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Faithful to the Word

Kent Hughes tells the following story:

Paul adds to his point on the sufficiency of Scripture, saying, "So that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (v. 17). Scripture is also profitable for equipping us. Hughes says, "Though we cannot see it in English, Paul here uses two forms of the Greek word for equip (an adjective and a participle) to make his point. The man of God is super-equipped by the Word of God" (Hughes and Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 239). I love that idea: "super-equipped" by the Scriptures! Stott says, "Scripture is the chief means which God employs to bring 'the man of God' to maturity" (Stott, Message, 103).

While the Scriptures equip all Christians, it seems that Paul had Timothy in mind specifically when he says "the man of God" (cf. 1 Tim 6:11). By extension, those who have leadership responsibility in the church should pay close attention to this verse. The Bible grows us202 personally as we live in it. We should have the spirit of the psalmist: "How I love Your instruction! It is my meditation all day long" (Ps 119:97); "My heart fears only Your word" (119:161b). The Bible also equips us as we seek to lead others to Christ, teach sound doctrine, counsel people, or grow a church. Indeed, it prepares us for "every good work." Let us pray like John Wesley: "At any price give me the book of God.... Let me be a man of one book" (in Gordon, Evangelical Spirituality, 36).

This charge to continue learning, trusting, and believing the Christ-centered, God-breathed, totally sufficient Scriptures is followed with the charge to proclaim this life-changing message of God, the gospel, the written and living Word declaring the truth about the incarnate Word.

Preach the Word

2 Timothy 4:1-4

If the chapter division were not here in our Bibles, we would not be distracted from seeing the logical progression: a high view of the Bible (3:14-17) should lead to a high view of biblical preaching (4:1-4). Unfortunately, some hold to the inspiration of Scripture, but their actual preaching is not rooted in the Scriptures. I think the best approach for applying verse 2, "Preach the word!" (NKJV), is expositional preaching. Expositional preaching is Word-driven preaching. It is preaching in such a way that the main point of the selected passage is the main point of the sermon. It is taking the listeners for a swim in the Bible. Notice five ways we should do Word-driven preaching.

The proper motive of preachers is a desire for faithfulness to God, not worldly fame. This God-centered motive is noted here in verse 1 as Paul set up his exhortation with this stunning introduction. Nowhere else did Paul give this type of preface to a charge: "I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom" (v. 1). Feel the force of this verse. Paul put preaching in a holy context with these words.

Timothy is to remember that he preached before God. No preacher ultimately goes unnoticed. Unnoticed by people? Sure. Overlooked for big speaking engagements? Yes. But he is never out of the eyes of God. This should give all of us who preach a correct perspective on203 our task. Our audience first and foremost is God Himself. Because of this, the unpopular, "unknown" pastor should not be discouraged by his lack of fame and recognition. He should remember that his ultimate call is faithfulness to God and that his ministry is eternally important even if his church is small. The popular, "famous" pastor should not be arrogant. His ultimate evaluation is not from people but from God.

The questions that should concern every pastor-preacher are questions like these: Is God pleased with my treatment of His Word? Is He pleased with my motive? Is He pleased with my attitude and care for the flock? In a day filled with those who preach for the applause of man, we need faithful preachers who preach for the pleasure of God. God told Jeremiah, "The prophet who has only a dream should recount the dream, but the one who has My word should speak My word truthfully" (Jer 23:28).

Paul also reminded Timothy of the coming of Christ with three images: "appearing," judgment, and "kingdom." In 2 Timothy 4:8, he spoke of "all those who have loved His appearing" (emphasis added). Paul believed Christ will make a visible, glorious appearance (cf. Titus 2:13). When He does appear, He will judge the living and the dead. Christ the King will bring about His kingdom in its fullness.

We must live and preach in light of this holy accountability. James jolts us by reminding us, "Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment" (Jas 3:1). The author of Hebrews also puts the task of pastor-teacher in proper perspective: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Heb 13:17; emphasis added).

In verse 2, Paul says, "Preach the word!" (NKJV). To "preach" means "to herald" or "to proclaim publicly" (cf. 1:11). As preachers, we "proclaim the message." For us today the message is the entire written Word of God. Throughout this section Paul uses various phrases to talk about the truth of God's Word, such as "sacred Scriptures" (3:15), "Scripture" (3:16), "sound doctrine" (4:3), and "the truth" (4:4). We have the holy responsibility and unspeakable privilege of heralding God's timeless truth to people. Like Ezra, let us study it, obey it, and teach it (Ezra 7:10; Neh 8). Paul told Timothy earlier, "Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching" (1 Tim 4:13).204

Martin Luther said concerning the Reformation, "I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing.... I did nothing; the Word did it all.... I did nothing; I left it to the Word.... But it brings him [Satan] distress when we only spread the Word, and let it alone do the work" (Luther, Jacobs, and Spaeth, Works, 399-400). Preach the Word faithfully, and believe that it will do the work.

Next Timothy is told to persist in his faithfulness to God's Word "whether convenient or not," or as the ESV renders it, "Be ready in season and out of season." This speaks of urgency and readiness. There should always be a sense of urgency in light of the truth that we are communicating. We are preaching on matters of life, death, and eternity. And the preacher-soldier is always on duty! Let your ministry be known for readiness, not for laziness!

I remember being in a southern Nigerian leper colony a few years ago. This was my first time in a leper colony. It took me about 30 minutes to calm down. I was heartbroken by the poverty in this village, the physical effects of leprosy, the unbelievable conditions in which they were living, what the people were cooking, and most of all, by the people's desire for company and conversation. After our team of 12 guys visited with them for about an hour, our host announced, "Now Pastor Tony will preach. Everyone form a circle." I remember thinking, "I'm preaching? I wish I had known this beforehand! I don't even have a Bible, not to mention notes!" I immediately thought of these words: "Be ready in season and out of season." By God's grace I just began preaching Romans 8, talking about suffering and glory, about how we are all dying and need the Savior. The longer I preached, the bolder and more passionate I became. I still have a picture of a lady, who lost her fingers to leprosy, standing behind me with both arms raised in the air in praise to God. It was truly amazing. God's Word is powerful to change the hearts of people in all places at all times. Preach it consistently!

The pastor-preacher should apply the Word to the lives of his flock in a variety of ways. Paul gives us three ways of doing it: "Rebuke, correct, and encourage." Pastors need to know the condition of the flock205 and remain sensitive to how a particular passage is addressing them. Sometimes God's people need to be rebuked for their wrong beliefs or ungodly lifestyles. Paul illustrates this skill with his letters to the Corinthians (rebuked for their immorality) and the Galatians (rebuked for their failure to continue in the gospel of grace).

Other times God's people need to be corrected in order to get back on the path of righteousness. This means church discipline is actually done every week as the pastor teaches the Bible. We call this "formative discipline," with the other kind of discipline being "restorative discipline" (e.g., Matt 18:15-20; Gal 6:1). The Bible corrects us when we wander away from God's will.

Sometimes pastors need to encourage the flock when they are facing fear, anxiety, or great burdens. Pastors should apply the truths of the text to edify and build up suffering saints.

Of course, one may do all of these in one sermon. Because the scope of the Bible is amazing, we can address all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. Of course, our rebuke, correction, and encouragement should be Christ centered through and through. Show them their need and the Christ-centered solution.

I overlooked the part of Paul's challenge for several years that commands "great patience"—that is, until I became a pastor! Then it became my favorite part of the verse! Sanctification (a Christian's growth in Christ-likeness) is a slow process. Really slow! Sometimes pastors grow discouraged because they do not see immediate results from their sermons. Remember that there is a cumulative effect to your preaching. Over time there will be fruit. It may take a long time, but with patient biblical teaching you will see some progress.

Charles Simeon comes to mind whenever I think of pastoral patience. When he first came to Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, no one wanted him to be the minister. For example, the "pew holders" locked the pew doors on Sunday mornings. They refused to participate in corporate worship and prevented any others from sitting down, allowing only standing individuals to worship. This lasted for about 12 years! They also would not allow him to preach the evening sermon! Yet Simeon—single his whole life—remained at this church for 54 years and eventually won the favor of many of his people (Piper, Roots of Endurance, 77-114). You can still read his faithful expositions206 in Horae Homileticae. How did Simeon endure? A friend said of him, "Simeon invariably rose every morning, though it was winter season, at four o'clock; and after lighting his fire, he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures.... Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength" (in Piper, Roots of Endurance, 106).

How can we grow in patience as pastor-preachers? Since patience is a fruit of the Spirit, then the simple answer is to walk by the Spirit. Commune with God. Abide in Jesus. As you spend time in God's presence, in unhindered and unhurried prayer and worship, meditate on God's patience. "The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love" (Ps 145:8). Work the gospel deeply into your heart daily. Remember what patience God has shown you! Then, by His grace, display His fatherly patience to His people.

Paul also adds that Timothy must proclaim the message "with... teaching" (v. 2). Interestingly, one of the most famous verses in the Bible about preaching also calls for "teaching." This is important to note because some want to make too sharp a distinction between preaching and teaching, saying preaching is for evangelism, while theological teaching is for the discipleship of believers. This is helpful, but it can be pressed too far.

We need to see how these two pastoral activities work together. Preaching is heralding the facts, while teaching is explaining the facts. When you say, "The tomb is empty! The throne is occupied!"—then you are preaching. You are declaring the news. Teaching must follow these news headlines and explain who Jesus is, why Jesus was crucified and buried, and what it means for Him to be the King. In other words, if we want to practice verse 2, then we will do both heralding and explaining throughout the sermon.

We desperately need a generation of preachers who preach the Word theologically. The spirit of our day is not unlike that of the first century. Paul says in the next two verses, "For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths" (vv. 3-4). People drift from healthy teaching to suit their own passions. They wander away into myths. Jeremiah said of the people207 of Judah in his day, "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority. My people love it like this" (Jer 5:31).

Today we have all kinds of preachers who "tickle the ears" of people. Some teach that one cannot believe the miracles of the Bible. Others draw attention as they deny the historical reliability of the Bible. Many fill stadiums with their corrupt health-and-wealth prosperity teaching. We must preach truth because there is an absence of it in every generation. We need courageous prophets who will declare, "Thus says the Lord" with power and grace. Remember, if you are a pastor-preacher, you are the church's theologian and apologist. Become a better theologian so you might become a better pastor-preacher-leader.

Continue in the Word. Keep learning it. Keep believing it. Keep preaching it!

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