Full Text for Can Expository Preaching Still Be Relevant In These Days? (Text)

Can Expository Preaching Still Be Relevant In These Days? A SY A3RTICLE OX PIIEI~CHING that does nut deal \~ith the theolog!. of preaching mould seem trite and shallo~t.. But once we gct illto the tllcology of preachinn Ire are tenlptetl to go 9 on and on, in orrler to clo justice to the sctbjcct. Thc result ~vould be a theological treatise with \.c'rv little practical application. But it is in the practical :ippIication of' the thrologicnl princil>lt.s th,lt preacllers especially n.ant guiclance and help. At least that is the inlpression that I li;l\-~ gained IT-~~II speaking with pastors. I shall. thercforc, ~nc.r?l~- nlludc to n i'c-I!. principles, each of n-hich could he treated :it length> thus making it possible for me to get to the preparation of scnnuns 11-ith pr:ictic,~I hints and guiclelincs that ];la\; be helpful. \\'hen ctcalitig \\-it11 tlleolagical principles, \I-e are rcrninded at once that Christ has set Iiigh stanclards for our preaching. IVe arc to preach Christ and Him crucified, whicI1 mcms much more than to take our hearers to Cab-ar:. \Vc. art. also- to preach Christ accord- ing to His \\'ord as it has cimc down t:, us from the pens of those \\.horn God inspired to write jt. \Ye are to preach Grld.5 \Vorcl with authority 3s a "Thus saith thr l_orcl." 111 doing so \ve arc to preach the whole counscl of Gocl t~o nlerl. \i'hc.n we do that \vc are to use the \i70rd i)f God as thcl basis of G(x1-gil-cn messages to our pcople t0d;1\-. In our prcachii?g \ye n~.,..ccl also to Ile ~nindful of the fact that wc are addressing God's l?c.ol>le, inade the people of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Jle is I3imsclf thr f\'ord; Inen are, there- fore, to listen n-hen Me speaks. He is the Crcator: mel2 arc tcr know the\- are His crcaturrs. fie is the Provider of men's i~ecds: Inen are' to learn to cast their cares on Him. He is tfle La~rgil-er; men are to know His holv will. He is the fudge; men must ses their sins and their sinfulness'as the\- stand before Him. FIc is also the Savior of men; nlen are-to be assured of their salvation. He is the Life; men are to he helped to live in Ililn as Hc Ii\res in them. T-Te is the Victor over sill, death, and hcll; nlcn are to learn the iov of frce- dom in Him. He is the Lord; men are to be 11cipc.d to sen-e will- ingJy under His niJc of love. Through our preaching the Lord seeks to chnngc men's li\-es. \Vc are to hc e~.an~elists, to an-aken n!en to their high caIling in Christ. \\'c are to be heralds, proclaiming thc messngcs of God to men. \\'e arc to he ambassadors, calling nwn to hc rcconciletl to God. \Ire are to he shepherds, ncurishing a~ld caring for Inen clay br da!-. \Ire are to be steivards of the n~~steries of Gact, gil-ing men the proper \Irord for their even. wed. I\-e arc to hc witnesses. tell- ing rnen of all that God has done for them. \lit art to be ol.erseers, urging men to live their lives to God. iI'e are to be ministers, pre- paring inen to minister with us to others. ris we reflect on each of these phases of our \vork, what emphasis each 2ii.e~ lo the im- portance of preaching! IVhat a task the Lord has given us! In His holv \\'ord God hris also give11 us all we need to ac- coniplish His g!kd purpose. His ii'orcl sho~vs inen ihcir sills and their sinfulness. It convicts them of their sins. It sl~ours them their neecl of help. His \\'orcl tlien invites Inen to be sa1.d. It clocs more. It actually saves them from sin ailtl tlcath. It frees thcm fro111 the elominion of evi!. Tllen it shows tlieiii the life that is plei1sing to God. It makes the111 \villing to do Gotl's will. It even enables them to live in Christ ancl for Christ. Finallv, it sho~vs mcn their home in hemen. It fills them nrith thc clesiri to ]-each their go21 and in due time brings them safely II~IIIC'. 1 have alrendv hinted at the thought, but 1 1va11t to state it clearly, that l>reacl;ing God's ll'ord involves God anti illen. 0111~ the Spirit of God can enlighten incn to accept the truth of God. 01111. He can crcate, sustain, ancl nourisl~ faith. He it is \vho illakes men to will and to do what pleases God. But we, on our part, Innst preach to men in language they will undcrstalld and in a Inan- ner that will not only interest then1 but will Ic.ac1 them to action. Let us face the fact that the times ~ve are living in have made preaching more difficult. \ire kno\v more about the \vorId and its nerds than ever before. People on the move give us less chance to reach thein with the \ITord. IntcllectuaIism has substituted the xis- clom of men for the ~visdom of God. The \\'ord of Gocl is ques- tionccl today even by manv a preacher of the \\'ortl. Our environillent adds to our problems. I11 the sea of faces in the inner citv, man is an island. In the high-rise apartments ~\~~lls 11a.c.e cars hut no n~ouths to speak. In the metropolis man is often the centcr of his own life. In the suburbs people are apt to share e\.en-thing but Christ. Even in rural arcas men have no time for the kinister of the IVclrd. Yet men need the preaching of the \\'ord. Living the Chris- tian life is i~npossible withcut it. Chrjstians are not immune to even the worst sins and ~ices. They, too, call fall, though most are kept froin falling by a gracious and' merciful God. But the sins that so easilv overtake them are the sins of e\.crv-dav life. The desire for social acceptance brings with it the sins if sbcietl-. The desire for self-preservation brings with it the temptation to place health, money, position before the needs of the soul. The desire for education is acconipanied by greater risks than ever before. And sex has not ceased finding new waTs to tempt Inen to sin. It is important, then, that the IVord of God be preached to the joy and edification of God's people. I am not ignoring the importance of private counseling in helping Christians to live as children of God. Private counseling mar help an individual more than a hun- dred sermons. But the serrnon will reach many who indicate no 11erd of private counseling. The pulpit will continue for many Expository Preachitrg __ -_ _- - _ ____ - - -- .- - - _ --.- - -_ __ ._ 263 . . - years--ancl may continue to the end of time-to be the best edu- cational agency of the church, in spite of what many in and out- side of the ch~irch are saying about preaching. It just has to be done right. And it can be done right. But how? Every homiletical textbook offers sermon nlcthocis. Some offer a number of methods, possibly with the hope that every reader will find a plan that especially appeals to him. Confidentially, my method would never fill a book. Thc only trouble with it is that it requires about fifteen hours of work e&11 week, in addition to the time the preacher may use in applxing thoughts of the sermon he is ~vorking on while calling on the sick, the delincluent, or the mission prospect. Can you afford the time? Or, better, call you think of a better use ofaYour time, if IOU are convinced, as I am, that God is at work in the hearts and Ikes of men as we preach His \\'ord? My method isn't really my own, though I have made it my own. I am sure it has been Ged bv consecrated servants of the \\'ord as long as preaching has been- g:)ing on in the church. It can be stated as a formula: The analrhcal outline of the text in its context, plus thc needs of the hearers; plus the particular occasion, plus the relation of the preacher to his task and to his hearers should result in a good sermon outline. To this must be added such rhetorical and serinonic elen~ents as a fitting introduction, a valid conclusion, interesting and appropriate illustrations, a11 of them fused together into a message of a loving God to His children in Christ. Such a sermon is dependent not only on the woi-k of the preacher, but also on the guidance and blesshg of the Holy Spirit at errerv stage of the work. Let us imagine ourselves getting at such a task for next Sun- day's sermon. I am taking for granted that we are preaching on one of the pericopal series of tests or on a series that we hare de- veloped ourselves and are alreadv we11 informed on the over-all theme of the narticular season of the church war. It is Sundav afternoon or evening. IYe have a half-hour or more to ourselrcs. \\-e open our Bible to the text for nest Sun- dav and sIo\vl~, pis!-erfullv rear1 it in its contest as our private de- rotion. That is all. The real work begins on \Ionday morninq. The desk is laid out for \voik. with the text in the originaI, lesl- con, concorctance, a Bible dictional-\-, possiblv an atlas, a loose-leaf notebook with separate pages marked for tesbaI study and outline thoughts. Comn~entaries may bc consultecl later. At this stage of the work I ad\-ise vou not to think of vour congregation, if vou ha1.e fifteen hours in 'the week to devote to the sermon. If vou'think of your congregation while studving the text, voc are too apt to see a message in the text and you beiin to concen- &ate on vour message instead of first allowing the text to say all that it wants to say to 1.o~. The \.erIr word "test" sugcests to me that in it me hare ivovei together ma& important threads of truth. I like to pull out one thread after another. -4s I do. the threads l,cgin to ravel anti each tl~read produccs :i fc~r- inorc, ,111 of them actually present in 1hc. tc~t. \\:hen i\-C ]la\-e a number of such tlil-eacls of truth, ell-a11.n f'rolil the text anti its context, often on t11c basis of' careful stud,. of a P:!rtic~l;rl: \\;OI-CI 01- l~hrilse, keeping in ~llind t11c 1r.ritc.r ctF thb hook or Icttcr, \\.c are read\- IO consitlel- thcsc thrc~:~cls of truth in re1;ition to each otlicr. ?lie result is an a~~al!.tit.al i;utline c~:f thc test in its context. It is not ij serlllon 0~1ttil:c. It is ;I c,lt.iir ;,rcscn- taiion of 1I1c tl-11 tli n.11icIi the I-Iol!. Spjl-i t c;ru sed I'r~ul 01- T't. ti.1- or I)a\.iil or Jloscs to \\~ritc tlo\i-n for our Ic~ti-ning. .\11t1 it is jlo\r- our I. ELI^ lie\\- iii~i~Ic3ni1ittc.cl to ut:al~cl thi. cic:l?tl~s (if 1\11 im~i:~-tirnt \I-or-tl c~f Gocl. ELI t \\.c cai;~iot st;~\. 011 thv nloun lni:~ ti>p. \\'c 11111 st con~c c[o\111 ti) tllc ~>lniii, to OLI'I- J~ei!rers, t(j thi. ~.li~!rcli, io th:: \\-!,I-](!. -\ \\.orcl 01' c:~~~rion hcrc. \\c nrct fillecl up \\.it11 the ~i:c?si!g~ of tllcl tcst. \Ye L1rc' SO apt to 1-c';icl this \\'ortl into tlir li\.i.s 01' OLI~ people. iln;igi~~iny thtxn~ to Ilc !ilic the pcoplc ttj \vllo~n our illst \\-:is first ;It;- tIr~sscii. Thc tli~ngcr of siich ;i coursc of ;lc.tion bi.col11c.s \.cl-\ np- Ixircnt \\.he11 \\-(> seek to i~cltlrcss oilr hc:irc~s iii tl~c \\-oriI.: of thc scl.cli ictttt'rs of i'le\c~J:ition. '\\'l~at a coilf~ising picture \\.cl I\-oultf llii\~ of' our congrc~gatioll if \\(; i~ppli~tl the silc\.c.l~ lcltcrs to tji~ni. \\c \\.t)iil~l tlren tli.scrihc tlie:n as i-'rtitl~l't~l to the \\ orti, I~cirring up ~~ncler tr-il)~rlatio:1. \~et ha\iny lost tlwir lirst lo\ c,. in tr!ct, so !ul;c'- \I.~I~I~I tilat C;cxI nli~st spei\- then1 ost of Hi.; 11ii)~ith. ;inti all t!~ \vhilr :ill artlcnt 1:,issio11 con~rcptioi~ \rith iin o1>c11 - ~Irior for con- 1-crts to C'Ii!-isti;~nit\. Ob\-iousl\-. except for 2cneri1I trutlis th::t ;I]>- j>l\ to rjil, \ye Iilusr gu;il-d against reading thc. conclitio~~s of' out- text jnto the li\c.s of our pcopli.. 11istc;ld. m~~st sti~rt \\.it11 OLI~ pcn- pic iit this j>ciint of' o11r scrlnon preparation. \\-c \\-ill still he mintl- t'u! c)f ~LII- tv~t ancl of the particular arL%,is of cclnccrn to \\.hic-h it sl. Ii~lt \I;C \\-;!I 111;1l;c. c\ CL-\ effort to see in \\-11;tt :\-;I\ thC te\r~~itl 11-uth app1ic.s to our mcmhc>rs, \\-hilt partic~~lilr ~icetls 01' OLIY pcoplr arc ul>pIictl, if thc* tcst clc~als at all \\-it11 a 111;11iIiI! or- ~lectl. \\~'c. 81-c 110t (1oi11~ this on \I[,ncl;i!- ii~orniriz. T'hat d;l!- \\-:IS ~LIJI! tal,cln LIP \I-ith tcxtilal stud\.. \\-c arc cloing this as n.:. 111;1l\c our pastot-ill calls. sick calls. mission c~lll~. \\'c mil\ get n ~oocl it1c.n for our SC~~IIIOII iiS \\.c arc ~rc~mring for thcb \-oti.rs' niccti~lg or fi)r 111ccting \\.it11 thc. \\.onIcn of thc church. 1lai.iny clone our tcstual ~tu(f\- on lloncti\- mciniing, 1j.c see. possible application of rhc. truth whih reading tllc claill- papel- or n pvriodical (luring thc n-cc.k. 1 hope \\-c. call cb\cn tali note of things to s,i\ to thc chilclrcn 3s rec them at ~I.I\.. 'TJlc'\- i~lso nced the l\'oril. \\'c 11011. fla\ c. thc and\-tical outlinc of the tcbst in its contc~t plus tlic ~icctls of oLrr 11earei-s, \oung nntl olcl alikc. It is 'T~ILI~s~;~!. (31. Fridal.. It \\as il~~Il\ Ilridil!. n.ith nic. \\-c arc no\\. rrild~ to girt \Irnlc consitleratio~l to thc particular knda\ of thc chorch !-t;:ir. to src tlic. rclntion of 0~1r tcxst to thc ptopcrs, to put c~o\\'I~ th~ chief thought.\ that 1l7e feel we should bring into our message, and then to forinulate a tlicine that \\ill be interesting, arresting, and relevant. This isn't done \vliile wc. arc 011 the go. This is dcsk-\\rork, as important as tha~ of .\Ionda! morning. \\'c are planning tlie structure of our sermoii, finnlidiiy the particular message, thc par- ticular aini and purpose of our inessagc. and putting it do\\-n in outlinc~ form. Here \-ou and I may part conlpan\.. You ma\: an outline fully 11-orkd out to the parts, subparts, ancl suli-subparts. I can work bcttcr with a broad plan, letting the scrmon gracluall~ take shape as it is being thought out. I do iiot scc tliis "thinkilig out" of a scrmon as papcr work. The \vriting should be begun \\.hen tlic preacher is full of his mcssnge, so that the scrnmon fairly flo\\s on to the pagcl. If the prcachcr makes a practice of n-ritiiig after hc knows \\-hat to say, he can easil\- clispciise wit11 tlic ~vriting, though €en! pastors would acl\.isc the \&:nS man to do tliis too soon. Give \,ourself' at least ten \-ears of cai-eful \I-riting out of thc manu- script; \\:riting .it aftcr !-ou have it clcarli- in mintl. Then trv preach- ing it \vitliout taking the last stcp. Prcach it extempore. You \\-ill bc thrilled with the greatu freedom this gi\.es 1.0~. I spoke of i~riting as thc last stcp. Actunll\. it isn't that. The \\.ritteii sermon should be carefull!- cclitcct. Is L.\.cr!- part of it true to our aim and purpose? Is the language. clear? i\ho\.c alI, is it God's \vorcl to men, not just tinor. 7-11e needs \~-hich \vi. cteal \\-it11 ;it a @\.en tilne dl dcl?i.~~cl on o11c of t\\w things. If \ve 31-c prcilching oil a prescl-ihccl tc\t for a given S~indai. of the churcll vcar, tllcn our carc.l:ul s~uci\ of the text and our carcI'~11 nnalvsis -(if pcoplc \\.ill Corcc. us i(~ 5pe;ili to those ~leetls about I\-hich tllc. test h:ts sonlc.thing to sa\.. \\'el doil't gatlles thc truths of the test with the ihougl~t of sc-tti~;~ thcm asidc \\-hell sp~idiing to our 11c.ai-c-1s. \\-c 1i11~l thc \\-a)- ill f~hic11 tllc truths of tllc test arc ~-cleval~t in our cia\-. It', ]lo\\-cver, ..\.c arc so movccl 11). 211 ilnlnediate !lcecl of Jllell fh;it \\c fcclI I\-c nlrist speali to it :it otlcc., ihcn a careful anal\-sis of thc~ need \\-ill suggest ;In appro- pril~te tcxt or pcrtincnt tcad~in~s of tl~c \\'i~rci ilr;l\\-n from ;1 1111111- bcr of portions of the \\'orcl. For the most careful anal\ sis of 11~o- pic's necds \\-ill not solve their prohlcn~s. Olil~, t11c ;il~~~~-ol~~i:~~~ \\'orcl of C;oci pro]>c.rl). appliycl to those ncc~ls \\.ill clo this. I-Icrc: tbc task \\-ill bc to find that approlxiiitc \\'ol-d. If it is a l~eed iliat sJloultl hc supfhicd b\. thc prcaclicr, God will ha\-e sc~mrthing ti! sa\- nhoilt it. Tf Fc sa;.s notlling, \rc should be honest cnough to acln?i; thilt the nccd is not oirr concern as 131-eiichcrs. \\'c ins\- ha\.c to tackle it elsc\\-l~cr~~ or ask othcrs for aic! in 1~;tndliiig tllc problem, asking (:od to gilide us to 3 propel- solution. \\'it11 that I urn sa!.in$ that thc portion of thc sermon in which Gotl's mcssage comcs through to mcn must be hasetl on thc \\'ord of Gocl. 01111- then tlo \re ha1.c thr right ilnd thc aiitllol-jt\. to spcali as God's messcmger. It stnlitls trt reason, thc.11, that in'thc ~ortio~~ of the- sermon in \\-hich \\-(I are offering o~lr o\\.n analysis of contliti~ns in the 11-orld I\-c must guard ;~g;iinst $\-ins mcn thc in~lxcssio~i that :111 \vr sav is thr \\Tosd of God. That suggysts that 11-c 1icc.p thcsc. portions at a minimum. \\-c> iirc not sociologists. nnthl-opolosists. ps\-chologists. though we. can Ic1;irn from all of tl~ese. \\-c are scl~t 10 ;ITOIICC sec11rc souls fl-0111 thcir sleep in sin, to lcnd thost. nrho hctw aroirscd to faith in Christ, to gi\c l~elic\~ers assurance of tllcir state of grricc and saI\*ation, tn Icad thosc who ]lave hCcomc nssurccl of this tc~t sanctification of their li\.es, and to con- firm the sanctified and kcq-, t11c.m in their holy and h1cssc.d state untc thr clld. That is the \$-a\ Dr. \\'althcr sun~metl it LIP in his Icctures on t!le pl-o]>er distinctiitn of law and gospc.1. He n-ho con- scie~i tiousl\. dc~vtes himself to thcse tasks in Ilis preaching \\;ill not he tempted tc! look for n nlorc r-cIwant, tinlcll- Inessagc. Thcre is none.