Expository Preaching is Also (Sometimes) Topical

It is the preacher’s responsibility and high calling to proclaim the Scriptures.  We must herald the Word.  We must declare the Truth.  We must announce the Good News.  We must teach the Bible.

This means the text must be our focus, not something supplementary to it.  We must spend time with the text, thinking about it, reflecting on its structure, preaching its meaning, and unfolding its content.

Some people falsely believe that topical preaching (bouncing here-and-there-and-everywhere, pulling from this verse and that one) every week will teach believers more about the practical Christian life.  I think a consistent serving of expository preaching (choosing a passage and then preaching the point(s) and implications of that passage) accomplishes Christian growth as God intended.

The proposed benefit of topical preaching (dealing with many topics week in and week out) is sometimes unfortunately portrayed as an advantage over expository preaching.  But, while recently studying for a series in Colossians 3, I was reminded how expository preaching is often topical itself.

Take Colossians 3 as a good example.  In over twenty verses, Paul deals with a variety of topics: the believers’ identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus (3:1, 3), the mindset of the Christian (3:1-2), the return of Jesus (3:4), the resurrection body of the believer (3:4), the need to put sin to death (3:5-11), the wrath of God (3:6), the centrality of Christ in all things (3:11), the Spirit’s fruit in the lives of believers (3:12-17), worship (3:16), marriage (3:18-19), parenting (3:20-21), and honoring God in the workplace (3:22–4:1).

Behold, preacher!  By expositing Colossians 3, you would preach all of those different topics.  People grow in their understanding of the Bible when they wade in the waters of biblical exposition.  Churches benefit from sustained treatments of Bible passages (and–chapters, even entire books).

This doesn’t mean you have to take the book of Genesis and preach it all the way through without a break.  But in selecting chunks of the Bible and then preaching them, you will inevitably cover a wide range of topics.

Expository preaching, therefore, doesn’t exclude topics.  Instead, expository preaching deals with topics as the text addresses them.  Preach the Word!

The Sound of Predestination in Acts 18:10

When Jesus told Paul (in a vision) to stay in Corinth despite rising Jewish opposition, the Lord gave three reasons to support His command:

(1) “For I am with you” (Acts 18:10a)
(2) “No one is going to attack and harm you” (Acts 18:10b)
(3) “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10c)

While the first promise is a familiar reassurance of divine presence and the second promise is a unique promise to Paul applicable only in Corinth, the third promise is strange because of the seeming ambiguity of who the “many people” are.

I see only two possible interpretations of the “many people” here:
(1) The “many people” are Christians
(2) The “many people” are not yet Christians–but will be

I don’t think the “many people” can be those who have converted already.  This third promise of v. 10 is given as a reason for the second promise (“no one is going to attack and harm  you, because I have many people in this city”), and it doesn’t make much sense to promise Paul that he won’t be persecuted because there are already Christians in Corinth.

After all, Paul was persecuted in Philippi (Acts 16:22-24) after believers were converted (Acts 16:14-15).  There seems to be no reason in Acts that Paul shouldn’t worry about persecution simply because of the presence of other believers.

However, there is reason to think that Paul shouldn’t worry about extreme opposition (namely, martyrdom) if the Lord promised that people will still believe under his ministry.  In other words, if people will still believe under his ministry, it’s because he is still around to have a ministry!  Any opposition he faces in Corinth, then, will not physically harm and destroy him.

So I think it’s best to interpret “many people” (Acts 18:10c) as those who have not yet believed but who will believe under Paul’s preaching.

But what about the first part of the third promise found in Acts 18:10c?  Jesus said, “I have many people in this city [Corinth].”  What would such a possessive statement indicate?  The people aren’t yet saved, but the people are in some sense…His.

Could Jesus’ possessive words be akin to John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”?  The “many people” in Acts 18:10 would be those who the Father has given to Jesus and who will come to him in faith.

Jesus’ words in Acts 18:10 probably sound the same notes of predestination as Acts 13:48: “…and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

In summary, the appointment preceded the believing (Acts 13:48), being given to Jesus preceded coming to him in faith (John 6:37), and–in the passage in question–Jesus has “many people” before they are ever converted (Acts 18:10).

In Acts 18:10, Jesus told Paul to remain in Corinth and keep preaching, because He had “many people” there.  These “people” had not yet been converted, yet they were already His by virtue of being appointed to eternal life.  Jesus is saying, “Paul, stay in Corinth a while longer, because there are many elect ones of mine who have not yet believed–and who will believe under your ministry.”

So Paul stayed (Acts 18:11).

A Promise Made to Paul, Not to Us

In Acts 18:1-17, Luke briefly narrates the account of Paul’s first visit to Corinth that resulted in the founding of a church, as well as persecution from his opposition.

Like similar accounts of his ministry resulting in opposition (Acts 13:50-51; 14:5-7, 19-20; 16:22-40; 17:5-10a, 13-14), Paul intended to leave Corinth and move onto the next place.

But Jesus came to Paul in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you…” (Acts 18:9-10).  And Paul stayed for 18 months (Acts 18:11).

Jesus made a unique promise to Paul: “no one is going to attack and harm you.”  And this promise seems to apply only in that unique setting in Corinth, for Paul was harmed before arriving in Corinth (for example, in Philippi in Acts 16:22-24).  And according to church history, Paul was martyred in the mid-60s under Nero’s reign.

We must be careful so as to avoid a serious error when reading Acts 18:10.  That error would be thinking, “Jesus promised Paul he wouldn’t be harmed, so we can claim that promise when we are engaging in missions.”

The reason such an interpretation would be a mistake is based on Paul’s teaching in other churches that conveys the exact opposite: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Elsewhere he said, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).  And the Lord told Ananias concerning Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16).

So it is a mistake to interpret Jesus’ promise to Paul as a promise to every believer.  Instead of gospel-work being comfortable and easy, the opposite is promised to us in the New Testament: we will face persecution and the world will hate us.  That is what we’ve been promised.

Paul not experiencing physical persecution in Corinth seemed to be an exception to the rule.  Read Paul’s own recollections of what he endured while on mission for God (2 Cor 6:4-10; 11:23-27).