When I first interviewed for a job at the Christian school where I’ve served for the last eight years in conjunction to my pastoral ministry, they asked me what grade I said I was not willing to teach. I answered without hesitation, “Pre-school.”
The vice principal at the time, with a grin on her face, asked me to explain why. Again, I answered without hesitation, “I have a pre-school aged son. I love him and I have absolutely no idea what he’s saying! The majority of the time, my wife has to interpret for me!” Their grins turned immediately into laughter. I was hired three weeks later.
Why is it that, at least during that season of life, my wife understood my two-year old son much better than I did? How was she able to interpret which cry indicates hunger and which one indicates fatigue? The answer is simple: during his toddler years, she was with him all-day, everyday, from morning to evening. From the moment he awoke to the moment he transitioned to dreamland, she was right by his side both tending to him and observing him. She didn’t have to figure him out by asking him questions (not like he would have been able to answer them anyway). She did so simply by studying him minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
If you want to truly understand God, you need to understand His revelation. First, you need to know the source through which He now reveals Himself to humanity—the Scriptures (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21). But second, which is the point of this article, you need to understand the method by which to study that revelation. To know God, you need to know the Scriptures. And to know the Scriptures, you need to study it in its natural layout: word by word, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, section by section, book by book, genre by genre, testament by testament.
I am making the case here not just for the importance of expository preaching, but for verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture as the primary diet for the flock of God. This article is not intended for pastors and Bible teachers (though it surely applies), but for laymen. As a Christian, you have the responsibility to be a quick hearer of God’s Word (James 1:19). You have the responsibility of choosing the right kind of Bible preaching and teaching to which you submit your life for the salvation of your own soul (James 1:21).
Thus, just as the preacher is responsible to preach expositionally, so the hearer is responsible for searching for such preaching. For the record, verse-by-verse exposition is not the only acceptable and needed form of teaching God’s church. Expository preaching can sometimes come in the form of topical or thematic sermons. But what I am saying is that verse-by-verse exposition must be the primary form of biblical teaching in God’s church, and it should be the main form of biblical teaching under which you as a Christian place yourself.
What are the reasons why verse-by-verse Bible exposition is vital and valuable?
Argument #1: It is faithful to how the Bible was written
Some theologians and scholars view the Bible as it appears as some kind of Ancient Near Eastern rough draft that needs to be refined into a ten-chapter systematic theology textbook. But the Bible is no rough draft. It is the inspired and inerrant Word of God in which every letter and stroke matters (Matthew 5:18). Not only this, but the Bible is literature in its form. It’s not a reference book for theological concepts; it is a revelation of a divine person – God Himself. It was written in the order that it is on purpose – so that we can read it in that order, because order and sequence matter. The books of the Bible were meant to be read, studied, understood, and taught from start to finish in the sequence and order in which they appear. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of which books we want to know, in what order we want to know them.
Argument #2: It is how the Bible was historically taught
Sound, orthodox biblical teaching consists not only of doctrine, but methodology. We need to teach the Bible today the way the Bible has been taught throughout redemptive history. And surveying redemptive history reveals that verse-by-verse exposition was the primary method of teaching God’s Word to the people. In Old Testament Israel, God commanded for the Law to be read to the people from beginning to end (cf Deuteronomy 31:11; Joshua 8:35). When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity, they were rebuilt into a worshipping people through Ezra’s exposition of the Word (cf Nehemiah 8:8). When the resurrected Christ revealed Himself to the men on the Emmaus road through the Scriptures, He did so beginning with Moses and with all the Scriptures (cf Luke 24:27); He went through the Scriptures both chronologically and comprehensively. Once the New Testament canon was recognized, church history reveals that verse-by-verse exposition was the primary method by which the Scriptures were taught by the stalwarts of the church from all generations and regions. Such was the primary method by which the flock of God was fed, and it needs to be kept that way.
Argument #3: It exalts God’s agenda over man’s
In order for you to seek God’s truth as He intended, you must seek not just in what the Bible says about a certain topic. You must be seek what the Bible says, period. Christians must be discerning in how they study the Bible, but not selective. Christians must learn that they must listen to the Bible when it’s taught regardless of what topic or issue is being addressed by the text (cf Jeremiah 25:4). In other words, whenever God speaks, a person must listen, absorb, and apply. So when it comes to hearing the Word of God, it is God – not man – who sets the agenda of what needs to be heard (cf Joshua 8:35). Pastors must be wary of inadvertently training God’s people to think that the only time they need to listen to the Bible is when it addresses a topic of their interest, and that they can tune out or not show up otherwise.
Argument #4: It properly prioritizes biblical theology over systematic theology
Biblical theology is not more important than systematic theology (both are equally important for biblical scholarship). But biblical theology (studying the Scriptures linearly) is the mother of systematic theology (studying the Scriptures categorically). In other words, you won’t get your systematic theology right if you don’t understand your biblical theology. A lot of false or defective doctrine comes from people who love studying certain verses and even the original languages, but don’t understand the whole revelation of Scripture on a particular topic and where those verses appear in Scripture’s larger context. Thus, all things being equal, if I had to choose between a saint who loved reading sound Christian books but didn’t spend a whole lot of time reading and studying the Bible expositionally (verse by verse, chapter by chapter) and a saint who isn’t as well-versed in Christian literature (obviously, some level of it is necessary) but spends a lot of time studying the Bible itself verse-by-verse, chapter by chapter, I’d almost always choose the latter.
Argument #5: It trains people to accurately interpret Scripture
It’s been said that the three most vital principles of sound biblical hermeneutics are: context, context, and context! You have to interpret passages in the context of where a particular passage exists. And you’ll only know how to understand the context if you understand the book in which that passage is found. And you’ll only understand the book when you understand its place in the Scripture and its function within Scripture. So much bad teaching and faulty interpretation of passages comes from teaching something out of context. On the flip side, I’ve had 6th graders in Bible class who grew up in non-Christian homes with zero Bible teaching in their history, but who have proven themselves capable of interpreting difficult passages because they’ve had a whole semester’s worth of verse-by-verse exposition through the particular book in which those difficult passages were found. Really, such method of Bible teaching is an antidote to proof-texting for the Bible teacher.
Argument #6: It results in true growth and change in God’s people
People won’t grow and change spiritually when you give them a laundry list of spiritual growth items. People change toward Christ-likeness when they behold Christ in His glory as revealed in the Scriptures (cf 2 Corinthians 3:18). And the way God has chosen to reveal Christ today has been through the proclamation of the Word (cf Colossians 1:24-28). And the way Christ revealed Himself through the Word was through biblical exposition (cf Luke 24:27). In the same way that plants grow through continual exposure to sunlight, saints grow from continual beholding of the light of the Son. Show Christ to His people, and His people will become like Christ. They need to see not just parts of Christ, but the whole of Christ revealed in Scripture. I see this biblically and can testify of this experientially in my own life and ministry. I saw it with collegians when I took them through Hebrews. I saw it with young parents when we worked through Ecclesiastes. I saw it with middle schoolers when we went through the gospels of Mark and John. When you take people through books of the Bible expositionally, change – true, lasting, and practical change – happens.
Argument #7: It produces the expectation that every portion of Scripture is important
I remember going through a Bible survey series – a jet tour through the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation – with a group of middle school students. Because I only had a semester to finish the series, I decided to skip over the story of Ruth and went straight from the history of the judges to Israel’s monarchial period. It was at that point that a 7th grade boy raised his hand and said, “Hey, did you just skip Ruth? Why did you do that? We can’t skip it!” He had never read the book of Ruth before, but going through the Bible chronologically in class produced the expectation that every part needed to be covered (I honored his request by going through Ruth expositionally with the group two years later!). Expository preaching and teaching in a verse-by-verse manner develops a thirst in people for every portion of Scripture, and produces a yearning in people to be taught through every portion of Scripture.
Argument #8: It proves to people that every portion of Scripture is profitable
Most Christians who I know in my theological circles will not deny the words of 2 Timothy 3:16 – that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. But what I’ve found is that most people don’t know how the majority of Scripture – especially the Old Testament – is profitable for them. Unfortunately, there are many saints for whom life would be no different if you ripped out the book of Haggai from their Bible, because they’ve never read it and they don’t intend to. If you feel this way as a Christian, you’re not alone. Hence, vital in the church is the ministry of biblical exposition. I remember clearly seeing the reality of this when I took a group of adults through – you guessed it – the book of Haggai. Previously, most had never heard a sermon or less on Haggai (Hence, I called it the crispy portion of their Bible!). And quite frankly, Haggai isn’t quoted or referenced much in Christian living books. Yet, after going through the book together, several of these adults mentioned that it was this particular study that they found to be the most significant and impactful in their lives and the most applicable concerning the circumstances they were currently experiencing. Who would have known!
Word by word. Verse by verse. Section by section. Chapter by chapter. Book by book. Genre by genre. Where do you find the gospel in the Bible? From Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between. Where do you find Christ? From Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between. Let biblical exposition be the way we preach. Let biblical exposition be the way you hear.