Two equal and opposite errors have crept into the modern evangelical church in regard to preaching. Some preach the truth and some preach love, but few attempts the Biblical task of preaching the truth in love ( Eph. 4:15). Either the pastor becomes an angry man who spews truth like venom, or - more commonly - he charms his people on shallow truisms and lulls them to sleep on a diet of heavy encouragement without a hint of challenge. Neither of these is Biblical preaching.
In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, we have examined what Biblical preaching is. In part 1, we saw that it is a solemn call to preach the Word in its purity. In part 2, we noticed that the sermon must be about truth, calling out sin, rebuking our old manner of life, and then exhorting the new man and new woman to run to Christ! In today’s blog, we will look at two fundamental attitudes a pastor must have if he is going to preach the Word rightly. The text says:
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” - 2 Timothy 4:2
1. Preachers Are Called to Exert Great Patience
When Paul used the word patience here, he was describing an internal state of emotional calm. The kind of patient forbearance that would carry Timothy - and all pastors - through long seasons of dryness in ministry. Instead of becoming irritated when his congregation did not fully grasp the Gospel, Paul is arguing for a loving and patient approach to preaching that is both diligent and faithful to the work, but also avoids turning to bitterness or irritation.
Paul is holding two thoughts in beautiful tension here. He is saying: Timothy, you must call out sin in the lives of your people, but you must be patient when they are slow to change. Timothy, you must condemn the lifestyle of sin, because it is killing your people, but you must not become bitter when they go wayward. Timothy, you must exhort your people to run into the arms of Christ, for that is where true life is, but you must not lose your patience with them when they cannot keep up.
In a sense, Paul is reminding the man who preaches the Gospel of the Gospel. He is reminding every man that proclaims the truth from God’s Word that God has also been infinitely patient with them! I can only speak for myself here, but I have not understood the Gospel perfectly. I have not turned fully from my sins. I have not ran perfectly to Christ any more than anyone else has. None of us have! And even against the backdrop of our failure, God has been incredibly patient with all of us.
So then, how much more shall the man who preaches this Gospel, also wait patiently on his little flock to understand the Gospel too. How much more should a man who has experienced the grace of God give the grace of God. A man who has tasted the depths of God’s love ought to extend that love to others. This is what it means to be a faithful minister.
2. Preachers Are Called to Provide Instruction
Second, ministers of the Gospel must provide instruction to their people. It is not enough to simply use our words to call out sin, we must teach people what sin is. It is not enough to simply tell people to turn to Jesus, we must show them how.
We must use the full gamut of our language and grammar to illustrate the glorious truth of Scripture to our people. We must explain the text, prove the text, and apply the text with deep exegesis, metaphor, illustration, and personal testimony. We must unpack its truths and help our people experience it! We must take them where we have already gone and show them the beautiful mysteries of Christ that are contained in those wonderful pages. (Eph. 3:4)
To do that a pastor must be in His Bible. He must orient his entire life around the careful reading, studying, and the meditation of God’s Word. If a pastor refuses to dedicate the time needed to understand the text, he will be incapable of instructing others in it. Sadly, this is an epidemic in American Christianity.
Too many pastors, although I am sure many are well-intentioned, spend the majority of their time on tasks they should not be doing and instead neglect the one task that only a pastor can do. This can be a part of the culture of a church, where the pastor is paid to do all of the ministry instead of equipping the saints to do the ministry (Eph. 4:12-16). In fact, many pastors busily run off to do the hospital visits, bulletin printing, board meetings, elder meetings, sanctuary clean up, choir practices, premarital counseling, weddings and funerals, and soon there is no time left for him to spend with God. All of those tasks are good, but when all of that time is spent in service to God and there is no time left to spend with God, well this is a problem. Some pastors believe that this is the best way to love their people, by slaving to do everything except the one thing that matters most, but this is not well-founded.
The twelve apostles also acknowledged this in Acts chapter 6 when they saw this habit of busyness forming in their lives. The church was growing. There were lots of tasks. And soon, they were so busy that they were unwittingly neglecting the primary thing Jesus had called them to do. The text tells us how they decided to handle this:
“So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” - Acts 6:2-4
It is clear, that the pastor must be deeply committed to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. That is the greatest gift he can give his church. Nothing else serves them better than that. For it is that mighty Gospel that is the power of God. And it is that mighty preached Gospel that will build his congregation up in Christ and establish them in truth.
The pastor's job is to preach the truth of God with boldness, to preach the truth with love and tenderness for his people, and to understand that Gospel so well that he can lead his people to dive in and drown in the grace of God. That is what Biblical preaching is.
Kendall Lankford is the lead planting pastor and teaching pastor at The Shepherd's Church and is eagerly praying for and working toward revival in New England