In 2 Timothy 4, Paul commands Timothy, as well as all preachers to “preach the Word.” Please take note that he did not say “Preach current events” or “Preach your favorite subject” or “Preach your own private interpretation.” The text is crystal clear: “Preach the Word.” I hear, and hear of more and more often, of a famine in our churches. It is the famine that Amos spoke of: a famine of the Word of the Lord. There is a “read it and leave it” mentality. Allow me to explain what I mean. The preacher may read a passage and then spend the rest of the time never dealing with the text itself, this is called exploiting the text. For some unknown reason this is still labeled as “preaching.” The preacher MUST read the text and then deal with the text directly, word by word, verse by verse. Exposition gains the most fruit by preaching through a book of the Bible. This helps to guarantee that no exploiting takes place.
When I began in ministry I was in the middle of my teenage years. I did a great deal of pulpit supply in the surrounding counties. I was incredibly nervous; however, my stupidity far outranked my anxiety. I did not really know what to say so I simply stuck to the text of the Bible like glue. I did not waver from the verse itself. I had such a profound respect for the preaching ministry that I did not want to say anything wrong. I also knew that I would not, nor could ever, say anything life changing, but every verse of the Bible is infallible, inerrant, and sufficient. They did not need to hear from me, they needed me to be faithful to relay what the Bible itself said. When I was in college and seminary I learned that the verse by verse preaching that I had been doing, and was modeled for me by the likes of Rogers and MacArthur, was called expository preaching.
We are not allowed to rewrite the New Testament to make ourselves feel better. This is called exploiting the text. The Bible does not mean what we want it to mean, it means what it means. We have all been in well-meaning Sunday school classes or Bible studies in general when the continual loop of conversation is: “What does this mean to you?” Such a question puts the authority in the hands of the reader, when in actuality the authority belongs to the Bible itself. Bible study is the glorious responsibility and privilege of Christians to dig and dig to find out what the Bible says and how to apply it. Unfortunately, exploiting rather than expositing is what is modeled for us most of the time. The father of the Protestant church, Martin Luther, said, “Any preacher who has but one word from the Bible and out of that one word cannot preach a lifetime of sermons can never be a preacher.” This may sound harsh, even to my fellow pastors reading this, but Luther knew the endless treasures found in the study of the Scriptures, especially of the original languages. Does this take time? Of course it does! 2 Timothy 2:15 is clear about our responsibilities to the Word of God. Laziness has no place in the pastor’s study as he prepares during the week. Brothers, do the hard work of exposition and be prepared to have God breathe new life into your people. God’s Words in the Bible are infinitely far more important than anything you or I have to say.
Preacher, are you expositing or exploiting the text? Do not dare not to study and claim some sort of super spirituality that God will provide the words when you step into the pulpit. A preacher of a previous generation once told me: “If you do not prepare your sermon and your own soul, nothing will come out but hot air.” If you do not deal with the text, God will not deal with your people. Preacher, get in the Word or get out of the pulpit.
Precious sheep, what are you hearing in your church? Exposition or Exploitation? You have a responsibility in this too. Your pastor cannot feed you enough to sustain you. You must get into the Word yourself. What are you practicing in your own quiet time: exposition or exploitation?
In a day when the Bible is either being discarded or abused, let us resolve to be people of the Book. Let us have again our worn out Bibles, highlighted, underlined, and wet with tears of repentance. The great need of the hour is not for a specific program or method. The great need of the lateness of the hour is simply the people of God once again hearing the Word of God and hanging on every single syllable. This will only come by way of exposition not exploitation.