Is Expository Preaching Cheating?

 

In a recent Q&A pastor Andy Stanley was asked the question, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” This is how he replied, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible – that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in Scripture modelled that. There’s not one example of that.” Wow. As a person who hopes to be a full time expositor one day, and who attends a church where expository preaching is the norm I find this insulting. My first response was one of anger. I was angry with Andy Stanley. I wanted him to take back his harsh words and apologize. I wanted to tell everyone how disgusted I was with his comment. But after I cooled down, the Lord reminded me of a time when I would have wholeheartedly agreed with Andy’s statement. I was attending a Christian college when I first felt the call to preach. I went to church three times a week and chapel four times a week. Needless to say, I was exposed to a lot of preaching. Some of it was good, some of it was bad. Much of the preaching could have been classified as expository preaching. Unfortunately the man who did most of the preaching was not a preacher…he was a Bible teacher. There is a difference. His teaching was good, but his preaching wasn’t. His preaching was dry as dust and he could put you to sleep even if you were drinking espressos throughout the sermon. Not only that, but finding application in his sermons was about as likely as finding a blue unicorn at your local zoo. This was my first exposure to expository preaching and you can probably see how this would have given me a negative view of it. I had determined in my heart that this kind of teaching was good for Bible classes and Bible studies but certainly not for church. I believed that topical sermons with heavy application were what we needed to hear on Sunday mornings. I held that view up until a few years ago when I started hearing expository preaching of another nature. I started listening to expositors like John Piper, John MacArthur and others. These men could preach through a passage and do it with passion. These preachers were also capable of giving life changing application in their sermons. This completely changed my opinion on expository preaching. In fact, nothing else would do now. These sermons were keeping me fed. I was learning and I was growing. I no longer cared for sermons that were light, entertaining, and somewhat applicable. I couldn’t get enough of these life altering expository sermons. Others sermons would leave me hungry for more. And then a few years ago I started attending a church that has a huge emphasis on expository preaching. We listen to a guy teach through a passage for about 45 minutes. And guess what? We are growing numerically and spiritually all the time! People are hungry for God’s Word and God’s Word is exactly what expository preaching offers. Maybe Andy has never experienced this kind of expository preaching. Maybe he has just had a bad experience with someone who did it wrong. If so, I hope that he hears a really good sermon from a faithful expositor. If he has heard good expository preaching then I cannot give him the benefit of the doubt. His statement is absolutely false. Expository preaching is not cheating, and it certainly is not easy. A week ago Sunday I preached a 45 minute long sermon on the first three chapters of Genesis. This was no easy task. I want to share a few things about my sermon prep with you so that you can see for yourself that expository preaching is not cheating. The first thing that I would like to share with you is my conviction to be faithful to God’s Word. When I approach a passage of scripture my first goal is to be as faithful as I can to the true meaning of the text. God doesn’t take it lightly when someone alters the meaning of His words. This conviction haunts me as I prepare a sermon. If I ever feel like a thought in my sermon is from my own mind and not from the Bible I end up throwing it out. I will be held accountable to God for what I teach people. I take that seriously. The next step is prayer. I pray for the sermon. I pray that God would help me be faithful to the text. I also pray that God would use the message to change hearts and lives. And I pray for God to help me write the sermon since I am but a weak man. The next step is study. I spend multiple hours reading commentaries and articles, listening to sermons on the passage, and looking up the original meaning of some difficult words. I read through the passage multiple times to try and get a understanding of the text from the plain reading of it. For this last sermon I ended up with about 25 pages of notes. After the research is complete I make an outline. I break down the passages into different sections to make it more manageable and then I gather my thoughts for each section within the passage. I had a three page outline for this last sermon. The last step is the actual writing of the sermon. This is the hardest part for me. I probably spent about 10 or more hours taking all of my notes and trying to put them into a sermon. Sometimes getting my words into a page feels like pulling teeth. I usually lose a lot of sleep leading up to the sermon as a burn the candle at both ends to get this thing on paper. My sermon on Genesis was 24 pages long and I got hardly any sleep the weekend that I was to preach it. I don’t say all of this to boast about all of the work that I put into a sermon. I share this with you because most people just see the Sunday morning. Most people see a preacher preach his sermon but they never see him prepare it. They joke that he only works one day a week. The sermon is on his mind all week, he pours out hours of prayer, study, and preparation into his sermon. Andy Stanley is wrong, this is not cheating. This is preaching. And this is what God has called us to do. It is hard work, but when God uses a sermon to change lives it is all worth it.

 

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When Our Hearts Condemn Us

One of my favourite hymns starts with the words,

 

“Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine Oh what a foretaste of glory divine Heir of salvation, purchased of God Born of the Spirit, washed in His blood”

 

There have been many wonderful moments of my Christian life where this has been the song that my heart was singing. Moments when I was overwhelmed by God’s amazing love and grace, where all of my confidence was in Christ and His perfect atonement for my sins. Moments when I truly grasped the extent of God’s forgiveness, that He had cast my sins as far as the East is from the West. But in all honesty, this hasn’t always been the case. Blessed assurance hasn’t always been my hearts favourite song to sing. Though my confidence in Christ has increased greatly over the years, I remember times in my Christian infancy when I had many struggles with doubt and lack of assurance. So I thank God for the increase of my confidence in Christ and that the temptations to doubt are once in a blue moon compared to my weekly battles in the past. But I also realize that this isn’t the case for everyone. I recognize that some dear brothers and sisters in Christ struggle with the assurance of their salvation more than others. If this is you, I want you to know that I am praying for you as I write this. My prayer is that your heart will become more prone to sing “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine” and that your confidence in God’s glorious gospel would become so strong that the doubts you struggle with now won’t be able to find a place to settle in your heart. Speaking of your heart, is it not your heart that is the cause for so much of this doubt? Is it not your heart that is so quick to condemn you when you have sinned against God? Is it not your heart that slams the gavel and cries, “guilty!” when you haven’t touched your Bible in a week and your prayer life has been less than desirable? Indeed, it is your heart that has been so quick to condemn you. Sometimes when we feel guilt and shame due to our sin and when we feel distant from our Heavenly Father, our hearts gather evidence against us, put us on trial, and declare us to be guilty and worthy of God’s condemnation. Beloved, I want you to know that your heart is not the judge and it can’t always be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” So when your heart rushes to condemn you, don’t be so quick to trust it. 1 John 3:19-20 says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before Him, for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and He knows everything.” God knows everything that we have ever done and will ever do and He is greater than our heart. So when your heart condemns you, bring your case into God’s courtroom for a retrial. Your heart has no authority in God’s courtroom! And if you are a child of God, His verdict is that you are innocent and free from condemnation. Not because we haven’t sinned and not because we don’t deserve condemnation(because we certainly do!), but because Christ already paid the penalty for our sins and gave us His righteousness so that we could stand blameless before God(2 Corinth. 5:21). When we placed our faith in Christ, God declared us to be forgiven, accepted, loved, and adopted into His family for all of eternity(Ephesians 1). Our assurance does not come from how we feel in certain moments of our Christian life, it comes from what Christ accomplished on the cross. That doesn’t mean that we need to stop feeling guilty for our sins or that we stop asking for His forgiveness when we have sinned and gone astray. It is good to feel godly sorrow when we have sinned against God and grieved His Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We do need to repent and seek forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. But instead of allowing our hearts to condemn us, we can declare with confidence that, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”(Romans 8:1). Remind yourself daily¬†of the gospel of Christ and strive to obey Him, knowing that you are already loved, forgiven, and accepted by God.