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  • Writer's pictureJonas Croissant

The Essential Relationship Between Exegesis and Preaching for Church Health



All true born-again Christians desire to learn from the Word of God (John 10:16, 18:37). They want to feed on the “pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2) and be “nourished by the words of the faith” (1 Timothy 4:6). They confess with King David, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). For “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Yet, just as in the day of the prophet Amos, there is a famine in the land. And, this is “not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). The “solid food” of rich scriptural teaching and preaching is all but rare and this hinders the growth of the saints into the unity and the maturity that God commands (Hebrews 5:14; Ephesians 4:11ff). Unfortunately, Christians are often unable to find a local church where the Bible is properly interpreted (the art of exegesis) and proclaimed (the art of preaching).


Exegesis is the use of interpretive rules to discover the meaning intended by the author of a biblical passage. Preaching is to proclaim, after the manner of a herald, the Word of God with all patience, teaching, gravity, and authority for faith and obedience. Chester McCalley masterfully defined expository preaching as “the process of translating careful exegesis into food for sheep,” and he noted that “scholarly work in exegesis is necessary, but [pastors] are not here to impress scholars. [Pastors] have congregations that come for food”.[1] There is thus an essential relationship between exegesis and preaching. In this article, we will consider five reasons underscoring the role of exegesis in biblical preaching and the health of the local church.


1. God does not approve preachers who do not rightly exegete His Word


First, the stakes are remarkably high for preachers. During the sermon, Jesus is present and listening to them delivering His message. This is what Paul taught Timothy, “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” (2 Timothy 4:1-2a, italics added). Pastors are ultimately called to preach for an audience of one – God Himself. And God will not approve anyone who does not exegete His Word with fear, trembling, and truth. Besides, Scripture warns, “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Pastor-teachers are indeed to keep watch over the souls of their congregants, “as those who will have to give an account” for the spiritual health of their sheep (Hebrews 13:17). They are commissioned by Christ to “feed [His] sheep” (John 21:15). Preachers thus do well to take afresh to heart the Pauline call for accurate exegesis, “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). No amount of passion, charisma, or eloquence can ever be substituted for precise exegesis. Sound exegesis is a non-negotiable qualification for preachers to be divinely approved to preach.


2. No preaching and sheep-feeding can occur unless the Bible is properly exegeted


Secondly, God makes it clear that only one type of preaching is acceptable in His Church. He mandates, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2, emphasis added). We cannot preach our own message, a confession of faith, a Christian book, a cultural fad, or our own experiences, for none of these are spiritual food and divine communication. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Anything other than preaching the Word is not preaching at all. However, for the Word to be preached, it must first be correctly interpreted. But, how can one preach the Word without first engaging in the serious study of its marvelous content? Preaching the Word means that the point of the passage should be the thesis of the sermon, and discerning this point will require sustained efforts of exegesis. Robert Thomas noted that “the structure of the sermon and the motivation for its delivery must be rooted in the text. All too often, secular methodologies and ideas that are only human have been determinative of the shape of a sermon. If thorough exegesis is the foundation of a message, this will not happen.”[2] Now, what is the practical impact for the sheep if the Word is not preached? Well, they will be starving for there is no spiritual food in false interpretations (2 Peter 3:16) or the ideas of men. Only the Word of truth sanctifies (John 17:17). In the pulpit, sheep-feeding only takes place through exegetical preaching, broadly defined as preaching the meaning of one or more biblical passages. In sum, faithful biblical exegesis combined with the preaching of the Word will provide, by the Holy Spirit’s power, the food ordained by God to nourish His sheep.


3. Biblical exegesis is the sufficient foundation for the church’s theology and practice


Thirdly, exegesis is essential for preaching because it is the foundation for the theology and practice of the church. One of the attributes of Scripture is its sufficiency. It means that Scripture is sufficient to equip the saints for “every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible is enough for the faith and practice of the church, provided it is properly exegeted. The totality of Scripture will indeed teach us what amounts to a theology of everything we need for life and godliness and all these truths are to be proclaimed (Acts 20:27). For instance, it will take serious labor and precise exegesis to equip the saints to evangelize, counsel one another, grow in their marriage, and understand biblical ecclesiology. Conversely, poor or little exegesis in the pulpit is a terrible example for the congregation which learns by imitation to treat the Word of God in a shallow and shameful way. Besides, no exegesis when addressing a life question sends an even worse message, “the Bible is optional and irrelevant for today.” However, the reverse is also true and consistent exegesis will not only teach the truth to Christians but also help them to recognize biblical preaching and properly exegete the Bible on their own. Hence, exegesis-fueled preaching demonstrates and transmits a real trust in the sufficiency of God’s Word for every church and generation.


4. Sermon applications are groundless without exegesis


Fourthly, it is dangerous to jump from a passage to its application without careful exegesis. It is putting the proverbial cart before the horse and causing Christians to wonder (and sometimes rightfully so) if this cart should even be there. Thomas pointed out, “If the meaning of the text in its original setting does not regulate application, applications become extremely subjective and essentially invalid”.[3] For instance, Revelation 3:19 where Jesus stands “at the door and knock[s]” is often quoted by preachers to exhort unbelievers to open their hearts and let Jesus come in to be saved, but this is invalid for Jesus speaks to a church in the context. Exegesis is the necessary foundation to properly exhort and apply the text. The preacher must demonstrate to the church where in the text he is getting his words of exhortations, because, on his own, he has nothing to command to the conscience of the saints. The ground and authority of sermon applications must rest in God’s Word. Even biblical books follow this pattern, beginning with teaching (Romans 1-11; Ephesians 1-3), and then proceeding with applications (Romans 12-16; Ephesians 4-6).[4] Using the historical-grammatical rules of interpretation will also ensure that the preacher has studied the theological principles undergirding the passage and whether the message given to the first audience applies directly or indirectly to believers today.[5]


5. Exegetical preaching glorifies God and demonstrates that He is in charge


Finally, preaching a message which is not rooted and based in the Word of God does not glorify our Lord, and is a sign of ignorance, pride, and self-reliance. Indeed, Jesus said, “the one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18). How could men have anything more important to proclaim than God’s own words? If the preachers of the local church do not proclaim the Word of the Lord, then the message they communicate is really, “listen to us, we are in charge here”. However, Jesus “head of the body, the church”, not men (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:23). And as the head, He alone decides all things for the Body, and He speaks through His Word. Preachers are to be His spokesmen. Then, as Jesus implied in John 7, they will glorify God and demonstrate that He alone is in charge, and that we are all servants and brethren.


In conclusion, biblical exegesis and preaching are intrinsically linked to qualify a preacher, enable him to nourish the saints with God’s Word, and lead them to imitate his exegesis and trust in the sufficiency of Scripture for their own lives. This is biblical preaching which glorifies God and demonstrates that He is in charge. Explaining and proclaiming the Word of God has always been the hallmarks of the true people of God for their joy and God’s glory. May we then, as recorded in Nehemiah 8, gather “as one man” (v. 1) in our local congregations, to attentively “read the Book” of God (v. 3), with teachers who give its “sense so that the people [understand] the reading” (v. 9). For just like them, Christians will then “make great rejoicing, because they [will understand] the words that [are] declared to them” (v. 12). Amen.


Bibliography


References


[1] C. McCalley, online article entitled “Bible Exegesis and Expositionhttps://www2.gracenotes.info/topics/bible-exegesis-and-exposition.html. Accessed March 27, 2022.


[2] R.L. Thomas, The Relationship Between Exegesis and Expository Preaching (Los Angeles, CA: The Master's Seminary Journal, 2021), 189. https://tms.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/tmsj2i.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2022.


[3] R.L. Thomas, The Relationship Between Exegesis and Expository Preaching (Los Angeles, CA: The Master's Seminary Journal, 2021), 189. https://tms.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/tmsj2i.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2022.


[4] The same holds true within book sections, such as in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 where Paul recounts the sins of Israel in the desert, and then follows in 10:6-22 with applications using over twenty different allusions of Scripture and a direct quotation (v. 7). J. MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1997), 1743.


[5] e.g. Old Testament dietary laws only applied to Jews, despite incorrect applications promoted by various cults.


Pastoring and Preaching


Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted in 1989.


Charles, H.B. Jr. On Preaching. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014.


Hermeneutics and Exegesis


Zuck, Roy B. Basic Bible Interpretation. Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1991.


Duvall, J. Scott; Hays, J. Daniel. Grasping God's Word. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, Third Edition, 2012.


Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Towards an Exegetical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 1981

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