What is Expository Preaching? – Some Thoughts from Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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The approach to preaching that we champion at White Fields is called “expository preaching.” I’m also involved with a movement called the Expositors Collective – which will have its next event in Bradenton, Florida on Nov 30-Dec 1, and which has a great podcast you should check out!

What is Expository Preaching?

The root word of “expository” is “expose” – and expository preaching is all about exposing the meaning of the text, as opposed to imposing a meaning upon the text. 

The goal of expository preaching is to let the Bible speak for itself, rather than using it as a “prooftext” to validate what we already think or what we really want to say. As opposed to coming to the Scriptures with a pre-conceived notion or goal and then looking for verses which back that up, expository preaching/teaching is focused on coming to the Bible and understanding what it has to say to us.

For this reason, we usually teach and preach through the Bible in a verse-by-verse fashion, but expository preaching can be done when addressing topics as well.

However, just teaching verse-by verse does not necessarily equal expository preaching. An expository sermon aims to expose as clearly as possible the meaning of the text, which means that it will have an effective structure for doing so, and will bring in other biblical texts to reach that goal.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Expository Sermons vs. Running Commentary

Consider these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic: Preaching and Preachers

A sermon should always be expository. But, immediately, that leads me to say something which I regard as very important indeed in this whole matter. A sermon is not a running commentary on, or a mere exposition of, the meaning of a verse or a passage or a paragraph.

I emphasise this because there are many today who have become interested in what they regard as expository preaching but who show very clearly that they do not know what is meant by expository preaching. They think that it just means making a series of comments, or a running commentary on a paragraph or a passage or a statement. They take a passage verse by verse; and they make their comments on the first, then they go on to the next verse, and do the same with that, then the next, and so on. When they have gone through the passage in this way they imagine they have preached a sermon. But they have not; all they have done is to make a series of comments on a passage.

I would suggest that far from having preached a sermon such preachers have only preached the introduction to a sermon! This, in other words, raises the whole question of the relationship of exposition to the sermon. My basic contention is that the essential characteristic of a sermon is that it has a definite form, and that it is this form that makes it a sermon. It is based upon exposition, but it is this exposition turned or moulded into a message which has this characteristic form.

A phrase that helps to bring out this point is one which is to be found in the Old Testament in the Prophets where we read about ‘the burden of the Lord’. The message has come to the prophet as a burden, it has come to him as an entire message, and he delivers this. That is something, I argue, which is not true of a mere series of comments upon a number of verses.

I maintain that a sermon should have form in the sense that a musical symphony has form. A symphony always has form, it has its parts and its portions. The divisions are clear, and are recognised, and can be described; and yet a symphony is a whole. You can divide it into parts, and yet you always realise that they are parts of a whole, and that the whole is more than the mere summation or aggregate of the parts.

One should always think of a sermon as a construction, a work which is in that way comparable to a symphony. In other words a sermon is not a mere meandering through a number of verses; it is not a mere collection or series of excellent and true statements and remarks. All those should be found in the sermon, but they do not constitute a sermon. What makes a sermon a sermon is that it has this particular ‘form’ which differentiates it from everything else.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers (pp. 82-84). Zondervan

He then goes on to make the point that “Spirit-led” does not mean structureless. We must not assume that structure and organization is at odds with being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The ultimate goal of expository preaching is to let God’s Word speak and be understood as clearly, and with appropriate force upon the life of the hearers, that they might know God’s Word to them.


The Hurricane Has Become Human

N.T. Wright, in the introduction to his book, For All God’s Worth, writes:

How can you cope with the end of one world and the beginning of another one? Or the thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire became flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst?

This, he goes on to say, is what Christianity is all about. And the question for us is: how ought we to respond to such news? The answer is: Worship. That is the only appropriate response.

What is he referring to?

In the Old Testament, when God appeared to the people it was often a terrifying experience. God appeared to Job in the form of a tempest (AKA “hurricane”). When God appeared to the people of Israel in the wilderness on Mt. Sinai, it was in the form of a consuming fire, essentially a fire-storm of lightning and fire on top of the mountain. The message was: God is inapproachable. To attempt to come near to Him would result in certain death… God even told Moses that if anyone would see Him in His glory, they would surely die.

And yet, the incredible message of Christianity is that in the person of Jesus, “the hurricane became human,” that the “fire became flesh” and “life itself came to life and walked in our midst.” And as a result of what he did, we have the promise and the hope of the end of this corrupt world and the advent of a new and better world to come.

To really understand this, Wright says, to take it seriously, means that the only appropriate response is “sheer unadulterated worship of the True and Living God and following Him wherever He leads.”

“Worship,” he says, “is not an optional extra for Christians, nor a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.”

Worship is not an optional extra for Christians, a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.

He goes on to say that many people view Christianity as a being something which gives them a sense of comfort and nostalgia. This should not actually be the case if someone really understands what Christianity is about. Rather than making you feel cozy, the gospel message is one that upturns every area of your life.

Wright says Christmas is a perfect example of this:

Take Christmas, for instance: a season of nostalgia, of carols and candles and firelight and happy children. But that misses the point completely. Christmas is not another reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart. Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in the room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in the room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. The light shines in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christmas then, and Christianity as a whole, is not about escapism, it’s about reality. It’s about how God has intervened in our world, and as a result, everything has and will change. The only proper response to this is to worship God for all he’s worth.

Part of that response, part of that worship, is to take up God’s mission. As John Piper says, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”

May we truly understand the weight of the Christian message: “the end of one world and the beginning of another” — and may we be moved towards this rhythm of response: Worship and Mission.

For more on worship and mission, check out these recent messages from White Fields Church:

Why Martyn Lloyd-Jones Matters Today


Recently I have been reading a book about Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the influence of his preaching. What I find most interesting is how relevant his approach to preaching is to our day. Here are a excerpts from the book to help you see what I mean:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones began his ministry in a time when biblical preaching was considered irrelevant. The common thought of the day was that people are not interested in nor have the ability to handle anything but short “homilies” or “sermonettes”. Churches around the UK were in decline and it was thought that things such as clubs, activities and entertainment were needed to attract people to churches. Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not agree with this; he felt that the greatest need in the church was for strong, biblical, doctrinal preaching.

Peter Lewis writes,

“Amidst the spiritual decline in post WWII England, this gifted expositor stood virtually alone in his commitment to biblical preaching.”

Having grown up in church (Calvinist Methodist {I didn’t even know there was such a thing!}), Martyn Lloyd-Jones claimed that he was only truly converted at age 25. He later described this turning point in his life:

“For many years I thought I was a Christian, when in fact I was not. It was only later that I came to see that I had no inner Christian, and became one. What I needed was preaching that would convict me of sin, but I never heard this. The preaching we had was always based on the assumption that we were all Christians.”

This experience had a profound impact on the way he preached later on in his ministry; he was always doing the work of an evangelist, because he knew what it was to be in church but not be in Christ.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ definition of good preaching was: theology coming through a man who is on fire.

Preaching, he believed, was God’s method, the primary means by which scripture is to be made known.

In this way, Lloyd-Jones stood with the Reformers and Puritans who insisted that preaching is the chief means by which the grace of God is administered to the church.

Hughes Olifant Old, one of the foremost experts on the history of preaching, states,

“the greatest impact of Lloyd-Jones on the English-speaking pulpit of today is the recovery of expository preaching.”

The attitudes and trends which characterized the times in which Martyn Lloyd-Jones began his ministry seem very similar to those of today. Thus, he stands as an example of a different, and may I say: better way.

Author Steven J. Lawson concludes,

“The hour is upon us for faithful men of God to step into pulpits around the world and preach the Word. The need has never been greater. In a day that clamours for churches to captitulate to the spirit of the age and use entertainment in order to draw crowds, the primacy of biblical preaching must be restored wherever the people of God gather to worship. As it was the need in the time of Lloyd-Jones, so it remains the need today for preachers to herald the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to feed the flock and evangelize.”

See also: Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Please Turn With Me in Your Phones… – Smart Phones and Tablets in Church

One of the first changes we made to the bulletins at White Fields when we redesigned them last year, was to get rid of a chunk of text which said: “Please turn off cell phones and pagers during service”.  First of all: pagers are only found in museums, so I don’t think we’ll have a big problem with those being on in service, and second: I don’t want people to turn off their phones in church. That’s right – you read that correctly. I don’t want them answering phone calls or sending texts – but I’d say that our technology culture has developed enough of an etiquette by now, that that goes without saying for most people.

Christianity Today published an article last week about a Barna poll which had shown how millennials use technology in their faith life. The title of the article was: “Watch Out, Pastors: Millennials are Fact-Checking Your Sermons”. First, let me say, that I think we make too much of a big deal over the term “Millennial” – to the point that we seem like we are studying a wild animal rather than dealing with individuals. The reality is, that it isn’t only young people who are connected; nowadays, everyone is connected. Some of the most tech-savvy people I know are in their 60’s. This week SNL’s Weekend Update reported on how Facebook’s stock share prices dropped because of a report that less and less teenagers are using the site. ‘”Really? I think Facebook is great” said moms.’ That’s right – moms are all over Facebook, and every other kind of social media. Because being connected to the internet is the new way to be human. And this isn’t just the case in the United States – reports show that the most connected countries in the world are outside of the United States – places like the Philippines. My experiences is that Hungarians are way more connected to Facebook than Americans. The internet, in many ways, serves as a great equalizer.

Being connected to the internet is the new way to be human.

And that brings us back to the point of the internet and church. The article I mentioned above warned pastors against fibbing, because some of the young people in their congregations might be on their phones fact-checking you as you speak. Here’s what I think: If you are fibbing or exaggerating, then you deserve to be found out! How dare anyone stand up and speak in God’s name and use half-truths and lies or non-credible information to bolster a point they are trying to make? That is an utter lack of respect for God and for the people you minister to. If you are going to teach something, then it better be true!

Pastors: If you are fibbing or exaggerating in your sermons, you deserve to be found out!

For example: earlier today, my cousin, who recently declared himself an outspoken atheist, jumped into a conversation I was having about something my son said about Jesus’ crucifixion, to ask if there are any non-Christian credible sources from antiquity that spoke of Jesus as a historical figure and a man who performed miracles. I was able to immediately send him an article which contained a collection of those writings, which he obviously assumed did not exist. Here’s the point: I am not afraid of the truth – because if what I believe is not true, then I don’t want to believe it!  And if what I believe is true, then I don’t need to be afraid of people investigating its veracity.

So here’s what I say: I WANT you to use your phone during my sermon! Don’t be texting people, don’t be surfing the web – be engaging and connecting with what we’re studying.  I WANT you to be posting to Facebook during my sermons; I WANT you to be tweeting – as long as you are posting and tweeting as a form of engagement. I love it when I come home from church on a Sunday afternoon, and I see that members of our church were tweeting out or Facebooking quotes from my sermon during the message!  That means that the words of my sermon will have a greater reach than they would have otherwise, because they get sent out to hundreds of thousands of people on those social networks.

For over two years now, I have preached from a tablet rather than printed out notes. At White Fields I don’t have a pulpit – I have a mic stand with an iKlip on it. On my iPad I have about 10 versions of the Bible available at my fingertips, and I read from them as I teach. For this reason, for quite a while, I didn’t bring a Bible with me up to the “pulpit” – since I would read the scriptures off of my iPad. Recently though, I did take an old-school paper Bible up with me and read from it, and I got comments right away about how people were happy to see that. So, ever since, I’ve started doing that again. I’ve also started carrying a paper Bible with me to counseling and discipleship meetings, whereas I previously only took my iPad and read scriptures from it. The reason I’ve made this change is because I realize the incredible symbolic value of the Bible as a book. Everyone carries an iPad or a smart phone, but not everyone carries a Bible. When I read my Bible in a coffee shop, people know what I’m reading – whereas they don’t when I read from an iPad.

What about you?  Do you read the Bible on your phone or tablet at church? Do you engage with the sermon while it’s being preached?

The danger of it of course is that if someone lacks self-control, they could easily be distracted from the sermon rather than engage with it on their device.

What do you think? How do we leverage getting greater engagement via smart phones and tablets without people getting distracted  by them? Is it possible?  Leave me a comment below about your experience.