“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead a His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
— 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Family integrated churches are continuing to pop up all over the country without any one individual leading the effort. It’s happening in many denominations and with unaffiliated churches. I believe that this is a providential moving of the Holy Spirit where God is igniting a desire to reform the church by recovering the biblical order for both the church and the home. I believe that God is actually moving to reverse the family-destroying elements that have grown up in the church through Biblically ordered churches and families. This is wonderful.
However, all wonderfulness aside, my greatest concern for family integrated churches is that they are centered on God’s program such that they are Gospel preaching, God-centered, Word-saturated, Christ-exalting churches. If the family becomes the center of the church, or the family integrated proposition becomes the center of the church, we might as well close up shop now and cut our losses, because if we do not fill the church with the Word of the Head of the church, we will have not only wasted our time, but have sinfully marred the bride of Christ. This is why it really bothers me when I hear people say, “We are looking for a family centered church,” or ask, “Is there a family based church in my area?” These questions reveal a misunderstanding of the church and the Christian life.
It is critical, therefore, that family integrated churches have a big focus on preaching the Word of God. God has given gifted men to the church (Ephesians 4), and He expects them to preach the Word so that they are properly nourished and holding fast to the Head of the church.
There is as much need for restoring authoritative expository biblical preaching in the church as there is to restoring the role of the head of the household and the strengthening of the family. The modern church has strayed in both areas, and it is important that we work to recover them both.
I believe that one of the major reasons the modern church has become destructive to the family is that she first quit preaching the Word of God. If preachers would stick to the text of Scripture, a biblical trans-generational worldview would be more apparent. It would be more obvious for parents and church leaders to know how to build strong families.
As a young man in seminary in my early twenties, I will never forget the message of one of my favorite professors, R. Kent Hughes. He was my homiletics (preaching) professor. What I remember most from his course and conversations outside the classroom was his constant and passionate plea that we would leave seminary and spend our lives preaching the Word. He showed us how to exalt the message of the text, instead of our own message. He instructed us to be miners, instead of sculptors. He demonstrated how to work through a text of Scripture to let the words shape the message while the preacher served up what was already there. He loved the text of Scripture. Twenty years later, I dropped in and visited him at his church (College Church) in Wheaton Illinois. As he worked through a text from the book of Daniel, I could hardly keep back the tears through his entire message as I watched him do exactly what he taught us to do twenty years earlier. And, he had been doing the same thing for the last twenty years in that church, week after week, year after year, for two decades. What a powerful legacy!
In the same way, it should be the legacy of church leaders that they provide a consistent diet of the Word of God, preached in context. This is why Paul appeals to us saying, “Preach the Word.”
In II Tim 4:1-5, Paul gives us lots of encouragement to help us maintain a lifelong commitment to preaching. He teaches us the importance of preaching, the way we preach, when we preach, why we preach, and what we preach. Lets take each one of these individually.
The importance of preaching is revealed in the solemnity of the command. Paul says, “I charge you.” Notice the intensity of the appeal that Paul uses to encourage young Timothy to preach the Word. We need to have the same kind of intensity and passion regarding the preaching of the Word in our churches. The intensity of the letter is taken to the next level of passion as Paul gives the reason for the charge to Timothy. “I charge you therefore.” Of course, we need to look to see what the “therefore” is there for.
Fortunately, Paul tells us what the ‘therefore’ is there for. He says that perilous times (epochs and seasons) are on the horizon. He speaks of periods of time when the character of people will be deteriorating. He vividly defines the qualities of these kinds of times in II Timothy 3;1-9. People will be “Lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying it’s power.”
The charge is solemn, because the force of world philosophies and lifestyles will be sweeping people away – in the church. People in the church (and outside the church) will “have a form of godliness but they will deny its power.” It will be only skin deep. Everywhere people will be falling away from the truth.
This text gives us one practical way that church leaders can help people respond to the moral drift that always occurs in every culture on earth. It shows us how to respond to the philosophies of the world. The answer is, “Preach the Word.”
The solemnity of the charge is heightened when we realize that Paul says, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.” The charge is given under the watchful eye of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, in view of the coming judgment.
How dangerous it is for us if we do not preach the Word. We should have a powerful focus on this. To come into the church without the book and the chapter and the verse and the words of Scripture is a fearful thing. Be warned, there is a difference in coming into the church with the agenda to promote the family and coming to promote the Word. The Word is first, and when the Word speaks of the issues of the family, then we must bring those words. I understand that we live in a day when the attack against the family is coming from all sides. Because this fierce war against “the seed of the woman” and “godly offspring” which was announced in Genesis 3:15, we must fight for the biblical family. In my lifetime, we have seen the collapse of the practical implications of the creation order in the home and in the church, and we need to respond. But, we must be clear. While we are fighting for the biblical family, our message in the church is not the family first. Our message needs to be the God and His Word first.
The word that Paul chose for “preaching” is “Kerusso”. This is a style/ method of communication. This is not the same thing as a small group discussion or a fireside chat. These are not kiddie sermons.
Kenneth Wuest says that “Kerusso,”
“at once called to mind the Imperial Herald, spokesman of the Emperor, proclaiming in a formal, grave, and authoritative manner which must be listened to, the message which the Emperor gave him to announce. It brought before him the picture of the town official who would make a proclamation in a public gathering… It is a sharp command in military language. This should be the pattern of the preacher today.” — (Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament, p. 154)
It is pretty obvious that the modern idea of preaching carries negative connotations. We often hear people say, “Don’t preach to me’ or they report, “It was ‘preachy’” Preaching the way that Paul describes it is not a very culturally popular venue, so we should not be surprised when the world ridicules our preachers.
We “preach” even though preaching may seem to be a very old-fashioned method of communication. If preaching goes out of fashion (and I think it is already out of fashion), we still have a responsibility to keep doing it no matter what is happening to the appetite of church members. They may like movies and fast-moving media and hot communicators better than simple preaching, but we have a responsibility to continue preaching. We should make it our aim to keep preaching while the world uses more modern methods.
Paul gives five commands that fill out the picture for the ways preaching should be conducted.
The first command answers the question,* “What do we preach?* The answer is in II Timothy 4:1, “Preach the Word.” Simple enough! Kenneth Wuest defines this as “The whole body of revealed truth.” (Wuest, p. 154)
The preacher should not bring his own message, but the message of the Word. He is to do exposition by taking from the text of Scripture and delivering it to the hearers. Someone has said, “The preacher is a waiter, not a chef.” He does not cook up the meal. He does not create the meal, he delivers the meal.
My generation has had the tendency to place a premium on creativity. The mantra goes like this, “Create your OWN life. Make YOUR mark. Chart YOUR way in the world.” This is consistent with the spirit of the age that shouts, “Be creative!” But the call of God is Follow Me. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” This expresses the heart of the faithful disciple and the faithful preacher.
Thomas Oden has grasped this thought in his statement:
“There is no hint here that preaching is thought of primarily as self-expression of subjective experience or feeling-disclosure or autobiography or ‘telling one’s story so as to neglect Scripture… The whole counsel of God is to be preached, without fanciful, idiosyncratic amendment or individualistic addition.” — (Thomas Oden in p. 245; Kent Hughes on II Timothy)
This is not an argument against using stories and experiences, but it does clarify where the emphasis should be.
So, when we preach we should be careful not to overemphasize our own stories or our own passions. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he was a teacher of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
J. H. Jowett made this clear when he wrote:
“What you are after is not that folks shall say at the end of it all, ‘What an excellent sermon!’ That is a measured failure. You are there to have them say, when it is over, ‘What a great God!’ It is something for men not to have been in your presence but His.”
I have no confidence in my own ability to understand anyone else’s needs. I don’t know what you need. I am not even perfectly sure what I need. I know that we all need God and His Word, so I trust that if we read it and explain it, we do not need to fear if we are being relevant enough or funny enough or therapeutic enough. I have confidence that if we turn our attention to the words of Scripture, God’s people will be nourished on the words of faith. Together, we will see that God’s Words are enough.
Every chance I get I try to encourage pastors to commit themselves to expository preaching.
Ray Stedman, one of the great expository preachers of the Twentieth Century said it this way:
“Expository sermons are those which derive their content from Scripture itself. They borrow their structure and thrust from a specific passage. They make the same point that the passage makes, and apply that point with directness and urgency to contemporary life. What other modes of preaching often lack is biblical content. Those in the pews are often drowning in words, but thirsting for knowledge” (Ray Stedman, Sermon on Expository Preaching).
This emphasis will help us steer clear of an overemphasis on the family. For we who are excited about being part of the planting of family integrated churches, there is a pothole out there. It is the pothole of family centeredness. God would have us be centered on His Word that is the only hope for the family.
The second command in this passage is found in II Timothy 4:2. This gives us direction about when to preach the Word, “Be ready in season and out of season.”
This makes it clear that there are two seasons. “In season” probably correlates to when times are favorable to the Word. “Out of season” correlates to times when the environment is unfavorable to the Word. We preach the Word when it is convenient and inconvenient. We preach the Word when appreciated and when not appreciated.
The next three commands explain some of the things we do while we are preaching the Word.
II Timothy 4:2, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”
There are three things that characterize our activities when we preach the Word.
First, we “convince.” This is the activity of revealing the distinctions that would help people clarify if they are on the right or the wrong track. It includes showing the people what is right and what is wrong — not the most popular thing.
Second, we “rebuke.” This involves telling them to stop doing the wrong thing. Yes, it is ok for biblical heralds to say, “Stop it.”
Third, we “exhort.” The term that Paul uses here indicates an urgency for the activity. It is not a distant impersonal or strictly academic appeal, but it includes the idea of coming alongside to help. This is not the proverbial Old Testament prophet who condemns and then leaves. Rather it is done “with all longsuffering and teaching.”
All of the exhortation should have the tempering influence of patience. Because we will rarely see quick results, we must not get discouraged or bitter at the sometimes slow progress that we see around us. The word, “longsuffering” in the text emphasizes that there will be length of time. Because of this, it is so important that preachers do not become angry or overly discouraged for slowness of results.
God has called us to confront the culture. We speak the Word to a dying culture. But we should not be too surprised if people do not turn to the Lord at every hearing of the Word of God. God will draw them in His own time.
II Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
We preach because there are two qualities that we will find in people in the church. First, they will not endure sound doctrine. Another way to say this is that they will become intolerant of sound doctrine. Tolerance is the chief virtue in our world today, but it is a tolerance for everything but the Word of God. Often we see this in government law which seems to be tolerant of everything but Christianity This is a picture of verse 3. “Tolerance” is tolerant of many things, except the tenets of the Christian faith.
Paul’s words are eminently practical since at the present time, the civil religion in America is diversity. In this sense, many Americans are actually polytheists, just like the Romans. The Romans accepted the gods of the nations they conquered and added them into their pantheon. Roman civil religion was the result of the gradual accumulation of many gods. Christianity was unpopular because it condemned these many gods as dumb idols, and said, “worship the true God and Him only.” Like the Romans, we are pluralists acknowledging many deities as having legitimacy.
The second reason we preach is that people will be driven by their own desires. This describes a society where the individual is the measure of all things, and they are their own authorities. People in an environment like this prefer a style of preaching that helps them with their “needs.”
The leaders of one of the most popular church movements in America created their mother church on the authority of community surveys. They went door to door in the neighborhoods of the community. They asked what kept the unchurched away from church. They asked what “unchurched Harry and Mary” were looking for and what turned them off about the church. Then, they created a church program to fulfill their desires.
The reason why the most powerful, gospel-replacing sermons for church growth revolve around meeting felt needs, fortifying self-esteem, and coaching folks on how to get rich is this: we are living in the midst of a people who are driven by their own lusts.
Because these are such powerful motivators, “they will heap up for ‘themselves teachers.” They do this “according to their own desires.” The bottom line is that they will want their own desires above sound doctrine. It creates a problem called “itching ears.” John MacArthur explains, “They have an itch to be entertained by teachings that will produce pleasant sensations and leave them with good feelings about themselves.” (MacArthur Study Bible, marginal note, p. 1880)
This heart attitude proves to be disastrous. It results in a double whammy that will cause their demise. First, they will ” turn ears away from truth. ” This is the most dangerous thing a person can do, because when we quit filling our minds with the truth, something is unleashed upon us that pulls us away — we are”turned aside to fables.” In other words, turning the ears away creates another problem that is far worse than the first. A powerful force acts upon us that is almost unstoppable.
This is a matter of life and death. What a tragedy to become a people who build their lives on fables.
And, what a blessing it is when people build their lives upon the Word of God. Psalm 19 gives us a sense of how wonderful the words of God are for His people:
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.
As we are about the important business of restoring biblical order to the church and the home, it is critical that we “preach the Word.” It is the most helpful and refreshing thing we can do for those who are under our care.