A few days ago I tried to demonstrate how a church self-destructs. There is a sad progression that begins with the people growing weary and ashamed of truth. No longer able or willing to endure sound teaching, they get rid of the truth-tellers and accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. Inevitably, they soon turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. All of this is laid out in chapter four of 2 Timothy. In the face of this kind of assault, Paul juxtaposes the simplest solution: Preach. It’s as simple as that one step, that one commitment. The church that remains faithful to God is the church that remains faithful to the Word of God. The healthy church is the preaching church. Here, as I see it in 2 Timothy 4:2, are Paul’s specific instructions for the kind of preaching that glorifies God and protects the church.
“Preach the word.” It is not enough to simply preach; we need to preach the Word. Preaching is only as powerful as its faithfulness to the Bible. There is no innate power in the form of preaching; the power in preaching comes from the source of the preaching. I believe the most faithful way to preach the Word is to preach expositorily or expositionally, to ensure that the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon. More than any other form of preaching, this constrains the pastor to God’s Word. Not only that, but it allows the congregation to ensure that every word is drawn faithfully from God’s Word. Expository preaching depends on a preacher with an open Bible, and a congregation with open Bibles.
“Be ready in season and out of season.” There is a call here for persistence in preaching. Preaching comes and goes in the church. There are times when preaching is loved and times when preaching is hated. Expository preaching comes and goes as well, and we are never far from the so-called experts telling us that this form of preaching will cause a church to collapse. “People don’t want to know what Philippians says, they want to know how to solve life’s problems!” But this kind of faithful, Word-based preaching needs to be done in season and out of season, when it is popular and when it is woefully unpopular.
I want to pause here for one moment to speak to the New Calvinists. We love our preaching. We will tolerate nothing less than expository preaching in our pulpits and at our conferences. But I believe we need to ask whether we love it because God says it is good, or whether we love it because, at least for now, other people say it is good. When the trend runs its course and expository preaching has lost its lustre, will we still love it then?
“Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” Preaching is to have a practical dimension. Though preaching teaches us about God, it does more than that. It also teaches us how to honor God and how to live for his glory. Knowing about God is good, but insufficient. Preaching is meant to save souls, to transform lives, and to spur us on in holiness. Our preaching is to reprove, to confront and correct false doctrine; it is to rebuke, to confront and correct sinful patterns of living; it is to exhort, to train and encourage in those things that honor God. Preaching is not just lobbing holy hand grenades into people’s lives, but encouraging them and caring for them.
“With complete patience…” There is to be an element of patience for preaching, an element of patience in preaching. The pastor must be patient with the form of preaching, never growing tired of it and never losing his confidence in its goodness and effectiveness. And all the while he should preach with great patience for his congregation. The best teachers are the ones who are kind and forbearing, who know their students, and who will endure for a long time with patience and understanding. The best preaching comes alongside Christians, leads them on, encourages them in growth, week after week and year after year. The best preaching models the patience God has with us as we slowly, so slowly, grow in knowledge and holiness.
“… and teaching.” Our preaching is to be full of Christian truth. Paul insists that people who turn away from God will not endure sound teaching or sound doctrine, the very thing Paul calls for here. The best preaching is consistent with sound doctrine and teaches sound doctrine. This kind of preaching is not sermonettes for Christianettes, but the whole counsel of God, drawn from the Word of God.
Looking to a future in which people will not tolerate the truth, Paul tells Timothy to remain faithful to his central calling: To lead the church with and through the Word of God. It was Paul’s charge to Timothy 2,000 years ago and today that same charge goes out to you and to me. As God’s people living in that age of itching ears, we must remain confident in and committed to nothing less than the faithful, week by week preaching of God’s precious Word.