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In the first part of this series of articles, we spent time looking at Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:14-15 which showed the seriousness and need for hard work in sermon preparation. In this article we will look at 2 Timothy 4:1-2 and 1 Timothy 4:13-15 and further understand the great responsibility that God has given to pastors to preach the Bible with diligence.
1. A Pastor Is A Herald Of The King Of Kings And Preaching The Message Faithfully Is Hard Work
“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.” (2 Tim. 4:1-2)
Paul knew that he was nearing the end of his life and ministry, so he wanted to pass the baton to his dear spiritual son, Timothy. You tend to say significant things when you are nearing the end! Before Paul gave Timothy specific instructions concerning the way forward, he painted a very dark picture of how terrible the times will be in the last days. Paul gives his own life as an example of a genuine man of God who lived through various trials to Timothy. But that is not enough, Paul gives Timothy one of the most profound statements about the nature of Holy Scriptures and its great profitability and sufficiency for Christian ministry in 2 Timothy 3:14-16.
Paul wants Timothy to be convinced about the Scriptures. He heralds them because they are God-breathed and life-transforming. The word preach has the idea of being commissioned and sent by the king to faithfully announce and proclaim his message. It has the idea of proclamation that is bold and loud. Can you imagine if a herald in king Akbar’s or king Shivaji’s kingdom returned to the palace and reported about how he improved the king’s message along the way or he cut out certain parts because they were not easy to convey? Do you think he would bring a great smile on the king’s face? That perhaps would be the last meeting with the king.
Even before we look at the command in 2 Timothy 4:2, one must be gripped by the context of the command. The Apostle is making a charge and not just a charge, but a “solemn” charge. Paul points towards God the Father and Jesus the Messiah before whom this charge is being made. Jesus the Messiah is the King of kings and all judgement has been given to Him. In other words, Paul is saying this is the most serious and sobering command he will leave with Timothy. Whatever happens in society and culture, pastors today are to preach and herald the message of God from all 66 books of the Bible. In other words, our sermons should be preached with a realization that we are living in the last days. Our preaching has to be unashamedly Bible-saturated. At the end of a sermon, people should understand the King’s authoritative message. They should go home having understood the very mind of God in that passage. Yet our preaching must not simply be a running commentary, but also a call for people to respond based upon the message delivered. There should be no hesitation or apologies when the message of the Bible is counter-cultural and inconvenient.
The wonderful revelation in our hands is heavenly, yet propositional. God has descended to our level and revealed to us what we need in our human language. Human language is based upon grammatical rules. Hence the pastor must consider the context, the genre of writing before him, the prepositions, the verbs and how the passage is arranged grammatically. More amazingly, God’s speaking to us is Christcentric. The Spirit of Christ was in the prophets revealing to them the unfolding redemptive story of the Bible (1 Pet.1:10-12). So, we cannot simply pull out passages from their place in the redemptive storyline and make them into what we want them to be.
As an example, many have preached from the book of Nehemiah and used it to teach about team leading and team building. Now by way of application, we certainly can learn from the leadership of Nehemiah and the way the people worked together as one. But ultimately how was God fulfilling His promises in the book of Nehemiah and to what end was the wall being built? Nehemiah experienced some success, but towards the end of the book, he seems to have such disappointment. God is showing us through the book that Israel reached various spiritual high points in their history. However, redemption and the kingdom was not going to come through a fallen child of Adam, but through the Messiah. Again, to share a few thoughts or devotional points is one thing, but to truly preach the Bible faithfully in its overall and immediate context requires a lot of discipline and hard work in sermon preparation.
In seminary, my professor, Thomas Shuck, drilled a definition into my mind that still after 13 years stays with me. It was something like this:
Expository Preaching is the reading, explanation and application of the text of Scripture, emphasizing its intent and Christo-centricity with clarity, accuracy, purposefulness and earnestness so that the people of God are made more like Jesus Christ.
Over the years, after preaching expositionally and especially learning more about the big storyline of the Bible, I still stand by this definition. Notice the end of the definition points towards our ultimate end in preaching. We preach so that God’s people can be fed and changed into the image of Christ bit by bit. There is an even more ultimate purpose. It is for the glory of God. He gets glory when His message is faithfully proclaimed and His people are progressively changed. It takes discipline and diligence to preach for a verdict, to preach with an application, to preach for a change in mindset, heart attitudes and behaviour. It requires a lot of time and prayerful thinking.
2. A Faithful Pastor Is Commanded To Be Consumed With Reading, Teaching And Exhorting The Flock Which Requires A Lot Of Hard Work
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Tim. 4:13-15)
Church is serious business. Some immature Christians, think the church is a building where Christians meet friends and enjoy some great conversations. But as one matures and understands the truth, he realises that the church is the very body and bride of Christ. The church is called the pillar and ground that upholds the truth of Jesus Christ in this fallen world. No wonder Paul is concerned that things in the church of Christ must be done in an orderly way. After giving many specific instructions on leadership selection, on prayer, and on dealing with false teachers, Paul instructs Timothy in these verses above about what should happen when the church of Christ gathers together in corporate worship.
Timothy the leader is asked to continually give attention to reading, exhortation and teaching. These important things must continue to happen because the word of God is the very food and life of a Christian. In those days, only rich people could have copies of the Old Testament writings and certainly, the New Testament believers would have cherished letters from the Apostles. They were asked to read them publicly. The pastor was asked to exhort with comfort and strong encouragement based upon the Truth so that the hearers would respond. Pastors were also asked to continually receive the teaching and instruction from the word of God.
In verse 14, Paul asks Timothy to not neglect the spiritual gift that was given to him. Timothy may have been prone to discouragement in Ephesus due to some intimidating teachers. But that is not all, Paul is so serious about the health of the church that he reiterates again to Timothy in verse 15 that he needs to take pains in these above-mentioned things. Many Bible translations have translated this command in verse 15 in helpful ways to give us the true sense of it. The translations that really help are “be absorbed, be occupied, immerse yourself” in the use of your gift, in the public reading, in the exhortation and teaching of scripture. Again, we are faced with the reality that there is no shortcut in pastoral ministry. If the pastor is to be absorbed in teaching and exhortation then it is a given that he needs to be absorbed in studying the unsearchable riches of Christ in the word.
It is said that Dr John MacArthur spends 30 hours a week studying the word for his own soul. That has been the key to both safeguarding his own life and feeding the church with a rich diet of truth over all these years. In his famous book, The Master’s Plan Dr MacArthur talks about the tremendous power of God’s word. People would move to Los Angeles, not because of a job, but because they wanted the word expounded. They would first check out the church and then look for a job. What a tremendous testimony to the necessity and power of God’s word when handled accurately! That is an example of what happens when a man takes his calling and mandate to study seriously.
As pastors we need to have a strong conviction about the need for us to work diligently to prepare sermons. And that conviction needs to withstand the various challenges that come our way as we seek to faithfully feed God’s people. We will discuss some hindrances and some suggestions to overcome hindrances in the last part of this series of articles.