“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ…Preach the word”
2 Timothy 4
2 Timothy is Paul’s “swan song.” Tradition says that shortly after it was written, Paul was beheaded by Nero on the Ostian Way, outside the city of Rome. Writing from his Mamertine prison cell, Paul evidently knew that his time was short. Though he had previously anticipated the potential of death during his first incarceration, he believed, as Philippians 1:19-26 suggests, that he would be acquitted. No such confidence is expressed in 2 Timothy. In fact, Paul now writes to his young protégé in the faith as a dying man awaiting execution: “For I am now ready to be offered [that is, to be poured out in martyrdom as a libation, or drink offering, before God], and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
His mood is unusually reflective – the kind of death-bed reflection on the past that typically characterizes a person’s last words. He speaks of his “forefathers” and his memory of Timothy’s pious beginnings in life (1:3,5). He recalls the rejection of the believers in Asia (1:15) and the affirmation of Onesiphorus, who was not ashamed of his chain (1:16). He remembers, albeit not with resentment or bitterness, the theological apostasy of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2:17-18), the defection of Demas (4:10), the hostility of Alexander the coppersmith (4:14-15), and the way the believers in Rome abandoned him at his ‘first answer’ before Caesar (4:16; cf. Phi. 2:20-21). He also reflects on his own past afflictions and persecutions and on the Lord’s faithfulness to deliver him out of them all (3:11; 4:17). He looks back on his ministry with the contentment of a clear conscience and the satisfaction of a completed task (1:3; 3:10; 4:7).
Furthermore, Paul’s tone is strangely tender and familiar- the kind of tenderness and compassion that a dying father exhibits toward his beloved son. Paul’s final letter to Timothy, his “dearly beloved son” (1:2), is literally teeming with encouragement. Even the most cursory reading of the epistle indicates that Timothy was discouraged. False teaching within the Christian community and societal pressure and opposition without were taking a toll upon Timothy’s spirit. Evidently, Timothy was constitutionally weak and frail (1 Tim. 5:23). Perhaps, he was even somewhat timid and easily intimidated (Consider Paul’s stern warning to the ruthless Corinthians lest they flex their muscles against this sensitive man of God- I Cor. 16:10-11). His youth, moreover, with its inherent lack of credibility, compounded the challenges he already faced (1 Tim. 4:12). Prone to despair by nature, Timothy was beginning to weaken beneath the burden of persecution. With the wisdom and compassion of a father in the ministry, consequently, Paul wrote to remind him of the need for unflinching courage and the importance of an unashamed fidelity to his confession of Christ (1:7-8). He affirms his younger brother by reminding him of his own personal love for Timothy (1:3-4), of Timothy’s personal heritage (1:5), and of his call and ordination to the ministry (1:6). Paul, further, reveals his own commitment to Jesus Christ, expecting, no doubt, that Timothy would be stimulated to faithfulness by his own courageous example (1:8,12; 2:10; 3:10; 4:17-18). Finally, Paul asks Timothy to come to him, bringing his coat, books, and parchments, and especially himself, that he “might be filled with joy” (1:4; 4:9,13,21). How significant that the aged, cold, and lonely apostle, in the face of certain death, would be more concerned to encourage a fellow-laborer in the gospel than he would for his own comfort and safety!
Paul’s charge to Timothy, consequently, is unmistakably direct and clear. The dying apostle is not only reflective concerning his own life, and sympathetic concerning Timothy’s need for encouragement and affirmation; he is also concerned for the welfare of the church once he is gone, both in his time and in every subsequent age. Like a General charging his young Lieutenant in the faith, Paul’s letter is filled with admonitions to faithfulness: “…stir up the gift of God…hold fast the form of sound words…keep [that good thing which was committed to thee] by the Holy Ghost…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…commit [the things I’ve taught you] to faithful men…endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ…study to show thyself approved unto God…shun profane and vain babblings…flee youthful lusts…continue in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of…” ( 1:6; 1:13; 1:14; 2:1; 2:2; 2:3; 2:15; 2:16; 2:22; 3:14). He outlines the characteristics of an increasingly degenerate and godless culture (3:1-9) and of the inevitably of persecution from it (3:12-13). Finally, he lays down certain absolute essentials for Timothy and every successive pastor who would be faithful to their commission in an environment that is antagonistic to the gospel of Christ (4:1-6). It is to these essentials that we now turn.
A PASTOR NAMED TIMOTHY
2 Timothy is one of three New Testament letters known as the “Pastoral Epistles,” so named because they were written to pastors to instruct them in the dynamics of pastoral ministry. Whether or not he had been officially designated its “Pastor,” Timothy was serving the church at Ephesus in a pastoral capacity (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:16-18; 4:19).
Pastoral ministry is the act of shepherding the flock of God. In fact, the masculine noun “pastor” is derived from the Greek word (poimen) for “shepherd.” The poimen cares for God’s sheep by providing for their spiritual nourishment, protecting them from predators, and overseeing their spiritual welfare. The shepherd’s role is at the same time one of service (i.e. he exists to supply the needs of the flock) and leadership (i.e. he exercises oversight of the flock as one who must answer to the Great Shepherd for their condition). The pastorate is the personal, or the people, side of ministry involving actual day in and day out interaction, at a grass roots level, with real people who live in a real world.
For Timothy, and for every other pastor, shepherding means living with the consequences and ramifications of one’s preaching in a real life, ongoing ministry. The pastor-teacher’s primary responsibility is not to “make disciples” but to “teach them [i.e. the disciples who have already been converted] to observe all things” that the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded (Mt. 28:18-20). In other words, pastoring is a matter of discipling the disciples. Unlike the evangelist, who makes and baptizes new converts, and then moves along to another field ready to harvest, the pastorate involves a long-term commitment to the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made him overseer. God’s plan is for evangelists to begin a work – to break the ground, if you please – then for pastors to stabilize and strengthen it – to cultivate and tend the crop, if you will. Evangelistic ministry is initial, therefore, and pastoral ministry is perpetual and ongoing. Or to say it in other words, the goal of gospel ministry is initially evangelism, then edification.
Paul functioned apostolically as both an evangelist and a pastor. He both planted churches and remained active in their ongoing care and nurture. 2 Corinthians 11:28 indicates that he exercised a pastoral authority and responsibility, by virtue of his apostolic office, over “all the churches.” Neither I nor any other minister since the apostles possesses this far-reaching authority or responsibility. Our commission is more akin to Timothy’s than Paul’s. We are shepherds, commissioned like Timothy with the care of local flocks, not apostles, entrusted with the authority to mandate and govern the cause of Christ in general. The apostle’s charge to Timothy, consequently, is his charge to every pastor-teacher in every subsequent era of the kingdom of God.
PROTECTING GOD’S SHEEP FROM PREDATORS
Timothy ministered in a society not unlike our own. False teaching, just as Paul had predicted (Acts 20:29-31), had infiltrated the church at Ephesus. Some had already “swerved” from the faith (1 Tim. 1:6) and made theological shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 4:1; 5:12,15; 6:3-5,21; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14-15). Evidently, the false teachers were promoting a rhetorical controversy that left the Christians in Ephesus confused and befuddled (Notice the many references to “word battles” – 1 Tim. 1:4-6 [‘vain jangling’]; 4:2 [‘speaking lies in hypocrisy’]; 4:7 [‘profane and old wives’ fables’]; 6:3-4 [‘consent not to wholesome words…doting about questions and strifes of words’]; 6:20 [‘avoid profane and vain babblings’]; 2 Tim. 2:14 [‘strive not about words to no profit’]; 2:16 [‘shun profane and vain babblings’]; 2:23 [‘foolish and unlearned questions avoid’]; 4:15 [‘he hath greatly withstood our words’]). Some of the most vocal of these self-proclaimed teachers were aspiring to the ministry (1 Tim. 1:7; 1 Tim. 6:3-5), necessitating Paul’s reminder of the qualifications for gospel ministry in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Some of the women in the church had even assumed a role of leadership, and others were contributing to the strife through gossip and slander (1 Tim. 2:9-15; 3:11; 5:1-16; 2 Tim. 3:6). In a word, the Ephesian church was in a state of theological chaos and pandemonium.
How was Timothy to deal with this confusion? He faced, in a very real sense, a battle, a fight of faith, a spiritual war, not only against a pagan culture but also against the infiltration of the world’s unbelief into the church. The relentless pressure was taking a toll on his enthusiasm. He was beginning to lose focus. He was weakening beneath the heavy load. What did he possibly have in his pastoral arsenal that would counteract the false teaching of these “ravening wolves”? Was there an antitoxin to the cancerous poison of false doctrine (2 Tim. 2:17)? Could the church at Ephesus be saved from apostasy?
It was against this dark background of intellectual chaos in Ephesus that Paul charged the young pastor, “Preach the Word.” The Word, which he had been commissioned to proclaim and teach at his ordination, was the one and only weapon capable of defeating the enemy’s falsehoods (1 Tim. 1:18). “Words of faith and of good doctrine” would work not only to Timothy’s, but to the church’s salvation from error (1 Tim. 4:6,16). By “laboring in the word and doctrine,” Timothy could “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 5:17, 6:12). Over and again, Paul urges his comrade in arms to “hold fast the form of sound [healthy and health-giving] words” (2 Tim. 1:13), to “commit [the things Paul had taught him] to faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2), to “study” and “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), to resist the temptation to argue, but to “be gentle, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves lest God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth…that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil…” (2 Tim. 2:24-26), to “continue in the things which [he] had learned and had been assured of, knowing of whom he had learned them” (2 Tim. 3:14), and to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). The word! The word! THE WORD! “Timothy,” Paul says, “rediscover the tools of the shepherd; you have a rod and a staff in your possession; use them to protect the flock from predators.” This word, Paul reminds Timothy, is God’s own self-revelation, given through the vehicle of inspiration. Because it is God’s own word, it is absolutely authoritative and sufficient for every need, a thorough furnisher unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
THE NEED FOR A BIBLICAL PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY
“Therefore,” Paul says, “I charge you, Timothy, in the sight of God and the Lord Jesus Christ…Preach the word.” That terse command, “preach the word,” constitutes the mandate of pastoral ministry. In these three single-syllable words, the Christian pastor discovers the task to which his Lord has called and commissioned him. Every pastoral function is contained in the crucible of this command. “Preach the word” is the umbrella under which all true gospel ministry abides, the context in which all true ministerial function must be interpreted. This charge is the compass by which the Christian pastor navigates the direction his ministry will take, the blueprint by which he builds the church, the pattern by which he measures every message, the grid through which he interprets every church activity, and the scale by which he measures what is and what is not legitimate in his calling. “Preach the word” is the pastor’s job description.
The importance of building a Biblical philosophy of ministry cannot be overstated. Paul knew that Timothy’s discouragement was largely due to the fact that he had lost sight of the goal. He had lost focus and Biblical perspective. He needed to recapture, consequently, a clearly defined goal in ministry. How can a pastor “make full proof of his ministry” if he cannot see the goal of ministry (2 Tim. 4:5c; cf. Col. 4:17)? Without a sense of purpose – without an understanding of the overarching goal and objective of the pastorate – without vision, the pastor, as well as the people, will perish. No wonder Moses prayed, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants” (Ps. 90:16). Without a goal, people live reactively, not proactively. Without purpose, pastors (if I may mix my metaphors) “spin their wheels,” spending all of their time and energy “playing catch up” and “putting out brush fires.”
What is a “philosophy of ministry?” It is an unalterable set of principles that determines how you will function in your ministry and helps you to interpret why you do what you do. A Biblically oriented philosophy of ministry gives direction, enabling the pastor to define what is and what is not essential and freeing him from “the tyranny of the urgent.” Numerous surveys in the corporate world reveal that a poor or inadequate job description is the primary cause of substandard job performance.
In I Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul demonstrates the way that one’s goal tends to govern one’s activity. Though he had the intellectual capacity and verbal, rhetorical skills to fascinate his Corinthian audience, he consciously and deliberately avoided the temptation. In fact, he made a conscious decision, “determining” to deny himself the right to employ “excellency of speech…enticing words of man’s wisdom” and the sophistry that was so popular in that day, and to preach Christ crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit. Why did he choose to avoid the rhetorical forms of the day and stick close to the Scriptures? Because sophistry did not fit in with his overarching sense of purpose in ministry. His ultimate purpose was to glorify God by exposing Christ, so that his hearers would put their faith in God’s power, not man’s wisdom. Had Paul been concerned to be popular among the Corinthians – if that was goal – he would have engaged them is some philosophical dissertation that would have left them breathless and awestruck at his skill. He knew, however, that to properly represent Christ, he had to deliberately and decisively obscure himself. His sense of purpose, consequently, determined his method of preaching.
The fact that Paul had a clearly defined goal for ministry is evident in verses like 2 Timothy 4:6-7 and Acts 20:33. How could he say “I have finished my course” or “I count not my life dear unto myself that I might finish my course with joy” if he didn’t know specifically what course he was to travel? Obviously, he couldn’t. “If a captain does not know for what port he is heading, then no wind is the right wind.”
To properly assess the goal of pastoral ministry, one must first understand the goal of the church. Because pastors are servants of the church, given to her by God for her spiritual benefit, goals that smack of personal ambition are inappropriate. The purpose of pastoral ministry is inseparably tied to the edification of the church. Preachers exist to assist the church fulfill her calling. Pastor’s have no right to build a personal empire and legacy or to pursue personal notoriety. Individualism, self-promotion, and personal gain are foreign to the very nature of Biblical ministry.
What is, then, the purpose of the church? The church is a repository of divine truth (Jno. 17:14; 2 Tim. 3:15). Her task is to faithfully keep the trust God has given her by dispensing and disseminating truth with accuracy and integrity (Titus 2:1). Secondly, the church is a home away from home for God’s children (Heb. 3:6; Mt. 18). It is the context God has established for loving fellowship and mutual ministry (Eph. 3:15-19; 4:12-16). Thirdly, the church is a training center where God’s people are equipped with the knowledge of how to exercise their spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11-12). Finally, the church is God’s light in a dark world (Mt. 5:13-16; Phi. 2:15). Her task is both conservative (i.e. protecting God’s truth and caring for one another) and contemporary (i.e. equipping the saints and deploying them into the real world of ministry, and calling sinners to repentance).
The gospel ministry exists to facilitate the achievement of these goals. In the light of these overarching objectives, what is the purpose of pastoral ministry? Are questions like “What do people want?” or “How can we get people interested?” appropriate goals? Should we attempt to make the church more “user-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive”? As the mega-church phenomenon reveals, over-concern with what the world thinks of the church inevitably produces theological and ethical compromise. What kind of ministry do you want? A popular ministry? A ‘successful’ ministry? A growing ministry? None of these are appropriate goals for God’s man. His desire is to have a thoroughly Biblical ministry, because he is under obligation to God to preach the word.
Colossians 1:28-29 spells out the purpose and function of the gospel ministry: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Paul knew his goal and “labored” to the point of exhaustion (“striving”) in order to attain it. What was that goal? To “present every man perfect (complete and mature) in Christ.” How did he go about maturing the saints? By “preaching” Christ. What did preaching Christ involve? “Warning” and “teaching” the people “in all wisdom.” How could he accomplish such a difficult task? Through the strength of the Holy Spirit who was “working in him mightily.” In simple terms, Paul defined his ministry in terms of “preaching the word.” Even the Lord Jesus Christ “preached the word” (Mr. 1:38; Mr. 2:2; Lk. 4:17; Lk. 24:27,32). If the Savior “expounded the Scriptures,” dare we his servants do less? The apostles knew the importance of God’s word to the health and well-being of the church. When administrative details distracted them from their primary task, they urged the church to appoint others to serve tables, so that they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
THE SHEPHERD’S CHARGE (2 Timothy 4:2a)
This, then, is the essence of the pastor’s responsibility: Preach the word. The shepherd’s primary calling is to feed the sheep (Jno. 21:15ff; Acts 20:28; Jer. 3:15; Ecc. 12:9-11; I Pet. 5:1-3). What, then, is he to feed them? He is to feed them “the word of God.” The need of the hour is not clever preaching or beautiful sermons, but the powerful, anointed preaching of the word of God, for the sermon is not primarily an art form, but a piece of bread intended to satisfy the hungry soul.
Paul was calling Timothy, not to entertain the crowd, but to feed the sheep. Writing to a dear friend in 1943, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Oh! How I long to know exactly what Paul means in I Corinthians 2:1-5, and to experience it in my ministry. I have become tired of all else and when I read of Whitefield I feel that I have never really preached in my life.” Oh, that more pastors would “become tired of all else” but preaching Christ from his word!
This conviction to preach the word is essential to effective pastoral ministry. God’s charge to every minister is “Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word” (Jer. 26:2). Because “God has spoken,” preachers must “prophesy” (Amos 3:8). If He had not spoken, that is, if He had not taken the initiative to reveal himself to us, we would not dare to speak; but He has spoken, once and for all (Heb. 1:1-2), and “woe is unto [us] if [we] preach not the gospel.” Like Micaiah who said “As the Lord liveth, even what my God saith, that will I speak” (2 Chr. 18:13), today’s pastors must commit themselves afresh to a thoroughly Biblical ministry, if they will be faithful to their charge.
Timothy needed a renewed conviction of the authority and power of God’s word. We do also. Every salesman must believe in his product, and every soldier must have total confidence in his weapon. Likewise, every pastor must believe that he holds in his hands the very word of God, an adequate resource for every need. The proverbial “line in the sand” in the Christian community today, is between those who really believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and those who do not. Where there is no conviction for the Bible’s authority, there will be no commitment to a totally Biblical ministry. In 1880, Henry Ward Beecher began to promote a needs-based philosophy of ministry. Instead of starting with God, convinced that God’s word is always profitable (2 Tim. 3:15), he started with man by finding a need and then preaching to it. His most famous disciple, Harry Emerson Fosdick, took the baton and continued the race for “relevant” preaching. In the 1920’s, Fosdick wrote, “The sermon is uninteresting because it has no connection with the real interests of the people…The sermon must tackle a real problem.” Following his cue, others have done much to popularize the idea that preachers must treat people as consumers and give them what they want.
But to whom must preaching be relevant? To people? No, to God. All true preaching begins with the conviction that much needs to be said about the things that people don’t want to hear, like sin, repentance, the Holiness of God, and the certainty of judgment. The words in the Bible are the very words of God. “If you could hear God speak today,” says Jay Adams, “he wouldn’t say anything more or less than what he has already said in his word.” Pastoral ministry begins with this conviction that what people need most is the word of God. Anything less is a placebo.
In Jeremiah’s day, the prophets had jettisoned the word of God for their own ideas. His diatribe against an unconverted ministry in Jeremiah 23:9-40 is painfully contemporary. The prophets of his day were speaking a “vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (v. 16), avoiding negative themes that people did not want to hear (vs. 17-22). God said, “they think to cause my people to forget my name by the dreams that they tell” (v. 27). The failure to preach the word inevitably leads to man-centered worship. Preaching is not primarily a matter of telling people what is on one’s heart, but of declaring to them what is on God’s mind. Granted, there is a place for personal witness as well as the proclamation of “thus saith the Lord,” (2 Cor. 4:13; Philemon 6), but preaching does not start with experience, but theology (2 Pet. 1:19).
Preach the word, Paul says. The shepherd is charged to preach the word, not his feelings, impressions, theories, dreams, or visions; not what he has been going through or what he believes God is teaching him; not cliches, platitudes, current events, social theory, political platforms, or personal opinions.
We are under orders to preach God’s word, not Freud’s psychology. Sadly, the secular psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have charmed the church today like a serpent charms its victims. Isaiah’s complaint is especially relevant in the light of the modern fascination with pop-psychology: “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:19-20). To preach psychology instead of the word of God is to substitute man’s “fables” for God’s truth (2 Tim. 4:4). In the spirit of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, Jay Adams asks, “Do you think that God left His church for 1500 years without resources to solve its problems? And that the church had to sit around for 1500 years twiddling its thumbs and waiting for Freud to be born?” Popular psychology with its existential emphasis on self-esteem, self-worth, and the innocent child within (a contradiction to Rom. 3:10-18, 23; 5:12 and the fundamental doctrine of Total Depravity), human potential (a contradiction of Jno. 15:5), and addictive behavior and victimism (a contradiction of Rom. 14:12) is not the gospel, but “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-7), more akin to Hinduism than Biblical Christianity.
In the name of compassion, psychology claims to have the answers to life’s problems. But its ‘solutions’ are merely bandaids on man’s spiritual cancer. How compassionate would it be for a physician to hide from a patient with a terminal illness the true nature of his disease, thus denying him the only medicine that would affect a cure? There is no compassion in that. If disease lurks in my body, I want to know so that I can aggressively pursue the regimen necessary to regain my health. Who is more compassionate, the neighbor who allows his friend to perish while the house burns around him because he doesn’t want to disturb his sleep, or the man who screams “Fire!” and risks life and limb to rescue his sleeping friend? The most compassionate thing a pastor can do for God’s people is to give them the truth of God’s word, even if it makes them temporarily uncomfortably. A conviction that we have in our possession the one resource that people need the most is basic and fundamental to authentic pastoral ministry. Therefore, Paul charges Timothy, preach the word.
What specifically is involved in the charge to ‘preach the word?’ How should Timothy go about the task of preaching the word? Paul specifies two primary ingredients necessary to the preaching task.
Preaching the word involves preparation – “Be instant in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2b). The imperative “be instant in season, out of season” means be prepared at all times. “Instant” carries the idea of “standing by on ready,” when it is convenient (‘in season’), that is, when preaching comes easy and the listeners are eager and receptive and the harvest looks promising, and when it is evidently inconvenient (‘out of season’), that is, when preaching comes hard, listeners resist the truth of God’s word, and the situation looks unpromising. Timothy was to anticipate occasions when preaching the word of God would be awkward and unpopular, and commit himself in advance to faithful and diligent Biblical proclamation. Don’t allow fear to distract you, says Paul. Be prepared for every eventuality. The command to be ready at every opportunity also speaks of the necessity of diligent and ongoing study and prayer in the life of the shepherd. Ezra “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments, and to do it” (Ezra 7:10). The effectiveness and power of a pulpit ministry will be in direct proportion to the pastor’s personal holiness. If he “restrains prayer before God” (Job 15:4) and neglects to feed his own soul through diligent study of the word, his words will ring hollow in the hearts of his hearers. Alexander Whyte called laziness the “unpardonable sin of the ministry.” Pastors must discipline their lives so that they don’t fritter their days away in idleness. Although God can use sermons that are “without form and void,” yet such borders on the miraculous and to rely on that possibility while neglecting one’s study may very well be a form of tempting the Lord. “Timothy,” Paul says, “be prepared; devote diligent attention to study and personal devotion so that whenever the occasion is presented, you will be able to preach God’s word.”
Preaching the word involves both a negative and a positive dimension – “…reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2c). Paul wants Timothy to correct those whose thinking is awry (‘reprove’), rebuke those who are living comfortably in sin (‘rebuke’), and to encourage those who are burdened and cast down (‘exhort’). This two-sided emphasis of both confrontation and comfort is critical to shepherding God’s flock. A shepherd whose only concern is to nurture his flock, but cares nothing about correcting the lambs that perpetually wander away or confronting the old ram or dominant ewe that bullies the weaker members of the fold, is only emphasizing one dimension of preaching the word. Likewise, the shepherd who is only concerned to reprove and rebuke, but who does not also encourage and console, is equally lopsided in his emphasis.
People today have a strong aversion and distaste for anything that is perceived as negative. “Eliminate the negative, and accentuate the positive” is the motto of this age of tolerance, openness, and diversity. There is an unspoken law that preaching should never be negative. But how can a pastor preach the cross, with its inherent element of offense to man’s pride (Gal. 5:11), without being negative? How can a man preach about sin, self-control, and judgment to come, like Paul did before Felix and Drusilla (Acts 24), without being confrontational? When Paul faced the potentially intimidating task of preaching before the notable Felix and Drusilla, he did not soften or accommodate his message in order to win their favor. He did not “tickle the ears” of these dignitaries. He did not say, “It’s certainly a privilege to speak to such important people.” Granted, neither did he disrespect them or give the impression of contempt for them. He merely “preached the word” to them, sparing no quarter and pulling no punches. He preached about “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” Not the kind of message calculated to win a popularity contest, is it? True Biblical preaching will inevitably expose areas in the lives of our hearers that are inconsistent with the will of God, bringing them to the crisis of decision. It will call sin “sin,” not sickness, and challenge people to repent. It will reveal wordly ideas that have made inroads into the thought patterns of the people and call upon them to renew their minds with God’s truth. Correction and confrontation are intrinsic to the faithful exposition of God’s word.
“Reprove” indicates that preaching involves the element of persuasion. It means to convince, to correct by persuasion. Preaching that does not aim to persuade the hearers to change is not genuine Biblical preaching. Paul was persuasive (2 Cor. 5:11; Acts 13:43; Acts 18:4, 13; Acts 19:8, 26; Acts 26:28; Acts 28:23). Why was he so compelling and persuasive? Because he was himself persuaded of the facts of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 8:38). The goal of the preaching of God’s word is to persuade hearers of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the transforming power of God’s grace, and the command to repent and believe the gospel. Preaching should be primarily persuasive, not entertaining.
It is possible for the shepherd to become so concerned to expose sin, however, that he fails to comfort and encourage God’s people. Sheep not only need to be challenged; they also need to be fed. Many of the people who attend upon our respective ministries come to worship each Lord’s Day with heavy, pressing burdens upon them. The cares of daily life and the soul struggles they experience take a toll upon their spiritual stamina. Many of them feel defeated, discouraged, and hopeless. They need “exhortation” (lit. encouragement). Words of faith and hope, fitly spoken, serve to renew their strength so that they can mount up with eagle’s wings and press onward. God’s people need regular and fresh views of their Savior, lest they become weary and faint in their minds. Because sheep are easily tired and fatigued, shepherds must labor to maintain a indefatigable spirit themselves, so that they can lift the drooping hands and confirm the wobbly knees of the sheep who come to drink at our pulpits.
Both the negative (“reproof and rebuke”) and the positive (“encouragement”) dimensions of preaching, Paul suggests, are to be discharged “in much longsuffering and doctrine.” Sheep are slow learners, by their very nature. They frequently make the same mistakes and fall into the same snares, time and again. Shepherding is, consequently, a very frustrating task. Because an entire flock of sheep can easily drive a passionate shepherd mad, patience is of the essence. Shepherding God’s flock is a long-term, not a short-term, endeavor. Spiritual growth will not occur overnight. It may, in fact, take many years for any significant improvement to be seen in a local congregation. The same lessons must be taught over and over again. Great patience, however, does not imply passivity. In the spirit of patience, Timothy was to commit himself to consistent and careful instruction (i.e. ‘doctrine’). This attitude of patient teaching is essential to pastoral ministry. 2 Timothy 2:24 says that “the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves…”. The patient and consistent teaching of God’s word, over the long term, convincing, correcting, and comforting is the mandate of pastoral ministry.
THE AWESOME NATURE OF THIS CHARGE (2 Tim. 4:1)
The language of verse 1 is carefully calculated to remind Timothy of the awesome nature of the solemn task to which he had been called. “I charge you,” he says, “in the sight of God and the Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom….” The pastor who lives with a consciousness of God’s holiness will necessarily take his charge seriously. We must fulfill our calling because it came from this awesome God. To be charged “in the sight of God” implies a seriousness comparable to the taking of an oath or a vow. While oath taking must be restricted, there are certain occasions when it is not only legitimate, but actually adds a solemnity and an authority that nothing else can give. Yes, oath taking must be avoided in everyday conversation (Mt. 5:33-37), reserved for only the most important matters, like marriage, etc. The very fact that Paul invokes God’s presence in his charge to Timothy indicates that he considered the pastorate to be among life’s most serious and solemn commitments. “Remember,” he says to Timothy, “that God is watching.” His command to “preach the word,” therefore, was not a mere personal preference. It was a Divine commission given to Timothy in the sight of God, the Judge of all men.
Because of the awesome nature of the shepherd’s charge, a casual, cavalier approach to ministry is always inappropriate. The kind of laid-back, easy-going, and almost apologetic approach is foreign to the spirit of the New Testament.
An awareness of the solemn charge he has been given will inevitably produce a spirit of urgency, passion, fire, and zeal in the heart of God’s servant. Though he will not abuse his hearers by disrespect and oblivion to their capacities, he will utlimately be compelled by the knowledge that he must answer to God for how he has used his word (2 Tim. 2:15). He will preach, therefore, for an audience of “one.” The bottom line question he must answer is “Am I willing to be true to God in spite of what others think?” Donald Coggan has written,
“The Christian preacher has a boundary set for him. When he enters the pulpit, he is not an entirely free man. There is a very real sense in which it may be said of him that the Almighty has set him his bounds that he shall not pass. He is not at liberty to invent or choose his message: it has been committed to him, and it is for him to declare, expound, and commend it to his hearers…It is a great thing to come under the magnificent tyranny of the Gospel.”
Again, I say, this does not mean that we are justified to disregard the people to whom we preach. A true shepherd loves his sheep and desires their happiness. The mind of a scholar without the compassion of the shepherd will do little to promote the health of the flock. Ideally, the pastor should labor not only to be “acceptable to God” but also “approved before men” (Rom. 14:18). Paul labored to “approve [lit. to recommend himself to his hearer’s conscience-cf. 2 Cor. 4:2 & 5:11] himself as the minister of God” by manifesting a Christian attitude and deportment, modeling by an exemplary life the very gospel that he preached (2 Cor. 6:4-10). Granted, it is imperative that ministers develop the spiritual maturity to be able to say with Paul, “It is a small thing with me that I should be judged of you or of man’s judgment” ( I Cor. 4:3 – To be emancipated from the snare of seeking affirmation is true freedom!), yet a true pastor, because he loves the people to whom he ministers, will not be needlessly offensive or unkind. He delights to see a contented flock and desires to be a “helper of their joy” not a lord over their faith (2 Cor. 1:24). Neither will he be satisfied to present God’s word in a dull, uninteresting manner, but will cultivate the use of illustrations and other helps, for these, like windows add light to a house, enhance the listener’s ability to apply the truth to life. Love, however, does not mean that he forbears to tell them the truth, or that he seeks to please his hearers by giving them the kind of sermon they want to hear instead of giving them God’s word..
WHY PREACH ‘THE WORD’? (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Why should a pastor-teacher commit himself to a thoroughly Biblical ministry? As already noted, because he is under orders from God. But there are many other reasons as well. According to Ephesians 4:11-16, every function of the local church depends upon the clear, consistent, and accurate ministry of the word. Have you ever wondered why the pulpit is in the center of the building? Not because the preacher is the focal point of church life, but because the word of God is central to the life of the church. God’s word is the sceptre by which Christ rules the church and the food by which he nourishes it. It is the hammer by which he breaks the proud heart and the fire by which he inflames the cold and complacent heart. It is the goad by which he stabs awake the slumbering conscience and the nail by which he firmly fixes and establishes the wandering mind.
The preaching of God’s word is essential because it is the only way to maintain a God-centered emphasis. Without the objectivity of God’s revelation, Christian faith slides precariously into man-centeredness and subjectivity. The shepherd should preach the word, moreover, because it is his only authority. I Peter 4:11 says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles [i.e. mouthpiece] of God.” The only way he can be God’s mouthpiece is by speaking God’s words from the Bible. When he speaks God’s word, God speaks, through that word, to his people: “Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Heb. 3:15). Again, he should preach the word because it is the only power he has. The power of one’s ministry is not charisma, but the word of God. None of us have the capacity to influence our hearers, but God has promised to use his word to sanctify and change them (Jno. 17:17; 2 Cor. 3:18). Finally, he should preach the word because it is the means by which God’s kingdom is extended and Satan’s diminished (Acts 26:18). If we desire the growth and expansion of the kingdom of God, the preaching of God’s word is crucial.
The immediate reason Paul gives to Timothy concerning the importance of preaching the word is recorded in verses three and four. “Timothy,” Paul says, “preach the word, because the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” The days will come, Paul predicts, when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but, motivated by personal preference, will surround themselves with teachers whose primary concern will be to tell them what they want to hear. In other words, people will bring a philosophy of consumerism from the marketplace into the church, and, in response to their demand, preachers will determine what they want and then give it to them. This all sounds strangely familiar to the philosophy and the marketing techniques of the church-growth industry, doesn’t it? This willingness to say what the listeners want to hear in the name of growing the church inevitably leads to a religion characterized by speculation (v. 4), and a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). A commitment to preach the word in times like these, even though there is no apparent demand for it, is indispensable. Paul wants Timothy to give the people what they need, not what they want.
Paul’s prophecy speaks with unparalleled relevance to the modern situation. What is “sound doctrine”? It is obviously something more than mere “teaching.” Though the idea of “teaching” is inherent in the concept of “doctrine,” yet doctrine involves more than education. The resistance Paul anticipates in the church is not a resistance to “teaching.” In fact, Paul implies, the very opposite is true. People will “heap to themselves teachers,” that is, they will surround themselves with a multitude of instructors that suit their particular tastes. John Stott says, “They do not first listen and decide whether or not what they heard is true; they first decide what they want to hear and then select teachers who will oblige by towing their line.” The plethora of teachers on today’s Christian landscape makes the fulfillment of this prophecy uncomfortably personal and contemporary. Today, a person can virtually “pick and choose” their favorite teachers from the smorgasbord of religious media, based on each teacher’s particular emphasis, charisma, or popularity. Though it is not wrong to appreciate different spiritual leaders for their peculiar talents or to learn from more than one preacher, the danger Paul pinpoints refers to a way of thinking. The time will come, he warns, when Christians will adopt a consumer mentality toward the gospel, practicing a form of selective hearing, instead of viewing the teacher as a means to the end of following the Lord Jesus Christ. No, the aversion he anticipates is not an aversion to “teaching” per se, but an aversion to the theological exposition of God’s word. May I suggest that the time Paul said “will come” has come to the contemporary church? In a chapter entitled “The Rebuilding of a Congregation,” the biographer of the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones talked about the manner in which he went about rebuilding the church he pastored after World War II:
“It is worth noting that he did nothing to uproot church officers who had clearly little sympathy with his ministry. He wanted to win them to the truth. His conviction was that everything depended upon God using His Word as it was preached week by week. He was also persuaded that too often Christians had no grasp of truth as a system because of the type of preaching to which they had been chiefly accustomed. ‘The great trouble of our time is the lack of theological preaching,’ he told the students at Spurgeon’s College when he spoke there in January 1948. While preaching ‘should be essentially exposition,’ with the text and context governing the form of the sermon, ‘theology will safeguard a correct exposition; it will save us from becoming fanciful’. Before concluding that address he anticipated the question likely to be put to him, ‘Will people listen to this kind of preaching?’. To which he replied: ‘They have more or less given up listening to the other kind! The low level of the life of the church today is due to the lack of doctrinal preaching. This is a question never to be asked: we have a commission to preach; a commission to God; not the call to satisfy the popular palate. Preach the Word. Our one concern should be to preach the truth.” (“The Fight of Faith”, pp 165-66).
Far from making the preaching of God’s word irrelevant, the modern allergy to Biblical exposition makes it all the more necessary. Though many preachers, Paul prophesies, will cater to popular preferences, Timothy was to be ready for this challenge and commit himself ahead of time to resist the urge to be swept away by the demands of his audience.
CHALLENGES TO THE PREACHING OF GOD’S WORD (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Because the pew will always be a reflection of the pulpit (Hos. 4:9), a pastor’s commitment to God’s word will eventually transfer to the people he serves. Part of the pastor’s responsibility, therefore, is to cultivate within the flock a respect and love for the word of God by his own commitment to the centrality of Scripture. The way he handles the word will inevitably communicate to them either an attitude of reverence or disrespect, submission or skepticism, conviction concerning its sufficiency or its inadequacy. He must, with patience and persistence, teach them, both verbally and by example, how to listen to God’s word. In a day when there are so many distractions, this is no small challenge.
Already, I’ve made reference to the problem of selective hearing that Paul anticipates (vs. 3-4). This challenge to expository preaching is not peculiar to our day. Jeremiah wrote, “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means [i.e. on their own authority]; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jer. 5:30-31). Notice that the spiritual decadence of God’s people was initiated by the prophet’s lack of commitment to God’s word. Motivated, perhaps, by a desire for popularity, they stepped outside the parameters of their God-given authority and began to speak a vision out of their own heart and the people loved to have it so; consequently, they received their reward – popularity among the people.
God’s people must be taught to approach God’s word, not with itching ears, but with hungry hearts. The hungry heart, as Nehemiah 8 demonstrates, requests God’s word (v. 1). Hungry hearers come expectantly and eagerly, seeking a taste of that “bread of life” to satisfy their famished souls. They also respect God’s word. When Ezra opened the book of the Law, the people stood up (v. 5), in a spontaneous gesture of reverence. They listend attentively (v. 3) and worshipfully (v. 6). They were so riveted to the voice of God in Scripture, hearing it as God’s personal message to them (I Ths. 2:13), that they stood for at least five hours listening to it read, explained, and applied to their lives (v. 8). Thirdly, hungry hearts respond to God’s word (vs. 9-18), in contrition for their sins, joy for God’s grace, and obedience to God’s commandments.
We must teach the flock of God we serve about the danger of losing the benefit of God’s word because of a lack of understanding (Mt. 13:19), a failure to consider the cost of discipleship (Mt. 13:20-21), and the distractions of ordinary life (Mt. 13:22), consistently reminding them that a fruitful and productive Christian life is inseparably tied to the way one receives the word of God (Mt. 13:23). We must plead with them to “receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save [their] souls” (Jas. 1:21) and to avoid “the rebel sigh” that resists and resents God’s truth and despises his chastening. We must encourage them to come to public worship with the attitude of Cornelius, saying, “We are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33), and saying with the hymnwriter, “Master speak; thy servant heareth, waiting for thy gracious word.”
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the preaching of God’s word today is television. Every pastor must contend with the numbing effect television has on a person’s ability to hear God’s word proclaimed. In all honesty, the challenge of grabbing the attention of people who have been entertained in technicolor all week is one of the most difficult tasks the preacher faces. The world in which we minister is, in many ways, different from previous generations. The typographic culture of the past is gone. We live in a photographic culture. In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman tells the story of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Peoria, Illinois in 1854. The people stood for seven hours, listening to (and comprehending) very complex, systematic arguments, without the aid of pictures or images. Today, we can’t even concentrate on a seven-minute television program without a break for a Happy Meal commercial.
In the light of the way that television has desensitized our aural capacities and attention spans, some believe that the systematic preaching and teaching of God’s word is out-of-date. “[The modern preacher] thinks,” says John Piper, “that [the God-centered preaching of the word] won’t hold them, won’t awaken them, won’t move them…In other words, the common strategy of preachers today for awakening people’s emotions (and that’s almost a given – we must have affirmation in their faces – we must feel that they’re with us) is to choose themes and topics that already have the emotions running.” Is that an accurate analysis of today’s mentality? I think it is. Piper goes on to say, “The reason preachers don’t believe that the greatness of God…the glory and majesty of Christ, and the deep things of the Spirit will not move and hold people is because they do not move him.” Helping God’s people to rediscover the word of God must begin with a rediscovery of God’s word, in all of its beauty, authority, and sufficiency, by the shepherd himself.
But how can we possibly compete, someone wonders, with the power of images? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. We, my brethren, have a resource at our disposal more powerful than the power of technology. God has promised that his word will not return unto him void (Is. 55:11). The word that we preach is “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6). When his word is faithfully proclaimed by a man whose life is yielded to his will, God honors his word so that it “works effectually in them that believe” (I Ths. 2:13). The gospel that we preach is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). With such a promise, the pastor can resist the temptation to accommodate the culture and recommit himself to the faithful preaching and teaching of the word of God. Therefore, Timothy, preach the word.
HOW TO FULFILL THE CHARGE (2 Tim. 4:5)
In the light of the antagonistic environment in which he seeks to shepherd God’s sheep, how is Timothy to fulfill his charge? How can he be faithful to his commission when so many factors are working together to divert him from his task? Paul lists two important attitudes and one important activity to which Timothy must give attention if he would “make full proof of his ministry.”
First, he must be sound-minded – “But watch thou in all things” (v. 5a). The command to “watch” means to be sober and sound-minded. The Greek word, nepho, refers to “a state of mind free from the excessive influence of passion, lust, or emotion.” Paul is saying, “Timothy, keep your head. Don’t lose your senses. You need passionate heart, but you need a cool head.” The sophron root, a synonym to nepho, is frequently translated “temperate,” “sober,” or “self-controlled” in the New Testament. “Timothy,” Paul says, “stay in control of your own thinking. Don’t lose your theological equilibrium. Don’t allow the climate of your day to distract you from your charge. Don’t allow the pressures of pastoral ministry and the apparent lack of success in preaching the word to make you discouraged, disillusioned, and defeated. Don’t allow the apparent success of those who preach to the popular palate to tempt you to abandon your task or lose your spiritual focus. Don’t be diverted from your charge. Be calm. Be alert. Stay awake. Keep a sound-mind.”
Of course, Timothy’s natural timidity and sensitivity made him prone to the irrationality of discouragement anyway. Furthermore, a religious climate characterized by consumerism merely compounded his natural weakness. Paul’s reminder was, therefore, timely. To those of us who minister in an environment that closely parallels Timothy’s, Paul’s admonition to guard our thinking against discouragement is equally timely.
Secondly, he must be willing to suffer hardship – “…endure afflictions” (v. 5b). Timothy was not naturally tough or tenacious. In fact, like many of God’s servants, he was extremely sensitive – almost fragile. The pastorate, however, with its inherent tendency toward conflict, coupled with the way that God’s word cuts cross-grain against man’s fallen nature, is a context that invites suffering and persecution. Perseverance, therefore, is imperative. Not only do pastors need the compassion and gentleness of a nursing mother (I Ths. 2:7), they also need the tenacity of a bulldog.
Though the minister of the word expects opposition and criticism when he first begins his ministry, seldom does he realize the power of these problems and disappointments over the long run to influence his thinking. Rare is the man who has been in pastoral ministry for more than a decade whose heart is free from cynicism and bitterness. The pressures are great; the frustrations and disappointments are many; the progress, if any, is slow; the compensation, marginal; the struggle, intense; the fear of failure is strong; the pain of rejection is almost more than any man can handle. How can a sensitive servant-hearted leader like Timothy keep the edge on his spirit in the face of such pressure? It is much easier to give in to the impulse to complain and retaliate in anger – to vent the frustration and to let others know how much one has sacrificed. But, paradoxically, the moment bitterness takes root in the heart – the very moment the shepherd allows himself the privilege of relishing past hurts and tallying the score of ministerial sacrifice – he forfeits his influence over the hearts of God’s sheep. An angry preacher cannot preach.
If anger doesn’t get the best of a pastor, despair will. When he sees the ugliness of pastoral anger, many pastors are so repulsed by the state of their own heart that they repent in dust and ashes. The next disappointment, however, or the next rejection, tempts them to another sin. Gun-shy of falling into bitterness again, he now says “Well, what’s the use? It’s never going to be any different for me. I’m just trying too hard. I need to lighten up and pour my energy into other pursuits.” How many ministers have allowed the pain to accrue over the years until they have all but given up hope of a fruitful and effective ministry? The self-forgetfulness and passion with which they began their labors has been replaced by the self-pity and apathy of despair. It was just too hard.
Every gospel minister, but especially those who are temperamentally akin to Timothy, is a potential casualty in this fight of faith. Satan’s assault is relentless. It never lets up. Paul’s admonition, consequently, is especially relevant to every pastor: “Endure Afflictions.” “Timothy,” Paul says, “be willing to suffer for Jesus Christ. Be ready to bear the scorn and reproach that faithful preaching of the word inevitably brings. Like a soldier on the battlefield, make up your mind that you are going to fulfill your mission, regardless of the rigors and hardships it brings” (2 Tim. 2:3).
Frankly, those of us who live in the affluent West are relative strangers to discomfort and hardship. On a personal note, I am too sensitive. The least resistance or setback frequently sends me reeling. I need to toughen up. Every pastor, in fact, must anticipate opposition, not to the point that he becomes paranoid and allows his fear of rejection to actually create a problem where none existed, but to the point that when it comes, he does not weaken in his commitment to the word or to his Master.
Finally, he must be evangelistic – “…do the work of an evangelist” (v. 5c). The first two imperatives refer to attitudes that would enable Timothy to be faithful to his charge. The command to “do the work of an evangelist” is a pastoral activity. “Timothy,” Paul says, “even though you are a pastor and your primary responsibility is to edify the flock by the consistent preaching and teaching of God’s word, don’t forget that your ‘field’ of labor is wider than the local congregation at Ephesus. The field is the world; therefore, don’t become so ingrown and concerned about self-perpetuation that you forget the most basic commission to the church to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20). Don’t lose focus on the big picture. You are pastor of Ephesus Church, but you are also an ambassador of King Jesus; therefore, reach out in evangelism. Edify the immediate flock and then, herald the good news of salvation by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord to others outside your fellowship. I know that your gifts are not primarily evangelistic, but do the work of an evangelist nonetheless.”
The pastorate is primarily conservative. It aims to protect and guard the truth, as a faithful steward would protect a sacred trust. Its goal is conservation of the flock from the predators of false teaching and sin. Evangelism, however, is primarily aggressive. It aims to promote the kingdom of God by proclaiming the gospel (Acts 26:18). It seeks to make converts and to call God’s children who are living in the world to repentance. The church is not only a conservative (I Tim. 3:15), but also an evangelistic institution. The aggressive character of the kingdom of God is vividly expressed in such verses as Isaiah 9:7 (“…of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end…”), Daniel 2:44 (“…it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms…”), and Matthew 13:33 (“the kingdom of heaven is like leaven…hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened”). The last reference speaks of yeast. God’s kingdom is like yeast, says Jesus. What’s more aggressive than yeast? It doesn’t stop until it has penetrated and permeated the entire lump. An emphasis on the conservative dimension of the church without attention to the aggressive dimension of the church as Jesus established it, produces an attitude that is concerned merely with self-perpetuation and survival, an attitude tantamount to defeat.
“Do the work of an evangelist” is also a command to Timothy, in the course of preaching the word to the Ephesian flock, not to neglect “evangelistic preaching.” Pastoral preaching tends to be instructive. It aims to edify, or to build up and strengthen, the believer. Evangelistic preaching, on the contrary, tends to be persuasive. It aims to challenge and to motivate people to repent. If the church at Ephesus was functioning as it should, the members would be bringing new people to public worship on a regular basis. Initially, these people would need conversion, not edification. Thus, the preaching of evangelistic messages from God’s word would periodically be necessary.
Furthermore, because evangelism is essentially a matter of highlighting the contrast between Christ and the world (i.e. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul…”; “Strait is the gate…that leads unto life…broad is the way…that leads to destruction”; “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth…”; “Silver and gold have we none…but in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk…”; etc.), every existing believer needs to hear evangelistic preaching from time to time. Even the mature Christian needs ongoing conversion and repentance; none are exempt from the influx of worldliness. Timothy, do the work of an evangelist.
By following these commands, Timothy would resist the temptation to compromise his commitment, and would be able to discharge his commission, making full proof of his ministry. Like Timothy, we minister in a pagan and unfriendly environment. Like Timothy, we labor under some very heavy burdens and foreboding threats. Like Timothy, many of us struggle with our own weaknesses and fears. And like Timothy, we have a serious charge. Paul’s words to Pastor Timothy, happily, are his words to you and me. If the pressures of the pastorate are taking a toll on your enthusiasm; if you are beginning to lose your focus; if you are growing increasingly disheartened, then remember your charge. Preach the word. Preach the word. Preach the word. Preach the word. Everything depends upon God using his word as it is faithfully and accurately proclaimed by a godly shepherd each week. Only in this way will we be able to say, like the dying Paul, “I have finished my course; I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith.” And only thus will we hear from our Heavenly Shepherd one day, “Well done, thou good and faithful shepherd.”