Why teach expositionally (verse-by-verse)?

Posted: February 19, 2009 in Thoughts

I remember the 1st time I personally encountered true verse-by-verse teaching through the Bible. It was so refreshing! Like cool water after a long drought, it was nourishing and life altering.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d sat under good pastors & teachers in the past. Some would even teach an expositional series on occasion. But even then, the pastor would read a paragraph or so of Scripture, and then pull a nugget or two from it before moving on to what he really wanted to talk about. But for the last part of my Christian life before verse-by-verse teaching, I was sitting under topical series after topical series. Not necessarily unbiblical, but where the Bible was almost an afterthought – something used in reference for the pastor’s points that he wanted to make, rather than the Scripture driving the points to be made. I knew there was something more to be had from preaching – and there definitely was: the simply exposition of the Scriptures verse-by-verse and line-by-line.

Before I get into the “whys” of verse-by-verse expositional teaching, let’s look at what verse-by-verse expositional teaching is NOT. It is not reading the Bible as fast as possible, and coming up with some nugget that half-way relates to the subject matter. It is not finding key words in the Scripture to launch into favorite topics of the pastor, while breezing over tougher areas. It is not thinking of some personal story to relate to every single Scripture that’s read. None of that could truly be called “verse-by-verse expositional preaching.” It may be guided verse-by-verse, but unless the pastor is teaching what is actually on the page of the Bible, it’s not expositional.

True verse-by-verse expositional teaching is to systematically present the teaching of the Scripture, pouring over the text as God the Holy Spirit inspired it, and presenting it in as unfettered a way as possible. In other words, the pastor ought to present the text, explain & apply the text, and then get out of the way.

Why? Because the power is not in the words of the preacher; the power is in what’s being preached. God’s word is living & powerful & sharper than any 2 edged sword (Heb 4:12). God’s word is breathed out by Him, and good to equip His people for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s word cleanses us (Eph 5:26) and sanctifies us (John 17:17). In other words, when God’s word is purely preached, it changes God’s people. The pastor ought to present it simply & accurately & then not attempt to take the place of the Holy Spirit.

“So then,” the question is often asked, “Why preach at all? Shouldn’t the church just randomly assign someone to get up in the pulpit and read the text? Why is the pastor necessary?” That’s a fair question. And it’s an easy answer: because preaching the word of God is what God commands.

2 Timothy 4:2 states very clearly: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” The word of God is to be preached & proclaimed to the church of God. We are to be convinced of the word, rebuked by the word, and exhorted through the word – all of which serve to point us continually to the Living Word, Christ Jesus.

That, my friends, is what we might call the pastoral job description regarding pulpit ministry. It’s not to tell jokes, nor give tear-jerking stories, it’s simply to preach the word.

So why verse-by-verse expositional teaching? Because quite simply, (in my opinion) it is the most effective method to preaching the word of God in the world. When Scripture is rightly taught, there is no skimming over of unpleasant topics & over-concentration on favorite topics. There is no undue focus on the preacher. There is no lightweight, everybody-shake-everybody’s hand milquetoast teaching. There is just the word of God & its subject, Jesus Christ & His gospel.

Does verse-by-verse teaching always work out this way? No. People are fallible & all of us get off-track from time to time. I am still a relatively young pastor & have much to learn…I by no means am perfect at any of this.

But that doesn’t change our call. Pastors, our call is to “Preach the word!” What if you’re teaching young people? Your call is to preach the word. What if you’re counseling people going through marital difficulty? Your call is to preach the word. It doesn’t matter what region of the country you’re in – it doesn’t matter what age or demographic primarily fills the seats in your sanctuary – all of the stuff that typically drives “preaching methods” is meaningless bunk. What does matter is the call of God.

Preach the word!

  1. jlo says:

    Tim, well said.

  2. Sister Christian says:


    Some great thoughts you have expressed here!

    Im left wondering about a few things you have posted:

    Your Title states;

    “Why teach expositionally (verse-by-verse)?”
    Which makes it appear that you may equate exposition with verse by verse.

    exposition (EXPLANATION)
    noun [C or U] FORMAL
    a clear and full explanation of an idea or theory:

    So with that definition… expositionally teaching could be either topical or verse by verse, would you agree?

    When you write:

    “In other words, the pastor ought to present the text, explain & apply the text, and then get out of the way.”

    One thought that has been expressed quite well from another pastor, is that; in expositional preaching, you cannot seperate the preacher/teacher from the preaching. As one studies the scripture, in its historical, geographical, cultural and literary context, and as one begins to understand how the author was applying the text at the time, this is to first work in the heart and the life of the one teaching, to make an impact and effect upon the life heart, mind, in the spirit, of the Spirit and through the Spirit, thereby the word taking root in the life of the teacher,

    With what the Spirit teaches the one studying, he then can in turn, passionately teach with authority and conviction, that which the Holy Spirit has taught him, where with, pass it on to the people. A man of God is a mediator of Gods word to the people of God, and works through that mans personality as well as his text.

    Its a given this is a work of the Holy Spirit and cooperative effort of the diligent study of the pastor, to spiritually feed Gods people who do not have the time to give to study as the Pastor is called to do.

    I see the value of both topical and verse by verse,
    especially J Vernon Mc gees approach of going sysytematically through the Bible in five years,
    That way gods people get a full overveiw of His word, and the theme that runs throughout, and also the full counsel of His word.

    Im encouraged by your passion for Gods people and your heart to minister to them, to rightly teach His word systematically and not water it down, or foster pet doctrines, but teach the word of God and the gospel of Jesus

    May God Bless you, and the people you minister to greatly!

  3. timburns says:

    SisC –
    Yes…I’d agree that expositional teaching could be done topically, which is actually why I modify the type of expositional teaching I’m referring to as “verse-by-verse.”

    And I’d also agree with the other pastor that you referred to. I’ve heard many pastors refer to themselves as either a “preacher” or a “teacher,” but not both. I believe the Scriptures declare pastors to be both. In Ephesians, Paul lists out the pastoral office as that of a “pastor/teacher” & later to Timothy he gives this call to “Preach the word.” Teaching & preaching are simply different aspects of the same gift.

  4. timburns says:

    jlo & SisC –
    Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment! I do apologize for the delay in response…every 1st comment from a new user goes into the spam filter & needs to be released.

  5. ryan couch says:

    Tim…good stuff. I couldn’t agree more with what “isn’t” verse by verse teaching.

    Tim and Sis…

    It all depends upon what we are trying to “expose”

    If we are tying to “exposite” (not a word but it works for this) a Biblical topic, concept, or principle (gifts of the Holy Spirit, giving, sex) then yes technically the topical approach is a great approach to explaining that topic, etc.

    However if our goal is to help people understand the Bible (and I mean the text…not the concepts) then we will set out to explain each and every text and the best way to do that is to preach/teach that text in a true expositional manner as Tim explained in the post.

  6. TonyP. says:

    I’m doing a mix of this right now, trying to find out how it works. I start verse-by-verse, but seem to run over to something topical for a minute that God shows me in the verses I’ve read, then back to verse-by-verse.

    Good thoughts, Tim.

    You have my approval to continue 😀

  7. timburns says:

    Whew…that’s a relief! Thanks for the approval. 😉

    Obviously I’m not saying that there’s only one ‘proper’ way to teach the Scripture…well, maybe there is – “accurately.” 🙂 But rather that in a verse-by-verse expositional study the topics that arise are driven from the text itself. 1st & foremost we look at that the Holy Spirit via the author intended to say, and then we transition to application at that point.

    The v-b-v aspect just keeps it focused on the Word & systematically progresses through the entire Bible.

  8. Dorna Chambers says:

    I love verse by verse teaching and am always searching the Internet for that type of teaching (preaching). It is my favorite method to listen to. It feeds my spirit more than any other method because I know its the word and not proof texting which can lead to misinformation at times.

  9. timburns says:

    Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment!

  10. Barry says:

    A few questions:
    Is this how Jesus taught his disciples? How long was Paul with the elders at Ephesus? Are you saying Acts 20:27 is the biblical mandate for verse by verse teaching? Do you really think Paul taught Leviticus verse by verse to the new gentile believers there?

  11. timburns says:

    Hi Barry –
    Thanks for stopping by. I believe you’re asking questions I didn’t really address in the above. From the gospel accounts, it’s pretty clear that Jesus did not teach verse-by-verse. But of course, He is God. All the words He spoke are inspired, by default. 🙂 Regarding Paul, he certainly considered himself to have taught the Ephesian elders the whole counsel of the word of God, as you reference from Acts 20:27. How exactly he taught it to them is left unsaid in the Scripture, and it would be unwise to argue from silence (regardless of what position you take on verse-by-verse teaching).

    By no means to I want to imply that verse-by-verse teaching is the *only* Biblical method of preaching. I do believe that it is the *best* form of Biblical preaching, and freely acknowledge that it is my opinion.

    We have been given an incredible gift from God when He gave us the completed canon of Scriptures, and I can think of no better way for a pastor to use the time behind the pulpit than to use those Scriptures to point people to Jesus Christ and what He has to say to the Church. A solid expositional verse-by-verse teaching style is one of the very best methods of doing exactly that.

    Thanks again for stopping by – have a blessed day!

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