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The Devil Can Do Exposition

Two Essential Ingredients for Preaching

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Exposition and exultation are never separated in true preaching.

It is possible to do exposition of texts that you don’t even believe, let alone exult over. So, I do not regard exposition per se as the defining mark of preaching. The devil can do biblical exposition — even speaking true propositions about the text’s meaning. But the devil cannot exult over the divine glory of the meaning of Scripture. He hates it. So he cannot preach — not the way I define it.

“It is possible to do exposition of texts that you don’t even believe, let alone exult over.”

Of course, mindless enthusiasts who ignore the meaning of texts can exult as they try to preach, but not in the true meaning of the text and the reality behind it. So exultation per se is not the defining mark of preaching. But together — exposition, as making clear what the Scripture really means, and exultation, as openly treasuring the divine glories of that meaning — they combine to make preaching what it is.

Throughout the New Testament, Paul models and commands such preaching not only in evangelistic settings, but also in the church, the house of God (Romans 1:15; 2 Timothy 4:2). But why? When the church gathers, why should a pastor go beyond mere teaching or mere exultation to practice expository exultation?

God, Scripture, and Worship

My answer is that preaching in this way corresponds to the nature of God, the nature of Scripture, and the nature of corporate worship. God is supremely beautiful and valuable. Scripture, as his inspired word, aims to awaken and sustain the true knowledge of God to the end that we might enjoy him and exhibit him to the world. And corporate worship gives a visible, united expression to that knowledge, enjoyment, and exhibition.

The kind of speech appropriate for the gathered church in worship is unique. There is no other gathering like this in the world: a people of God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9), chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), destined to be like the Son of God (Romans 8:29), bought with divine blood (Acts 20:28), acquitted and accepted before the court of heaven (Romans 5:1; 15:16), a new creation on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:17), indwelt by the Creator of the universe (1 Corinthians 6:19), sanctified by the body of Jesus (Hebrews 10:10), called to eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10), heirs of the world (Romans 4:13; 1 Corinthians 3:21–23), destined to rule with Christ (Revelation 3:21) and judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Never has there been a gathering like this. It is incomparable on the earth.

“Preaching is both accurate teaching and heartfelt heralding. It is expository exultation.”

Not only is the gathering unique. So is the Book. All of this glorious truth about the gathered people of Christ was preserved and revealed in a book, and in an apostolic deposit that would become the capstone of the Book. The God, the Book, and the gathered people under the authority of the God revealed in the Book are incomparable. There is no god, no book, and no people like this. The gathering of this people is therefore marked by a kind of communication that is not like any other communication — expository exultation.

Herald of the King

As Paul proclaimed the unsearchable riches of Christ, and announced the good news of great joy, and heralded the reconciling message of the all-authoritative King, he saw that this kind of proclaiming, announcing, and heralding in public could not be discarded when this extraordinary people, under this extraordinary God, revealed in this extraordinary Book, gathered for worship. The riches of glory, the goodness of the news, the weight of the truth, and the authority behind it all did not become less because it was being spoken among this gathered people. If anything, it became more.

Therefore, Paul not only modeled proclaiming Christ and heralding good news to the people of God, but also commanded that the God-breathed Scriptures be heralded in the church: “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2). This command was not arbitrary, but was constrained by the fitness and harmony that Paul felt between the nature of God, Scripture, and worship, on the one hand, and the kind of speaking called for, on the other.

“The messenger cannot be indifferent to the message without being indifferent to the King.”

The proclamation-quality, announcement-quality, and heralding-quality of his public speaking for the risen Christ contained a dimension of celebration, exuberant affirmation, and wonder. It combined a humble recognition that the message did not originate with the herald, but with his King. The authority behind it was not his, but his Sovereign’s. And the glory and value of the message was directly proportionate to the glory and value of the King. Therefore, the messenger could not be indifferent to the message without being indifferent to the King. That was as unthinkable as not treasuring infinite treasure.

Constellation of Glories

Therefore, nothing was more fitting than that the presentation and explanation and contemplation and application of the King’s message among the King’s people come with exultation. This fitness lay behind Paul’s transposition of the music of proclamation to the world into the music of preaching in worship. He saw that preaching as expository exultation is peculiarly suited for Christian corporate worship. For corporate worship is the visible, unified knowing, treasuring, and showing of the supreme worth and beauty of God.

Preaching fits that gathering, because that’s what preaching is. Preaching shows God’s supreme worth by opening Scripture to make the glories of God known, while treasuring them as supremely valuable. Expository exultation serves corporate worship by worshiping the One whom it shows to be worthy of worship.

“The devil can do biblical exposition. But the devil cannot exult over it. He hates it. So he cannot preach.”

To be sure, heralding the word of God involves significant measures of teaching. The biblical texts used must be explained. The realities heralded must be illuminated. But the message of the preacher is never a mere body of facts to be clarified. It is a constellation of glories to be treasured. The thought that the message of a preacher could be delivered as a detached explanation fails to grasp the significance of Paul’s use of the phrase, “Herald the word!” Or, “Preach good news!” Or, “Proclaim Christ.”

Preaching is both accurate teaching and heartfelt heralding. It is expository exultation.