I recently started a new work as the pulpit minister at a new congregation. As I began preparing to take on this new work, I started contemplating anew the responsibilities laid out in Scripture for preachers. It’s always been good for me to meditate on these things from time to time, and my study on these matters certainly benefited me this time. Let me share with you what I’ve found God desires and expects from those who preach His Word to the church and to the lost. I pray this will prove helpful to all preachers who read it, and that it will give all Christians who are not preachers some insight into what they themselves should expect from their preachers.
God inspired Paul to write to the church, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:11-14). Here we see the purpose of the Holy Spirit-inspired writings of the apostles and prophets which make up the New Testament (Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:19-21), as well as the purpose behind the work of evangelists and teachers such as myself and the shepherds who are the elders of the local congregation (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). It is “to equip the saints.” “Saints” (hagios) is often used to refer to those whom God calls to be holy and sanctified…Christians (cf. Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 1:15-16; John 17:17; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11). The New Testament refers to all Christians as “saints by calling” (1 Cor. 1:2; cf. Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; et al). Thus, the purpose of the New Tetament and the work of preachers, elders, and teachers is to equip each Christian who sits in the pews.
Equip for what? “The work of ministry.” “Building up the body of Christ.” Saints, our Lord wants all of us to serve His cause and kingdom. He wants us to build up the body of Christ which is His church (Col. 1:18). When preachers “preach the Word” (2 tim. 4:2) and teach it in Bible classes, articles, and personal Bible studies, their aim must be the same objective that shepherds have as they oversee the classes and various ministries in which all members of the church must participate. That goal must be to help all Christians become better servants of God and help the church grow stronger spiritually.
By doing so, we will “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” We will reach spiritual “mature manhood.” We will attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, we will grow more complete spiritually as we become more united by the faith and knowledge of Jesus which comes only from learning and obeying Scripture. We will therefore have a portion of the spiritual adulthood (“the measure of the stature”) which God wishes for Christ’s church (“the fullness of Christ,” cf. Eph. 1:22-23). By “growing up” spiritually, we will “no longer be children” who are so easily deceived by false doctrine and Satan’s “craftiness” and “deceitful schemes” which are so often manifested by the “cunning” of his followers.
This is why it is so important that preachers teach nothing but biblical truth. Paul “charged” the preacher Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Elsewhere he would call it “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Basically, preachers must preach the entire Bible, “the entirety of Your Word (which is) truth” (Ps. 119:160). They must do so when it’s popular (“in season”) and when it’s not popular (“out of season”). They must do so in a balanced way, preaching sermons that do indeed “reprove” and “rebuke” when necessary while also making sure to preach sermons which “exhort.” Preachers must be “complete” in both their “patience” and “teaching.” People do not grow to become what God would have them to be overnight. It takes time, usually lots and lots of time, and so preachers must be very patient with their brethren and with the lost to whom they proclaim the gospel. They must also make sure that they hold back nothing, teaching absolutely everything in Scripture so that the listeners over time will be richly benefited in spiritual food. Additionally, one of the goals of our teaching must be to make other teachers, “entrust(ing) to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). By making sure that the brethren have a good, enriching diet of spiritual food from the Word every week, we will be helping many of them become sound teachers themselves.
Paul then supplied the reason for doing these things: “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 Tim. 4:3-4). Not everyone will like the biblical truth which preachers preach. Many lost souls will reject it, and some while doing so will respond by persecuting the preacher in various ways. Sadly, some of the preacher’s fellow Christians will respond in the same way and make his life very hard at times. These poor souls would rather believe Satan’s myths which make them feel good about themselves than God’s truth which shows them not only how they really are but also how to become better. Regardless, preachers must still preach the truth of God’s Word and nothing else.
Through Paul God gives the preacher this promise: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). In order to be “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine,” preachers must “give attention to reading” of Scripture, as well as “to exhortation, to teaching” (v. 13). Their “delight (must be) in the law of the Lord, and on his law (they) meditate day and night” like all Christians must likewise do (Ps. 1:2). They must “immerse” themselves in the Bible (1 Tim. 4:15). Significant time every day must be spent in deep study of the entirety of Scripture. Preachers, make sure that you spend time every day in a quiet office, studying and meditating on God’s Word, broadening the horizons of your knowledge of Scripture with each passing week. Nothing will be more beneficial to your ministry.
Not only that, but preachers must also “practice” what they study and preach (v. 15). I’ve found that in order to “practice what I preach,” I must heed the instruction given to preachers and Christians in 1 Timothy 4:16a: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (cf. Acts 20:28; 2 Cor. 13:5). Nothing helps a preacher more closely examine and thus better understand the teachings of Scripture than when he is closely examining himself in light of those teachings.
Timothy was commanded, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (2 Tim. 4:12). Therefore, we must set the right example concerning our speech. We must “let no unwholesome word proceed from (our) mouth,” but instead speak only what “is good for edification,” “giv(ing) grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29; cf. 5:4; Matt. 12:34-37). Concerning our conduct, we must “conduct (ourselves) in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27), recognizing that all that we do or say could either attract souls to Christ or repel them (cf. Col. 4:5; 2 Pet. 3:11). That famous definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? We must practice it as best we can every day if we are set the proper example in love. As for purity, let us remember that the Pharisees looked very pious on the outside but they did not “clean (katharizo, purify) the inside…” (Matt. 23:26). Preachers, we must be “pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8). Our actions must set the example of purity to others, especially when it comes to our interactions with our sisters in Christ, whom we are commanded to treat “in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2).
Our faith which is founded in Scripture (Rom. 10:17) must be strong and exemplary…but not just that kind of faith. We must also set the proper example when it comes to the Romans 14 kind of faith, the “faith” which consists of our own opinions, preferences, and scruples (14:1), the faith which we and all other Christians are specifically commanded to “keep between yourself and God” (14:22). I learned the hard way that nothing hurts my influence or ministry more than being extremely opinionated on everything, especially the current events of the day. Choosing to keep quiet about such matters for the sake of the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31-33) is something about which I’m still working hard to improve myself. Preachers, it would do us good to think about things like this.
Preachers must realize that, with the exception of preaching from the pulpit, teaching public Bible classes, writing bulletin articles, and things like that, what God expects of the preacher is what God expects from all Christians. Thus, preachers should visit the sick not because they’re preachers but because they’re Christians (Matt. 25:34-46; Gal. 6:10). We must study our Bibles every day not only because we’re preachers but even more so because we’re Christians (Ps. 1:2). We must be faithful to our wives, not take God’s name in vain or curse, be polite, faithfully attend church services, and much more…because we’re Christians, not just preachers. As preachers, we are called to set the example in these matters. And yet, those of you reading this who are Christians but not preachers…what good are examples if they are not followed? (1 Cor. 11:1)
Like Ezra, preachers must “set (our) heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules…” (Ez. 7:10). In other words, we must study, make sure we’re living what we preach, and preach and teach it to others. By doing so, we “will save both (ourselves) and (our) hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Above all, let us not forget that we are “evangelists” (Eph. 4:11). Our studies, our teachings, the equipping of the saints, the example we set…all of it is towards the end of “making disciples” and “preaching the gospel” (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16). So take time to go out into the community, start relationships with the lost, and work to study the gospel with them. Encourage the brethren to do the same and introduce you to the friends, family, and co-workers they know who are lost so you can study with them. Remember, the reason we are part of God’s family is to tell the world about him (1 Pet. 2:9). So preach the gospel!