By Michael Cooper
Steven J. Lawson in a recent issue of Expositor Magazine said,
As you are considering what to preach in your pulpit ministry, I strongly encourage you to consider the book of Romans. Down through the centuries, it has been greatly used by God to usher in seasons of refreshing from the Lord. Perhaps as you expound its truths, this will be your experience as well.
This is the exact experience I’ve personally had with the book of Romans. The Lord saved me through my reading of Romans 1:18-32. I preached my first sermon at the church I serve at from Romans 12:1-2, and the Lord delivered me from a dark depression by hearing a sermon from Romans 8:1-4.
Time and time again, Romans has ushered in a season of refreshment for my walk with Christ. It’s been the book I continually return to for spiritual transformation.
In my short 12 years of preaching, I’ve had the opportunity to preach and teach through this gospel-saturated book on a few occasions. In God’s providence, I’m once again working my way through it expositionally in the local church where I pastor.
Here are six expository tips for preaching through this powerful book.
1. Research the Homiletical History of the Book.
Before you begin preaching through Romans, I recommend you research the homiletical history of the book—that is, how it’s been preached over the years. As preachers, we stand in a long line of faithful pastors who’ve preached on this book.
We can hear their voices and reflect upon their experiences with Romans.
A helpful resource is Lawson’s article in Expositor, where he shows what past and present preachers have said about the epistle, from John Chrysostom to John MacArthur.
Researching the preaching history of Romans can encourage and challenge pastors before they take up the task of exposition.
2. Divide It Up by Sections.
In laying out a preaching schedule, allow the book to set the trajectory. Romans naturally divides into four sections (chapters 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, 12-16).
As a way of helping the congregation not feel as though they’re drinking from a fire hose for months on end, consider breaking your expositional series down based on its divisions.
For example, preach chapters 1-4, then take a break. Invite someone to fill the pulpit for a few weeks while you rest and prepare to preach the following section.
The break doesn’t need to be long but it can aid you in gathering your thoughts before you step back for another long series of sermons. Most of us don’t have the mental energy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones who preached verse by verse through Romans from October 1955 to March 1968.
Pastors, take a break at times. This can provide a needed respite for the congregation. You’re not giving up on sequential exposition by being wise to take a bit of a rest.
3. Wrestle With the Exegetical Theology.
One of Paul’s intentions in writing Romans was to defend the theology of the gospel. As a result, he explores the doctrines of sin, atonement, election, and eschatology (plus much more).
The book challenges us as preachers to wrestle with exegetical and theological concepts.
Read the powerful expositions of Donald Grey Barnhouse, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and John Piper. As we work through Romans, let the voices of the past and present aid us in our exegesis.
4. Deliver it Pastorally.
Remember that Paul had a pastor’s heart in writing Romans. He wrote it to a church dealing with internal conflicts between Jews and Gentiles.
Since both Jews and Gentiles are “in Christ,” this opened the door for Paul to show his pastoral heart. Remember as pastors, we’re preaching to real people with real problems.
Our disposition towards our congregation should be like Paul’s–filled with pastoral kindness.
As we wrestle with the exegetical theology, we must realize we’re not merely theologians and exegetes, but shepherds charged with the task of caring for Christ’s sheep. Love them through expositing Romans with pastoral care and compassion.
5. Address Applicable Social Issues.
Paul addresses not only congregational issues but also cultural ones. We see this in Romans 1:18-3:20 and throughout the letter.
The book discusses issues such as sexual sins, racism, and injustice. The tendency is to focus on the high theology of the letter, but in Paul’s mind, a deep gospel theology will affect the social aspects of life.
The application points are endless.
By wise application, the text allows us to address problems such as pornography, abortion, government vs. church relations, same-sex marriage, and racial injustice.
Romans wasn’t written in a vacuum. It’s real, gritty, and raw. Romans has proven to change not only individuals but also the culture through the power of the crucified, risen, and exalted Christ (look at the Reformation for proof).
6. Announce the God-Exalting Gospel.
The book of Romans is theocentric (focused on God the Father), christocentric (focused on Christ), and pneumocentric (focused on the Holy Spirit). Romans exalts God above all.
The gospel is the means of redemption and the end of redemption. As Paul says in verse one of Romans, he’s set apart for the “gospel of God.”
The God-exalting nature of Romans influences the way we prepare, pray, preach, and pastor. As we seek to preach through Romans, we must keep “the main thing, the main thing.”
It’s nothing less than the gospel of God that saves sinners who receive salvation by faith alone through the Lord Jesus Christ, which is applied to us by the Spirit.
The gospel is the only message that can save and sustain God’s people.
As you consider Romans for exposition, I hope these expository tips help you preach well. The profound theology, practical love, and pastoral nature of the book open up the door for personal and congregational transformation.