Thoughts on Preaching: Who Is Sufficient for These Things?

In the last article we saw that in Hebrews 3-4, our model preacher is doing something with Psalm 95 called expository preaching. Recall that this is a kind of preaching concerned with what the text says, not what we can say about it. The text’s content and intent (revealed by its structure and setting) determine the content, purpose, and even the shape of our message. The method is twofold: first we study the passage expositionally (asking “What does the text say?”); then we preach the passage expositionally (asking “How do I proclaim and apply what the text says?”).

What. How. Now why. Why would we want to take an expository approach to teaching and preaching? Is there something about the Bible itself that makes exposition of it a fitting style of delivery? Think about a bed-in-a-box, for example. Those who dislike pushy salespeople and fighting awkward mattresses up the stairs can now order a compressed foam mattress online and have it delivered in a convenient-sized box. Once opened (get it in your bedroom first), it begins to expand to its original size. It can be delivered this way because of its design – it’s a foam mattress, not the older innerspring kind. Design determines delivery.

A remarkable convergence takes place in Hebrews 3-4. This great preacher gives a great exposition of a great Bible passage, and drops comments about the nature of Scripture while doing so, enabling us to make an exciting discovery: the design of Scripture – its nature and attributes – shapes our method of delivery. We should take a “What does the text say?” preaching approach instead of a “What can I say about the text?” one because the Scriptures are…


This text the preacher reads, who wrote it? A man named David did, according to 4:7. Then again, it wasn’t just David. Our preacher mentions another author: God Himself was speaking “through David” by the Holy Spirit (3:7).[1] If “all Scripture is breathed out by God” through the inspiration of the Spirit of God (2Ti 3:16; 2Pe 1:21), who cares what I can say about the text?[2]


It’s appropriate that the words “author” and “authority” are so similar.[3] The authority of a written work rests in who wrote it.[4] If I want to learn about a rare autoimmune disease, I’ll give far more weight to an article by the leading expert on it than to some random guy’s blog post.

And this truth works the other way. What if I’m the one with zero credentials and yet I’m expected to speak with authority to God’s people? What can I do? I can open up a special book, authored by God, and proclaim a passage from it with divine authority, though in myself I am no one. As Amy Carmichael once put it, “The seed is not your poor little word. The seed is the Word of God.”


There is a danger, however, of someone making the text say what he wants it to say and investing his spin with divine authority. This makes our third attribute – the clarity of Scripture – so important. After reading his text from Psalm 95 (3:7-11), our preacher makes constant reference to it in his exposition (3:15; 4:3,7). He’s implying that his passage is clear, that his listeners can look at the text and verify for themselves that what he’s saying is true. Someone might object: “Well, if Scripture is clear, why do we need someone to stand up and explain it?” But the clarity of Scripture doesn’t make preaching redundant; it’s what makes it possible. And safe. The expository preacher says: “My teaching is true because it can be openly seen that what I am saying is in line with the meaning of Scripture.”[5]


And yet I’m still tempted to take the “What can I say about it?” approach. Good thing the preacher has one more attribute of Scripture to mention, one that persuades me more than all the others to preach expositionally. Scripture, written by “the living God” (3:12), is itself alive: “the word of God is living and active” (4:12).

God acts when He speaks. He creates by speaking, sustains by speaking, rescues by speaking, sanctifies by speaking.[6] God acts through His word, and is identified with His word. Notice how seamlessly the preacher moves from the Word of God to the God of the Word in 4:12-13: “to be exposed to the word of Scripture is to be examined fully by God himself.”[7] Where God speaks, He is present.[8]

I’ve discovered this year that if I’m going to attend something online, I prefer a “live” talk to a pre-recorded one. Hebrews 3-4 teaches us that faithful public reading and preaching of Scripture is always both. The Holy Spirit who said Psalm 95 when it was first written says it again live every time it is read: “Today, if you hear his voice” (3:7). The ultimate reason for conforming the content and purpose of our sermons to that of the text we’re preaching from is that when we do, the Holy Spirit re-enacts it live, performing in our contemporary hearers what He intended to accomplish when He first inspired it.[9]

Why is it that some expositional preaching can seem dry and lifeless, then? The danger inherent to this approach is that we focus on the content of the passage while failing to be gripped by the Spirit’s passion and purpose in writing it. The result is a content-rich delivery with no address to deliver it to. Even expository preaching must aim for the heart (recall our earlier articles) by giving it something better. There’s a reason our model expositor begins and ends his convicting message with Christ (3:1-6; 4:14-16).[10]

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.

[2] “All” Scripture includes the first two chapters of Genesis, according to 4:4.

[3] It’s tempting to say they’re only an “ity” bit different.

[4] Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture As the Living and Active Word of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 128.

[5] Ward, 121.

[6] Gen 1; Psa 33:6; Heb 1:3; 11:3; Rom 10:17; Joh 17:17.

[7] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 177.

[8] Ward, Words of Life, 30.

[9] Ward, 162.

[10] David Gooding, An Unshakeable Kingdom: Rock Solid Truth in Uncertain Times (Port Colborne, ON: Gospel Folio Press, 2002), 107.