Expository preaching involves the exposition, or comprehensive explanation, of the Scripture; that is, expository preaching presents the meaning and intent of a biblical text, providing commentary and examples to make the passage clear and understandable. The word exposition is related to the word expose—the expository preacher’s goal is simply to expose the meaning of the Bible, verse by verse.
As a method, expository preaching differs from topical preaching and textual preaching. To prepare a topical sermon, the preacher starts with a topic and then finds a passage in the Bible that addresses that topic. For example, for the chosen topic of “Laziness,” the preacher might refer to Proverbs 15:19 and 18:9 and touch on Romans 12:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10. None of the passages is studied in depth; instead, each is used to support the theme of laziness.
In a textual sermon, the preacher uses a text as a springboard for discussing a particular point. For example, someone could use Isaiah 66:7-13 to preach on motherhood, although motherhood is only peripheral in that text, being merely an illustration of the true theme, which is the restoration of Israel during the Millennial Kingdom.
In both topical and textual sermons, the Bible passage is used as support material for the topic. In expository sermons, the Bible passage is the topic, and support materials are used to explain and clarify it.
To prepare an expository sermon, the preacher starts with a passage of Scripture and then studies the grammar, the context, and the historical setting of that passage in order to understand the author’s intent. In other words, the expositor is also an exegete—one who analyzes the text carefully and objectively. (See our article “What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?”) Once the preacher understands the meaning of the passage, he then crafts a sermon to explain and apply it. The result is expository preaching.
G. Campbell Morgan, pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel and known as “the prince of expositors,” taught that a sermon is limited by the text it is covering. Every word from the pulpit should amplify, elaborate on, or illustrate the text at hand, with a view towards clarity. He wrote, “The sermon is the text repeated more fully.” A sermon’s primary function is to present the text.
While exposition is not the only valid mode of preaching, it is the best for teaching the plain sense of the Bible. Expositors usually approach Scripture with these assumptions:
1) The Bible is God’s Word. If every word of God is pure and true (Psalm 12:6; 19:9; 119:140), then every word deserves to be examined and understood.
2) Men need divine wisdom in order to understand the Word (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
3) The preacher is subject to the text, not the other way around. Scripture is the authority, and its message must be presented honestly, apart from personal bias.
4) The preacher’s job is to clarify the text and call for a corresponding response from his hearers.
An expositor cares little if his audience says, “What a great sermon” or “What an entertaining speaker.” What he truly wants them to say is, “Now I know what that passage means,” or “I better understand who God is and what He requires of me.”