Samuel Langhorne Clemens – better known by his pen name, Mark Twain – went to church one Sunday. After the service, he told the pastor he had a book at home with every word the pastor preached. The pastor assured him his sermon was original. When Clemens insisted, the pastor asked to see the book. Clemens sent it over the following day. When the pastor unwrapped the parcel, he found a dictionary. Clemens had written in the flyleaf: “Words, just words, just words.”
How many sermons could be described this way? “Words, just words.” So much preaching is “just words” that it has created a conspiracy against preaching.
- The unbelieving world dismisses preaching as religious nonsense.
- Many congregations prefer pulpit entertainment over biblical preaching.
- Some pastors would rather be “life coaches” rather than preachers.
This should not surprise us. 2 Timothy 3:1 warns: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” But Paul does not give a new strategy for the changing times. Timothy was to stick with the scriptures. Why continue in the word? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
- The Bible is sufficient for Christian maturity.
- The Bible is sufficient for Christian ministry.
Scripture makes the man of God complete and equipped for every good work. What work? 2 Timothy 4:1-5 answers. There are nine imperatives in these five verses. The first is foremost: Biblical preaching is the first work of faithful ministry. I am a student and advocate of expositional preaching, which explains and applies the God-intended meaning of the text. Why exposition? Because 2 Timothy 4:1-2 comes after 2 Timothy 3:16-17. How a man preaches reflects his view of scripture. To trust scripture is to teach scripture.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 is preached in pastoral ordinations, installations, and conferences. But this charge to the preacher is a charge to the church. Pierre Mercel said, “Preaching is the central, primary, decisive function of the church.” The church is and does more than preaching. But preaching is essential to all the church is and does.
Without knowing it, the unsaved and unchurched need preaching. Romans 10:14 asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” It pleases God to save the lost and sanctify the churchthrough truth-driven, gospel-saturated, Christ-exalting preaching. What does it mean to preach the word?
Preach the Word Dutifully.
Verse 1 begins, “I charge you.” “Charge” is a military command or legal affirmation. It means to order, adjure, or implore. Paul uses this forceful language to commission Timothy to preach the word. This solemn charge was not about Timothy’s relationship with Paul. It was about Timothy’s relationship with the Lord. We are to preach to an audience of one.
What would be different if you lived in the conscious presence of Christ?
Jesus is present now. Verse 1 says, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.” Soon, Paul would no longer be present in Timothy’s life. Someone would be watching and listening after Paul’s departure. He chargedTimothy in the presence of the Godhead. That presence was the Supreme Court, not a court reporter. Paul attributes omniscience to God and Christ Jesus. The presence of Christ is the presence of God. John 10:30 says, “I and the Father are one.”
Jesus Christ is God and Judge. Verse 1 says he will “judge the living and the dead.” We assume God the Father will render final judgment. John 5:22-23 says, “For the Father judges no none, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” The “living and the dead” will give account to Christ Jesus at the final inspection.
- The living will bow before Christ.
- The dead will rise to bow to him.
We minister in the scrutinizing presence of the sovereign God and Judge.
Jesus is coming soon. Paul charged Timothy “by his appearing.” “Appearing” means “a shining forth.” It refers to the Second Coming. Paul did not live to see the appearance of Christ. But he lived as if it would happen any day. There were only two days on Paul’s calendar: today and that day. The open secret to faithfulness is anticipation of the appearing of Christ.
Paul also charged Timothy by “his kingdom.” We are citizens of a present-but-not-yet kingdom. Matthew 6:10 teaches us to pray: “Your kingdom come.” The coming of Christ will be the consummation of the kingdom. The Lord will rule freely, fully, and finally. Here is the ultimate basis of ministerial accountability. Verse 8 says “the righteous judge” will give a crown of righteousnessto those who love his appearance. Size, success, and celebrity are not counted on heaven’s scoreboard. We will answer for how we preach the word.
Preach the Word Diligently.
Paul got Timothy’s full attention by invoking the Holy Trinity, final judgment, second coming, and heavenly kingdom. What is the solemn charge? Verse 2 answers. Many things in the pastor’s job description are not mentioned. The call to preach the word is the all-consuming focus of this solemn charge.
Biblical Preaching. There are five commands in verse 2. The latter four emphasize and reinforce the first: “preach the word.” “Preach” was a political term, not a religious one. It referred to the function of a herald. An ancient ruler could not give a press conference with satellite coverage. The ruler would send a herald to announce a royal birth, legal verdict, or military victory. When he arrived in a city, he lifted his voice solemnly to deliver the king’s message accurately and authoritatively. The people would listen and take heed to the herald. To ignore the herald’s message was to reject the king’s authority.
Paul charged Timothy to be the Lord’s herald. He did not have editorial control over the message. The one who determined that he must preach decided what he must preach: “preach the word.” The power of preaching is in the content, not the function. The question is not can a man preach but what he preaches.
- It is not our preaching that makes the gospel work.
- It is the gospel that makes our lousy preaching work.
The noted Presbyterian pastor and author Clarence E. Macartney died at Geneva College on February 19, 1957. Two days before his death, his brother Robertson visited him while on his way to preach at a nearby church. As Robertson left, he heard his brother say, “Put all the Bible you can into it.”
Bold Preaching. Verse 2 says, “Be ready in season and out of season.” “Ready” denotes immediacy, urgency, and earnestness. It is a call to prepare. You must get ready to be ready. A passion to preach without a commitment to prepare is a desire to perform. It is also a call to persevere. “In season” is an opportunetime. Mark 14:11 uses the term for how Judas sought a convenient moment to betray Jesus. “Out of season” is an inopportune time.
This call to perseverance applies to preachers and hearers. We should strive to be faithful and fruitful. But we must remain faithful when we are not fruitful. The focus here seems to be on the hearers. Preach the word no matter the response. Ezekiel 2:7 says, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” A rebellious house is not an excuse to be an unfaithful preacher. William MacDonald wrote: “The message is in season at all times, even when some might think it to be out of season.”
Balanced Preaching. Verse 2 gives three further imperatives: “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort.”
- “Reprove” is preaching to convince the hearer.
- “Rebuke” is preaching to convict the hearer.
- “Exhort” is preaching to correct the hearer.
How should you reprove the mind, rebuke the emotions, and exhort the will? Verse 2 answers: “with complete patience and teaching.” I have obeyed the top of verse 2. I am still learning to obey the bottom of verse 2. “Complete patience” is longsuffering. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.” To love those to whom you preach is to keep preaching the word to them when they do not love you in return.
- The first word of verse 2 is “preach.”
- The last word of verse 2 is “teaching.”
The New Testament does not make a hard distinction between the terms. You can teach without preaching. You cannot preach without teaching. Faithful preaching necessitates doctrinal teaching. Matthew 28:20 commissions us to be “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Music, programs, and events may draw crowds. To make disciples, you must teach the church to think and act biblically.
Preach the Word Defiantly.
Verses 3-4 explain the reason for the charge in verses 1-2. It is a prophetic warning about how human depravity can corrupt the preaching of the word.
People will reject truth. We assume preaching has positive effects. But verse 3 explains: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching.” “People” includes hardened unbelievers and professing believers. Faithful preaching exposes spiritual counterfeits. They cannot “endure sound teaching.” Healthy and health-giving teaching becomes intolerable for those who love their sins more than Christ. But they will not go home. Hardhearted people have “itching ears,” craving something new or novel.
Wanting to hear something cute, clever, or controversial, they will accumulate false teachers who will not confront or contradict their sinful standards. Paul warned Timothy about false teachers many times. Here is the other side of the coin. False teachers would not have a platform if not for carnal-minded church members. Marvin Vincent said, “If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”
People will pursue lies. Verse 4 reports two ways people pursue lies.
A Turning Away. Verse 4 says they “will turn away from listening to the truth.” “Turn away” is activeand aggressive. It is not a refusal to listen to preaching. It is a refusal to listen to “the truth.” Jeremiah 5:30-31 says, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes.”
Many church people will gladly hear personal opinions, worldly philosophies, mystical speculation, prophetic mumbo-jumbo, and charismatic ramblings. They will not listen to the truth. Note the definite article before “truth.”You do not have your own truth. God’s truth is the only truth.
A Wandering Off. Verse 4 says they will “wander off into myths.”
- “Turn away” is active.
- “Wander off” is passive.
“Wander” was a medical term for pulling a limb out of joint. False teaching will spiritually dislocate your faith so that you start following “myths.” Abraham Lincoln asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?” He answered, “Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” Faithful pastors and churches hold fast to God’s truth and refuse to wander into the world’s lies.
Preach the Word Devotionally.
Verse 5 begins an emphatic contrast: “As for you.” Let the people do what they do. Stay the course no matter what happens to or around you. How do you stay the course?
Verse 5 says: “Always be soberminded.” The verb means to be sober. Metaphorically, it refers to alertness, not abstinence. It is to be watchful. It describes one who is stable, steadfast, and serious. Kenneth Wuest wrote: “There is no place for clowning in the pulpit of Jesus Christ.” The command refers to your private life and pulpit ministry. Keep your head at all times.
Verse 5 also commands us to “endure suffering.” To endure suffering, expect suffering – not ecclesiastical prominence, material prosperity, or worldly success. Ministry is not about celebrity, privilege, or affluence. 2 Timothy 2:3 says, “Share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Christian ministry is spiritual warfare. You must endure suffering to be victorious.
Likewise, “do the work of an evangelist.”
- We do not know if Timothy had the gift of evangelism.
- But he was commanded to do the work of an evangelist.
To preach the word is to do the work of an evangelist. Preach the virgin birth, righteous life, atoning death, triumphant resurrection, glorious ascension, and imminent return of Christ. Colossians 1:28 says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Finally, Paul exhorts, “Fulfill your ministry.” This final imperative summarizes the previous eight. You get no credit for how well you begin. Anyone can start fast. Can you finish strong? Presses on to the end.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 testifies: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”