This is Part 2 of the two part series on the difficulties and blessings of systematic exposition. You can read Part 1 here. “. . .So is it worth it? Should we abandon systematic, passage by passage, exposition of entire books of the Bible? Should we go to a topical approach of preaching? Or perhaps one popular method today is to preach systematically, but to take even larger passages and skip over details to get to the “good stuff;” is this good enough?”
The five difficulties that preachers face when attempting to preach systematically and expositionally are actually five of the most important reasons for joyfully embracing the difficulty of this kind of preaching.
The process is mentally taxing
And why shouldn’t it be? We are talking about proclaiming to God’s people and to a dying world the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus. When we preach God’s Word, we are saying “God-speak” and if we cannot tire out mentally to communicate the Word of the holy, holy, holy God then what will we tire out doing? Mentally taxing is not a bad thing after all. “Study (be diligent) to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed. Rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” As a shepherd of God’s flock it is my singular mission to equip his flock to worship, serve and obey the Master. Perhaps it would do the church better if we who are pastors embraced the mentally taxing mission of declaring what God really says and not busying ourselves with administrative and easy things of life. Mentally taxing work in the Word of Truth has two powerful by-products in our own lives as preachers. First, being so invested, we will find ourselves driven to “get it right.” That drive is good and necessary to be certain that we are not leading God’s people with our own fallible ideas. Second, being so difficult, it leaves us with no choice but to depend upon the Holy Spirit of God to do his work through us and drives us not only to our books, but ultimately to our knees before we step foot in the pulpit.
The process is spiritually convicting
As I sit and wrestle over a passage that confronts my selfishness, greed, lust, or ingratitude, I am challenged by God’s Word. But this conviction leads me to repent, call out for mercy and embrace God’s grace before I preach the text. Thus, I can thankfully enter the pulpit having confidence that God’s Word works, and the Spirit is active through the Word. If it can change my heart during the week. It can change the hearts of God’s people as well. And it can even open the eyes of the blind sinners who are also hearing the Word of God. It can be rather frustrating to feel as if I have no right to enter the pulpit some weeks when I am going to preach on something that I fail in over and over again—to feel like a hypocrite. But it is also makes the grace and mercy of God even more mesmerizing. To see how God uses those passages of Scripture specifically to give the preacher strength and to sometimes be the most effective in the lives of his people.
The end goal feels rather daunting
I need goals or I go nowhere. True the task of preaching the whole counsel of this big book is daunting, but so is God’s Spiritual enablement. Having the goal of teaching God’s people everything he has said in his book, knowing that it will take a lifetime, keeps me committed to the church God has called me to serve. It is a good thing to feel as if I cannot leave for supposedly “greener pastures” when the task God has given me is undone. Furthermore, daunting missions drive us deeper into dependency on the God who is responsible for all ministry.
Applications can be redundant
This might frustrate me, but perhaps it is God’s intention since his truths are simple and we are notoriously stubborn. Perhaps we need to hear over and over each week that Jesus has all Messianic authority. Perhaps we need the repetition that only comes through systematic exposition of books of the Bible. Perhaps this is God’s plan all along for a stiff-necked people and stubborn hearts. Our job as preachers is not to “wow” God’s people with our linguistic prowess or awe-inspiring illustrations, but to simply tell them what God says and what he expects us to do with it. Texts that say the same thing over and over is God’s Way of helping us to keep the main thing…the main thing.
Passion can be sometimes waning
I have found that having done much systematic exposition, waning passion is not a sign that the text is boring or that I am in a dull part of the Bible, but that I have neglected to see the glory of God in that particular text or have not adequately understood how the beautiful gospel is displayed in it. The answer is not to read into a text what is not there. Nor is the answer to fabricate passion and “yell more.” Rather the key to overcoming this struggle is to not leave the study until I see God at work in his marvelous gospel of grace in the passage of Scripture. Sometimes this means expanding the passage preaching, sometimes it means dialing it down. Sometimes it means more work in the language and in discourse analysis, and sometimes it means more prayer for help. But always it means that I must seek to know and proclaim what God is saying to God’s people. Because if God is speaking to us, how can we not be passionate about what he has to say, whether it is a description of the glories of his throne, or his beautiful mercy he has planned for widows to eat. When God speaks it is marvelous, and this is enough to teach us God’s grace…and grace when properly understood will always create holy passion.