I’ve enjoyed reflecting on Paul’s charge to Timothy, contained in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:
I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
So much here to unpack.
Paul goes out of his way to raise the stakes:
- It’s a charge, not a suggestion or an idea.
- It’s before God and Christ Jesus. Both the Father and Son are very concerned with this charge.
- It involves eternal matters: judgment and the kingdom. We preach in the presence of the Judge and King. “The stakes are raised to life and death, and beyond life and death to final judgment — this is why what we are doing here is more important than the installation of a mayor or governor” (John Piper).
What Paul’s about to say couldn’t be more important.
Paul’s charge is clear.
- Preach. Don’t just explain, teach, or dialogue.
- Preach the Word. Paul’s just explained the unique origin and value of Scripture (3:15-17). Because of its origin and value, it must be what’s preached.
The practice of preaching is often questioned, but according to this charge, it’s essential. “Nothing is more important for the life and health of the church than biblical preaching …. Churches live, grow, and flourish by the Word of God” (John Stott).
What It Will Take
This kind of ministry will require a few things:
- Preparation. “Be ready…” Be prepared in terms of both your life and the message. Be available and ready at all times.
- Persistence. “…in season and out of season.” Preach when it’s convenient. Preach when it’s not. Preach when it’s easy. Preach when it’s difficult. Don’t let circumstances dictate your commitment to the task.
- Application. “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort…” Don’t preach in the abstract. Preach to a particular group of people. Understand their issues, and bring Scripture to bear on their lives.
- Patience. “…with complete patience…” Preaching is slow work. Change won’t happen quickly. Stay at it. Drip, drip, drip. Change will come through the faithful, long-term preaching of the Word.
- Doctrine. “…and teaching.” Give them truth about God. Teach them about God and his ways. Give instruction on sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
In just two verses, Paul gives enough track for a preacher to run on for decades. He reminds us of the importance of our task. He tells us what our task is. And he tells us how to do it.
We can read dozens of books on preaching and benefit from them all, but no matter how many books we read, it would be hard to top Paul’s charge to Timothy. They’re a primer for new preachers, a refresher for old ones, and an encouragement to everyone in between.
What preachers do is important and will matter for eternity. How we do it matters. Stay at it. Preach the Word.