In my first post I defined expository preaching as preaching in which the content, intent, and structure of the passage determines the content, intent, and structure of the message. Today I want to focus on the “content” portion of that definition.
In contrast to topical preaching (which chooses a topic or subject and then collects various texts that deal with that topic), expository preaching chooses one passage of Scripture as the foundation of the message. The length of the passage can vary significantly, from a single verse to an entire book of the Bible. But the defining characteristic in view here is that the content of the passage determines what the preacher preaches. If the passage deals with the deity of Christ, the preacher preaches on the deity of Christ. If it deals with caring for widows, he preaches on caring for widows. You get the picture.
But expository preaching is more than merely making sure that some of the topics present in the passage are present in your message. Good expository preaching seeks to determine the central thrust of the passage and make that the central thrust of the message. Different preachers refer to this with different terms such as the big idea, the proposition, or the burden of the sermon. In determining the central thrust of the passage, you are making the claim that everything in the passage in some way relates to it. In the same way, everything in the message should in some way relate to the central thrust of the passage.
Determining the central thrust of the passage enables the preacher to know what to emphasize in his message. In a passage of any significant length, any number of elements might catch the preacher’s eye and lead him down a rabbit trail. But the central thrust helps to rein in the preacher and prevent him from simply selecting the elements of a passage that are most interesting to him. It also provides a helpful filter for determining what stays in the sermon and what is left on the cutting room floor.
In the next installment in this series, I’ll discuss the “intent” portion of my definition.
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Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.
Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).
Follow him on Twitter: @DocHarmon