A Peculiar Act of Worship

Preaching as Expository Exultation

Our focus in this message is on preaching, understood as expository exultation. Let’s start with a brief explanation of these two words. First, “expository.”

All Eyes to the Book

Expository implies that preaching should explain the meaning of biblical texts. And it should explain those texts according to what the authors originally intended to communicate. And this explaining should happen in such a way that the people can actually see that the meaning really is there in the biblical text. The biblical text, not the preacher, has divine authority.

If they can’t see in the biblical text what you are explaining, your preaching loses God’s authority. So when I use the word expository, I mean: the preacher is getting meaning out of biblical texts — meaning which is really there. And the preacher is explaining that meaning to the people in such a way that they can see that the meaning is really there in the text. It is God’s meaning, not just the preacher’s. That’s what I mean by expository exultation.

Respond to the Riches

Now, what about exultation? Exultation implies that the preacher should exult over the beauty of the truth he is explaining. There should be a fitting, discernable correspondence between the intensity of the preacher’s treasuring of the truth, and the beauty and value of the truth itself. Otherwise, we betray with our hearts what we speak with our mouths.

I know that not all biblical truth is beautiful. Sin is not beautiful. Death is not beautiful. Hell is not beautiful. But in every Christian sermon where sin and death and hell must be explained, they point to a beautiful God and beautiful gospel. Therefore, the preacher groans over sin and death and hell precisely in the service of the beauty of God. Your groaning over the desolation of sin is an essential counterpart to the gladness of your exultation in the truth.

“Paul saw everything through the lens of the sovereignty of God and the sweetness of the gospel.”

So, when I say that faithful, biblical preaching is exultation over the beauty of the truth, keep in mind that this exultation comprehends the groaning over the ugliness and devastations of sin. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” In other words, no matter what sorrows Satan threw at Paul, he saw everything through the lens of the sovereignty of God and the sweetness of the gospel. So nothing could take away his joy. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Logic on Fire

Faithful, biblical preaching will strike this note again and again: Life is hard, but the message of this Book is beautiful. The faithful preacher exults over the beauty of the truth he is explaining. Christian preaching is expository exultation. If we are not expositing, we are not making the truth clear. If we are not exulting, we are not making the value of the truth clear.

Which means: If biblical truth is clear from our mouths, but the preciousness and sweetness of the truth is not clear from our hearts, we’re not preaching. We’re lying. And if excitement abounds from our hearts, but biblical truth is missing from our lips, we’re not preaching. We’re performing.

Faithful biblical preaching is expository exultation.

Everything for Him

So the crucial question, then, becomes: Why does expository exultation exist? What I mean is: Why did God plan that expository exultation should be an essential part of corporate Christian worship?

To answer this question, I go all the way back before creation and ask: Why does everything exist? What is God’s ultimate purpose for creation and everything that happens in it? Here is my answer from Scripture: from cover to cover the answer in the Bible is that God does everything ultimately for his glory — not in the sense that what he does makes him glorious, but that his acts reveal his glory.

  • Isaiah 43:6–7: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone . . . whom I created for my glory.”

  • Isaiah 48:9, 11: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you. . . . For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

  • Ephesians 1:4–6: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. . . . He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.”

  • Colossians 1:16: “All things were created through him and for him.”

  • Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Everything is “to him.” Everything is “for him.” Everything is “for his glory.” Everything is “for his name’s sake.” Everything is for “the praise of the glory of his grace.”

So, the ultimate purpose of everything is that the glory of God in Christ be communicated to the world as infinitely great and beautiful and valuable.

True Love

Suppose you ask: How does this self-glorifying purpose relate to God’s purpose to love the world? For “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

The answer is: God’s communication of his glory, as the highest value in the universe, is what love is. The human heart was made to find complete and eternal happiness in the glory of God. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). So, when God does everything — from creation, to redemption through Christ, to consummation — when he does everything for the praise of his glory, he is exalting and offering the one thing that can satisfy the human soul forever. God’s love paid the price of Christ’s blood so that believing sinners are not consumed by God’s glory, but satisfied by his glory forever.

Show Off God’s Value

Now, what does this mean for the Christian life and for preaching?

For the Christian life, it means this: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). In other words, for the Christian, the meaning of life is that every act is to be an act of worship. Worship is any act that flows from, and expresses, a heart where God is the supreme Treasure.

So, for the Christian, every act — whether you eat or drink — is to show that God in Christ is more valuable to you than anything. Eat to show God is more valuable than food. Drink to show God is more valuable than drink. Earn and spend money in a way that shows God is more valuable than money. Treat sex in a way that shows God is more valuable than sex. Wear clothes to show that God is more valuable than clothes.

Preaching’s Place in Every Church

Now, what about preaching? How has God designed preaching to glorify God?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word. . . . For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 3:16–4:4)

1. Preach in corporate worship.

Notice four things. First, the setting is not evangelistic preaching in the public square. It is preaching among the people of God. You can see that in verse 3 where professing Christians are going to turn away from the word: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching.” That assumes a church setting where they once embraced sound teaching. So, this preaching is happening in the gatherings of the church.

There will always be people in every generation who call preaching into question. One of the reasons for this is that there is so much weak preaching. So, every thirty or forty years, a new wave of old objections rise up: “Let’s replace preaching with something more up-to-date.” “Let’s try dialogue.” “Let’s try conversations.” “Let’s try discussions.” “Let’s try drama and dance and movie clips.” “Let’s get away from one man speaking in one direction to a passive audience.”

“The nature of God’s word and God’s glory will drive us back to this peculiar act of worship called preaching.”

For two thousand years, these recurrent objections have come and gone. Especially since preaching was recovered in its gospel power in the Reformation, there have been repeated attacks on preaching. I hope that you have the biblical wisdom and courage to resist trends and fads that come and go. There is in preaching — in expository exultation — a peculiar blend of rational explanation and emotional exultation which corresponds to the truth of God’s word and the beauty of God’s glory in a way that no other form of communication does.

The repeated efforts from generation to generation to push this God-appointed form of communication out of Christian worship will not succeed. Yes, in the short run, trendy churches will experiment with other kinds of communication to replace preaching. But they will not last. The nature of God’s word and the nature of God’s glory will drive us back again and again to this peculiar act of worship called preaching.

I don’t mean that preaching, in the entire life of the church, is the only way to handle the word of God. There are all kinds of ministries in the church that will make the word central without making preaching central: small group studies, Sunday school classes, seminars, singing, praying, discussing, evangelizing, counseling. All of them should be Bible-saturated. But nothing can replace preaching in corporate worship gatherings of God’s people.

So, my first point from 2 Timothy 4:2–3 is that preaching belongs in the regular worship gatherings of God’s people.

2. Herald good news.

The central command in verse 2 is “preach the word” (kēruxon ton logon). The word here is not teach. The word is not debate or discuss. The word is kērussō — to herald. It’s what a town crier did when he came to make an authoritative announcement from the king. “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! The king offers mercy and amnesty to all rebels who will lay down their arms and swear allegiance to the king.” Preaching has the quality of heralding — announcing news that is supremely important and immeasurably good.

By implication, I am arguing that this heralding God’s message to the church and the world can only be done faithfully where the preacher is exulting over the truth he sees in God’s word. A herald who does not exult in his message misrepresents his king. If a herald is bored with his message, or indifferent to his message, or doubtful of his message, he will not honor the king.

Paul said in Ephesians 3:8, “To me . . . this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” That’s the sum of his message: “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” And that is the sum of our message. If in our heralding we are not seen to exult in these “unsearchable riches,” we are not faithful heralds. In other words, the word for preaching the word in 2 Timothy 4:2 (kēruxon ton logon) implies: expository exultation.

3. Declare the whole counsel.

What the herald preaches is “the word.” Verse 2: “Preach the word.” And in this context, I don’t think it can mean anything less than the God-breathed Scriptures. Three verses before the command to preach the word, Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” Then he says, “Preach the word.” When Paul was leaving the church in Ephesus, he said to the elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). That counsel is in the Scriptures. And he didn’t just discuss or debate. He “declared” (anaggeilai). He preached the word.

And I feel an increasing burden to emphasize that preaching the word — the word of Scripture — means drawing the people’s attention to the word, and through the word, to the reality the words are talking about. You want your people to see and savor more than words and phrases and clauses and grammar and logic. We can never do away with those. God inspired a book! A book — words, sentences, logical relationships. But all the words are meant to be windows on reality that go far deeper and higher than words. Which leads to the fourth observation from 2 Timothy 4, especially verse 3.

4. Clarify the truth.

This preaching — this heralding — includes teaching. Preaching and teaching are not the same. But preaching has in it significant aspects of teaching. That’s plain from the connection between verse 2 (“preach the word”) and verse 3 where Paul refers to “sound teaching.” He says that the reason we must faithfully “preach the word” (verse 2) is that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

This means that as the preacher heralds the word, he is explaining the word, clarifying the word, illustrating the word, using all his God-given verbal powers to make the meaning of the word plain, so that people will not forsake sound teaching. Sound teaching is a component of expository exultation. That’s why I use the word expository. Preachers are teachers. They are more than teachers. But they are not less.

“God is glorified when the preacher sees the truth about God, and feels the preciousness of God, in the biblical text.”

So when I say that preachers must move through words and phrases and clauses and grammar and logic, I mean they must pay very close attention to those words and phrases and clauses and grammar and logic, and show the people how the reality of the text is revealed precisely in and through those words. There is no shortcut to divine reality. It is through the words, or it has no authority. If you can’t show your people from the words of Scripture how you saw the reality you are heralding, you have no authority to expect their agreement.

Therefore, preachers are careful observers of the particularities of the text. And we explain to our people how those words work to reveal this reality and this glory, so the people both see the reality and glory, and how these words reveal it. Preachers are teachers, explainers, expositors. And we are heralds who exult over the reality we explain.

I conclude that preaching is heralding the word of God in such a way that it includes exultation over the beauties of the King’s message, and an exposition that labors to make sure everybody understands the King’s meaning. Clarify the truth and reality of the King’s meaning. Magnify the beauty and worth of the King’s message.

Explain Truly, Exult Duly

Now let’s circle back in closing to the question: How has God designed preaching to glorify God? How does preaching become worship and help others worship? What is it about expository exultation that is so well-suited to magnify God in Christ and help others do the same?

It is because God is glorified — God is shown to be glorious — by his truth being rightly known, and his worth being rightly felt. For God to be glorified in us, he must be known as he really is, and must be felt for how precious he really is. If our knowledge of God is big, and our affections for God are little, we don’t glorify God the way we should. And if our affections for God are overflowing with joy, but the God we know is not the God of the Bible, we don’t glorify God the way we should.

God is glorified — God is worshiped — when the preacher sees the truth about God, and feels the preciousness of God, in the biblical text. And he will help his people live for the glory of God if he explains what he sees, and exults over what he feels. This is faithful, biblical preaching. This is expository exultation. Amen.