In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul issues a solemn charge to Timothy: “preach the word.”
This is every true preacher’s divine assignment. We must preach the word.
Note that Paul did not merely charge Timothy to preach. He also instructed him what to preach. Preach the word.
Paul’s specific language reminds us that the importance of preaching rests in its content, not in its function. Our preaching is not the reason the word works. The word is the reason our preaching works.
So Paul tells Timothy that he must preach. But he also tells Timothy what he must preach. Preach the word.
This is the biblical priority of pastoral ministry. We are charged to carry out a holy function: preach. And we are charged to herald a holy message: the word.
What does it mean to preach the word?
Preach the content of the word.
The pulpit is not the place for personal testimonies, political speeches, therapy sessions, motivational talks, self-help advice, worldly advice, worldly philosophies, or scientific theories. Martin Luther rightly said that the pulpit is the throne of the word of God.
We must preach what 2 Timothy 3:15 calls “the sacred writings.” We must preach what 2 Timothy 3:16 calls “all scripture.” Did you get that? Preach the Bible. And don’t just preach your pet topics, hobby horses, or favorite doctrines. Preach it all. Strive to end your ministry with the words of Paul: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
In Famine in the Land, Steve Lawson writes of hearing Walter Kaiser say in a commencement address that those who preach should always be pointing to a text. When a man preaches, he should never remove his finger from the Scriptures, Kaiser charged. If he is gesturing with his right hand, he should keep his left hand’s finger on the text. If he reverses hands for gesturing, then he should also reverse hands for holding his spot in the text. We should always be pointing the Scriptures.
Preach the meaning of the word.
Biblical preaching involves more than reading, quoting, or mentioning scripture in your sermon. Biblical preaching explains what the text means by what it says.
2 Timothy 2:15 exhorts, “Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
It has been well said that there are only two ways to preach – by exposition or by imposition. Either your preaching explains the God intended meaning of the text or it sinfully imposes human speculation onto the text.
Think about it. When you go to the airport to catch a flight, you are clear about the destination, flight number, and time of departure. But you also make sure you get the right gate number. You don’t just go to any gate; because you know that going to the wrong gate, even if it’s just the next one over, can lead you far from your intended destination. Likewise, a lack of precision in handling the Scriptures can lead people far away from God, rather than closer to him.
Preach the focus of the word.
When Paul charged Timothy to preach the word, he specifically had the Old Testament in mind. The writing of the New Testament canon was still in process, even as Paul wrote the words of 2 Timothy.
Yet Timothy’s preaching of the Old Testament was to be done as a minister of the new covenant (2 Co. 3:6). He was read the Old Testament texts with New Testament eyes. His preaching was to focus on the divine person and redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:23 says, “We preach Christ crucified.” And 2 Corinthians 4:5 says, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
On one occasion, someone complained to Charles Spurgeon, that all his sermons sounded alike. “And so they should,” he replied. “First I take a text, and then I make a beeline for the cross.”
Likewise, our preaching should unapologetically focus on the virgin birth, virtuous life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection and visible return of Jesus Christ.