God from error? I appeal to you to preach the Word of God verse by verse and you’ll be amazed at how much doctrine you will have to teach and the error in our thinking is that people will not love theology. They will. It feeds the soul (Matthew 4:4).
Expository preaching is not popular. Some churches do proclaim the Word of God verse by verse but they lack unction from heaven. We don’t need dry and stale preaching. We need anointed expository preaching that exalts Jesus Christ above all else. I don’t want a dry lecture. I want to hear from a passionate man of God what the Lord has said in His Word. We need Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, prayed up men of God who will be faithful in example and speech in the proclamation of the Word of God.