11. Performing the Ministry of Preaching (2 Timothy 4:1-5)Related Media
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction. For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths. You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NET)
How should we perform the ministry of preaching?
One of the major themes of 2 Timothy has been faithfulness with God’s Word. There are over thirty-six references to God’s Word or an aspect of it in the book.1 In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul said, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” In 2 Timothy 1:13 he said, “Hold to the standard of sound words.” In 2 Timothy 2:2, he said, “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well. Second Timothy 2:15 (NIV) talks about correctly handling the “Word of truth.” Second Timothy 2:24 describes how the Lord’s servant must be an “apt teacher.” And in 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul said, “Every scripture is inspired by God.” As Paul is soon to be executed, his primary focus was to exhort Timothy to be faithful with God’s Word, and this should be our goal, both for ourselves and those we disciple.
Here Paul calls for Timothy to preach God’s Word “whether it is convenient or not,” other versions say, “in season and out of season” (v. 2). It is easy to look at this passage and think it applies only to pastors; however, it doesn’t. God has called each of us to teach God’s Word. In the Great Commission, we are called to make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything that Christ commanded (Matt 28:19-20). We are all called to preach and teach Scripture. The only difference is the forum and the pay; some will teach from pulpits to large crowds and others will teach to individuals and small groups; some will be paid and others won’t. Either way, we are all called to preach and teach God’s Word.
This passage answers the question, “How should we preach God’s Word? How can we faithfully discharge the ministry of proclamation?” This is important to consider as we select churches to join in the future. We should ask: “Do these churches faithfully proclaim God’s Word?” But it’s also important for our teaching ministry, whether that be in public or private.
In this text, we’ll consider six principles about performing the ministry of preaching.
Big Question: According to 2 Timothy 4:1-5, how should we perform the ministry of preaching?
Preaching Should Be Performed in View of Christ’s Return, Judgment, and Kingdom
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
2 Timothy 4:1
When Paul says, “before God and Christ Jesus,” he uses ancient courtroom terminology. Typically, court documents of the time would say something like, “In the presence of honorable judge ‘so and so.’”2 God and Christ would be watching Timothy to see if he faithfully discharged his duties, and this is true for each of us. God is watching and one day he will judge us based on our faithfulness. Did we faithfully study and interpret his Word? Did we share it with others? Faithful workmen will be approved by God (2 Tim 2:15).
The term “appearing” was used of a Roman Emperor’s visit to a province or a town. Before he came, everybody would labor to put everything in perfect order.3 It should be the same for us with Christ. At Christ’s coming, he will inspect our works, and we should labor to be prepared for this inspection (cf. 2 Cor 5:10). Those who have been faithful will be rewarded and those who are unfaithful will experience loss of reward (1 Cor 3:10-15). Rewards seems to have specific reference to both ruling and serving in Christ’s coming kingdom. In the Parable of the Minas, the faithful stewards are given cities to rule over (Lk 19:17, 19).
As we live for Christ, it is prudent to minister with an eye towards our Lord’s coming—his future judgment and his kingdom. Are we being faithful stewards of all God has given us? Are we prepared for his coming? It is interesting to consider that at the time of 2 Timothy’s writing, Paul had been preaching for over thirty years and his earliest letters, like 1 and 2 Thessalonians, mention Christ’s second coming. Over thirty years later, Paul still believed in Christ’s second coming and was anxiously waiting for it.4 Are you?
Those who are no longer motivated by Christ’s coming and his kingdom will not be faithful when he comes. Luke 12:45-46 describes a servant that says to himself that the master delays his return home. He then begins to eat and drink, get drunk, and beat the other servants. The master comes when this servant isn’t expecting and cuts him in two. When we lose an urgency for Christ’s coming, wasteful living, discord with others, and various sins await us. We’ll also be unfaithful with God’s Word.
Are you living in view of Christ’s coming, his judgment, and his kingdom?
Application Question: How can we keep a watchful eye towards Christ’s coming, his judgment, and his kingdom so that we can be motivated by them?
Preaching Should Be Performed as a Herald of the King
Preach the message…
2 Timothy 4:2a
The term “preach” actually means to “preach like a herald.”5 In ancient times, kings had official messengers called heralds. They would go into cities and towns to proclaim the king’s coming or present official laws and decrees of the king. The herald spoke with the king’s authority. He didn’t have the ability to negotiate or change the decrees. He just proclaimed it in a loud, clear voice for all to hear, and that is true of faithful preachers. They should speak as the very oracles of God—his mouth piece (1 Pet 4:11).
They are not allowed to manipulate the message, change it, or simply preach what they want. They must say what God says. Sadly, many preachers no longer do that today. The sermon starts with a verse and everybody leans in to hear what it means; then the preacher launches into stories about his dog, his wife, his kids, and everything else other than God’s Word. Many preachers simply preach themselves instead of God’s Word. Paul said this about his preaching ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:5: “For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” No doubt, this was, in part, a swipe at those who proclaimed themselves—their religious thoughts and spiritual experiences. Paul did not preach himself. In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul said, “For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” We must resolve to do the same. We are heralds of the King, and therefore, we must speak his Words to others.
Steve Cole shares a very relevant story about Karl Barth that applies to preaching only God’s Word:
Although I disagree with much of Karl Barth’s theology, I admire him for a story told of him. During the 1930’s, he was preaching on John 3:16. Even though many in his German audience professed to be Christians, they were going along with the persecution of the Jews. Barth made the point that Jesus was a Jew, that He had died for all the world, and that the Jews were part of that world. Thus anyone who loves Christ would not participate in the widespread ill treatment of the Jews.
Many in his congregation walked out in disgust before he finished the sermon. One wrote a scathing letter denouncing him. Barth’s reply was a single sentence: “It was in the text.”6
That is exactly how we must handle God’s Word as well. We must preach the text and nothing but the text. Personally, I believe Paul’s exhortation to “preach the message,” or “preach the Word,” should encourage pastors to focus on a specific type of preaching called expository preaching. Expository preaching is simply preaching verse by verse through the Bible while explaining its meaning in the ancient context and applying it to the contemporary context. This type of preaching is important because it makes the preacher preach every verse of Scripture and not simply favorite doctrines or favorite texts. It doesn’t allow the preacher to skip unpopular texts like ones on divorce, election, homosexuality, or church discipline.
But again, this exhortation doesn’t just apply to pastors but to all believers. We must faithfully herald God’s Word—all of God’s Word—to all who will listen, but especially to those God has made us accountable for—friends, family, church members, etc. (cf. Ez 3:17-19).
Are you recognizing your responsibility as a herald—the very mouthpiece of God (v. 1 Pet 4:11)?
Application Question: What is expository preaching and why is it so important? What is your experience with this style of preaching? How should believers view other types of preaching?
Preaching Should Be Performed with Readiness and Urgency
Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.
2 Timothy 4:2b
The phrase “be ready” has the sense of both readiness and urgency. In order to be ready, we must study God’s Word and be prepared to share it at all times—when it is popular and when it’s not popular, when it’s expected and not expected, when it’s convenient and inconvenient. First Peter 3:15 says, “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.” Many can’t faithfully preach or share God’s Word simply because they’re not ready—they haven’t studied and prepared. Warren Wiersbe adds,
Timothy should be diligent and alert to use every opportunity to preach the Word, when it is favorable and even when it is not favorable. It is easy to make excuses when we ought to be making opportunities. Paul himself always found an opportunity to share the Word, whether it was in the temple courts, on a stormy sea, or even in prison. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecc. 11:4). Stop making excuses and get to work!7
As mentioned, “be ready” also has the connotation of urgency. It can actually be translated “Be urgent in season.” “It could be used of a soldier who is ready to go into battle on a moment’s notice or of a guard who keeps continually alert for any threat of infiltration or attack by the enemy.”8
This urgency comes from the fact that we recognize that it’s the King’s message, and it is one of life and death, judgment and reward. Those who don’t know Christ need to be saved from a real, eternal hell. Those who know Christ must be delivered from the bondage of sin and Satan which makes them useless for the kingdom. Those who are discouraged need to be encouraged so they can begin to walk in God’s call. There must be an urgency in the message because it is God’s message, and it’s important.
Sadly, many have lost this urgency—both to share the message and in how they share it. Richard Baxter said this:
Whatever you do,’… ‘let the people see that you are in good earnest … You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted.’9
Are you studying so you can be ready when opportunities arise? Are you seizing opportunities or simply waiting for them? Do you have a sense of urgency to share God’s Word? Faithful preachers must be ready and urgent—prepared in season and out of season—when it’s convenient and when it’s not.
Application Question: How can we keep or develop our readiness and urgency to preach God’s Word?
Preaching Should Be Performed Practically
…reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.
2 Timothy 4:2b
Paul calls for Timothy to use God’s Word to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and instruction—essentially Timothy needed to be practical. He needed to use the Word of God to meet people right where they were—in various situations.
Reprove, rebuke, and exhort represent three different ministry skills. “Reprove” can be translated “correct” or “convince.” It refers to using God’s Word intellectually. It “is a legal term that means to present your case in such a manner as to convince your opponent of his wrong.”10 Sometimes people doubt God or are confused about some doctrine and need to be convinced. We must use the Word of God to convince people’s minds and sure up their faith. If “reprove” is intellectual, “rebuke” is moral. We must use the Word of God to show people where they are wrong and their need to repent. When we rebuke, we speak to one’s conscience. If “reprove” is intellectual and “rebuke” is moral, then “exhort” is emotional. It can be translated “encourage” or “admonish.” Sometimes people are worn down and discouraged—they want to give up on God or the church—and they need to be encouraged or challenged through the Word of God. Faithful preachers must use God’s Word practically to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. They must speak to the mind, to the conscience, and to one’s heart.
In addition, these skills are not just useful in ministering to others; they must be used in ministering to ourselves, for we all need reproof, rebuke, and exhortation, at different times. In 1 Samuel 30:6, it says that David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (KJV). We must do the same.
Is your ministry of the Word practical—meeting people where they are? Some people teach, but aren’t sensitive to the needs of people (or the desires of the Holy Spirit) and therefore aren’t relevant or practical. It has been said that the preacher must frighten the comfortable and encourage the frightened.
In all this, the preacher must demonstrate “complete patience” and “instruction.” “Complete patience” is needed because people who are stuck in sin often take time to get free. Those who doubt often need time to develop their faith. A minister will often need to repeat the same principles from Scripture, as they care for those who are struggling. Ministering the Word of God is very much like farming. We plough the ground, sow the seed, and water, but God makes it grow. We must patiently wait on God and people.
“Instruction” can also be translated “careful instruction” or “with all teaching.” Reprove, rebuke, and exhort are all done in the context of teaching. God has given many doctrines in Scripture—the doctrine of salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, Christ, the church, etc. All these doctrines must be used as we minister practically to others. For example, the one caught in sin or discouragement not only needs to be rebuked or challenged but possibly taught about the need for the body of Christ—the church. God uses the church to encourage and strengthen believers to be holy. The person who does not confess his sins or weakness to others in the body will lack much of God’s grace and healing. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Therefore, the preacher must teach about the church to help a struggling person walk in God’s fullness and freedom. In order for the preacher’s ministry to be practical, it must be wholly doctrinal; orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy—right doctrine to right practice.
Are you teaching God’s word practically to others? Are you meeting them where they are with reproof, rebuke, and exhortation—along with complete patience and instruction?
Application Question: In ministering to others, how can we discern their needs—whether that be reproof, rebuke, or exhortation? Why is doctrine so important to practical living? What are some practical steps for a believer to grow in doctrine?
Preaching Should Be Performed Faithfully in Light of the Widespread Lack of Biblical Preaching
For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
Paul gives Timothy a powerful reason to preach the Word: the fact that many have rejected it and others no longer teach it. The time will come (and it has been here a long time) when people will not be able to stand sound doctrine—literally, healthy doctrine. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul described how in the last days the church will be full of professing believers who are not really saved. They will have an outward appearance of religion but deny the power thereof (v. 5). Because much of the church will be unregenerate, they will bear the fruit of the unredeemed including rejecting God’s Word.
Romans 8:7 says, “because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.” First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural mind is hostile towards God and his Word. An unbeliever cannot understand it and thinks it is foolishness because he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. This will be true of a large segment of the church, as they are not truly born again. They will reject healthy doctrine—truths such as the creation of the earth by God’s Word, marriage between a man and a woman, male and female roles, the inerrancy of God’s Word, holiness, etc.
Instead, they will heap up teachers who will teach them new things—giving them what they want instead of what they need. The NIV translates this, “they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (v. 3). These people in the church will turn from the truth to myths or fables (v. 4). This was true with ancient Israel. Jeremiah said, “The prophets prophesy lies. The priests exercise power by their own authority. And my people love to have it this way. But they will not be able to help you when the time of judgment comes!” (Jer 5:31). Certainly, this is happening today as well. We see it in many ways: radical feminists reject a God that is the Father; believers accept, embrace, and promote sexual immorality and homosexuality; prosperity gospel preachers teach that it is God’s will for all to be rich and healthy, and so on. The unredeemed church heaps up unredeemed preachers and unredeemed preaching to their demise.
Because this will be so common in the church, faithful preachers and preaching will be hard to find. As Amos described with Israel, there will be a famine of God’s Word in the land (Amos 8:11). He said, “People will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north around to the east. They will wander about looking for a revelation from the Lord, but they will not find any” (Amos 8:12). Therefore, faithful preaching is needed even more, and Timothy was to be a prophetic voice to a spiritually anemic community. It is the same for us.
Are you willing to faithfully proclaim God’s Word when so many reject it?
As a side application, this text also reminds us of our need to crave and desire sound doctrine. It is easy to fall into the crowd of those who enjoy having their ears ‘itched’. We still have a sin nature that dislikes being convicted of sin and challenged to do what is right. Often listening to biblical preaching is like taking our medicine; it doesn’t always taste good, and sometimes it is hard to enjoy. At those times, we must faithfully endure it as a discipline. As we faithfully endure it, God changes our lives, and we become more spiritually healthy.
Are you willing to faithfully teach healthy doctrine—knowing that many, if not most, will reject it? Are you faithfully cultivating a desire for God’s Word or are you succumbing to your sin nature that makes you apathetic and even antagonistic to God’s Word?
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced the ‘itching of the ears’ and the ‘turning aside to myths’ in the church? How do you respond to biblical preaching? Do you enjoy it or struggle with it?
Preaching Should Be Performed with Perseverance
You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:5
Observation Question: In 2 Timothy 4:5, what four commands does Paul give Timothy and what do they mean?
In light of the difficulties in the church, Timothy was called to be different. Paul says, “You, however.” Timothy must persevere in preaching God’s Word despite the antagonism in the church. This perseverance is detailed in four commands that Paul gives. Timothy must:
1. Be self-controlled in all things
“Be self-controlled” can also be translated “keep your head” or “be sober.” It means to be free of intoxicants.11 When everybody else was spiritually intoxicated with false doctrine and sin, Timothy must keep his head. His mind must be saturated with God’s Word and balanced by it. Soberness also has the connotation of being aware and disciplined. Serving in a church saturated with false doctrines and false believers would bring many pains, and Timothy needed to be aware and ready for them. If he was not sober, he would be taken off guard by the criticisms and attacks. He might lose his spiritual equilibrium and be swallowed up in discouragement, pessimism, or anger. He needed to keep his head at all times. We also need to be sober.
2. Endure hardship
“Endure hardship” literally means “to suffer evil.”12 Preaching the truth in a time when people reject it and turn to fables will bring various hardships. Timothy needed to faithfully endure them all. Earlier, Paul called Timothy to endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3). We must do the same. Faithfully preaching God’s Word will bring many victories but also many hardships.
3. Do an evangelist’s work
In the context, doing the work of an evangelist seems to refer not only to evangelizing the world but specifically the church, as many simply have a profession but no true faith (cf. 2 Tim 3:5). Christ warned of this reality. In the kingdom, there would be wheat and tares (Matt 13), good fish and bad fish (Matt 13), and sheep and goats (Matt 25). These members must continually be challenged to examine their faith and to make their calling and election sure (2 Cor 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10).
4. Fulfill your ministry
The word “fulfill” means “to bring to completion.”13 Paul wanted Timothy to one day be able to say, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith,” even as Paul does later in the chapter (2 Tim 4:7). There would be many things that would make Timothy want to quit—fear, persecution, loneliness, a lack of appreciation, criticism, depression, exhaustion, etc. However, Timothy needed to persevere till the completion of his ministry, and we must do the same.
Kent Hughes shares the story of how Pastor Alistair Begg has taken verse 5 as an anchor verse in his ministry. He shares,
Late one afternoon Alistair Begg was meeting with a number of pastors, including myself. He wistfully quoted this very verse, then said, “I increasingly find that verse to be the anchor point for all of my days. I wake up on a Monday, and say, ‘well, what will I do now?’ Then I say, ‘Well, I think I’ll try to keep my head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of my ministry.’ And when I am lifted up by a little encouragement, which sometimes comes, I say to myself, ‘Well, what shall I do?’ The answer is keep your head, endure hardship, and so on.”
He paused, then went on, “And when the waves beat on me and I feel just like running away to the hills somewhere, what should I do? ‘Well, Alistair, just keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of your ministry.’ ”
Then he concluded, “So, that’s a word in season for us to take away and think of.”14
If we are going to perform the ministry of preaching, we must persevere in it. There will be many times when we think about quitting. However, we must persevere by being self-controlled (especially mentally), enduring hardship, evangelizing, and completing our work.
As we consider this, it should remind us of our specific need to encourage our pastors and ministry leaders. In the US, statistics say over 1700 pastors leave the ministry every month because of burn-out, discouragement, moral failure, and other causes.15 We must build up our pastors by praying for them, encouraging them, and serving them in various ways. They are in strategic positions that Satan constantly attacks. They and their families need our constant support. Galatians 6:6 says, “Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it.”
How is God calling you to encourage and support your pastors and ministry leaders?
Application Question: Why is it so hard to persevere, specifically, in the ministry of preaching? What are some practical ways to support and encourage our preachers and teachers?
How should we perform the ministry of preaching?
- Preaching Should Be Performed in View of Christ’s Return, Judgment, and Kingdom
- Preaching Should Be Performed as a Herald of the King
- Preaching Should Be Performed with Readiness and Urgency
- Preaching Should Be Performed Practically
- Preaching Should Be Performed Faithfully in Light of the Widespread Lack of Biblical Preaching
- Preaching Should Be Performed with Perseverance
Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown
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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
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1 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 4:2). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 167). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 169). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 4:1). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 253–254). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
6 Accessed 12/17/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-19-preaching-and-hearing-god%E2%80%99s-word-2-timothy-41-5
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 254). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 174–175). Chicago: Moody Press.
9 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 107). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
10 Accessed 12/10/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-19-preaching-and-hearing-god%E2%80%99s-word-2-timothy-41-5
11 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 182). Chicago: Moody Press.
12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 183). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 185). Chicago: Moody Press.
14 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 248). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
15 Accessed 12/10/16, from http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/