“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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5
In recent years, the proclamation of the Word of God has suffered from a number of influences. Some churches have fallen back on professionalism, ignoring gift in favor of formal training. Other churches pride themselves on not requiring formal training but end up doing nothing by way of discipleship and gift development. Some preachers seek to entertain the crowds, and, regrettably some crowds appreciate this “ministry” more than they do sound words. In some cases, men seek to draw attention to themselves rather than to Christ. As a result of these factors, in many places, the church is suffering terrible biblical illiteracy, even among those who preach or teach.
The current situation would be grim if the Bible did not address this topic. Best known for the exhortation, “preach the Word,” 2 Timothy 4:1-5 is a wake-up call for the church as a whole and concentrated instruction for preachers in particular. The passage begins by reminding us that it deals with a solemn matter. Paul is not a man known for frivolity, so, in what is probably his last written epistle, he says to his son in the faith, “I solemnly charge you.” This is of the utmost importance, both for Timothy himself and for the church for all time. This solemn charge is made in the presence of God, for there is no one higher. This solemn charge is also made in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead. And, at the end of this verse, we are reminded that this is by His appearing (most likely referring to the Second Coming) and for the sake of the Kingdom.
So Timothy is given this solemn charge: “preach the Word.” Preach is literally, “to proclaim,” and could refer to the message of salvation or to the edification of the saints. Verse 3 suggests that teaching is in view, while verse 5 suggests that it is evangelism. This serious exhortation is applicable to both cases. This should give the preacher pause to reflect on the seriousness of his task. He will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), and taking his task lightly may result in loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. He must speak as one who is proclaiming the very utterances of God (1 Pet. 4:11). As we prepare and preach, are we consciously aware of the seriousness of the task before us? Are we engaged in spiritual work using spiritual means?
The work described in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 is not the work of a man who is focused on helping people to merely enjoy life or to think positively. It is neither the work of the man who avoids the hard passages, nor of the one who avoids speaking of repentance and the blood of Christ. It is not the work of the man who teaches that the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is really just a means of getting more material possessions. The man who wants others to speak well of him is warned, as is the indolent brother who would rather watch television than prepare his sermon by study and prayer. This isn’t speaking of a preacher who is casually looking for something to say about a passage. It also might be helpful to mention that the godly preacher will not be locked into a grim and scolding mindset, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself used winsome words to draw men and women.
A man who is frivolous, self-centered, or has some standard other than the Bible cannot be used to reprove, to rebuke, or to exhort. A man cannot be a stand-up comedian and preach a message of conviction. The Holy Spirit will move with power among us if, as preachers, we cast ourselves upon Him, acknowledging that we are unworthy servants, needing an enabling of the Spirit to reach people with the Word of God. This enabling does not involve flashy signs and wonders. There is no mechanical formula by which we obtain this enabling. It only comes when we realize that, in ourselves, we are insufficient for the task at hand, and we cry out to the Father for help by the Spirit.
A readiness to preach is important. This does not merely mean an eagerness to preach. Sometimes a young man gets it into his head that it might be nice to stand at a pulpit and have everyone listen to him. This is most emphatically not what is spoken of here. Neither is it a reference to older men who might be tempted to monopolize an open meeting.
Readiness starts with spiritual preparation to ensure we have a consistent spiritual life. It also includes personal study of the Bible. We cannot preach an authoritative message unless it is rooted in and grows from the Scriptures. Those who would preach the Word must be prepared to exert the effort to first get a solid grip on the Bible so that they are sound in doctrine, and then diligently study and prepare so that their messages are accurate, fresh, and coherent.
Readiness also suggests organized thoughts, so that a sudden opportunity (whether for the gospel or edification) is not wasted. We can summarize this readiness in the words of a dear brother who noted that when the cupboard is full, you don’t need to worry about unexpected guests.
In verse 3, however, we see a warning. It starts by saying that a time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine. In many places, that day is already here. Many have made it quite clear that they do not want to hear messages from only the Bible. They do not want the meat of the Word of God. They don’t want to hear anything which is thoroughly biblical and yet is somewhat controversial in a permissive society. They want to have their ears tickled; but, the interesting thing about verse 3 is that it doesn’t say that they will fall away from attending meetings of the church. They will still go to church meetings, but it will be a church that preaches a message more in keeping with their tastes. And, regrettably, there is no shortage of churches today that will appeal to them—short on truth and long on entertainment.
In contrast, both Timothy and today’s faithful preachers are directed along a different path. It is a path that is difficult. It is a path which may be unpopular. There is hardship, and we might never have a large audience. This is not to say that large churches always compromise and that small churches are always faithful, but the individuals who preach God’s Word must be firmly convicted in their own hearts and minds of the need to heed Paul’s charge to Timothy. Or, in the words of the Puritan Richard Baxter, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”