Expository Preaching as a Means of Protection
Reading: Mark 7:6-13
In my Bible reading plan, this section of Mark stretches from 7:1 – 8:21. It begins with the Pharisees arguing with Jesus about how the disciples are eating “bread” and ends with the Pharisees arguing with Jesus and asking for a sign (Mark 8:11) leading into a story about the one loaf, the One Bread the disciples had but did not yet understand that they had. The message of the text speaks volumes about true cleansing, both where we need it and Who it comes from. However, as I read this text this morning something else jumped out.
How did the Pharisees, who certainly professed to love the Scriptures, get to such a place that they could entirely miss the very purpose for which it was written? Jesus tells us. They were “teaching as doctrines the commands of men. Disregarding the command of God…” He continued, “You completely invalidate God’s command in order to maintain your tradition!” And finally, “You revoke God’s word by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other similar things.” (Mark 7:7b-9, 13 CSB) They had gradually drifted from the clear statements of scripture into their favorite teachings and ideas with which they were comfortable.
Jesus’ words, “And you do many other similar things,” should give us pause. What similar things do we do? These words were surely written as a warning for future generations lest we travel the same path. I am afraid, however, that they describe much of the preaching that takes place in churches across America today. This holds true for both “liberal” and “conservative” churches.
Why do I say this? Because if I stop and analyze what is said in many sermons (and I spent many years preaching this way myself), when Scripture is read, it is merely a diving board from which the preacher (and audience with him) jumps into the pool, while the rest of the sermon is in the pool… swimming around in the water (self-help teachings, feel good teachings, how to achieve all you want teachings, or even our favorite theological doctrines). If I apply Jesus’ words to that analogy, the scriptures should be the pool, and the other pieces of the sermon should be the diving board or ladder. They should either help launch us into the text, or make application coming out of the text.
Somewhere along the way, many in the church have grown accustomed to hearing sermons in which the hard work of learning God’s Word is of no interest. When understanding the specific teaching of a text is not driving the sermon, we have begun “disregarding the command of God” and may be dangerously close to “teaching as doctrines the commands of men.” Expository preaching and teaching is no guarantee against this, but given Jesus’ warning against the human tendency to drift from the truths of God’s word, it is certainly a safety switch, a protection for the church against the heart’s inclination to drift.
What is expository preaching? For some it simply means working through the Bible or books of the Bible in order, or verse by verse. As good as that may be, I heard a better definition years ago. Expository preaching is when the preacher strives to make the point and purpose of the text the driving point and purpose of his sermon. Sequence has little to do with it. One could, for instance, go through the Bible verse by verse but still use each verse to launch into their favorite traditions or ideas that sizzle. Are you in a church that engages Scripture in such a way that allows it to speak, or is the text merely the accessories around the pool of our favorite ideas and teachings? If you are not, it might be time to have a discussion with your pastor. Or, in some cases to find a church that does. Expository preaching is a means of protection from ourselves.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,