According to the legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, the best thing he ever did was to discover the “fundamentalist” teacher Jack Grout, who taught him the basics that he has followed ever since. Great preachers, like great golfers, follow basic rules. The more they practice these rules, the better they become.
One such rule, put succinctly in English prose that now sounds dated, but which is as needful now as when it was first penned, comes from the Directory for the Publick Worship of God, written in 1645 by the Westminster Assembly of Divines. When raising a point from the text, the directory says, preachers are to ensure that “it be a truth contained in or grounded on that text, that the hearers may discern how God teacheth it from thence.” In other words, preaching must enable those who hear it to understand their Bibles.
In laying down this principle, the divines were following the first book on homiletics to be produced by the English Reformation, William Perkins’ The Arte of Prophecying (1617), which included this instruction: “The Word of God alone is to be preached, in its perfection and inner consistency. Scripture is the exclusive subject of preaching, the only field in which the preacher is to labour.”
As incredible as it seems, Perkins found it necessary to underline the fact that preachers are to preach the Bible and the Bible alone. As Paul urged Timothy, the preacher’s task is to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2).
Earlier, Paul had assured the Corinthians that he and his companions were not “like so many, peddlers of God’s Word” (2 Cor. 2:17). The word Paul employs here, kapeleuô, is rendered variously as “peddle,” “corrupt,” or “deal deceitfully”; the New Living Translation renders the verse, “we are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—who preach just to make money.” This word comes from the world of ancient tavern-keeping. It suggests the practice of “blending, adulterating, and giving bad measure.” Paul was concerned for purity and honesty in handling the Scriptures.
He charged young Timothy again to present himself to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The word that is translated in many versions as “to handle” or “to divide” actually means “to cut” (orthotomeo). Timothy was to drive a straight path through the Word of God and not deviate to the left or to the right. He was to “preach the word,” meaning not only that he was to preach from the Bible, but that he was to expound the particular passage he was preaching on because Scripture, as Paul reminds Timothy, is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Expository preaching is a necessary corollary of the doctrine of the God-breathed nature of Scripture. The idea is not so much that God breathed into the Scriptures, but that the Scriptures are the product of His breathing out. Independent of what we may feel about the Bible as we read it, Scripture maintains a “breath of God” quality. Thus, the preacher is to make God’s Word known and make it understandable. He is to limit himself to it without adding or subtracting. As Alec Motyer has written: “An expository ministry is the proper response to a God-breathed Scripture. Central to it all is that concern which the word ‘exposition’ itself enshrines: a display of what is there.”
Such word-focused ministry, based on divinely given Scripture (as Paul makes plain to the church at Ephesus), fulfills four goals all at once: it builds up the church in faith and knowledge; it brings believers to maturity marked by spiritual stability; it produces a people whose lives are full of integrity; and it equips the church for service so that each member is engaged in ministry to others (Eph. 4:12-16).