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.
Faithful preaching of the gospel is the method that God has given His church to dispense the riches of His grace to the world. The power and authority of the church is in preaching! Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit stated so unequivocally, that he was not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). He gave at least two important reasons:
(1) in it the righteousness of God is revealed and
(2) in it the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:17).
For the same reasons, I write to exhort you to take back your pulpit to the centre of public worship because there is eternal good to be gained – the righteousness of God, but also to escape the wrath of God! Therefore, he was called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, and he was eager to preach the gospel to all (Romans 1:1,15). Preachers, you must not be ashamed of the gospel by turning to the man-centred ‘gospels’ like philosophy, or ear-tickling business; rather be eager to preach to all every time.
Human beings are busy suppressing the truth of God by their thoughts, words and actions. Introduce them to God by the message of the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. When there is a failure by the church at this point, the only door of hope for sinners is shut. This is the backdrop upon which the passage before us is written. Therefore,
1. Here is a the most serious charge to preach the Word (v. 1)
This is a most explicitly solemn and divine charge. You notice it is given before God the Father and in the presence of Christ the great and eternal Judge. God’s all-seeing eye is keen to see if His Word is being preached faithfully. All this accumulation of words here is meant to show the full intensity of this instruction. This is not something that we can ignore or forget. It must be remembered and obeyed by all at all costs for God will require an account.
This is a perpetual charge. Timothy, you and I are to bear in mind that this will be required by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge. For this reason, Paul mentions Christ’s second appearing and His kingdom. As long as we await this world changing event of the second coming of Christ, as long as we are part of the commonwealth of the kingdom of Christ, as long as Christ is our delight, we have both His mandate and a responsibility to sinners to make Him known. Paul charges that Jesus Christ will judge both the living and the dead. Why is Paul saying this? To make Timothy and us be sure that we will give an account before Christ on whether we sounded the gospel trumpet, as faithful watchmen. If we persist in this, we will save both ourselves and our hearers (1 Tim. 4:16).
2. Here is a the most forthright charge to preach the Word
… preach the word…(v.2a) The Apostle does not mince the words given to Him by the Master, and in so doing sets an excellent example. He directs Timothy to preach. He is to declare and proclaim the message as one who has divine authority. The word preach here means is to be a ‘herald’, one who has been given both the message and the commission of the Sovereign King, to speak on His behalf, marching forth without delay with the unaltered message. In this charge authority, faithfulness and urgency are urged. These constitute what it means to be a herald. The work of a preacher of the gospel is not an indifferent thing; it is absolutely important and necessary. Woe be to him if he doesn’t preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). The redeemed church of Christ is urged to carry on with this immediate commission – preach the word!
The church is not charged to sing or dramatize the word, or to practice a social gospel. If this is what the Lord expects of us, He would have instructed us. While philanthropic activities have their place, they must not be the central business of the church. The church must, as of first importance, deliver the message of the gospel across the world first and foremost by preaching. It is possible to have singing, music and all the rest of them mistaken for entertainment. Don’t turn the gospel call into a lullaby to put the unbelieving world to sleep! The faithful preaching of the gospel cannot be mistaken by the world because it is the very equipment that the Holy Spirit uses to open the hearts and eyes of the spiritually dead sinners. Unless we use the sovereignly appointed tool of preaching the gospel, we have nothing to give that has eternal value.
History shows that there is a great need for every true church of Christ to deliberately make preaching the centre of worship. Students of history know of the effects of the Reformation and Puritan preaching in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Great Awakening of 18th Century, humanly speaking, could be attributed to the preaching of George Whitfield, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards and other faithful preachers. C. H. Spurgeon was such a preacher and God blessed his labours in London. The same is true of men like J.C. Ryle in Liverpool, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in London.
If preaching is not highly valued, then churches greatly risk falling off the cliff. There are too many examples of churches that have made preaching secondary – please do not add to their number! In the Roman Catholic Church, the Lord’s Table was elevated too high that it became the apex of their worship, to a point that they confused the elements of the Eucharist with Christ! In most Kenyan churches music is the main thing (considering the amount of time allocated in their worship service, in practising, in the amount of financial investment on buying instruments or paying workers and in the number of music personnel). This is not meant to question the sincerity of worship leaders. Rather it is meant to bring a redress in this area. This ‘worship’ sooner rather than later becomes an entertainment muddle. When the Lord Jesus, through His apostle says, “Preach the word”, He is instructing us to put the pulpit in the very centre of church life and of worship. Nothing is more important!
3. Here are the most clear instructions on how to preach the word
… be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (v. 2b)
It concerns both ministers and the church to seriously consider the account that they must give shortly to the Lord Jesus Christ of the good news entrusted them. The church, by her ministers, is called to press upon this world all God’s message with all earnestness. Preach the whole Bible – Genesis to Revelation, verse by verse – precept upon precept, line upon line, until the whole counsel of God is given. Do not withhold anything profitable by either adding (and so obscuring the gospel) or subtracting (by preaching what you like). Yes, exegetical accuracy is absolutely necessary. Be sure you have the right hermeneutic tools before venturing up the pulpit. This is what it means to be faithful.
The call is to be ready in season and out of season for very specific actions of reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all fervency of spirit. Specifically, the message is to call on their hearers to be aware of sin, to repent of it, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope. The preachers are to do this with complete patience – do not demand immediate result always, patience is necessary with all. Paul demonstrates this when he says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the faith-hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Good preaching demands sermons that are well structured and vividly illustrated. Every sermon ought to reach every ear present and this requires pointed application. Complete teaching demands a well-balanced doctrinal diet or, in other words, every sermon must be saturated with doctrinal substance.
In and out of season means that it is to be given when welcome and even when unwelcome. There was no invitation letter from the Assyrian king inviting Jonah to preach in Nineveh, but there was the word from God. Usually sinners are not going to invite us to preach to them, although there are times when special events occur, e.g. deaths and weddings! When they come calling you for these events, milk these opportunities to the last drop.
Many are the times when we have to press the message upon them. We have to acknowledge that the world is too chained, blinded and stifled by devil’s deception to call out for help. It is for this reason that we should not sugar-coat the gospel with any worldly glaze. We must not make things comfortable for them; rather, our call is to preach pure and unadulterated Word of God. Moreover, let not any opportunity slip away. Do not shift off the duty, under pretence that it is out of season; it is a serious message that must not be delayed.
It is a direct message of “reproving, rebuking…” – tell people of their faults with gravity and authority, in Christ's name. “Exhorting…” – Convince wicked people of the evil and danger of their wicked courses. Endeavour in teaching, by speaking simply but profoundly; directly but wisely; urgently but patiently, in order to bring them to repentance. Do not leave them in ignorance; rather instruct them so that they may be made wise for salvation.
In conclusion, you have read the most serious, forthright and clear instructions on what is to be done in the church of Christ. If you are a pastor, labour in preaching, because your duty and business is to preach – “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). If you are Christian, let the word of God dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16). But if you find yourself in a church that is malnourished in God’s Word – leave it before you starve to death. Look for a church that is deliberate in the faithful and expository preaching of the God’s Word. Every true church of Christ must endeavour to have the pulpit at the centre – therein lies your authority and the power. The church is the beautiful bride of Christ when it is ‘bibline’ that is, speaking the language of the Groom as in His Word.