Expository Preaching: Teach Like A Local
Nov, 27th, 2020
By Derrick Ntambi
Today, somebody will read an opinion piece in a newspaper or magazine about my country Uganda. These articles will often list Uganda’s unique tourism landmarks. Similarly, another individual may read something on social media. But both people, I’d argue, have only gained information about Uganda through a somewhat superficial lens. For only an indigenous Ugandan peasant on location can truly describe his village and the surrounding geography. To my mind, expository preaching is akin to the local resident in a tourist destination. Let me explain.
There’s So Much Tourists Can’t Know Or See
Consider Jinja. This renowned city hosts the source of the River Nile. Thus, it is a destination for professional photographers and water rafting enthusiasts. But for the peasant who calls Jinja home, the River Nile is a source of livelihood, community, and much more. It is not merely a destination. To the tourist, Jinja is merely another attraction. However, for the peasant, Jinja is their entire world: past, present and future. He could talk about it all day, with pride and in remarkable detail. His roots, experiences and understanding of life are interwoven with its landscape.
In Heretics (free here), G. K. Chesterton writes, “Arabia is not a whirl of sand and China is not a flash of rice-fields. They are ancient civilisations with strange virtues buried like treasures.” He adds that, “if we wish to understand them it must not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of children and the great patience of poets.”
What’s The Link To Expository Preaching?
Defined properly, expository preaching is the interpretation (or meaning) of the biblical text – with careful attention to its historical and grammatical aspects. Expository preaching considers the literary context of a passage. It pays attention to both its immediate surroundings and place in the larger Bible story. Expository preaching bears a striking similarity to the details a local would be able to offer a tourist visiting Jinja. Instead of viewing the place from a superficial perspective, one ought to diligently listen to the peasant in order to get a holistic understanding of the place.
With expository preaching, we allow scripture to interpret itself. This is just like how we give due diligence to the peasant – as the original informant with respect to context and authenticity – when he talks about his neighbourhood. Importantly, we allow him take the centre stage more than the assumptions we bring to the text.
Navigating The Bible Like A Tourist
Today’s careless preacher is similar to the naïve tourist. He interprets everything through his camera angle. His knowledge is determined by his social media feed, as he leisurely trots through the Bible. Like the tourist, the focus is on what is aesthetically appealing. After all, spectacular sights are what make tourism a lucrative industry. Expository imposters, like tourists, easily appeal to “itching ears.”
Careless preachers have an open Bible in their hands yet the gospel is alien to their hearts (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 5:18). They frequently quote texts out of context, explaining a passage in isolation from the redemptive narrative centred on Christ.
We All Need A Guide
However, just as tourists will better understand a place by consulting a local, Bible teachers ought to seek that which the author intended to communicate. This is expository preaching. Strenuous preaching without exposition fiddles away everyone’s time and leaves souls malnourished. It treats the Bible as a loose collection of eye-catching highlights, easily divorced from their physical location.
Understanding The Bible Like A Local
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says all Scripture is breathed out by God. God is the author. Thus, due diligence should be rendered to interpreting what God says to his people. What the preacher is saying to God’s flock ought to be agreeable with what the text says (2 Timothy 4:2). The congregation, in turn, should be like the Bereans. For they searched the Scriptures to see whether what Paul shared was in accord with the biblical text (Acts 17:10-11). A lack of expository preaching inevitably leads to doctrinal ignorance.
When the meaning of the text is removed from the intent of the passage, the results are typically unfounded hypotheses, pastoral hobby-horsing and allegory. We hear the pastor and not the passage. But to truly understand the text, one must study with humility (Matthew 18:4), with childlike attention (Mark 10:15). Paul encourages his understudy to be diligent in rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Because the congregation feeds from its shepherd, doctrinally ignorant pastors starve the flock. Thus, we endeavour to know from whom we learn: God. Scripture must be the primary foundation of our learning. Furthermore, Scripture must shape our reading of the whole.
Trained Pastors Make The Best Guides
“Doctrinal ignorance in the pew,” says Arthur Pink, “is the result of theological apathy in the pulpit.” He continues, “the division of the pastor-theologian into two separate, unrelated roles has not occurred without dire consequences for the Church.” The widespread notion of theology as strictly an academic endeavour associated with the university is lamentable. A pastoral calling is not detached from theological teaching which relates to central historical Christian truth claims.
Expository Preaching Needs Theology
Theology and expository preaching are as inextricably linked as breath is to life. As such, the pastor does well to remember that theology is for the local church. If theology is absent from his study, and therefore the pulpit, preaching cannot be expositional. Instead, people will be served up opinions not biblical substance, like photos that reduce places to a social media feed.
In our Ugandan churches, and across the continent, preaching is not expository. Instead it is, mostly, topical and often impulsive. Therefore false doctrine thrives. Christians are spiritually crippled; immature. And without attention to the text’s inherent meaning, materialism often reigns among Christians.
The Dangers of Travelling Solo
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul talks about a kind of people who turn away from sound doctrine. They prefer fables born of their own lusts. This pretty much sums up the state of things in the African Church. Again Arthur Pink writes: “It is ignorance of doctrine that has rendered the professing Church helpless to cope with the rising tide of infidelity.”
The lack of doctrine grounded in God’s revealed truth abounds to the Church’s detriment. For, it is through his word and the personal Word, Christ Jesus, that God has revealed himself. If we are not careful in diligently in studying scripture, the church will go barefoot, hungry and thirsty.
What Makes A Great Preacher?
In Lectures to my Students (free here), Charles Spurgeon writes this. “A true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie not in the fashion and manner but in the truth which it contains.” He further advises to “set no store by the quantity of words which you utter but strive to be esteemed for the quality of your matter, it is foolish to be lavish in words and niggardly in truth.” Thus Spurgeon confirms that a sermon should be totally submerged in biblical truth and substance.
Delivering a sermon neither requires one to lean on eloquence nor be sumptuous in your words. Rather, preaching requires faithfulness to the context, logic, and argument of the biblical text. This must then be set in the larger context of redemption in Christ.
God speaks to us through his word. Therefore, the purpose of a sermon is that we encounter God and know him. The Church is God’s. The message is His—not the preacher’s. God entrusts elders to care for the flock. They are shepherds under the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4) And he has lucidly stipulated in his word how to go about this.
God’s Word is complete. It only needs your diligence and faithfulness in expounding the meaning. The Church needs expository preaching more than your creativity.
Don’t Visit The Bible, Live There
Back to our metaphor. Nothing is inherently wrong with tourism. However, deeper attention to the things of God means listening more attentively to those who were carried along by God’s own Spirit. God chose to use words in time and history to communicate with us. Oh, that God grants us this grace! To “read from the book, from the law of God, clearly, and give sense so that the people understand the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8) Oh! That the “the man of God may be complete, trained in righteousness, and equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Both the preacher and the pew ought to delight in, and devote themselves to, the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Experiences must be contextualized and subjected to the text at hand. Because all aspects of one’s life ought to be submitted to God’s complete Word. This is especially true of teaching a biblical text.
This post was originally published at the Gospel Coalition Africa.