This post is part of a series on the Together for the Gospel Statement. Links to previous posts on Articles 1-3 can be found in the introduction to my post, “The Place of Truth.”
We affirm the centrality of expository preaching in the church and the urgent need for a recovery of biblical exposition and the public reading of Scripture in worship.
We deny that God-honoring worship can marginalize or neglect the ministry of the Word as manifested through exposition and public reading. We further deny that a church devoid of true biblical preaching can survive as a Gospel church.
Today I want to share a quote from John Piper on Expository Preaching. Here Piper is keen to explain that it is not just “expository” preaching that we need to recover, but a certain type of expository preaching. I will speak more about this when I post on this article myself. Let’s just say that there is a kind of expository preaching that can bring death and not life. This quote is surely an antidote for that.
“God exists to be worshipped—to be admired and treasured and desired and praised. Therefore, the Word of God is written primarily to produce worship. This means that if that Word is handled like a hot-dish recipe or a repair manual, it is mishandled. And the people will suffer. The Truth of God begs to be handled with exultation. And our hearts yearn for this and need it. Something in us starts to die when precious and infinitely valuable realities are handled without feelings and words of wonder and exultation. That is, a church starts to die without preaching.
But, of course, this assumes something massive. To treasure the Truth, and to love the Truth, and be impassioned about the Truth, and to exult in the Truth, you have to know the Truth. So it’s not enough to say that preaching is exultation. We must also say it is “expository exultation.” It is exultation in the Truth of God’s Word. And the exultation is in proportion to the Truth delivered.
In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” This, too, is part of preaching. Preaching is handling accurately the word of truth. In other words, you can never twist or exploit the Word in order to increase the emotional response of the people. Preaching is not exultation without exposition of the Word. Nor is preaching exposition of the Word without exultation. One error cuts off the head. The other rips out the heart. In both cases the victim dies. No heart. Or, no head. You’re dead. And so is preaching. And not too long after, the church.
So the command of the Lord is—preach the Word. Keep your head on (exposition) and keep your heart alive (exultation). Handle the precious living Word of God accurately. And come to this pulpit week after week and do expository exultation. Don’t out-exult the Word. And don’t under-exult the Word. There is enough glory in the Word that you need add nothing artificial. Just eat it until your heart is deeply and truly satisfied and then serve the same banquet for your people.
Martin Luther was one of the great preachers of all time. He explained the need for preaching like this:
Because heresies threatened the living apostolic message, it had to be recorded in a book to protect it from falsification. Preaching reverses this process of conservation again, allowing the Scriptures of the past to become the tidings of the present . . . The Gospel has been committed to lifeless paper; fresh words can transform it into glad tidings again.
Scripture turned into glad tidings—that is what happens in expository exultation. [Pastor], if the Lord wills, there are many years in front of you and many trials. You will be tempted in many ways to give up preaching. Satan will lie to you that it is not a great thing. Or that you could devote yourself to something more significant. But when that happens go back to 2 Timothy 4:1-2 and listen to the apostle. “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word.”
Then you will rise up and say with Martin Luther, “If I could today become king or emperor, I would not give up my office as preacher.”
The series on the T4G Statement continues with Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Expository Preaching . . .