By Meredith Cook
One of the best classes I took in seminary was hermeneutics. I’d never been taught how to interpret the Bible before, and hermeneutics taught me to notice when the biblical authors repeated phrases for emphasis, how to recognize continuity between passages, how to look for context—basically how to use the Bible to interpret itself.
While I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to receive a theological education, I also know one doesn’t need to attend seminary to learn how to study and interpret the Bible.
In fact, I learned just as much about reading and interpreting the Bible in my local church as I did in seminary. It was in my church that I saw hermeneutics put into practice as my pastors preached expositionally through books of the Bible.
If you’re a pastor, it’s unlikely the majority of your church members have taken a hermeneutics class. But it’s actually the responsibility of the local church to equip the saints for the work of the ministry in the first place. And that includes teaching them how to use the Scriptures rightly.
There are myriad ways to promote biblical literacy, but it begins in the pulpit. Pastors can help their church members learn the Bible through expository preaching, which is made easier and amplified by preaching through books of the Bible.
As a church member, I know that while I may have a seminary degree, I’ll never stop learning about the Bible. Here are four reasons I believe expository preaching prepares your congregation to know and love the Bible.
1. Expository preaching doesn’t assume biblical literacy.
A 2017 study by Lifeway and a 2018 study by Barna prove pastors can’t presume upon biblical literacy in their congregations.
A higher percentage of Americans spend periodic time in the Word (at least once a week) or have read large portions of the Bible.
The reality, though, is that to know our Bible, we must spend consistent time studying the Word and we must read all of it. Many people aren’t doing that.
Studying the Bible can be overwhelming for those who haven’t done so before. Expository preaching helps people see how the Bible fits together as a whole and how it speaks to Christians today.
When a pastor’s sermon follows the text closely, congregations actually have to bring and use their Bibles to follow along. Expository preaching helps people learn how to use their Bibles.
2. Expository preaching leaves less room for proof texting.
Some of the best sermons I’ve heard were topical in nature. But the danger of topical preaching is the increased opportunity we have to proof text—to take a passage of Scripture out of context and use it to support an outside agenda.
Of course, topical preaching is valuable, and all pastors who preach topically aren’t doing so to justify a bias or incorrect theological position.
Expository preaching, however, presents fewer opportunities for proof texting. It requires the pastor, and therefore the congregation, to stick closely to a passage of Scripture and view it in light of its context, using the surrounding verses to help interpret the passage at hand.
The pastor can draw out the meaning of the passage directly from the text and help his congregation apply the passage to their lives in a way that’s faithful to God’s Word.
3. Expository preaching allows the Bible to speak for itself.
All preachers are fallen. Regardless of how they’re preaching, they must guard against the temptation to rely on their wisdom as they teach God’s Word.
A Spirit-filled pastor can faithfully preach a topical sermon, and a pastor who ignores the Spirit can unfaithfully preach an expository sermon.
Anyone who sits under a pastor’s teaching must use discernment as they listen. We must allow the Holy Spirit to help us understand what the pastor is teaching and measure it against Scripture.
What I appreciate about expository preaching, however, is I’m less likely to have to take the pastor’s word for what he’s teaching.
Through expository preaching, a Spirit-filled pastor allows the Bible to speak for itself. I’m taught, then, to rely on the authority of God’s Word, rather than the authority of the pastor’s word.
4. Expository preaching teaches us to view the Bible as the authority for all of life.
Whether we realize it or not, our culture influences us—from smaller things like entertainment or how we spend our free time to more important things like family, ethics, and politics.
If we’re not careful, we easily allow pervading cultural opinions to sway our thinking. And we often think it’s harmless. But the Bible should be our first authority on all aspects of our life.
God’s Word should inform our thinking on all things—the kind of TV shows we watch, how we raise our children, how we treat our pets, how we approach birth control, how we vote, and more.
No issues are separate from our faith.
While topical preaching can focus on these issues specifically, it’s not enough to take a few token verses from Scripture to preach on every ethical issue we encounter.
All of Scripture contains truth and life for the listener. If we’re to use the Bible as our authority for all aspects of our life, we need to be taught all of it.
This is one reason why I’m a proponent of preaching expositionally through books of the Bible.
All Means All
In the Great Commission, Jesus commands His followers to make disciples of all nations—to teach all that He’s commanded. Obeying this command necessitates knowing His Word.
Expository preaching is one way pastors can teach their congregations God’s Word. As your congregation increasingly understands Scripture, they too will be equipped to help others understand it.
Meredith is the wife of Keelan, an editor for IMB.org, and an M.Div graduate in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.