An old sermon illustration that makes its way around from time to time goes like this:
There was a young preacher who was not lazy, just conceited. He frequently boasted in public that all the time he needed to prepare his “great sermons” was the few short moments it took him to walk from his parsonage, to the church just next door. Well, one day the congregation decided it was time to burst his bloated ego and help the man improve his preaching ministry. So, they bought him a new parsonage eight miles away!
Now that’s a congregation with their priorities in order and one lucky pastor.
In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon stressed the vitality of preaching when he wrote,
We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter petty nothings…If we speak as ambassadors for God, we need never complain of want for matter, for our message is full to overflowing. The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit the whole faith once for all delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us.
When it comes to those who preach the Word, the church can settle for nothing less than faithfulness to the Word of God. New fads are a dime-a-dozen, the latest pragmatic gimmicks change like the weather, but one thing remains tried, tested, and true – God’s Word to His people.
The preacher and the people are both responsible for protecting the pulpit in the church. When the pulpit isn’t held in high regard, sheep become malnourished by fast-food style preaching that contains little nutritional value. When pastoral ministry becomes just another career requiring a beefy resume and social media platform, pulpits fill with hireling preachers who take a paycheck, wear a title, but run at the first sign of hard work. The church needs fearless heralds who will put on their work-boots, roll up their sleeves, and boldly feed Christ’s precious flock no matter what the cost. Like waterless clouds that produce no rain, so is the preacher who makes a proclamation to people but fails to preach God’s Word. When there is no divine food for the soul, there will be spiritual famine in the land.
The preacher must proclaim the truth and the people must proclaim, “We want the truth! And nothing but the truth!”
When the Apostle Paul provided young Timothy with one of the first handbooks on preaching – and boy, is it ever still a best-seller – he gave him timeless wisdom that we must still heed today. Throughout the pastoral letters, Paul gives numerous imperatives that every preacher should pay close attention to, but five of these can prove immensely useful in governing the preacher’s proclamation. These imperative commands are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and through them, we are given the greatest church growth strategy this world has ever known, that is, spiritual growth.
1. Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2a)
Paul was never one to mince words when it came to the message. In his mind, preaching was to be unadulterated, Christ-centered, Gospel truth. After all, that is the power of God unto Salvation (Romans 1:16). That doesn’t leave room for much else. On other occasions he told Timothy to avoid worldly fables (1 Timothy 4:7), empty chatter (1 Timothy 6:20), to be accurate (2 Timothy 2:15), and that Scripture was all he needed to be fully equipped (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A preacher doesn’t need another proclamation – and neither do the people.
Word-saturated preaching does what nothing else can do. Such preaching increases people’s faith (Romans 10:17), reveals God’s will (Deuteronomy 29:29), increase biblical literacy (1 Peter 2:1), and gives people lasting peace (Ephesians 2:17-18).
Ever wonder what it is that makes a congregation go from worrying, doubting, and complaining to saying, “Ahhhh, I needed that”? It is the Word of God soothing their soul and setting their minds on Christ.
Give the people what they need. Preach the Word.
2. Be Ready In Season and Out of Season (2 Timothy 4:2b)
Paul continues with an imperative to instantly be ready. Whether it’s popular or not, convenient or not, with or without your bible app – be ready. This is one of the quintessential marks of a true preacher and his mandated proclamation. His message is internalized. He is living it, breathing it, and armed with it. It doesn’t matter what political firestorm is brewing, he is ready with the Word. It doesn’t matter what polemical drama is stirring, he is ready with the Word. It doesn’t matter what he can personally gain by compromising the message, he is ready with the Word.
Our Christian culture today can greatly benefit from taking a page out of Paul’s book. Though we face some varying levels of persecution, he serves as a lofty inspiration. Whether shipwrecked, chained to a guard, beaten, questioned, or threatened with death – he considered every difficult obstacle still as an opportunity.
No matter the climate or the cost, the preacher is always ready.
3. Reprove (2 Timothy 4:2c)
Tolerance is the climate of today’s millennial culture – but our preaching must be counter-culture. Simply put, the preacher is to reprove if he is, in fact, a preacher. This means that he must correct people’s thinking with the truth of God’s Word and trust the Holy Spirit’s work in convicting people of their error. What good is a pastor if he doesn’t tell you right from wrong or truth from tricks? Furthermore, what good is a pastor who does not reprove out of love for the people?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching.” Therein lies wisdom for every preacher who reproves the people. God’s love for His people is directly related to His loving correction of His people (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19). What better way for a preacher to show his love for people than to show them the way of truth?
4. Rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2d)
The second of two negative commands settles the matter: preaching the Word includes giving people the hard truth. Rebuke must be clear, and as already stated, it must be done in love. The preacher is a not a rigid surgeon with cold hands and a sharp scalpel – he is a warm, kind, and caring shepherd. To rebuke is not to use the staff to beat the sheep – it is to use the staff to draw the boundary lines of safety. The preacher is never desirous of pugnacious controversy. We must, like Paul in Philippians 3:18, even deal with false teachers through “weeping.”
There is also no room for passive aggressive manipulation in the preacher’s rebuke. To sharply and clearly tell people about the consequences of their error requires that a preacher be forthright and honest. Little is accomplished when preachers attempt to rebuke people with “hints.”
Better is open rebuke, than love that is concealed (Proverbs 27:5). The preacher who rebukes proves he is a lover and protector of God’s people.
5. Exhort (2 Timothy 4:2e)
The preacher must afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. He must walk with his people and be an encouraging voice as they are taken captive by God’s grace. To bring people to a place of great conviction, and to offer a clear correction, but offer no encouragement is to merely place weights on people and walking away. Exhortation is the call to action through the grace and power that the Holy Spirit provides. The preacher proclaims the truth and encourages the people to walk in a manner that is worthy of their calling and to look to Christ as the Author and Finisher of their faith.
Unfortunately, exhortation is often misunderstood as a license to unleash on people but offer little help in the wake of such a lashing. We get exhortation wrong when confining it to the likes of drive-by evangelism, or drive-by discipleship. When a preacher is brash with people from the pulpit, then too busy to walk with people after the sermon, exhortation has scarcely been achieved. It’s an ivory-tower preacher who appears once a week in the pulpit but does not come alongside the people throughout the week. That style of ministry is not what Paul had in mind as he instructed pastors and preachers.
In the end, Paul says that the preacher’s proclamation must include one key element: “great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2f). People are not won to truth by verbal assaults. Such preaching is easy. Anyone can be angry and use the Bible as a hammer, but Paul capstones his call for the preacher’s method by raising the bar. Translated in English as “patient,” the Greek word makrothume (meaning to abide under; or endure) makes it quite clear that in all of the preacher’s proclaiming, he must be patient with people. That is what sets him apart as God’s mouthpiece.
On the topic of effective preaching H.B. Charles Jr. wrote, “Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.”
Always remember: Churches don’t die. God’s voice in them does when a preacher fails to preach the Word, and the people fail to demand that Word be preached.
Preach the Word.