As a pastor, I follow the sequential model of expositional preaching. Meaning that the overwhelming amount of my sermons are going book by book through verses of the Bible. This pattern of preaching is grounded in the conviction that God gave us the Scripture to understand in context. Philippians is a distinct letter written to a specific church and the best way to understand its contents is to work through it as it was written, line by line. No doubt, there are appropriate times and occasions for stand-alone sermons, but I am absolutely convinced that sequential exposition is incredibly powerful for the health of the local church.
Yet, if we are not careful we could almost forget that the practice of sequential exposition not only benefits the congregation but also blesses the pastor’s soul. Time spent studying God’s Word changes a person, not just the church member, but also the elder who preaches the Scripture. Understanding that fact, I want to outline a few of the personal blessings I have seen from the practice of expositional preaching in my life so far opening up the Word.
Context . . . And More Context
Perhaps the biggest impact in my life of sequentially studying books of the Bible to preach is the knowledge of Christ and His Word which has come by seeing the entire book unfold. It is one thing to preach a sermon out of a book like Colossians. In fact, a mere cursory glance at it would communicate to someone this book has a dominant focus on Christ, a truth evident from its opening chapter. Understanding the context of the book as a whole allows one to see an even deeper truth. Paul is combatting false religion that has an appearance of wisdom but is of no value (see Colossians 2:16-23). This error is specifically targeting the church. So, as the Apostle points to the Lord Jesus Christ, He is showing the sufficiency of the Lord in direct contrast to the error of this world. Note Colossians 2:3 where Paul says of the Lord, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).” In other words, Christ and His special revelation (Scripture) is the sufficient foundation to live all of life to God’s glory. You cannot divorce any aspect of your life or thought apart from Christ. We must be thoroughly committed to Him in everything for He is the source of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Conversely, Paul says of the false religion:
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,” -Colossians 2:18
The false religion was being driven by so-called “visions” claimed by men filled with pride simply wanting to puff themselves up. Clearly, the contrast is that true and faithful living must be rooted in the Lord. Error comes from false foundations such as the one Paul lists. Understanding the context helps us to see that not only is Christ glorious, He is the treasure chest of wisdom to whom we must flee while at the same time we avoid the flashy fake gold of erroneous sources like the false religion facing the Colossians. Preaching and studying in context has helped me immensely to pick up on points such as this one!
Dealing With Difficult Doctrines
A second blessing of sequential exposition is the fact that you must deal with difficult points in the text of Scripture. This reality comes into play in two different senses. First, as an expositor, I have had to unpack sections of the Word that take more effort to interpret than others. Those passages where you must run down Old Testament cross-references, dive into the historical context, and really “put your boots on” so to speak to go to work and understand the text truly stretch you in every way. If you do not preach sequentially through books of the Bible, then you might simply skip over such passages in order to not have to mine through such work. However, that is a pivotal error not only because part of God’s Word is not being preached and it is detrimental to the church, but it is also damaging to the growth of the pastor himself. If I am going to preach through Matthew, then I am going to have to understand Matthew 24 which will have a direct impact on my view of the end times (eschatology). Diving into that realm helps me grow in Christ as I increase in understanding His Word.
There is another sense in which sequential exposition forces a pastor to deal with “difficult” texts and it is the matter of controversy. The reality is that some passages are more controversial in our culture than others. Preaching on the feeding of the 5,000 will likely not be as disputed a topic as diving into biblical teaching on issues like homosexuality, divorce, church discipline, or the role of civil government. Yet, because I am a sequential expositor, I simply move from line to line unpacking what the Bible says regardless of if it is something which shall generate controversy or not. Frankly, the primary point is to make clear what the text says and show how that applies for the glory of the Lord. Going through books of Scripture verse-by-verse should bring a pastor to speak clearly on these points because the Word of God speaks clearly. It will inform his worldview on controversial issues as well as that of his congregation.
While I cannot elaborate on all the blessings of sequential exposition, I can highlight the most important. The knowledge of God worked into the pastor’s soul by the verse-by-verse pouring of divine truth into his heart is of paramount importance. Constantly coming to the text in a manner which rigorously forces you to unpack every bit of context and every ounce of truth you can. It puts you in a position where you must gaze upon the perfection of God, be transformed by Him, then go out and proclaim His truth.
An expositor committed to teaching and preaching the entire Word of God will come across truths about God in both the Old and New Covenant Scriptures that others who only preach passages on a whim will not. They will be confronted with the justice of God as expressed not only in the Pentateuch but also in the minor prophets. In the pages of Scripture, they shall see God’s changeless nature not only in the epistles, but also in the book of Malachi. Preaching over the entire Bible shall reveal to them more and more about God Himself.
Conclusion: The Blessing of Exposition
This post is not intended to be a list of reasons why you should preach expositionally, rather it is to show you some of the blessings I have personally known from it. I am grateful for the opportunity to preach the Word of God and minister in the local church. More than that, I am blessed to actually know God through Christ and learn of Him according to His Word. My prayer is that the church and pastors both shall grow in a commitment to the Scripture so that we might grow in our knowledge of God and understand how to live faithfully for Him. Let us unpack the Scripture one word at a time, one line at a time, and one verse at a time that Christ might be exalted and lifted high!