2Ti 4:1-2 I 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: (2) preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
I went to a conservative seminary, conservative theologically. [I would hope it still is, but a written doctrinal statement does not necessarily mean that the doctrine is actually taught and practiced]. Seminaries and other Christian organizations seem to always drift from their original anchorage.
Like others attending such seminaries, I was taught to be sure to “preach the Word.” By that instruction was meant – “preach expositionally.” An exposition is, as the dictionary puts it, “a setting forth of the meaning or purpose” of some writing or communication. The point is that students are instructed to teach and preach the Bible by examining it carefully so as to accurately communicate the actual message God intended. The immediate (adjoining verses) and broader (the rest of the Bible) context is to be consulted so that our conclusions agree with other parts of scripture which speak to the same subject.
Now, this is all good and necessary, but in this article I want to call attention to a very common and damaging error which typically parades under the heading of “expository preaching.” Here is Jesus exposing this error:
Mat 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (24) You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Quite often this microscopic, gnat-straining dealing with Scripture (parsing individual words, examining original language meanings, detailed diagraming of sentences, consulting various commentaries and opinions, looking into variant readings in Greek manuscripts, etc) ends up leading us to that old error – missing the forest for the trees.
Many of you have been harmed by this very thing. Why? Because one main “forest” that is missed when the camel is swallowed while the focus in on the gnat, is “mercy.” God’s mercy. God’s faithfulness. God’s justice. In other words, the question that is so often not asked in Bible study is this – “Does the character of God agree with my findings?” “Is my application of this Scripture a conclusion that we see lived out in Jesus?”
These warnings are for the liberal as well as the conservative Bible student. “God loves and forgives everyone”?? Really? Did Jesus love and forgive anyone and everyone no matter what? Better go back to the Bible drawing board on that one. “God does not permit divorce for any reason.” Or, “God does not permit divorce for abuse – Jesus only listed adultery.” Sooo, no matter what an evil spouse does to his or her spouse, the victim is required by God to remain married, to stay enslaved in Egypt and to suffer for the Lord? “But I have carefully done a detailed word study on ‘adultery’ (“porneia”) and there is no question that my conclusions are correct. I, above any other Bible scholar, have reached the truth here and all must obey my teaching on this or be at odds with God.” Really? How does that camel taste?
And still another form of this error concerns proper application of correct results. If we fail to rightly apply what the Scripture says, then we are still not handling the Word of God correctly. This error extends from not making application at all, to creating applications that do not properly grow from the Scripture we are studying. I heard R.C. Sproul recently say toward the end of a sermon on the subject of salvation, “this means that very probably in an audience this large, some if not many of you are not born again.” That is proper application – and it tends to thin out the pews!
So, when I hear someone say “I want expository preaching,” I don’t quickly assume that we are talking about the same thing. It may be that we are dealing with a gnat strainer who is all caught up in staring at one single tree – maybe even one twig on one branch on one tree – while the forest around him is burning.