Authentic expository preaching is also marked by reverence. The congregation that gathered before Ezra and the other preachers demonstrated a love and reverence for the word of God (Neh 8). When the book was read, the people stood up. This act of standing reveals the heart of the people and their sense of expectation as the word was read and preached.

Expository preaching requires an attitude of reverence on the part of the congregation. Preaching is not a dialogue, but it does involve at least two parties — the preacher and the congregation. The congregation’s role in the preaching event is to hear, receive, and obey the word of God. In so doing, the church demonstrates reverence for the preaching and teaching of the Bible and understands that the sermon brings the word of Christ near to the congregation. This is true worship.

Lacking reverence for the word of God, many congregations are caught in a frantic quest for significance in worship. Christians leave worship services asking each other, “Did you get anything out of that?” Churches produce surveys to measure expectations for worship: Would you like more music? What kind? How about drama? Is our preacher sufficiently creative?

Expository preaching demands a very different set of questions. Will I obey the word of God? How must my thinking be realigned by Scripture? How must I change my behavior to be fully obedient to the word? These questions reveal submission to the authority of God and reverence for the Bible as his word.

Likewise, the preacher must demonstrate his own reverence for God’s word by dealing truthfully and responsibly with the text. He must not be flippant or casual, much less dismissive or disrespectful. Of this we can be certain, no congregation will revere the Bible more than the preacher does.

If expository preaching is authoritative, and if it demands reverence, it must also be at the center of Christian worship. Worship properly directed to the honor and glory of God will find its center in the reading and preaching of the word of God. Expository preaching cannot be assigned a supporting role in the act of worship — it must be central.

In the course of the Reformation, Luther’s driving purpose was to restore preaching to its proper place in Christian worship. Referring to the incident between Mary and Martha in Luke 10, Luther reminded his congregation and students that Jesus Christ declared that “only one thing is necessary,” the preaching of the word (Luke 10:42). Therefore, Luther’s central concern was to reform worship in the churches by re-establishing there the centrality of the reading and preaching of the word.

That same reformation is needed in American evangelicalism today. Expository preaching must once again be central to the life of the church and central to Christian worship. In the end, the church will not be judged by its Lord for the quality of its music but for the faithfulness of its preaching.

When today’s evangelicals speak casually of the distinction between worship and preaching (meaning that the church will enjoy an offering of music before adding on a bit of preaching), they betray their misunderstanding of both worship and the act of preaching. Worship is not something we do before we settle down for the word of God; it is the act through which the people of God direct all their attentiveness to the one true and living God who speaks to them and receives their praises. God is most beautifully praised when his people hear his word, love his word, and obey his word.

As in the Reformation, the most important corrective to our corruption of worship (and defense against the consumerist demands of the day) is to rightly return expository preaching and the public reading of God’s word to primacy and centrality in worship. Only then will the “missing jewel” be truly rediscovered.

Previously:

Expository Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship

The Sheer Weightlessness of So Many Sermons: Why Expository Preaching Matters

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Publication date: September 9, 2013