Why Preach Expositionally?: To Incorporate the Biblical Components of Illustration, Application, and Exhortation

I have already offered four reasons for why we should preach expositionally (hereherehere, and here). Next I’d like to expand on those answers by adding another reason I think pastors ought to make expository sermons their regular practice in the pulpit, namely because the task of the expositor is incomplete without the necessary components of illustration, application and exhortation, all of which are modeled in Scripture.


Illustrations are windows that help our audience see clearly into the house of the sermon. They bring clarity, touch the heart, move the emotions, and reveal that Scripture works in real life. For biblical warrant for illustrations in biblical proclamation, we need only look to Jesus, the master illustrator. Whether with fig tree, mustard seeds, or parables about servants, masters, travelers, or fathers, Jesus effectively communicated his message by the use of clear and compelling illustrations.


Application addresses the action that needs to take place on the part of the audience as a result of hearing the message. Howard Hendricks often says that “interpretation without application results in abortion. We must let the baby go full term.” Again, I believe there are two additional questions that we must ask and answer each and every time we preach and teach the Word of God:

  1. What do I want my people to know?
  2. What do I want my people to do?

If the latter question is not adequately addressed, your audience will be frustrated for want of an outlet to put into practice what they have learned, even if you deliver an outstanding oration.


Exhortation must also be an essential aspect of biblical proclamation. This element addresses the will. We must call our people to action, raise the bar and challenge them to reach for it. On the day of the Pentecost Peter “strongly urged them” (Acts 2:40). When Paul was at Corinth he “tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). In his final words to his son in the ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy, “rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Part of the task of the pastor is to lead the sheep, and this will inevitable require exhorting them to faithfulness to God’s Word.

Illustration, application and exhortation are not optional in a comprehensive job description for the faithful expositor and shepherd of the Lord’s sheep. They are essential ingredients.

(A version of this post previously appeared on