Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col, 1:28-29)
Recently our elders and a few of our interns made a trip to Boston in order to explore the possibility of helping plant churches in New England. While there, we visited some historical sites. One of them was in Quincy, MA, the birthplace of John Adams. Before going to see his home, we were told that in order to see where he was laid to rest, we needed to walk down to the Unitarian Universalist church (formerly a Puritan Congregationalist church). So we went inside and walked around. On the way out, some of our interns took a few pamphlets describing the beliefs of the UU. As we sat down for lunch, we began reading them to each other. The UU doesn’t have a creed, so the statements are more personal opinions of its followers. Here are a few of them:
- [The] best of today’s scholarship – which I identify with the work of the Jesus Seminar – reveals a man who is believable but problematic…. He was best known as what we would today call a faith healer. His “Golden Rule” – turn the other cheek, repay injustice with forgiveness – was youthful idealism not seasoned with wisdom. (Rev. Davidson, Loehr)
- As a literal story the tale of Jesus’ resurrection is hard to sustain, but as a metaphor that illustrates that there is life beyond death of addiction, despair, and total loss, it’s hard to beat. (Rev. Lisa Schwartz)
- All contributors [in the pamphlet] agree that the Bible is riddled with errors but nonetheless can serve as an important repository of human truth. (Tom Goldsmith, editor)
- ‘If indeed revelation is not sealed,’ then we must remain open to the possibility of new and higher truths that may come to us from diverse sources … including the Bible. (Mark Christian)
- At sixty-nine, I now find myself almost never referring to the Bible for guidance or inspiration. (Jack Conyers)
- I claim the Bible as one more chapter, among several religious texts, in the Unitarian Universalist guide to living. (Laura Spencer)
- Yet the Bible remains for me but one rich source among many records that speak to us of the joys and challenges of being alive. (Rev. Donna Morrison-Reed)
What saddens me about these views isn’t that people in the UU believe these things. I don’t expect them to believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, and a closed cannon. I don’t expect them to believe in the deity and exclusivity of Christ, and his bodily resurrection. I don’t expect them to read the Bible everyday for guidance and inspiration. What saddens me is that many today seem to be functional Unitarians. I think the UU is a good representation for what a lot of people – inside and outside the church – actually believe. It’s a religion based on one’s feelings; one in which there’s no absolute truth; a religion in which there are many ways to God; a religion in which you are free to live how you want, even if that lifestyle is contrary to the Bible. It’s speculative, mystical, ambiguous, and ultimately Christless, making it useless. Why do I raise this problem? I raise it because this is exactly why we need Christ-centered exposition today.
We are called to make disciples of all nations. As we go to the nations, we’re sure to find “religious people,” but we will rarely find a people who understand Scripture and the person and work of Christ sufficiently. Their beliefs will be similar to these mentioned above. We must take the truth of God’s word to them, just as Paul was taking the truth to the mixed up people in Colossae. Paul mentions four ways in which we do the work of Christ-centered exposition in order to make mature followers of Jesus in a diverse, confused, mixed up world.
Proclaim Like an Evangelist
Paul uses the term “proclaim” (kataggellomen) meaning “to announce throughout,” or “to proclaim far and wide.” Paul is speaking of announcing the facts. Proclamation involves declaring the good news. This word is used in Acts 13 when Paul and Barnabas go out on their first mission. They go to Salamis and “proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues” (5). They heralded the facts in the synagogue. As faithful expositors, we get to say what God has said and announce what God has done in Christ. We are not giving advice. We are declaring the news.
We must proclaim the facts about Jesus because we believe that there is “salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Believe that the gospel contains converting power when you announce it (Rom. 1:16). I believe that exposition can be a life changing on the spot experience when the gospel of Christ is proclaimed. Don’t merely preach about the gospel. Preach the gospel.
We also need to declare the facts about Jesus to correct popular ideas about him. There are numerous ideas about Jesus, displayed in world religions and pop culture. It’s therefore imperative that the expositor understands the doctrine of Christ and salvation. The expository evangelist recognizes that there’s no separation from theology and evangelism. Every evangelist does theology. The only question is whether or not they’re doing good theology. Present the real Jesus to people.
Further, the evangelist must keep proclaiming Christ because this is the ultimate question for the skeptic. I remember talking to a guy in my office for about two hours one day. He asked me a bunch of questions, and then I finally said to my friend that the questions he must answer are questions related to Jesus (not whether or not Adam had a belly button or the historicity of dinosaurs). I told him these are the fundamental questions: “Who is Jesus?” “Did he rise from the dead?” Other questions aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t ultimate. Don’t stop declaring the powerful truth of the cross and resurrection.
Tim Keller shares how a skeptic once told a pastor that he would be happy to believe in Christianity if the pastor could give him a “watertight argument.” The pastor asked, “What if God hasn’t given us a watertight argument, but rather a watertight person?” (Keller, The Reason for God, 232, my emphasis). Paul says that the Greeks look for wisdom, the Jews for miracles, but we preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22). I think the best way a skeptic to find Christianity compelling is by simply considering Jesus from his word. Don’t underestimate the power of plainly proclaiming Jesus weekly, and pray for the Spirit to open eyes for people to believe. Tell them to look to Jesus, to come to Jesus, to find their rest in Jesus.
Are you holding up the gospel for people to see and believe? I’ve always been challenged by Paul’s words to the Galatians when he said, “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (3:1b). He didn’t mean that the Galatians were there at Golgotha, but rather that his preaching was so cross-centered that it was as if they were there! Take them there and urge them to repent and believe.
Warn Like a Prophet
The next action word Paul uses is to “warn” or “admonish” or “counsel” (noutheteo). This word is often used of warning against wrong conduct (cf., Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15). A primary role of the prophet-expositor is to warn people about false teaching and ungodly living. Paul uses this word for “warn” to the Ephesians elders saying, “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears (Acts 20:31). I love that Paul says that he did the work of warning with “tears.” Prophetic instruction should come from a deep, broke-hearted love for people. Jeremiah was the “weeping prophet.” Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Be a broken-hearted prophet. Paul says, “I admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14). Love your people deeply as you warn them about false gospels, the dangers of sin, God’s judgment, and living in futility. As expositors, we can’t be afraid to warn. Don’t be naive or simplistic. Be aware of the dangers and threats and help people stay on the path of truth. A good expositor is like a forest ranger, aware of the landscape, alerting people to dangerous wildlife in the area. To put it simply, if you aren’t warning people of heresy and ungodliness, then you aren’t doing your job. Paul was often viewed a troublemaker because he wasn’t afraid to sound the alarm. He warned of wolves and snakes in the area. Of course, to warn people is to confront people. This flies in the face of culture that loves its “autonomy” and “privacy.” But that doesn’t matter. We have to confront people with the truth of Scripture. A good shepherd will love his sheep enough to tell them the truth.
Teach Like a Theologian
The next way the expositor exalts Christ is through “teaching” (didasko). This refers to the skill of the teacher in imparting knowledge to the pupil. In proclamation we’re announcing the facts, and in teaching we’re explaining the facts. Paul’s evangelistic outreach wasn’t devoid of doctrinal instruction. He regularly taught, building up believers. Both are critical for the church’s mission. We must reach the unreached people groups, proclaiming Christ where he has not been named, and we must teach and build up the church.
We need a generation of Christ-centered teachers. I love how Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes to Israel” (7:10). We need a generation like that! Paul tells Timothy “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (4:13). Be devoted to exhortation and teaching. Be immersed in it. Paul told Timothy, in his famous charge to “preach the word” to also “teach with complete patience” (2 Tim. 4:3). Notice how he adds “with complete patience.” It takes time for people to understand gospel truths. The shepherd will feed the sheep bite by bite, over time, understanding the sanctification is a slow process.
I long for our people to have an “Emmaus Road experience” when they hear the gospel expounded from the text. The Emmaus disciples asked, “Did not our hearts burn within us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). May hearts burn as we explain the Holy Scriptures and point people to Jesus! After all, that’s what we want from our teaching. The goal isn’t merely to transfer information, but to have hearts filled with adoration. Exposition is for exaltation. Theology should lead to doxology. In good exposition, there are moments when people put their pen down, and stop taking notes, in order to behold Christ in worship. Theologian James Hamilton says, “The transformation the church needs is the kind that results from beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (God’s Glory in Salvation, 39). That kind of transformation will happen as we expound the Christ-centered Scriptures to people through careful theological teaching.
Make disciples of Jesus by proclaiming him like an evangelist, warning like a prophet, teaching like a theologian, and applying wisdom like a sage. Preach Christ until you die! Then worship him forever. Preach him on earth, until you see him in glory. I promise you on that day, you won’t regret having done the hard work of Christ-centered exposition.
Tony Merida serves as the Lead Pastor of Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, NC and as the Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five children. Tony is the co-author of Orphanology and author of Faithful Preaching. He travels and speaks all over the world at various events, especially pastor’s conferences, orphan care events, and youth/college conferences. Twitter: @tonymerida