Imagine you’ve come to the end of your life. You’ve poured yourself out, and now you’re giving that last bit of advice to a young person who will carry on your work. What will you say?
That was Paul’s situation in 2 Timothy 3-4. He’s just advised young protege Timothy, in light of last days apathy toward God’s Word, to continue in God’s Word—the message Timothy received from him, as well as the Scriptures he grew up with under his believing mother (Acts 16). Taken together, he’s likely referring to what we now call the New and Old Testaments. This Bible, described as “breathed out by God” (ESV), will accomplish God’s specific purpose for the hearer—this to include teaching and correcting those in error, as well as instructing new followers of Christ still learning the basic things of God. The result for the one who learns to listen well will be full qualification for every thing God has planned for that person.
“So, Timothy, young pastor,” Paul says: ” … PREACH. THE. WORD”! … Full stop.
This week at Woodland we begin a new series we call Healthy Church Partners. We’re asking “What are the marks of the healthy (not perfect, but growing!) church member?” And, while we’re not all called to stand behind a lectern, we are all called to be good listeners to God’s Word, which includes the embracing of God’s Word preached. Make this mark characteristic of our involvement in YOUR church family and all the other marks of healthy church life will take care of themselves.
We’ll see that listening (expositionally!) to God’s Word producing healthy, growing followers of Christ. There’s a Cadillac-Lamborghini word here. “Exposition” means “a setting forth of the meaning or purpose of a writing” (Websters). In the handling of Scripture, this means that the main point of the passage becomes the main point of the message. “So, Timothy, don’t just give your testimony, or lecture, or share good ideas, or even just preach. Preach THE WORD!”
We might think of the good message then as a rifled bullet, or an arrow hitting the target. The good message aims to expose the particular purpose and intent of God as laid out in the particular biblical passage that is then rifled into the particular church situation. The opposite image would be the shotgun blast where the speaker aims to hit something … anything. He will, but not but not the hearts of his listeners. And, over time, they will only hear noise.
The flip-side of expositional preaching is expositional listening. And, returning to 2 Timothy (now, 4.3-4), we learn that listening (expositionally!) to God’s Word protects God’s people from falsehood and false teachers.
In the times between Jesus’ two comings, Paul forecasts, people will be driven by their desires. (See also 3.1-9). They’ll want their “itching ears” scratched and their feelings messaged. They’ll find teachers who will do their market research and say things that people want to hear. In the end, they’ll start out with the truth, but as (expositional!) preaching diminishes, they’ll add Jesus to their pantheon of good ideas and so “wander” off into stories.
Instructive for us is to note that Paul holds people accountable. This implies that there’s desire and skill in listening for the main idea of a passage and expecting to find it in any pastoral exposition of Scripture. The healthy, growing church partner is a trained expositional listener to God’s Word. And, like Timothy’s listeners, we have plenty of myths and pseudo-gospels and false teachers to shank us wide of the mark of God’s truth, if we don’t preach and listen for the gospel-center in each proclamation of God’s Word.
Here’s five suggestions for listening (expositionally!):
- Get into the text ahead of each message. If you’re a Woodlander, you’ll find the passage on this site by the end of the week. This will put you on your toes and not your heels as you come into worship.
- While you’re reading or listening, summarize the main idea of the passage in one statement. So, for 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2, you might say: Old Paul’s last advice to the young pastor Timothy is to preach the Word. That’s got it.
- Then, rewrite the main idea of the message to include your own situation. So, the statement above becomes: The healthy, growing church partner is a trained expositional listener to God’s Word. Not an infallible statement, but it connects the passage to our situation and our series.
- Engage your pastor with the main ideas you’ve written out. If you want to say something nice, don’t say, “Great message!” He’ll only think he stunk it up, and now you’re trying to encourage him. Tell him something specific about the passage and how God is applying it to your life.
- Finally, find somebody to talk to about how God is helping you apply the main point of the sermon that comes from the main point of the passage.
Now, find that somebody you’re sharing with, and talk through these questions:
Which of the pointers above do you find to be the easiest to do? The hardest?
Are any of them unclear, needing further explanation?
How has the idea of targeted, expositional preaching changed the way you think about how you ought to listen?
What are some additional ways that you can listen “expositionally”?