The principles of expositional preaching are like building blocks. We might think of them as shaped differently and made of different substances. This, of course, means that we use them differently and at different times in the process.
We might want to think of this as the expositional climb. Like ancient pilgrims making their way to a holy city or shrine, modern expositors must make a climb as well, arduously ascending above the laziness of the valley, where one seeks to apply Scripture before exegeting it.
The mistake made by many would-be expositors of Scripture is to impose on the text, rather than to expose the text. The sequence should be to deal with the “then and them” before the “now and us”. Moving from the text to today must be done carefully. We must move intentionally from the text to the original setting and then to the cross of Jesus Himself. Then and only then are we ready to make an application of truth to our lives today.
We begin this climb at the point of our posture toward the text. As you open the Bible to study it, what do you believe about it? In other words, how do you orient yourself to it? Are the words and teachings good suggestions or are they actually mandates from heaven? The danger is that we might believe and say more about this text than it actually says. An equally dangerous posture is that we might reduce it and make it say less than it does, usually with the reasoning that “well, life today is different and this is no longer applicable to our times.” While there might be a few cultural incidentals that might not be binding today, Scripture is always authoritative over our beliefs and behavior.
At this point, we must be willing to joyfully submit all of our presuppositions to the text itself. A divestiture of sorts is required here. We all have mental frameworks which we bring to our study of God’s Word. Being a expositor requires that we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, lay these notions aside so that we might lay hold of the truth. As great educators tell us, before we can truly learn, we must unlearn.
Part of our expositional posture is patience. We must be willing to sit with the text, to read and reread it multiple times prior to even daring to formulate opinions about it. One helpful exercise in this regard is, after sitting the text for a sufficient amount of time, to simply record our observations about it. Without consulting any sources other than the Scripture itself, write at least twenty observable facts about the text in question.
As we correctly orient ourselves to the text and its divine authority, we must also consider its human authorship. We must explore who wrote this portion of God’s Word and what we know about him. Along with this, we must seek an answer to the question: “Why did the author write this letter?” Sometimes we find the answer in the beginning of the book (Jude 3). At other times, we find it at the end of the book (1 John 5:13). Either way, we need to understand what the intention of the human author was as he wrote this book.
We need to ask important questions like: Who wrote this? God or man or both? How do I hear and receive it? How does it challenge my sinful nature? What am I bringing to this text that obscures it or diminishes its authority and/or message?
Next, we will think about how context impacts our expositional work.