I was sorting through some computer files and came across a brief challenge I gave to my brother-in-law, Brian, 14 years ago this month. Laura and I had flown from Philadelphia to Florida late in August for his installation service, and I was privileged to be able to give the charge to the new pastor. (Note to self: Don’t go to Florida in late August without an air-conditioned body suit.)
It was a great day. Two things made it great for me. The first was that my brother-in-law is a first rate, class act guy. He retired a few years after many years of effective and faithful ministry in three different churches. But the other thing that made it great was that down in heart of Florida Marlins territory, I presented him with a Philadelphia Phillies T-Shirt.
Anyway, I re-read the words and thought I’d share them here as a challenge for all pastors, young or old.
Please open to 2 Timothy 4.
Brian, I have no doubt that you want to have an effective ministry. But how does that happen? We have seminars and books by the score that tell us what to do, how to be successful, what we need to focus on. I had several pieces of mail waiting for me when I got back from vacation the other day that claimed that my ministry could be revolutionized if I bought their product.
But how do we decide what makes us effective? The more I think about the church and about what is important, I am convinced of this: Scripture must define our ministry priorities.
When we look at the pastoral task in Scripture, our primary – not our only, but our primary – priority must be the communication of God’s Word.
I have no doubt that we think alike on this issue, but the climate in which we minister today is moving further and further away from this view of ministry. But I want to challenge you to commit yourself to an view of ministry that is not merely part of a passing and antiquated evangelicalism, but rather is rooted in the inerrant Word of God.
Read 2 Timothy 4:1-4: 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. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
(2 Timothy 4:1–4 ESV)
I wish I had time to develop this passage in more detail than I do. What Paul says in chapter 4 comes out of his discussion in chapter 3 on the nature of Scripture. Because Scripture is God-breathed and because it is the means God uses to change lives, Paul prefaces his commands to Timothy in words that are clearly not just friendly counsel – they are divine edict (read again vs. 1). Out of this comes the command that forms the heart of this passage:
Preach the Word.
This is not preaching about the Word or preaching from the Word, but preaching the Word. There is a difference between preaching the text of Scripture and using Scripture to support our own ideas.
Our ideas don’t bring life. God’s words do. Our ideas don’t change the heart. God’s words do.
Preach the word persistently.
“In season and out of season” relates to the climate of the times. Whether it is trendy or not, whether it is popular or not does not matter.
How do we stay on track here? The best way is to come to the text for the message, and not to the text to support our message.
So preach the word persistently. Preach the simple and preach the profound. Our “climate” is one in which there are numerous appeals to lighten up avoid topics that are deep. Personally, I resent the insinuation that our people cannot or will not learn. Luther taught the doctrine of justification by faith to peasants. What makes us think our people cannot learn doctrine?
Preach the word to the heart.
“Reprove, rebuke, exhort” (correct, rebuke, encourage – NIV) are words that clearly tell us that we need to speak to more than just the mind. These words tell us that we need to speak with authority to values, behavior, the way people think, how they behave – because the Word does.
Everyone wants to be relevant. You will be relevant if you preach the Word and preach to the heart.
Preach the word with urgency.
A good pastor guards the souls of his people. A good shepherd knows that there is a real enemy who seeks to devour. A good shepherd knows that a verbal profession of faith does not guarantee genuine conversion. So we preach the word with a sense of urgency. We care that our people hear it and that they learn it, and we do all that we can humanly do to enable those things.
If we are not living in the climate Paul describes in verses 3 & 4, we must be very close. This is a day of doctrinal shallowness and compromise, a day in which God’s nature and his priorities are distorted and sometimes even attacked. And you will compete with highly visible people – on TV, radio, and in print – who are considered credible because of their celebrity, and yet offer your people nothing more than spiritual candy.
Never take this pulpit without reminding yourself of the awesome responsibility of your task and of what is at stake, and preach the word with urgency. You do not know how long people will listen.
You may be accused of being old-fashioned and out of touch. Some people will visit and never return because you preach more than a feel-good message. Even some who are sitting here today may urge you to lighten up, which means to dumb down.
You pay that no heed.
You determine at the start of your ministry here to preach the Word, to preach it persistently, to preach to the heart, and to preach with urgency, and when God brings this chapter of your ministry to a close, you will have fulfilled your responsibility to lead these dear people “into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake,” and you will have nothing for which to apologize when you stand to give an account “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.”
Preach the Word!