Preach the Word!
In 2 Timothy, Paul wrote to encourage the young evangelist, Timothy, in the midst of perilous times. Paul himself was in prison. Many had distanced themselves from Paul because of his imprisonment. Paul warned that “perilous times will come” in which false teachers would arise and lead many astray. In the midst of these warnings, Paul admonished Timothy to “continue in those things you have learned and been assured of,” particularly in the holy scriptures, which are able to “make you wise to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”
In chapter 4, Paul charged Timothy: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy was not simply to preach. He was to preach the Word. It is not coincidental that this passage follows the end of chapter 3, where Paul charged Timothy to be devoted to the holy scriptures. Every man who gets up to preach would do well to remember this: No one cares what you have to say. That is, no one cares until you demonstrate that you are preaching the Word of God. We need to preach the Word. But, we also need to show by our use of scripture, that what we are saying is not merely our opinion, but the Word of God.
In season and out of season Preach the word when it is well-received, and when it is not well-received. Preach it whether it is popular or not. Don’t hold back. Preach everything that is needed, even when people don’t want to hear it.
Convince your audience. A convincing sermon will present evidence and logical arguments to bring the hearer to the same conclusions the preacher has reached in his studies. In Acts 2, Peter presented several lines of evidence to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Peter didn’t start with his conclusion; he started with the evidence (Acts 2:16, 22, 25, 34-35). He addressed common objections and misconceptions (Acts 2:15, 29, 34). After making a clear and logical case, he concluded, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” At this point, being convinced led to conviction. They were convinced that Jesus was Lord, and they immediately saw the consequences of their own actions. They were cut to the heart – convicted.
A rebuke is “an expression of sharp disapproval or criticism.” Sometimes it is not enough to gently persuade. A preacher needs to condemn sinful attitudes and behaviors. He needs to do so in clear and certain terms. Though he may be expressing God’s condemnation of sin, many may feel the rebuke personally. He cannot let the fear of “offending someone” keep him back from this type of preaching. Paul warned Timothy that a time would come, when men would not endure sound doctrine but would develop “itching ears.” They would start looking for someone who would only preach things they were willing to hear. The first step on that road is a failure to rebuke – to condemn specific sins.
Often we think of exhortation and encouragement as synonyms. They are closely related, but exhortation is to “strongly urge” someone to do something. Perhaps the word “push” captures the idea. To exhort is to press strongly for action. A preacher trying to save a soul needs to impress upon that soul the urgency of the situation. “You are lost! You need to act now! Tomorrow may be too late!” That same urgency may be needed to save a brother or sister who is continuing in sinful and rebellious behaviors.
Watch how you listen
These exhortations to Timothy find primary application in those who get up in the pulpit. But the same principles apply to all who teach. Whether it is the full-time evangelist, the man who offers a sermon once or twice a year, or the mother who “preaches” to her children at home, we have a responsibility to present the full counsel of God and to use the Scriptures effectively.
However, there is another lesson all of us need to take to heart. We need to be careful how we listen. Timothy needed to be diligent to preach the word because there was a danger that some would develop itching ears. Do our ears itch? Do we prefer sermons with “smooth words” that don’t ask too much of us? Are there lessons we don’t want to hear? As children of God we should crave the Word of God. We should want to hear the lessons that challenge us, that exalt God’s Word, and that expose error and sin. We need to support courageous preaching.
One of the jobs of an evangelist is to be watchful. Watch for the signs of drift in the congregation. Watch for signs of false teaching. Look out for itching ears. Equip the saints. Teach them, so they can defend the faith on their own. Preach the Word, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. And let the rest of us support our evangelists in this work!