A Brick in the Valley


Expository Preaching Should Never Be Boring
June 18, 2007, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Preaching

No sane person wants to sit under preaching that is boring.  So, whenever we encourage people to value expository preaching, we ought to also explain to them why, by definition, expository preaching should not be irrelevant and dull. 

In a sentence, expository preaching should not be boring because it is about showing how God’s timeless truth intersects with life today.  If a particular sermon is just a survey of technical details and a lecture about the Ancient Near East, then that is not expository preaching. 

It is accepted that there is a great deal of preaching that calls itself “expository” that is terribly dull.  Bottle some sermons, and you would have a new general anesthetic.  The problem is not new.  In fact, Spurgeon said:

No [anesthetic] can ever equal some discourses in sleep-giving properties; no human being, unless gifted with infinite patience, could long endure to listen to them, and nature does well to give the victim deliverance through sleep.  I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment that was a slander to the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close.  If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, “My punishment is far greater than I can bear.”[1]

Victor Walter said that there is “an enormous and inexcusable amount of dull and mind-numbing preaching going on in evangelical pulpits today.”[2] 

But, this should not be the case.  In fact, expository preaching should be exactly the opposite.  By definition, expository preaching should be relevant.  Paul tells Titus, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).”  Paul does not tell Titus simply to preach “sound doctrine.”  He says, preach that which “fits” or “is appropriate” or “accords” with sound doctrine.  The Greek word here is prepō/”πρέπω.”  It means “to be fitting, be seemly or suitable.”[3]  Paul is telling Titus to show how sound doctrine fits with life.  Just as culture and fashion teach us what to wear to a formal function, preachers should show their people the kind of behavior that should adorn their lives.[4]  It is through expository preaching that the Word of God is heard and that, “life is thought about and given its most searching and serious analysis.”[5] 

A similar point can be made from 2 Timothy.  As has already been pointed out, Paul reminds Timothy in this section that all Scripture is “God-breathed.”  He goes on to tell Timothy to preach the Word.  In the midst of this section he says that Scripture is “useful” or “profitable.”[6]  The Bible isn’t boring!  It is useful for something.  Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16b that the “profit” from Scripture is for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  These uses are summarized in Table 1. 

Table 1.  Words That Describe the Usefulness of Scripture

Area of Use

Use given in Scripture

Meaning

Doctrine

 διδασκαλία/ teaching “teaching”: “a technical term in the Pastoral Epistles for the doctrinal formulation of teaching.”[7]
ἐλεγμός / rebuking “rebuking/reproof”: used in ancient literature to describe the conviction of a sinner, reproof, and even punishment.[8]  “This is the confrontational work of God’s Word, which reveals the shortfalls in our lives.”[9]

Behavior

ἐπανόρθωσις / correcting “correcting” for the purposes of restoration or improvement.[10]  “. . . the quiet, careful nudging of the Word of God to keep us on track.”[11]
 παιδεία / training “training”: this might also be translated teaching or even disciplining.[12]

Paul further clarifies how preaching should intersect with life in 2 Timothy 4:2.  He tells Timothy to herald[13] the word.  He qualifies this with four different verbs given in the imperative mood.[14]  These are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2.  How Paul tells Timothy to “κηρύσσω”/”herald” in 2 Timothy 4:2

Qualifying Verbs that Tell Timothy How to Preach

Explanation

ἐπίστηθι εὐκαίρως ἀκαίρως /  “be ready in season and out of season” Keep preaching as the priority all the time.
ἔλεγξον̂ / “reprove” The idea of boldly pointing out what needs to be changed and then helping them to change.[15] 
ἐπιτίμησον / “rebuke” Correct.  Jesus uses this word when he talks about correcting a brother in Matthew 18:15-17.
παρακάλεσον ἐν πάσῃ μακροθυμίᾳ καὶ διδαχῃ / “exhort with complete patience and teaching” Exhort or urge.  It communicates the same kind of thing as the previous words but raises the intensity.[16]

The point is that the preached Word of God should change the thoughts and lives of the listeners. [17]  Quite the opposite of being irrelevant, expository preaching must relate to life.  Haddon Robinson describes what happens when expository preaching is at its best.  “When the flint of a person’s problem strikes the steel of the Word of God, a spark ignites that burns in the mind.”[18]  


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Complete & Unabridged, New ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1954), 209.[2] Victor L. Walter, “Preach the Word –Grippingly,” Trinity Journal 2, no. 1 (1981): 49.[3] Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, and Bauer, 861.  “πρέπω” appears seven times in the New Testament: Matthew 3:15, Ephesians 5:3, 1 Corinthians 1:13, 1 Timothy 2:10, Titus 2:1, Hebrews 2:10, 7:26.[4] Throughout Titus there is an emphasis on both doctrine (2:11-14, 3:3-8) and behavior that fits with that sound doctrine (2:2-10, 3:1-2).

[5] David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland : The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 84.  Wells says, “The church should be known as a place where God is worshiped, where the Word of God is heard and practiced, and where life is thought about and given its most searching and serious analysis.”

[6] The Greek Word is “ὠφέλιμος.”  It appears four times in the Greek New Testament.  All four of the occurrences are in the Pastoral Epistles: twice in 1 Timothy 4:8 and once in Titus 3:8 in addition to 2 Timothy 3:16.  It means to be “useful, beneficial, or advantageous for someone or something.”  Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, and Bauer, 1108. 

[7]Mounce points out that the first two of these uses are more doctrinally oriented.  The second two are more focused on behavior. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 46 (Nashville: T. Nelson, 2000), 570.

[8] ἐλεγμός appears only here in the New Testament.  See Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, and Bauer, 314.

[9] Stowell, 130.

[10] Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, and Bauer, 359.

[11] Stowell, 130.

[12] Mounce, 423.

[13] “κηρύσσω”, see footnote 26 on page 22.

[14] In all, there are five imperative verbs in 2 Timothy 4:2 which are in parallel grammatically.  In a logical sense, if not grammatical, the final four serve to qualify “κηρύσσω”/”preach”.  See George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 453-454.  Each of the verbs is in the complexive or constative aorist tense.  Moulton and Turner, 72.  See also, Marshall and Towner, 799.

[15] Fabarez, 8-9.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Mounce, 570.

[18] Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 163.

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Thank you, Chris. I am certainly a supporter of expository preaching which is not dull! For a sermon not to be dull, it needs to be relevant as you say, and it also needs to be well presented, in a way which captures the attention of the audience. And there is nothing better to capture the attention that a humorous illustration. I’m sure some people don’t like the idea of that, but just take a look at how Jesus illustrated his talks with parables often based on humorous exaggeration etc.

Comment by Peter Kirk




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