II KINGS 23:25: “Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: What ever happened to Expository Preaching? I am aware as I muse on this question most people who read this may not even know what that is. It has been absent from the church for so long it is as foreign as singing hymns. The norm for churches today is the short sermon series. These are topical and focus on verses but not books of Scripture.
Expository Preaching in its purest form is the verse-by-verse teaching (exposition) of an entire book of Scripture. One of the greatest expository preachers of the 20th Century, in my opinion, was the late J. Vernon McGee. For years he preached through the Bible, verse by verse, and these messages are still being broadcast today in 35 languages – “Thru the Bible, with J. Vernon McGee.”
Through most of my pastoral ministry, I too relied on topical series. I was hooked on acrostic series for a while. I think I garnered some self-appreciation through the creative nature of such a series. However, in my last years as a pastor, I began to return to Expository Preaching. As I did, I realized why this style of preaching is so important. And, when I read the life account of Josiah it confirmed my convictions.
King Josiah was the son of Amon, son of Manasseh, the most evil king that ever reigned in Judah. Manasseh had introduced all forms of idolatry into the life of Judah, had erected pagan altars in front of the Temple, established the high places of pagan worship, and placed idols inside the Temple. By the time Josiah became king, Judah was a syncretic cesspool of pagan worship. It was so bad that God declared His judgment against Judah.
However, King Josiah started differently. It is recorded that,
- “And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” II Kings 22:2 NKJV
Josiah’s heart was right before the Lord. However, he reigned for 18 years in Judah and everything was business as usual. In other words, King Josiah did not see or understand how far Judah had fallen from the Lord. Temple worship continued. Life in Judah continued. And, no one even noticed or discerned how far they had fallen from the Lord. This continued until Josiah was moved to do repairs on the Temple. When the workers began to do their work an unusual discovery was made.
- “Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the Lord.” Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.” II Kings 22:8-10 NKJV
Before I go on, may I suggest that we are at the same place where Josiah and Judah stood before they discovered the Book of the Law. They were going on with their religious services. They were singing and offering sacrifices. It was business as usual. Meanwhile, their culture had fallen into darkness and no one was aware! Could this be the condition of the American church? Could we be going on with our services, worship celebrations, and topical sermon series – and be continually drifting further and further away from the Lord?
What changed everything for Josiah? How did he end up being a king who turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might? How did he become the greatest religious reformer in the history of Judah’s Kings since King David? This only happened as he read the ENTIRE Book of the Law. Please note – there were no chapters in the ancient scrolls. When they read the Book of the Law they read it in its entirety, in context, in the flow of revelation that God had given.
In essence, they read it word for word, thought for thought, line for line, in its full context, and their lives were changed. They were not able to pick and choose their favorite verse or topic. As Josiah read the Book of the Law he received the whole counsel of God. I believe we are missing the whole counsel of God in our current obsession with short sermon series. When we only pick and choose certain verses and topics we ignore the weightier issues of the Bible and lean towards our interests and personal hobby horses.
When Josiah read the entire Book of the Law it turned his world upside down!
- “Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes…Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” II Kings 22:11, 13 NKJV
Josiah fell under the conviction of the Holy Spirit as he heard the words of God’s Holy Word – in its entirety. We need to hear God’s Word once again in its entirety. We need a solid and complete serving of truth from God’s Word. Catchy sermon series may attract a crowd but they will never usher in the revival we so desperately need. We also cannot simply focus on worship and prayer. We are called to worship God in spirit and truth. Truth without the spirit produces legalism and death. The spirit without truth blinds our eyes to our true spiritual condition.
Preaching God’s Word expositorily is much harder work than producing a topical study or short sermon series. Preaching expositorily keeps both the preacher and congregation honest before God. We are unable to hop over the more difficult texts. We are forced to deal with truth, all of God’s truth. Only expository reading, studying, and preaching will restore a Biblical Worldview in both the church and its members. And, only a Biblical Worldview will cause us to make the reforms necessary in our spiritual lives.
One practical example before I close these thoughts. One can pick and choose many topics in the book of I Corinthians. A complete series can be done on spiritual gifts. However, look at the topics one would have to cover in just the first seven chapters of I Corinthians!
• Division in the church
• God’s wisdom versus the world’s
• Christ crucified
• Spiritual understanding and discernment
• Carnality in the life of a believer
• Partnership in ministry
• Avoiding spiritual deception
• Stewardship of the Gospel
• Becoming a fool for Christ
• Immorality in the church
• Church discipline
• Christians and lawsuits
• Sins that keep one from God’s Kingdom
• Sexual sin and the call to purity
• Marital purity
• Divorce and remarriage
• Instruction for singles and widows
For time and space, I will not outline the entire book, but I think you get my point. You cannot preach through the book of I Corinthians in a four-week sermons series. Yet, what transformation could take place if just this one book was taught expositorily?
My prayer is for every pastor and every believer to begin living in the Word of God! I am not throwing my fellow pastors under the bus. I am simply sharing the convictions I came to after a lifetime of ministry. Each year I read through the Bible in its entirety. As I have done this for many many years I find myself gaining a healthier and more reverent view of the Scriptures. My heart is continually challenged and changed. I am brought to continual repentance. And, my worship is deepened as my knowledge of God grows.
Lord, help us to be like Josiah. Help us to read Your Word, Pray over Your Word, and Preach Your Word in such a way that it opens our eyes to the true spiritual condition of our hearts and calls us once again to our knees!
In Jesus’ Name!