Preach the Word
Topic: Preaching Passage: 2 Timothy 4:1–4:4
I want to talk to you today about the importance of solid, biblical, faithful preaching of God’s word for the good of the church. In our present series on the local church, what it means to be a local body and the kinds of commitments we ought to make to one another, I want to call you as members of this body to commit as a church to uphold, support, and honor the preaching of God’s word. Notice I am not saying the preacher (primarily), but the faithful proclamation of the word of God. Now, of course this sounds incredibly self-serving, because I am the preacher. But, I want to show you today from our text the enormous importance of biblical preaching and teaching in God’s mind. And of course its immense importance to the health and well-being of the church. JC Ryle said,
[Preaching the Word] is the principal means God has always chosen to use to convert and edify souls. The brightest days of the church have been those when preaching has been honored; the darkest days of the church have been those when it has been treated as something unimportant.
We want bright days right? Here at RLC and in the church. So let’s promote and honor the faithful preaching of God’s word. Faithful, biblical preaching demonstrates the heart of Christ for his people. Jesus refers to Himself as the good Shepherd. Peter refers to Christ as the chief Shepherd. And what has our chief Shepherd done to bless his church? The Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah: “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding…” (Jeremiah 3:15). Shepherds, pastors who labor to teach and preach. JI Packer said, “Faithful preaching is the basic ingredient to faithful pastoring.” It is not all there is to pastoring, but it is the basic ingredient.
After his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times, “do you love me”, and when Peter said, “yes, you know I do love you,” Jesus responded with: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” Who are these sheep? The people Christ laid his life down for and cares for. Christ right now, cares for you, and shows it by giving you shepherds who will faithfully feed you his truth. Let’s take a look at our text and I want to draw your attention to the significance of faithful preaching in God’s mind. These are God’s words. So let me read these words again from Paul near the end of his life - within days or weeks he will be beheaded - to Timothy (a pastor):
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when men will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and will wander off into myths.
The priority God places on faithful preaching is seen in three things:
- The spiritual realities surrounding preaching
- The charge itself “preach the word”
- The urgent reason given to preach the word
First, notice the spiritual realities surrounding preaching (v. 1)
I (solemnly) charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom…
This is quite an introduction right? Quite a buildup. Paul lays out a cascading of spiritual realities that are meant to increase the sense of gravity. It gives a kind of snowball effect - a small snowball as it rolls down a snowy mountainside, picks up steam and gets larger and larger. The solemn charge is to preach the word, which is anything but merely standing up and speaking. Let’s consider this phrase by phrase:
I charge you in the presence of God... Before the face of God. Of course we are to live all of our lives in the presence of God. But I take this to mean that there is a special sense in which the activity of the proclamation of God’s word has his special attention. In Jeremiah 1:12 God says, “I am watching over my word to perform it.”
God is watching and paying close attention this morning to how I am handling his word and to how you are listening to it. Have you thought of that? This is why false prophets are such a stench in God’s nostrils and bring such reproach upon his name, because they presume to speak for him, in his name, and they don’t. Rather they lie in his name. And many readily listen to them and are led astray. So “I charge you in the presence of God…” But the snowball picks up steam when Paul adds...
And in the presence of Christ Jesus. Our Redeemer and Lord is also watching over what takes place today. Think about this. What is the basic message of the bible? It points to Christ! The written word points to the living and incarnate Word. A British preacher from several centuries ago said, “The heart of all preaching is to preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.” And so our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ is overseeing the preaching and hearing of his word. What did Jesus say at the end of each of his messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3? “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says.” But the snowball picks up steam…
And in the presence of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead. In light of the judgment. In light of the judgment seat of Christ… (2 Corinthians 5:10). James warns that those who teach will be judged more strictly,
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.(James 3:1)
And so those who preach ought to do so with great care and reverence and humility seeking the Lord’s help. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). How much more the careless preaching of God’s word? And also, those who listen ought to do so attentively and with humility. For Jesus also said, “Take care how you hear” (Luke 8:18). How much more the hearing of his word preached. And the snowball picks up a bit more steam when Paul says...
And in the presence of [Christ’s] appearing and his kingdom. Here Paul urges Timothy to preach with his eye upon the coming of Christ and the consummation of his Kingdom. In other words, in the hope and urgency of the appearance of that day.
When we consider the spiritual realities that preaching is to be done in light of (God, Christ, judgment, second coming and kingdom), it becomes evident that to teach and preach the word of God faithfully is of utmost importance to God for the good of his church. Let’s look at the charge itself… the charge to preach the word.
The charge: to preach the word (v. 2)
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Preach the word. What is it to preach the word? We see that it is important, but we need to understand what it is to preach the word. Well, let’s start with the word preach. The Greek word “kerusso”, means to herald, to proclaim, to announce or publish news, and to do so with authority. Long ago, it was very common for a kingdom to employ heralds who would go into the village square and announce: “Hear ye, hear ye, King James has issued a decree…”
Preaching is the activity of publishing news from the King of the universe!. It is proclaiming a word from God. It is proclaiming on God’s behalf. The person standing in the pulpit indicating by his content or demeanor that he doesn’t have anything important to say, shouldn’t be there.
And again, the content to be preached is the word. THE word is to be preached (definite article)! Of course this means God’s authoritative word - the divinely inspired scriptures. Not stories, not my experiences, not my ideas, not politics, not conspiracies. It is the word of God which must be preached. William Perkins (17th Century Pastor from England) said, “Scripture is the exclusive subject of preaching, the only field in which the preacher is to labor.” You should want to hear God’s ideas, not mine or that of another person. You should want to hear the truth, not “my truth” (whatever that is).
And for good reason! God’s word is POWERFUL! He created all the galaxies out of nothing by his word! When Jesus asked his disciples if they were ready to bail on him like the large crowds, Peter said, “To whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The words of eternal life! Furthermore, it is by God’s word we are sanctified, renewed, and revived. It is by God’s word we are warned and blessed. It is by God’s word we grow up in maturity and are equipped for every good work.
Which parts of the word should be preached? All of it! Just before these words, (literally the 2 verses before), Paul just said, “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, refroof, correction, training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus said, “man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
How often should the preacher be prepared to preach? Well, Paul says to be ready in season and out of season, which is just a way of saying all the time. You are either in season or out of season, right? So all the time. Spurgeon said: “We cannot be strawberry preachers, which come but once a year and are gone again…” The preacher is a preacher all the time. Martyn Lloyd Jones and his wife were once on a vacation and visited a small village chapel and when he asked if they would like him to give the word that morning. The people hesitated, because he was on vacation, and his wife said, “Let him. He loves preaching”.
Honestly, I don’t know when it happened. Sometime in the last 12 years… I love to preach. God has given me such a desire to preach and teach, to feed God’s sheep. I know that I have not arrived, but I long to grow and be more effective and feed you with finer and more filling spiritual food, but it is my great desire to do just that.
Now we are given three examples of what preaching entails: reprove, rebuke, and exhort.
Reprove means to correct error. That’s not popular in our day, or probably any. Error? Doesn’t everyone have an equally valid opinion about spiritual things? No! Not if God’s word is true. So preaching includes reproof or correcting error, bad doctrine, faulty beliefs, etc.
Rebuke, which means to sternly warn, because of sin. This is an important part of preaching. There are serious warnings for those who persist in sin, the kinds of warnings that lead to the outer darkness with gnashing of teeth. And so strong words of rebuke need to be preached so people can be duly warned and turn in repentance.
Exhort means to summon. A strong call to faith and obedience, to perseverance and faithfulness, to love and good works. But the faithful preacher is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in a certain manner: “with complete patience and instruction…” Not abrasive, not harshly, but with patience / longsuffering.
And with instruction. The preaching of the word must put a premium on “sound doctrine”, healthy doctrine. Preaching includes instruction in sound doctrine. You can’t read through the New Testament and miss the premium put on doctrine. Doctrine differentiates between what is true and what is false. It differentiates between what God is like and what he is not like. When people doctrine divides, of course it does. Faithful teachers and preachers are called to rightly “divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
The charge is to preach the word in every season with patience and instruction. Okay, why?
The Urgent reason to preach the word (v. 3-4):
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Why is preaching the word (and consequently hearing the word) such a weighty and important task? The answer Paul gives us is an implicit warning. And I think it describes the time in which we live (not that it was a prophecy about 2021). It aptly describes something we need to be aware of and cautious of. The progression goes like this: people don’t naturally tolerate sound teaching. Instead they look for teachers to scratch their itching ears and tell them what they want to hear (passions - sinful, fleshly desires).
This leads to turning away from the truth and wandering off into myths (fables, tales, fiction, lies). And what happens when someone wanders away from the truth and doesn’t come back? They prove they were never one of Christ’s sheep - Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice… and follow me. The voice of another they will not listen to”. And trust me, there are plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing waiting on the edges of the pasture, more than willing to scratch itching ears, and then devour.
In Ephesus (where Timothy was), the ability to accumulate teachers to suit your passions was fairly limited. Now, there is access to countless teachers who will give you what you want.
I had a good friend quite a few years ago who in hindsight I can see this progression. He surrounded himself with teachers (online) who told him “Grace is so amazing and free (that part is good). You don’t need to forsake your sin. It’s okay. You’re saved. God’s grace abounds for sinners. Jesus can be celebrated as a gracious Savior without being submitted to as a sovereign Lord.” This friend went off the deep end, left his wife and kids for another woman, and seems to have shipwrecked his faith. The examples of this are almost endless.
Christ loves you and wants you to be fed with healthy truth - knowledge and understanding - from his word. He provides his people with shepherds after his own heart who are committed to doing this. He truly is the good and chief Shepherd who laid down his life and loves the sheep.
How do we uphold and honor the ministry of the word?
What I’ve laid out already is the standard that we need to have for preaching. In application, I want to put the emphasis on the one not preaching. So how can we as an entire church uphold and honor faithful preaching?
- See the treasure that you possess in the Scriptures. Unfathomable, matchless treasure! Psalm 19: “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold. Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”
- Come to the scriptures in a posture of humility. Put yourself underneath the scriptures. O how often we elevate ourselves and sit in judgement of the bible. And the final arbiter is how I feel about what it says. When you come up to a particular passage and it’s kind of a hard truth, if you think to yourself, “Is this really what God is saying?”, just remember how the serpent tempted Eve with those very words. Remember, “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears…” Don’t let that be said of you!
- Demand robust, biblical teaching from your pastors/elders. You should want this from us. There should be a burning desire to be fed God’s truth.
- Pray for those who teach and preach. Paul pleaded for prayer often. Pray for me, pray for me, pray for me! An old Dutch preacher once said:“Pray me full and I’ll preach you full.” Do we have a deal?
- Listen to the preaching of the word with earnestness, prayer, faith, and a readiness to obey. “Take care how you hear…” (Luke 8:18). “If sermons do not make your heart better, they will make your chains (judgment) heavier.” ~ Thomas Watson
Let’s honor the faithful preaching of the word of God for his great glory and honor and for our greatest good. Let’s pray. Benediction: Romans 15:13