We begin our final study on worship by considering The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, written by the pastors and scholars who produced the Westminster Confession of Faith in the seventeenth century. This document, whose principles have been adopted by many Reformed Christians, includes the section “Of the Preaching of the Word.” This portion provides guidelines for ministers, telling them to teach plainly the truth of God to their people and to show how these truths are grounded in the biblical text while focusing on the major doctrines taught in the passage.
These men advocated expository preaching, which seeks to unfold the original meaning of the text for the listeners and apply it to their lives. The most important preachers in history, men such as John Chrysostom and John Calvin, generally followed this method, walking through Scripture verse-by-verse and letting the text speak clearly and boldly. Though not always completely successful, expository preachers endeavor to preach the Word, not their opinions. Traditionally, most expository preachers preach through entire books of the Bible (the lectio continua method), forcing them to deal with topics as the prophet or apostle raises them. This lessens the potential for reading one’s own views into the text. However, topical preaching used in lieu of the lectio continua can still be expository.
Scripture commends the practice of expository preaching and teaching. In today’s passage, for example, the Levites explain the meaning of the Mosaic law to the people as Ezra leads them in repentance after the return from exile. Paul supports the practice when he exhorts Timothy to divide the Word of truth rightly (2 Tim. 2:15). In other words, Timothy must pay close attention to Scripture, seeking to drive “a straight path” through it, faithfully applying it to his parishioners (Derek W. H. Thomas, Feed My Sheep, p. 63).
Preaching is central in our worship of the Lord, and Paul’s word to Timothy noted above instructs us to judge the quality of our preachers based on their fidelity to the text and not their rhetorical skills. May we look for preachers who give us the Word.
Preaching can be a lonely and intimidating task. If you have a preacher who is faithful to Scripture as he preaches, make sure you take the time to thank him for feeding you the Word of God. Moreover, as we study the Bible individually, we can be tempted to read our opinions into the text and compromise its original meaning. That is why we must pray that we would be faithful to the text while we research a passage’s original setting and its immediate context.