Sequential Exposition

What’s the best way to teach God’s Word? Some teachers always teach God’s Word in topics—meaning they choose a topic, find all the parts of the Bible that have to do with that topic, and then out of those passages form a message on that topic. Topical preaching is good, but it’s not my favorite. Some teachers like to choose themes—like redemption, or salvation, or holiness—and preach about how that theme is developed in the Bible from beginning to end. This is another legitimate way of preaching. Some, however, use the Bible like a trampoline—they land on it every once and a while but most of the time they’re in the air, totally disconnected with it. Some teachers use the Bible like salt and pepper—every once and a while they sprinkle on some verses to make it sound Christian. Some of these ways are worse than others, and none of them are what we are about to do. What we are about to start is sequential exposition.

What is sequential exposition? Let me define the two words: sequential comes from the word sequence, which speaks of an order, a progression, like a chain. First this, then that, then this. That’s sequence—its opposite would be chaos—something without any order or progression. The next word is the word exposition, which is a noun form of the verb expose, which means to put on display, to make clear, to bring to light.

What then, is sequential exposition? Sequential exposition is going through the Bible in the sequence it has been laid out for us, and exposing the meaning of the words, sentences, and paragraphs. It is the orderly progression from chapter one verse one to the final chapter and verse. It’s the most important kind of teaching, and it’s what we’re going to be doing for the next few months in the book of Colossians.

Why is it the most important method of teaching the Bible? First, because the whole Bible (even Leviticus!) is God-breathed and profitable. There are far too many churches are no longer preaching the unadulterated Word of God. This is especially sad because the preacher’s main duty is to preach the whole counsel of God. I don’t have the freedom to pick and choose which books and verses I like and which ones I want to avoid. So when I’m plowing through the Bible verse by verse I simply preach what God has already said, in the way he has said it, in the order and progression he has said it, with the emphasis he has placed on it. In other words, when I do sequential exposition, I am letting God call the shots. What I preach, when I preach it, how much time I give to the subject is all pre-determined by God.

So for example, and I sequentially preach through Colossians, we’re going to encounter various teachings. In chapter one we get a lot of information about Paul, his ministry, and the person and work of Christ. In chapter two, we get Paul contrasting the Christian gospel with the false teachings that were infecting the church. In chapter three we get a great section on how Christians ought to behave. In the last chapter, Paul sends news and greetings. And as I teach through each section, God will set the agenda as to what is taught, not me. God arranged Colossians through the mind of Paul, and I’ll simply follow his lead.

Amazingly, God has spoken to us in a book– words on pages. These words are fixed, unchanging, and external. They are there– we can’t change them, alter them, or adjust them. They are the most important words ever spoken, and they hold explosive relevance for each one of us. And so, if they are indeed God’s words, then we must study them. And the best way to study them is through sequential exposition.

Gear up for the next few months of a sequential exposition through Colossians; I know that God has much to teach us through this marvelous portion of Scripture.

The power of God’s Word: A testimony

Every spring semester at The Master’s Seminary seniors are given the opportunity to share 5-7 minutes testimonies about how they got saved, how they ended up at TMS, and what their future plans are. I am always blessed by these times; it’s amazing to hear the stories behind each graduating student. There are students from literally all over the world– last week’s chapel saw two graduates from South Korea, another from Argentina, one from Canada, and another from a land even more strange: Texas. These testimonies are Providence put to words. It’s fascinating.

One graduate’s testimony was particularly amazing. John Chester. I’ve never met him, but if the audio of his testimony shows up on the TMS website (which they sometimes do), I am going to download it and keep it. Anyway, I hope he doesn’t mind that I am going to try to relate his testimony here on my blog. I hope I don’t butcher it. At least he would be happy to know that it has already encouraged me to share the gospel and give out Bibles to the four skater-teens outside my building here. I hope it encourages you as well.

John was raised in a non-believing home. His father left his mom when he was young, and his mother, though unbelieving, thought it would be good to send young John to a Presbyterian church. John, now looking back on the church, said it was dead. He attended out of duty, and never heard the gospel.

But when John was 13, the pastor gave him a Bible– which he brought home and promptly put on the shelf. That Bible sat on his shelf for 16 years, untouched.

John became a writer. One particular night, as a 29 year old, when he was working on a piece for some worldly magazine (he mentioned the name but I don’t remember it), he got writer’s block. To break out of writer’s block, he began to do what he always did– he picked a random book off his shelf and begin to read, just to get the words flowing again. When he looked at his shelf to pick a book, it seemed (and this is his description) that all the books were out of focus– except one. The Bible that pastor had given him many years ago stood out from all the rest. So he picked it up– for the first time.

He didn’t know where to start reading, so, like any other book, he started in the beginning. Genesis 1:1. He became so enraptured that he kept on reading. And reading.

Two days later he arrived at Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” At that moment the sword of the Spirit pierced his heart. He was overwhelmed with his own sin, the holiness of God, and the grace offered in Jesus Christ. He knew that he himself was one of the “things that are God’s.” He crawled under his desk in shame over his sin, and eventually surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. The Hound of Heaven got another one.

Isn’t that amazing? No one to share the gospel, no one to explain the text, no one to lead him in prayer– just the simple reading of the Word of God. O how often we need to be reminded that the work of God is accomplished by the Word of God! Unleashed, the Word saves, seals, sanctifies, and secures. It is wonderfully powerful, and it does not need the accouterments of man to be effective. Let us, especially we who handle the Scriptures, never forget this.


A few of Mark Dever’s overview sermons

While verse-by-verse, word-by-word, close examination of phrases and clauses and parsing and syntax is important, it’s also important to step back and look at the great themes of redemptive history. It’s good to back up from verse-by-verse exposition and see the epic story from the bird’s eye.

I think people need their pastors to make sure their people see the grand schema. It is something that must be done, but is difficult to do well.

Here are a few overview sermons from Mark Dever where he steps back to look at the big picture. They are good model for macro exposition. Give them a listen if you have time.

Promises Made– The Message of the Old Testament

Promises Kept– The Message of the New Testament

What Does God Want of Us– The Message of the Bible


Get wholly excited about the gospel

“Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles, abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.”

What is your strategy to abstain? Get wholly excited about the gospel, that you have been justified by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; that you were in darkness but now you’re in the light; that death once reigned in you but now death has died; that you were once separated from God but now you’ve been brought near. Think of the utter impossibility of having God as your Father; think of the absurdity of being his child; think of the insanity of being forgiven by such a holy God—and then marvel at the breathtaking love that he has accomplished all this for you. He has shown all who believe his love—that while they were still sinners, enemies, rebels, haters, Christ died for them. You are God and God is yours. Did you hear that? God is yours. Marvel at this, O sinner! Be stunned and amazed at this great mystery. And never lose sight of it. Gaze continually into the depths of the gospel, as angels do, and be enthralled at all that God has for you. If you do this, your zeal will not go. Your fervor will not cease. You, like Moses, will die with your eyes undimmed and your zeal unabated. Sin will lose its sway. The passions of the flesh will be replaced by the passions of the Spirit.

* * *

I can’t wait to preach this Sunday night.

Unleash the Word of God– then sit back and watch

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.”

C.S. Lewis

Listen to this amazing story of how the Hound of Heaven tracked down another rebel sinner and brought her to Himself.

You’d be amazed how many times something as unlikely as that has happened, always beginning with the Word being preached. There is an account of a woman on her deathbed. She described how she was saved by reading a crumpled, ragged piece of wrapping paper in a package shipped from Australia. Someone had used the printed text of a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon to wrap a package for shipment. The sermon was preached in England, printed in America, shipped to Australia, then sent back to England as wrapping paper, where the woman read it and encountered Jesus Christ. The Word traveled thousands of miles on the cheapest, most crumpled and smeared newsprint. But the truth shone brilliantly through the simplest of media, and God’s Word did not return void.

David Jeremiah, Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World, pg. 149

Figurative Language for teaching: Allegory

After a little break from going through the parts of figurative language, I’m back.

We’ve covered the simile, the metaphor, and personification. I particularly enjoy looking at some of the great preacher’s use of these linguistic tools, so I’ve included a paragraph from language-master Charles Spurgeon and contemporary preaching-poet John Piper in some of the posts. Hopefully these refreshers will help salt up your language as you teach.

Here’s the lesson on allegory. Delvin writes:

An allegory (from the Greek allos, other, and agoreuein, to speak), is a form of expression in which the words are symbolical of something. It is very closely allied to the metaphor, in fact is a continued metaphor.

Allegory, metaphor and simile have three points in common, –they are all founded on resemblance. “Ireland is like a thorn in the side of England;” this is simile. “Ireland is a thorn in the side of England;” this is metaphor. “Once a great giant sprang up out of the sea and lived on an island all by himself. On looking around he discovered a little girl on another small island near by. He thought the little girl could be useful to him in many ways so he determined to make her subservient to his will. He commanded her, but she refused to obey, then he resorted to very harsh measures with the little girl, but she still remained obstinate and obdurate. He continued to oppress her until finally she rebelled and became as a thorn in his side to prick him for his evil attitude towards her;” this is an allegory in which the giant plainly represents England and the little girl, Ireland; the implication is manifest though no mention is made of either country. Strange to say the most perfect allegory in the English language was written by an almost ignorant man, and written too, in a dungeon cell. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan, the itinerant tinker, has given us by far the best allegory ever penned. Another good one is The Faerie Queen” by Edmund Spenser.

* * * Application for Teachers* * *

I would caution teachers to be careful with allegory. It is a tool best used in the realm of the written word, and not as much as the spoken word. If they are used, they should be short and illustrative. They should fill in the white spaces; they should season the meat. Never allow them to serve as the main course of a service. Spurgeon said it in a previous post:

“Illustrate richly and aptly, but not so much with parables imported from foreign sources as with apt similes growing out of the subject itself.”



Figurative language for teaching: Personification

We continue again today in looking at different usages of figurative speech that are helpful for the teacher/preacher. We’ve already looked at the simile and the metaphor. Now, our interest is in personification.

Joseph Delvin, our teacher on the subject, and the writer of the free ebook How to Speak and Write Correctly, says this:

Personification (from the Latin persona, person, and facere, to make) is the treating of an inanimate object as if it were animate and is probably the most beautiful and effective of all the figures.

“The mountains sing together, the hills rejoice and clap their hands.”

“Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat, Sighing, through all her works, gave sings of woe.”

Personification depends much on a vivid imagination and is adapted especially to poetical composition. It has two distinguishable forms: 1) When personality is ascribed to the inanimate as in the foregoing examples, and 2) when some quality of life is attributed to the inanimate; as a raging storm; an angry sea; a whistling wind, etc.

* * * Application for the teacher* * *

John Piper is a notable preacher who often uses personification. He describes himself as “romantic rationalist”, and his books and sermons often reflect his poetical inclinations. For example, take this section from his book, Don’t Waste Your Life:

Affliction raised his sword to cuff off the head of Paul’s faith. But instead the hand of faith snatched the arm of affliction and forced it to cut off part of Paul’s worldliness. Affliction is made the servant of godliness and humility and love. Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The enemy became Paul’s slave and worked for him an even greater weight of glory than he would have ever had without the fight. In that way Paul– and every follower of Christ– is more than a conqueror.

Instead of saying something like: God used affliction to grow Paul’s faith, and that makes us more than conquerors– Piper creates the image of a battle scene. Affliction is raising its sword. Faith, pinned against the ground, not only escapes the attack but uses it for his benefit. Intangible concepts are given concrete actions, and in doing so an image is created. Personification resurrects what could be a dry dead concept into a living battle scene that captures the mind.

When thinking through concepts, think of scenes that capture truths. Give truths life by ascribing personhood to them. Make justice stare unflinchingly. Make love into a relentless prince. Make mountains cry out for mercy and forests rejoice over grace. Take the dust of your dry language and breathe life into its nostrils, and behold a living sentence.

Figurative language for teaching: the Metaphor

Click here for more information on this series I’m doing on figurative language for teaching.

Next, the metaphor.

Joseph Delvin writes:

A metaphor (from the Greek metapherein, to carry over or transfer), is a word used to imply a resemblance but insatead of likening one object to another as in the simile we directly substitute the action or operation of one for another. If, of a religious man we say, — “He is as a great pillar upholding the church,” the expression is a simile, but is we say, — “He is a great pillar upholding the church,” it is a metaphor. The metaphor is a bolder and more lively figure of speech than the simile. It is more like a picture and hence, the graphic use of metaphor is called “word-painting.” It enables us to give the most abstract ideas form, color and life.

Our language is full of metaphors, and we very often use them quite unconsciously. For instance, when we speak of the bed of  a river, the shoulder of a hill, the foot of a mountain, the hands of a clock, the key of a situation, we are using metaphors.

Don’t use mixed metaphors, that is, different metaphors in relation to the same subject: “Since it was launched our project has met with much opposition, but while its flight has not reached the heights ambitioned, we are yet sanguine we shall drive it to success.” Here our project begins as a ship, then becomes a bird and finally winds up as a horse.

* * * Application for the teacher* * *

Use metaphors. If you want some example of some great metaphor, read some Spurgeon. I’ll give you a teaser:

Beware of those extremely popular compilations of illustrations which are in every Sunday-school teacher’s hand, for nobody will thank you for repeated what everybody already knows by heart: if you tell anecdotes let them have some degree of freshness and originality; keep your eyes open, and gather flowers from the garden and the field with your hands; they will be far more acceptable than wither specimens borrowed from other men’s bouquets, however beautiful those may once have been. Illustrate richly and aptly, but not so much with parables imported from foreign sources as with apt similes growing out of the subject itself. Do not, however, think the illustration everything; it is the window, but of what use is the light which it admits if you have nothing for the light to reveal? Garnish your dishes, but remember that the joint is the main point to consider, not the garnishing. Real instruction must be given and solid doctrine taught, or you will find your imagery pall upon your hearers, and they will pine for spiritual meat.

Figurative language for teaching: the Simile

Here’s the first post in a series about using figurative language for teaching. Click here for the introduction to the series.

Joseph Delvin writes:

The simile (from the Latin similis , like) is the likening of one thing to another, a statement of the resemblance of objects, acts, or relations; as “In his awful anger he was like the storm-driven waves dashing against the rock.” A simile makes the principal object planer and impresses it more forcibly on the mind. “His memory is like wax to receive impressions and like marble to retain them.” This brings out the leading idea as to the man’s memory in a very forceful manner. Contrast it with the simple statement– “His memory is good.”

Sometimes simile is prostituted to a low and degrading use; as “His face was like a danger signal in a fog storm.” “Her hair was like a furze-bush in bloom.” “He was to his lady love as a poodle to its mistress.” Such burlesque is never permissible. Mere likeness, it should be remembered, does not constitute a simile. For instance there is no simile when one city is compared to another. In order that there may be a rhetorical simile, the objects compared must be of different classes.

Avoid the old trite similes such as comparing a hero to a lion. Such were played out long ago. And don’t hunt for farfetched similes. Don’t say– “Her head was glowing as the glorious god of day when he sets in a flambeau of splendor behind the purple-tinted hills of the West.” It is much better to do without such a simile and simply say– “She had fiery red hair.”

* * * Application for teachers * * *

I think, as in writing, the teacher ought to think through beforehand ways to communicate truth that grip. Oftentimes, in the moment, the simile just isn’t there. I imagine that there are some people who can create majestic similes on the fly– Spurgeon was otherworldly in his skill to do this– but must of us can’t, and so in our preparation we must think hard about concrete imagery that rightly communicates truth.

Read the Psalms and you’ll see how powerfully this kind of imagery is used: “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you, O Lord” and “Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?”

Or even in the prophets: “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Did not Peter grab our attention when he reminded us that our adversary prowls the earth like a roaring lion?

Think hard about grace, think hard about holiness, think hard about wrath– and do your best to find a way to communicate it with force. Let your words be like well-driven nails that drive home truth– to the glory and honor of our great God.

Figurative language in teaching

I found a free Kindle e-book on Amazon a while back called How to Speak and Write Correctly, by Joseph Delvin. I began listening to it on my commute and it reminded me how much I enjoy words, writing, grammar, and all that other nerdy stuff. The first half of the book was mostly technical, instructions regarding the usage of commonly misused words like further and farther, each other and one another, less and fewer– the kind of stuff only word-people actually like. The second half concentrated more on the art and nature of good writing and good speaking. As a pastor, I write and speak a lot, and of all the words that could be used to describe me one of the words I fear most is boring, so I glean from wherever I can the tricks that will help me avoid that. Chapter four in this little book was helpful.

Chapter Four is called “Figurative Language.”

“In figurative language we employ words in such a way that they differ somewhat from their ordinary signification in commonplace speech and convey our meaning in a more vivid and impressive manner than when we use them in their everyday sense. Figures make speech more effective, they beautify and emphasize it and give to it a relish and piquancy as salt does to food; besides they add energy and force to expression so that it irresistibly compels attention and interest.”

He goes on to list 15 figures of speech that a writer or speaker can employ to season their diction:

  1. Simile
  2. Metaphor
  3. Personification
  4. Allegory
  5. Synecdoche
  6. Metonymy
  7. Exclamation
  8. Hyperbole
  9. Apostrophe
  10. Vision
  11. Antithesis
  12. Climax
  13. Epigram
  14. Interrogation
  15. Irony

As a pastor, my primary calling is to preach the Word. Simply put, my job is to communicate with precision the truth of God’s Word. It’s of utmost importance to know the Word, but it doesn’t matter how much I know if I’m tongue-tied and misunderstood every time I get up to teach. And though clarity is essential to good communication, even clarity is nothing if I’m boring. Our speech needs to be aflame. It needs to taste like something. It needs to grab the listener and hold him in place.

Certain ways of speaking pique interest. Have you ever listened to a speaker who was not a yeller, not even particularly dynamic– but the way he formulated his words and sentences and thoughts was captivating? If you haven’t, listen to R.C. Sproul or Tim Keller– their manner of speaking holds your attention even though their style tends to be more academic. John Piper brilliantly weaves words together to make his communication beautifully aesthetic; gripping. Macarthur can strategically and powerfully drill a concept into your heart by the forceful use of the perfect series of words. These are speakers who have understood the power of language. And much of it has to do with mastering figures of speech. Though the ability to preach and teach is a gift, we can apply ourselves to sharpen our God-given skills by studying language.

In the next few posts, I am going to be examining some of these figurative language terms and their application to teaching/preaching, with hopes to benefit my own ministry and other people in the teaching world who are interested.