let the animal out of the cage



The member pulled the pastor aside after the morning’s sermon.  He was a little heated and his words were harsh.

“Why would you have preached, that?” he said red-faced.

“Because it was in the text,” the pastor calmly responded.

It was a difficult topic that believers get into steel cage matches over but the text was clear and so was the pastor.  This member was a fairly new believer but his regular diet of sermons was from the TV preachers in expensive suits who promised you health, wealth, and maybe a Beamer if you had a lotta faith..uh-oh.

Last time I said we were gonna start into a series on nine marks that move a church toward health and the number one ingredient is expositional preaching. It is the key mark that flow into all the other eight.  If you nail expositional preaching, over time, the other eight marks will fall into place.  That’s why this one is number one.

In a nutshell, expositional preaching is just taking the main point of the passage and making it the main point of the sermon.  That’s it.  It’s not rocket science.  It takes a lot of study and prayer is vital but the pastor is to simply proclaim what God’s Word says.  You read it, explain it, illustrate it, and apply it.  To say it another way you let the animal out of the cage.  But if someone has a diet of ‘a verse here and a verse there’ preaching it will seem like a foreign concept.  Expositional preaching may seem wrong if that’s normal for meal time.  It may make people angry and get them right mad as to what the Bible says…but often the preacher takes the heat!   

This is not an uncommon thing.  A strong bold word is brought and someone gets offended but when you share the truth in love, you’re in the same camp as Jesus.  It says they took offence at Him in John 6:61.  That is what the Word of God is suppose to do.  Every week when the pastor brings it, it is to call for us to repent and believe.  To tweak and turn us.  Sometimes it’s more comforting and sometimes it can be very convicting but when you preach expositionally you let the tone and topic of the text drive the tone and the topic of the sermon.  Sometimes God’s Word can be like a baseball bat to our souls.  

The preacher who boldly proclaims what God has said puts great confidence in the Word of God.  Paul reminds us why: 

[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

In :16 Paul mentions four things that the Word does and it goes on to say that it equips us for every good work.  Then why would some not want to hear all of the Word?  Because the Word calls us to change via the help of the Holy Spirit.  If you are used to light preaching you may not want it on your menu…you may see it as foreign food, but it grows on you and increases your hunger for it if you are teachable, and once you have a steady diet of it, it’s hard to go back to Bible lite.  To some Bible lite tastes great, but let me tell you, it’s less filling.  2 Timothy goes on and talks about the seriousness of preaching and to preach steak even though some may want cream puffs.     

Expositional preaching helps you work towards hearing the whole counsel of God (Acts 10:27).  Let me give you an example.  

Our church started to walk through the book of Ephesians a few weeks back and there is enough in there to offend everyone!  There is a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God in chapters one and two.  Chapters two and three will convict about barriers between people groups in your church that the gospel smashes to pieces.  The second half of the book relates to practical living.  Chapter four sets the bar high in our behaviour to other believers.  It calls pastors to equip the flock and it calls believers to speak the truth in love.  Many sermons will tell you to ‘be nice.’  I hate that phrase and ‘nice’ isn’t even in the Bible and that’s another rant for another time but into chapters four and five it calls us to something better, Spirit-empowered living.  Paul paints the picture in chapter five of marriage being a living, breathing example of Christ and the church.  In the last chapter he deals with the relationship of children and parents, some application for bosses and employees, and then Paul pulls the curtain back to expose Satan and ways to strategize against him.  Ephesians is glorious and hard-hitting but it’s for our good and for God’s glory…just like every book in the Bible.  We are to want the Bible’s truth to mold us (Romans 12:2).  

[18] For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)

So there are those who embrace the cross and His Word and Paul identifies them as the ‘being saved’ (the final stage of salvation is in glory) but if we continue to thumb our nose at the cross and the truth and see it as a joke, not so much.

So if you want your church to grow towards health, expositional preaching is the starting place.  John MacArthur has said that if  he looked after the depth of his ministry that God would look after the breadth.  In his forty-some odd years of ministry he took his congregation through the entire New Testament.  And that church has grown (in the early years it doubled in size numerically every two years) and many churches have been planted through Grace Community Church.  He doesn’t use gimmicks or go on TV and act goofy and ask for money, John just faithfully preaches the Word.  If we put our trust in the gospel, if we put our trust in the Word, and just bring it straight, pastors are just doing what God is calling them to do….and God blesses that…and many times that means numerical growth.

May our churches hang on to or find the way back to expositional preaching.


One thought on “let the animal out of the cage

  1. Amen.
    Thanks for posting this Dave.

    The preacher only has the authority when The Word is preached. Having a “preacher” serve a ‘nice’ message of thoughts or stories weekly is like eating the gravel in the restaurant parking lot. It fills the stomach to feel full, but provides no nourishment and isn’t able to be digested.

    But when, with authority, the Word (all of it) is preached people are not just eating gravel, or carrots( to give some preachers some credit), but instead having full meals!

    All of His Word is useful and necessary for training in righteousness!

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