Category: Preaching

The Power of Words

It happened in the 1840s in Uruguay. The Uruguayan Navy was desperate. They were fending off the navy of an aggressive force from Argentina. They ran out of conventional ammunition and thought their cause was lost. Someone came up with a creative idea. They would use old cheese as ammunition. So they raided the kitchen and loaded their cannons with old, hard Edam cheese and used it as cannonballs. Incidentally, they won the battle.

Is it possible for us to take good things and turn them into weapons? Words can be used to edify or to destroy.

Questions before you preach

Speaking at the Radicalis conference, Andy Stanley offered these five questions he asks every week as he preaches. They would be good ones for any of us to ask as we prepare to preach.

  1. Who is this about, really? (As long as the communication is about me, then I will fail in my approach to draw people in…)
  2. What’s my burden? (Dig until you find it.)
  3. Where is the tension? (Boring messages feel irrelevant because no one has elicited any tension in the room.) What is the problem this passage fixes? Where is the tension this passage resolves? Where is the mystery this passage solves?
  4. Do I own this? (Have I internalized this message?)
  5. Am I allowing the text to speak? (Bring your energy to the text. Uncover the energy in the text.)

Defining Expository Preaching

There are many definitions of expository preaching which have been offered over the years, but perhaps the most popular one among evangelicals is the definition of Haddon Robinson, from his book Biblical Preaching: “Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.”  I like Robinson’s definition, because it includes several important points of emphasis:

1. Expository preaching seeks to communicate a biblical concept – what Robinson later calls the “Big Idea” of the sermon. We do not preach to share our own imaginative insights or to comment the news and interests of the day; we preach because God has given us His Word, and we have been called to communicate His truth.

2. Expository preaching involves study of the text. It is not a frivolous task to preach. The person who steps to the pulpit without preparation and comments on one verse after another may be doing something, but it is not expository preaching.

3. Expository preaching, like all authentic preaching, is utterly dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Holy Spirit is in it, it is nothing but a talk; when the Holy Spirit fills and empowers us, it is the proclamation of the Word of God in power.

4. Expository preaching takes the text and applies it to the lives of the listeners (including the preacher). Exposition is not simply teaching what a passage said; it also involves showing what it means in our lives today. There is a strong practical element to expository preaching.

I also appreciate something Robinson added to the second edition of his book Biblical Preaching. He said, “Expository preaching at its core is more a philosophy than a method.” Whether or not we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question, ‘Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thought to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thought?’”

What is expository preaching?

Over more than 25 years of editing Preaching magazine, and even longer studying the history of Christian preaching, one of the things I have learned is that preaching never stands still. Effective preaching is constantly adapting to the cultural realities around it, yet it stays rooted to the Word of God as revealed in Scripture.

Have you ever flown a kite? Think of how a kite moves with the wind, yet it is linked to the ground by a string. You might think that if you cut the string, the kite would soar even higher, but that’s not what happens. If you cut the string, the kite would soon come tumbling down and land in the trees or crash to the ground. Preaching is just a bit like that kite – it moves and adapts as the cultural and social winds blow, but it always must stay linked to the Word of God. If preaching ever becomes disconnected from the Word, it soon comes crashing to earth.

Now that is not a perfect image for preaching, because in reality we should not blow with every cultural wind that comes along. Yet it is true that preaching must be in touch with the lives of people – recognizing the challenges faced by each successive generation, and finding new methods to effectively connect and engage with people. Preaching adapts and changes, but it must never lose its connection to Scripture. Preaching is ultimately and always the communication of what God has said in His Word; when we are no longer saying what God has said, we are no longer preaching.

That being said, authentic Christian preaching, then, is proclamation that is rooted in and driven by the biblical text. That does not necessarily mean we are always doing verse-by-verse exposition of the text, but it does mean we are letting the text drive the sermon – what God is saying in the biblical text is what we will try to communicate in the sermon. That is expository preaching.

Preaching Under Pressure and the Sovereignty of God

(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)

The God who allows pressures to come your way is the God who will be there when you need Him:

  • When you are weak, He is El Shaddai, the almighty God
  • When you are feeling low, He is El Elyon, the most high God
  • When your world feels like it is crumbling, He is El Olam, the everlasting God.
  • When your resources feel like they are at the end, He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who will provide.
  • When you feel like crawling away to hide, He is Jehovah Nissi, the Lord is my banner.
  • When it feels like your life is consumed by conflict, He is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is peace.
  • When it feels like you are all alone, He is Jehovah Sabbaoth, the Lord of Hosts.
  • When you feel tainted by sin, feel that God can never use you, He is Jehovah Maccaddeshcem, the Lord your sanctifier.
  • When you feel lost, He is Jehovah R’oi, the Lord your shepherd.

He is Father and He is God. He is Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Judge.

He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

He is your Advocate and the Anointed One.

He is the Bishop of your soul and the Bread of life.

He is your comforter and cornerstone.

He is the Deliverer and the Desire of Nations.

He is Emmanuel and the End in whom all things will be reconciled.

He is the Foundation and the Fountain from which flows living water.

He is the Horn of Salvation and the Holy One of Israel.

He is the Lamb of God and the Light of the World.

He is Master, Mediator and Mighty God.

He is the Passover Lamb and the Propitiation for our sins.

He is your Refiner and your Refuge.

He is your Rock, and He is the Resurrection and the Life.

He is the Suffering Servant and the Savior of the World.

He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Word.

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He is all you want and all you need.

He is the God who takes your pressures and turns them into diamonds. So preach His name, proclaim Him to the nations. When things are good, preach! When the pressure is on, preach! Preach in every time, every season, every situation, until He calls you home or He returns in Glory. Let God take your pressures and transform them into His diamonds.


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