Paul declared, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel“(1 Corinthians 9: 16, KJV)! I love to preach the Gospel and to hear sound Gospel preaching. To me, the content of preaching is sharing the Gospel, and the Gospel, in a nutshell, is that Jesus is King (and all that pertains to Him). However, there are many forms that preaching can take. At least more than an introduction, three points, and a conclusion. The following is an examination of one essential approach and four ways to shape the preacher’s sermon.
To begin, we are going to point out something that will make some mad. My approach to sermons is that all good preaching is expository. Now, some will use that term and imply a particular style of preaching. However, I am implying that all good preaching exposes people to Scripture, rightfully divided and studied (2 Tim. 2:15), in different ways.
Typically, those from a Calvinistic background, have taken expository preaching and defined it so narrowly and shame any other sermon style. For these individuals, expositional preaching is identified solely as verse-by-verse. What’s funny to me is that they focus a lot of attention on being against topical preaching and are in favor of verse by verse only. However, when you go to listen to a sermon from one of these preachers, it’s verse by verse, but usually titled as though it addresses a topic. Even when preaching through a book. This is probably because the Bible deals with issues and problems. Or, they go speak at conferences that are focused on a specific topic. Usually, conferences about the topic of expository preaching.
Do you see the shallowness of calling understanding expositional preaching as only verse by verse? Expositional preaching as verse-by-verse is a more recent development in Church history. But, that’s for a different time. What we do see in the Bible is God using different writing structures, mechanics, and people with different approaches. Therefore, it seems that since God used different genres and writing styles to get His message across, the preacher should make use of various forms of communication.
The shape of the sermon should expose the hearer to the whole of Scripture on the matter. The Holy Spirit and the passage being presented should shape the form of the sermon. Not the preacher’s preference for a specific style. By preaching, we bring individuals face to face with God’s truth, and that is the whole Bible. If you are still tracking with me, this broader understanding of expository preaching will become more evident.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think there is something special about preaching verse by verse. Especially for pastoral preaching. One of the qualifications for pastors was the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), and I think preaching verse by verse is one of the best ways to accomplish this task. By going through a book of the bible verse by verse, the preacher is able to expose the congregation to Scripture not just verse-by-verse, but to follow a Biblical writers train of thought. It forces the preacher to address popular passages in context and difficult passages that are usually avoided.
Topical preaching is usually associated with anything other than verse-by-verse preaching. However, as I already noted, even verse-by-verse preaching is topical since Scripture dealt with topics and was written with specific purposes in the mind of God and the writers. Still, I digress to the typical way topical sermons are preached. They begin with a topic and a key passage addressing the topic. Then, in a sweeping fashion, the topic is examined from other vital passages from the Bible. In a way, it is systematic or doctrinal preaching. It exposes the listener to the whole of Scripture on a single topic, rather than one passage as is found in the verse-by-verse style.
Narrative preaching focuses on telling a story and everybody loves a story. The story being told is not an outside illustration, but a narrative passage from the Bible, such as David in the den of Lions or Jesus healing Bartimaeus. In fact, adding outside examples would be confusing and somewhat distracting. The purpose of narrative preaching is to expose them to the events that take place in Scripture. The power is the simplicity of the message, usually by sharing the story and connecting it to only one big idea. Narrative preaching doesn’t happen when the preacher tells a little bit of the story and then associates it with a spiritual thought, then says a little more and connects it to another idea. That is allegorical preaching and quickly leads back to the 3-point sermon format. Instead, it tells the story and then relates the listener to the big idea in the passage.
The final method of shaping the sermon is through allegorical preaching. Allegory is a way of interpreting something’s hidden meaning. In preaching, it is taking a word, story, or thought and looking for spiritual senses. I do find this type of preaching as a valid way to expose people to God’s truth. First, it is one of the most historical approaches. Secondly, it shows that God’s Word is incredibly deep in meaning and application. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it’s how the New Testament preachers typically wrote. For example, look at the book of Hebrews. Moses, Israel, the wilderness travels, the tabernacle, and sacrifices are used metaphorical and spiritual meanings through Christ.
However, the danger is that allegorical preaching by itself can become incredibly shallow. One reason is that it usually focuses on one word from a passage and neglects context. Another reason is when a narrative reading, such as David and Goliath, is preached, there can be so many connections made that people are overwhelmed or confused at how to make the spiritual connections. And, finally, to many spiritual links can be added that have no actual grounding in the passage.
For example, I remember hearing an allegorical sermon on Proverbs 30:28, “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” The preacher went on to give a biology lecture of the spider and spiritualized everything as how to live the Christian life. Even the spider’s venom and web. It was all over the place, and they struggled to make connections. Why do I think it failed to expose people to the truth. The danger of allegorical preaching is that it can become so far disconnected from the context of the Scripture presented that the Bible is either just a passing thought or altogether forgotten.
In conclusion, when you are preaching, expose your congregation to God’s Word in any way that respects God’s Word and sound doctrine.