Expositional preaching at its simplest is preaching that is focused on explaining the meaning of Scripture in its historical and grammatical context. Expositional preaching involves explaining what the Bible says to a contemporary audience that is likely unfamiliar with the cultural and historical settings that the passage was written in.
The word exposition simply means “a setting forth or explanation.” So expositional preaching is the explanation of Scripture that is based upon diligent study and careful exegesis of a passage. It is the primary call of the pastor or preacher as we see in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”
Expositional preaching is important to those who believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, which simply means that the Scriptures are the very Word of God. As God’s divinely inspired Word, the Scriptures need to be proclaimed and explained in the context in which they were written.
Simply reading Psalm 119 and understanding that Scripture is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) should be enough for us to understand the importance and value of expositional preaching. In Psalm 119 we see many of the characteristics of God’s Word, but most of all this chapter should help us understand the importance of knowing what the Bible says and what it means, which is the goal of expositional preaching. If we do not understand the Bible, we cannot follow it, nor can it be a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
The goal of expositional preaching is to declare precisely what a passage of Scripture says. So the sermon outline of an expository sermon will have gotten its main points and sub-points directly from the text of Scripture the preacher is expounding or explaining.
There should be two main goals of expositional preaching. First is the goal to discover and explain the original, historic, and grammatical meaning of the passage, or, to put it another way, “God’s intended meaning.” This is the divinely inspired message that God had for the original audience. The second is closely related—to help people apply to their lives the truths revealed in the passage. Some discount the ability of expositional preaching to address the needs of today’s churchgoers, but that overlooks the fact that “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The power to transform lives is found only in the Word of God as applied by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men and women. Great presentation is good but it is not life-changing. While there is a place for topical preaching, it needs to supplement expositional preaching, not replace it.
Expositional preaching is important because, when faithfully followed, it results in the full counsel of God being preached. Difficult or controversial subjects cannot be ignored or overlooked as they can with topical preaching. The expositor deals with what the text says, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. It helps avoid taking verses out of context and forces the faithful pastor to give due diligence to controversial and difficult issues and subjects.
Some who want to downplay the importance of expositional preaching say it limits the preacher’s ability to present relevant topics that they believe their congregations need to hear. These critics fail to recognize the effective power of the Word of God, which, when presented in the fullness of its truth, does not come back void (Isaiah 55:11).