More from John Piper on exposition and exultation

More from John Piper on exposition and exultation April 30, 2006

After THAT talk at T4G, I found that this article from John Piper from a few years ago explains a bit more about what he is looking for in preaching :-

“Whatever you think of the drums, the electric guitar and bass and amplification and T-shirts and platforms cluttered with wires and mikes and speakers, it is unmistakable-the dominant theme of these songs is God-the character of God, the power of God, the mercy of God, the authority of God, and the fatherhood of God. And the hoped-for effect of relentlessly addressing God directly in the second person is engagement-genuine, real, spiritual engagement-of the heart with God.

But there is another remarkable fact of the last twenty years or so, and it has to do with preaching. My observation is that the preaching that follows this music in most churches has moved in exactly the opposite direction from the musical worship awakening. While the worship songs have moved God-ward, preaching has moved man-ward.

While the worship songs focus our attention again and again on the character of God and the great works of God, preaching focuses on contemporary issues, personal problems, relationships. While the worship songs lift us into the presence of God, preaching gives advice on how to get along better on earth. No one would say today the same thing about preaching that we have seen in the ‘worship awakening’-namely, that there has been a great resurgence of God-centeredness, or a great moving of the spirit of God-wardness in the pulpit, or a focus on God’s character and mighty acts in the preaching of evangelicalism. Rather, I think most would agree that preaching has moved in the other direction: relational, anecdotal, humorous, casual, laid-back, absorbed in human need, fixed on relational dynamics, heavily saturated with psychological categories, wrapped up in strategies for emotional healing…

In other words, the common strategy of preachers today for awakening people’s emotions and engaging their hearts is to find the areas of human life where the emotions are already running high and where the hearts are already engaged; and then we root the sermon there: the pain in the marriage; the anguish of wayward teenagers; the stress at work; the power of sexual temptation; the breakdown of community; the woundedness of past abuses; the absence of intimacy and vulnerability. We preachers know that if we plant our sermons here-if we tend this garden with modest skill in anecdote and illustration and personal vulnerability-we will move the hearts of our hearers; we will accomplish what the worship tunes accomplish. Our listeners will experience the good feelings of empathy, and we will feel the satisfaction of attentive, resonating faces.

Now at this point I could put either a positive or a negative spin on this development in preaching.
Positively, I could say: a lot of preaching is in touch with where people are and where they feel pain, and that is certainly not a bad thing. Preaching that is ignorant of people and unempathetic with their pain will not bear biblical fruit.

But there is also a negative spin that we can put on this development-one that I do indeed put on it, and one that helps explain my burden in these lectures. It is this: the reason we preachers do not believe that the greatness of God, the spirit of transcendence, the glory and majesty of Christ, the deep things of the Spirit, will move the hearts of our people and awaken profound affections is that these things do not move us; they don’t awaken our affections. We preachers prefer to read books about anger and intimacy and marriage and success and all manner of how-to strategies for home and work and church, than to read books about God. Ask any publisher what sells-even to pastors…

My aim in these lectures is to plead for preaching to be pulled up-not away from the pain of the people, but, along with the pain of the people, into the presence of God, whose presence and reality alone is the final answer. My conviction is that the aim of preaching-no less than singing-is God-exalting worship. And not only that, my conviction is-hence the title of these lectures-that true biblical preaching is worship…preaching is meant by God to catch people up into worship, not to be a practical human application after worship. The aim of preaching is to deal with divorce worshipfully, and to deal with teenagers worshipfully, and to deal with anger worshipfully. Preaching exalts the centrality of God in all of life or it is not Christian preaching…

The task of preaching is to warn people about the futility of the broken cisterns of sin that hold no water (Jer 2:13) and to compel them with truth and power to come to the fountain of living water that satisfies forever.

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. (Isa 55:1-2)

That’s the essence of preaching. The best way to glorify an inexhaustible fountain is to keep on drinking and to keep on being so satisfied with that fountain that nothing can draw you away. And therefore the task of preaching is to display the all-satisfying glories of God in such a way that the power of all competing pleasures is broken and God himself holds people captive. For in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11)…

I have defined preaching as expository exultation. Not just exultation, but expository exultation. By exposition I mean exactly what John Stott means, as he puts it in his book, Between Two Worlds:
It is my contention that all true Christian preaching is expository preaching. Of course, if by an “expository” sermon is meant a verse-by-verse explanation of a lengthy passage of Scripture, then indeed it is only one possible way of preaching, but this would be a misuse of the word. Properly speaking, “exposition” has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its style (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is “imposition,” which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the “text” in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly.
[5]
When I call preaching “expository exultation” that’s what I mean by “expository.” “To expound Scripture,” Stott says, “is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view.” And what is there in Scripture mainly is God. The all-pervasive, all-important, all-surpassing reality in every text is God. Whether he is commanding or warning or promising or teaching, he is there. And where he is, he is always supreme. And where he is supreme, he will be worshiped. Therefore the overarching, pervasive, relentless subject of preaching is God himself with a view to being worshiped.

Therefore we ask-as every preacher must ask who knows this aim of p
reaching-how can I awaken the slumbering passions of God’s people for the surpassing worth of knowing God and his Son, Jesus Christ? How can I kindle the flame of knowledge and faith that says, there is none like Christ, there is no treasure, no pleasure, no perk, no profit, no prize, no reward, no wife, no child, like Christ; that says, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? How shall we preach to beget and sustain such a passion for God?
The answer is at least this: in our preaching we must display from Scripture, week in and week out, the glories of God in Christ…


We will awaken worship in our people when we stop treating God as an out-of-sight foundation for all the other things we like to talk about, and instead start talking about the glories-glories, plural-of God himself and his Son, Jesus:

his value and worth; his triumphs past, present, and future, over sin and death and hell and Satan; his knowledge, that makes the Library of Congress look like a matchbox, and quantum physics like a first-grade reader; his wisdom that has never been and never can be counseled by men; his authority over heaven and earth, without whose permission no demon can move an inch; his providence, without which not a bird falls to the ground or a single hair turns gray; his word, that upholds the universe and keeps all the atoms and molecules together; his power to walk on water, and cleanse lepers, and heal the lame, and open the eyes of the blind, and cause the deaf to hear, and to still storms with a word, and raise the dead; his purity never to sin; his trustworthiness never to break his word or let one promise fall to the ground; his justice, to render all accounts settled either in hell or on the cross; his patience, to endure our dullness for decades; his endurance, to embrace the excruciating pain of the cross willingly; his wrath, that will one day cause people to call out for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them; his grace, that justifies the ungodly; and his love, that led him to die for us even while we were sinners…

Owen warned against the danger of preaching without penetrating into the things we say and making them real to our own souls. Over the years words begin to come easy for preachers, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; of God’s holiness without trembling; of sin without sorrow; of heaven without eagerness. And the result is a terrible deadening of the spiritual life and depletion of preaching power. Words came easy for Owen, but he set himself against this terrible disease of inauthenticity by laboring to experience every truth he preached. In my words, he aimed not just at exposition but at exultation. He said:

I hold myself bound in conscience and in honor, not even to imagine that I have attained a proper knowledge of any one article of truth, much less to publish [i.e., preach] it, unless through the Holy Spirit I have had such a taste of it, in its spiritual sense, that I may be able, from the heart, to say with the psalmist, “I have believed, and therefore I have spoken.” (Works, X, p. 488)…

I could go on and speak also about the means of preaching-how do you become that kind of preacher and sustain a heartfelt exultation in the great things of God?

But I content myself with an outline of what I would want to say.
1.You must be born again…

2.Turn off the television. It is not necessary for relevance. And it is a deadly place to rest the mind. Its pervasive banality, sexual innuendo, and God-ignoring values have no ennobling effects on the preacher’s soul. It kills the spirit. It drives God away. It quenches prayer. It blanks out the Bible. It cheapens the soul. It destroys spiritual power. It defiles almost everything. I have taught and preached for twenty years now and never owned a television. It is unnecessary for most of you, and it is spiritually deadly for all of you.

3.Meditate on the Word of God day and night. Paul said, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). How do you get filled with the Spirit? The same way you get drunk with wine: you drink a lot of it. And Paul is pretty clear about how we drink the Spirit. In 1 Cor 2:14 it is by welcoming the things of the Spirit of God; and in Rom 8:5 it is by setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. And in both cases the “things of the Spirit” refers mainly to the words taught by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:13). This means simply that if you want to be filled with the Spirit of passion and exultation over the great things of God, you must fill your mind day and night with the Word of God. Pour over it. Memorize it. Chew it. Put it like a lozenge under the tongue of your soul and let it flavor your affections day and night.
4. Plead with God unceasingly for passions that match his reality. When you meditate on a passage of Scripture ask yourself this question: Am I experiencing affections in my heart that accord with the reality revealed in the text? Is my exposition creating in my own heart a corresponding exultation? And if not, then repent for your hardheartedness and plead with God for your heart to be stirred with emotions as terrible as hell and as wonderful as heaven…

5.Linger in the presence of God-besotted saints. Heb 13:7 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” It is a biblical value to have God-besotted heroes. ..Judge for yourselves: what writers are so saturated with God that you come away with your mind rich and your heart exulting? Find your God-besotted heroes and live with them.
6.Finally, leave your study, go to a hard place, take a risk for the kingdom, and prove to your own soul that you treasure the promises of God more than the pleasures of this world.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!