Expository Preaching

Feeding Your Sheep with the Whole Counsel of God

Post Icon

I’ve been around long enough to know that last days will come. I still remember my wife and I walking out of the first home we’d known for over six years. We brought our first two children into that space. Other last days have come and gone since then. From the last day of a military deployment to the last keystroke of a Ph.D. program, all of us will face last days. We appeal to a sovereign God but do well to know that last days are coming.

When I survey my ministry, one last day sticks out above the rest – the last day of my former pastorate. After spending nearly four years with the dearest of saints, the last day came. To be sure, such a day will come for all of us in pastoral ministry. There will be a last day with a last Sunday and a last sermon. You’ll walk to the car, perhaps with family in tow, and say farewell.[1]

Paul’s Last Day

Similar is the vivid scene of Acts 20:17-38 in which we find the apostle Paul. His Ephesian pastorate is the context. Luke records one of the most emotionally charged historical passages in the New Testament. Tears are flowing, people are praying, Jerusalem is looming, and Paul is leaving. Paul is giving his farewell address. After just three years, his last day has come. He is recounting his ministry, warning his people of what may lie ahead, and embracing them as they will likely “never see his face again.” It is a heavy day.

Countless questions were surely on the mind of the apostle that day, and rightly so. Did I make disciples? Did I intercede for the people? Did I raise up leaders? Did I protect the flock? Did I lead with vision? These are key questions every leader should face – every day and the last day. Yet, one question ties it all together: Did I feed the sheep? (cf. John 20:17). Above all else, the pastor-preacher must feed his people the Scriptures, that they may be well-nourished to maturity in Christ. Feeding the sheep is the sine qua non for the pastoral preaching ministry.[2] Pastors do a lot of things, but there is one first thing they must do – feed their sheep.

This much is sure: Paul fed his sheep. He put it this way, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (v. 27b) Herein lies a clue to Paul’s theology of preaching.[3] He intentionally preached the whole of Scripture in such a way as to blanket his people with all that God has said. He had made the whole of God’s will plain to them.[4] Paul did not piecemeal his preaching, and thus Paul considered himself “innocent of the blood of all.” In their book On Being a Pastor, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg comment on Paul’s approach to preaching “the whole counsel of God.” They write,

[Paul] had sought to share every aspect of gospel truth as he knew and understood it. To proclaim the whole will of God we must faithfully expound the complete Scriptures… Where the Scriptures are plain, we are to be plain, whether about Christian doctrine or behavior. We are not to hesitate to preach anything that may be helpful to God’s people.[5]

Thus, Paul preached the Scriptures in toto. He exposed his people to the fullness of divine revelation, marking every milestone of redemption history. It’s been said it takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian. Such is true. In light of Paul’s preaching in Ephesus, it takes a whole Bible to make a whole church.

A Methodology for Pastoral Preaching

Therefore, I would like to argue that embedded in the Pauline phrase, “whole counsel of God,” is a methodology for pastoral preaching. Such should be our aspiration as pastors that our preaching is a “whole Bible” ministry. Like Paul, we are to be insistent that our people know their Bibles, both in content and scope from sitting under our preaching. Understanding that we may never be able to expound the entirety of the canon verse by verse, what preaching practices can we adopt to help us preach like Paul?

Work through a variety of texts.

Our doctrine of Scripture informs our theology and practice of preaching.[6] If we believe all of Scripture is profitable (cf. 2 Tim 3:16), it will show up in the scope of our ministry. Our people need the Gospel of John and the book of Jonah, for example. You may choose to oscillate between books of the Old and New Testaments, work through different literary genres, or select various epochs in redemption history. Whatever your practice, aim to give your people a steady diet of Scripture and point them to its Hero from every page.

Slow down and stay put for a while.

As you plan your preaching, spend time in large sections of Scripture. Don’t bounce from Jude to Lamentations. Rather, stay in a text long enough to show its context, doctrine, and application for the Christian life. Perhaps you take the Sermon on the Mount (cf., Matt 5-7) and preach an extended multi-week series. You may also choose to adopt a Lectio Continua method of preaching, following the text as it is presented.[7] However you choose, slow down and stay put for a while. As you continue this approach, you will expose your people to a fuller breadth of Scripture while covering ground you may otherwise overlook.

Aim for an expository method.

Regardless of how you may nuance your definition of expository preaching, a few things remain the same.[8] Expository preaching is concerned with “exposing” the meaning of the text so that its truth may be rightly applied to the listener.[9] Contrary to other topical or textual preaching methods, expository preaching is that method of preaching whereby the meaning of the text is the meaning of your sermon.[10] Such a method of preaching will lift out theological and doctrinal content that may then be pressed into a modern application for the listener. Over time, congregations will grow in their understanding of “the whole counsel of God” while learning to read, interpret, and apply their Bibles for themselves. Connect the dots of Scripture both in the immediate context and across the meta-narrative arc of Scripture. Therefore, make expository preaching your method of preaching. Develop a posture of reading, explaining, and applying the text every time you preach.

Desire a long pastorate and longer days.

Paul was not in Ephesus that long, but he made the most of his time. He fed the sheep and trained others to do the same. Do likewise wherever you find your place of ministry. God has placed you there on purpose. Don’t try to be somebody else or somewhere else. As the Lord allows, stay where you are and teach the Bible, “the whole counsel of God.” As you spend time with your people, however long that may be, you will have the joy of expanding your scope of preaching. One reason we may never preach the “whole counsel of God” is we simply run out of time. As much as it depends on you, take advantage of it every Sunday. As the Puritans would pray over their souls, so we pray over our preaching: “May I speak each word as if my last word, and walk each step as my final one. If my life should end today, let this be my best day.”[11]

Pastor, your last Sunday is coming. You will walk out of your study, down the hall and into the pulpit. You will greet your people and open your Bible – for the last time. May you faithfully discharge the ministry God has given you, as you keep that last day clearly in sight. Love your people and preach the Word. All of it.



. . . . . . . . . .


[1] As word of personal testimony: Though you may leave a particular local church, your ministry to its people does not have to end with your pastorate. Over the years, I have kept in touch with many dear people from past churches. Many of them are vital encouragements to me to this day. I pray the relationship is mutual. That to say, do not discount the ministry God may give you well after your pastorate comes to a close. You can still make disciples and develop leaders through well-worn relational paths of a former ministry context.

[2] In his book, The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010), 107-192, Timothy Z. Witmer outlines a “Comprehensive Matrix for Ministry.” Shepherds are to 1. Know the sheep, 2. Feed the sheep, 3. Lead the sheep, and 4. Protect the sheep.

[3] For further study on Paul’s theology of preaching, see chapter 3 “Paul’s Theology of Preaching” in Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2007), 62-97.

[4] F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 415.

[5] Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Call and Work, (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 50.

[6] Peter Adam in his book Speaking God’s Word: A Practical Theology of Preaching, (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2004), 15, writes, the belief that God has spoken, that his words remain powerful, and that without this historic revelation of God in words there can be no ministry of the Word.”

[7] Julius J. Kim, Preaching the Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 29.

[8] For more definitions of “expository preaching,” see for example, John A. Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, Fourth Edition, (Louisville: Harper One, 1979), 58; Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 31; Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1980), 21; R. Albert Mohler, Jr., He Is Not Silent (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 65.

[9] I appreciate how Jim Shaddix defines expository preaching in Power in the Pulpit, (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 30, as “The process of laying open the biblical text in such a way that the Holy Spirit’s intended meaning and accompanying power are brought to bear on the lives of contemporary listeners.”

[10] Richard L. Mayhue notes in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, eds. John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary faculty, (Dallas: Word, Inc, 1992), 9, “Discussions about preaching divide it into three types: topical, textual, and expository. Topical messages usually combine a series of Bible verses that loosely connect a theme. Textual preaching uses a short text or passage that generally serves as a gateway into whatever subject the preacher chooses to address. Neither the topical nor the textual method represents a serious effort to interpret, understand, explain, or apply God’s truth in the context of the Scripture(s) used.”

[11] The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett, “Morning Dedication,” (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2018), 221.

  • Expository Preaching
  • Neal Thornton
  • Pastoral Ministry
  • Pastoral Preaching
  • Preaching
  • Whole Counsel of God
Neal Thornton

Neal Thornton (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor of Coats Baptist Church in Coats, North Carolina.

More to Explore

Never miss an episode, article, or study.

Sign up for the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership newsletter now!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.