Tag Archives: preaching

Preaching’s Foundational Task and Intended Purpose — Tony Brewer

It has been said of preaching, “Preaching is that unique procedure by which God, through His chosen messenger, reaches down into the human family and brings a person face to face with Himself. Without such confrontation, it is not true preaching” (Koller 13). We must go to the Bible to remember the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose. Looking at the role of the watchman recorded in Ezekiel and Paul’s charge to Timothy, we will notice the design of preaching, the despair of preaching, and the desired result of preaching.

The Design of Preaching

When remembering the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose, we must first remember that preaching is designed to fulfill a purpose. The design of preaching can be seen in Ezekiel’s account of the watchman, and is then mirrored in Paul’s charge to Timothy. God informed Ezekiel in the long ago that He had appointed him to be a watchman unto the house of Israel (Ezek. 3:17). The watchman was to deliver the message from God to the children of Israel so the people could repent of sin and come back into a right relationship with God (Ezek. 3:17-21).

From the language used to inform Ezekiel of the watchman’s task, we know that there is a responsibility of the hearer to take action. We understand that the role of the watchman is to deliver the message from God to inform the hearer of his responsibility to either change or continue his heavenward course. The hearer of the Word of God has a responsibility to react to the Word of God. The New Testament wisdom writer corroborates the responsibility of the hearer (Jas. 1:23-25). The design of preaching is seen, not in the account of the watchman in Ezekiel, but also in Paul’s instruction to Timothy who was charged to preach (2 Tim. 4:1-4).

The role of the watchman mirrors perfectly the foundational task of preaching with which young Timothy, and every Christian, was charged in the New Testament. All Christians are instructed to preach in that we all have an obligation to the Great Commission, and we are commanded to restore those who are overtaken in a fault (Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 6:1). More specifically, Paul instructed Timothy, a preacher, to commit that which he had heard of Paul to faithful men who would be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). Later in that same letter, Paul brings Timothy into the very presence of God and charges him to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). As we can see from the Old Testament example of the watchman in Ezekiel and in the New Testament example of Paul’s charge to Timothy, the design of preaching is to strengthen the resolve to continue a heavenward course (exhort), to warn the people of their sinful state (reprove), and to encourage change for the better (rebuke), which leads us to the despair of preaching.

The Despair of Preaching

Looking further into the role of the watchman, we learn that the hearers of the message may go into a state of despair. Later in the book of Ezekiel, God tells Ezekiel to explain the role of the watchman to the children of Israel (Ezek. 33:1-9). Although the reason behind the information being conveyed to the children of Israel is conjecture, we may surmise that knowing the role of the watchman may alleviate some burden for the watchman, as well as for those who hear the message from the watchman. Assuredly, the hearers were in a deep state of despair and could not fathom how they could live up to the standard that God was setting through His message. They were being convicted of sin and, instead of repenting and turning to God, they were pining away in their sins (v. 10). Also, the children of Israel were asking a question that is only asked from a place of extreme hopelessness and despair: “How should we then live?” (v. 10b). If the watchman brings his audience to this despairing state of mind with no offer of hope, then he has failed in the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose because he has not considered God’s desired result of the hearing of the message. He has brought people low and made them aware of their sinful condition and has left them hopeless. Thankfully, God hears the despairing remarks by the hearers and answers them with mercy and grace. God replies, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (v. 11).

When we preach today, many in the audience are in this same mindset. As mentioned, preachers are to reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). When brought face to face with the sin that is in our lives through preaching, we may be so overwhelmed that we ask the same question asked by the children of Israel in the long ago, “How should we then live?” The mindset behind this question is fundamentally one of despair. I can not do what God wants me to do, God wants too much from me, and God is set against me are all accusations against God from a mindset of despair. However, if a preacher remembers the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose, then the preaching will, in fact, produce God’s desired result.

The Desired Result of Preaching

God revealed His desired result of the watchman’s preaching to Israel. God instructed the watchman to “say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11)

It is like this with the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose. When preaching brings a person to the pit of despair and they cannot fathom how they can live with the censures and mandates God has placed upon them, the preacher’s role is to remind them of God’s desired result of the preaching. Through the watchman, God is reassuring the hearer of the message that He does not want the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). He further charges the wicked to change and live by responding “Why will ye die?”, implying they have the ability to change.
From the time preaching of the cross began until now, man has been plunged into pit of despair saying, “How can we live?” God has answered back from across the expanse of time to ask, “Why do you die?” God has sent His Son so that we might have life, and that more abundantly (John 10:10). “How should we live?” God has sent His Son, grace personified, to teach us how to live and it is the preaching of the cross which conveys that message (Tit. 2:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:21).

Conclusion

The foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose is detailed by Ezekiel’s watchman and again by Paul’s charge to Timothy. God designed preaching to be the foundational task for informing His children of their spiritual condition with the understanding that His desire would be communicated through the despair that comes from being convinced of being in a sinful state. Consequently, the desired result is the restoration of the convicted soul. Preaching either bolsters the righteous and strengthens them in their resolve to keep on the right path, or it convicts the wicked while showing them the love of God and the way back into His good favor. Now the we have remembered the foundational task of preaching and its intended purpose, let us be watchmen and go forward with Paul’s charge to Timothy to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Tony is the gospel preacher for the Bay Church of Christ in Bay, AR. He is a 2015 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching. He also does extensive social media evangelism and Bible teaching.

The Kind of Preaching Needed Today — Roger Leonard

In this article we will consider the kind of preaching needed today. A follow-up article will examine the definition of sound preaching in the next issue.

What kind of preaching is needed today?

Preaching that pleases God. When God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egyptian bondage, He sent him first to the Israelites with these authoritative words: “I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14, NASB). God’s message through Moses to “the elders of Israel” was, “The God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, ‘I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt, and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt… to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:16-17.) Moses then asked God what he should do in the event they would not listen to his voice and deny that God had sent him (Ex. 4:1). God subsequently demonstrated to Moses that the rod which was in his hand would become a serpent to convince them that God had appeared to him, thus giving credence to his message that he spoke for God (vs. 2-5).

But Moses began to make excuses that he was not an eloquent speaker and that he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (v. 10.) So God asked him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (v. 11) God went on to tell Moses He would be with his mouth and teach him what to say (v. 12). Yet Moses begged the Lord to use someone else (v. 13). God became angry with Moses and, although Moses would still be God’s messenger and representative, He let him know that Aaron would be his “mouth” (vs. 14-16) while Moses would maintain the staff and “perform the signs” (v. 17).

God’s plainly stated message: “Then the Lord said to Moses, Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex. 9:1). This Moses did at least ten times and the message never changed.

God later instructed the prophet Jonah: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” The message: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon. 3:2, 4).

Every prophet in the Old Testament was to speak the specific messages which God had given them. No more and no less! The phrase “the word of the Lord” (found some 241 times) was the common theme of God’s prophets. While Peter plainly declared the “the prophet” (Deut. 18:15-19)to be “Jesus, the Christ” (Acts 3:18-23), verses 20-22 of Deuteronomy 18 apply to any prophet. God’s men must speak God’s words!

Under the new Covenant of Christ, we see from the Lord’s command that if we change the gospel we’ll be “accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9). Paul makes it clear here that the goal in preaching must be to please God and not men (v. 10).

Preaching that is proven. Looking back at God with Moses, miraculous proof was presented that he spoke for God. Jonah’s message was supported by the fact that he survived being in the belly of a fish for three days. Jesus corroborates this “sign” by comparing it to His time in the tomb and His own resurrection (Matt. 12:40). We also know the Lord’s apostles and prophets of the first century A.D. “confirmed the word (that they preached) by signs that followed” (Mark 16:20).

Today we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” and “we have the prophetic word made more sure…” (2 Pet. 1:3, 19) in complete, written form. This is what we are to preach! While some balk at book, chapter and verse preaching, the New Testament is filled with references from the Old Testament. Why? Proof! We “preach the word” as proof that our message is from God!

Preaching that is pertinent. Consider the differences in the Lord’s discussion with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Peter’s preaching on Pentecost, and Paul’s message on Mars Hill. In these evangelistic lessons each messenger dealt with the people where they were spiritually, in knowledge, and in understanding. Consider the letters to the seven churches in Asia in Revelation 2 and 3. Every church had different issues to be addressed.

When preparing lessons from week to week for local work, we typically preach to the same people. Yet there are so many different needs. In my classes under Tom Holland, I was taught to know the needs of the church, then to preach to the needs. We learn this by listening during conversations, noting comments made in class, etc. It may be comments about struggling with health issues, personal faith and struggles, or doctrinal confusion. We must prayerfully study for and address these pertinent needs.

Preaching that persuades. When John the Immerser, Jesus, Peter, Stephen and Paul preached, they sought to persuade people to repent and turn to the Lord’s ways (cf. Matt. 3:12; 4:17; John 3:3, 5; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 3:19; 7:51-53; 2 Cor. 5:11). The first word Paul uses in the charge to Timothy in preaching the Word is “reprove” or “convince” (2 Tim. 4:2). The word means “to put to proof, to test; to convict., lay bare, expose” (Mounce). While not all sermons are designed to persuade, if our preaching does not often seek to change the hearers’ hearts then we are falling short of a main goal. People will stay where they are (at best) or fall away (at worst). Preaching must seek to persuade people to change.

Preaching that provides promises. A friend and brother in Christ once sated that “our preaching must offer people hope.” Forgiveness is real (Jer. 31:34; Rom. 11:27)! Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin when we walk in the light (1 John 1:7)! Resurrection is a proven reality (John 20:19-29)! Heaven is promised by Jesus (John 14:1-3), and He is there now (Luke 24:50-53)! While we struggle daily and face opposition, the Lord Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life(Rev. 2:10, emp. added). That is hope!

Lord willing, we will continue this study in the next issue by examining the sound doctrine which makes up the kind of preaching needed today.

Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA. He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.

References

Mounce, William D. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Wm. Mounce Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Social Media Preaching — Will Hester

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have all gained notoriety over the last fourteen years because of the appeal of connection. As a society, we want to feel connected to the world in which we live and social media gives us just that. It has transformed from being only a “college experiment” to an international phenomenon.

Technology is racing to try and keep up with social media, yet we as a church are dragging our feet. Many churches try to buck the trend of being technologically challenged, using Facebook Live, YouTube Live Stream and other types of streaming. However, this has only been within the last six to seven years. Our brethren, for one reason or another, have always been leery of using innovative methods to get the Word out to a lost and dying world. “Don’t fix what is not broken,” is just one statement that has been used in regards to innovative ways to reach the lost.

Christ would say, “Go therefore and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19), but are we truly going into the entire world? There is a notion that we need to only focus on our local communities and maybe the surrounding communities; whether it is in the church right now remains to be seen. Is that what the Great Commission actually says? Did Christ say, “Go therefore into the local community and only the local community?” Christ did not say that then and he is not saying that now. The Great Commission is still as valid today as it was in the first century. Christ does not change and His Word does not change, but our delivery of the message should change to help reach more people.

Every generation has had an advantage over the previous generation with regards to evangelism. Those who lived after the advent of the car and airplane had a bigger advantage than their fathers and mothers. Those of us in the twenty-first century have a major advantage over our parents’ generation. With the advent of the Internet, we can instantaneously let people know about God’s word.

The Hebrews writer would state, “For the word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). The word for “active” here is ἐνεργὴς (energés). This word carries the idea of being full of energy or being effective. As Christians, we must understand that this is a directive to us as well! We must be full of energy for the Lord and the cause of Christ. An energized church will be effective in spreading the gospel to the entire world. Social media is the best conduit for evangelizing a perpetually moving world.

Just as with any good thing, there are negatives that can be recognized. We must be careful with the rhetoric that we use on social media. The previous statement can be taken by some to mean that we should not speak out against false teaching, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. We must, as with anything we say from any forum, speak the truth in love and power. Paul would write, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). He would also state in his letter to the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 4:15-16, “…but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). In these passages, Paul makes it clear to not be ashamed of the Gospel and to speak about that power in love.

The problem the church faces is one of playing catch up to the growing trend of social media evangelism. Most churches are realizing that to be able to spread the gospel to a wider audience they must accept that social media is a resource. Some might say, “Well, we do not have the resources or funds to pay for a camera to be installed at the church,” or, “We do not have internet at the church.” These are excuses and not solutions. In the age of smart phones, there most likely is a person who has one at the church. There are apps that will allow you record your sermon and download that same sermon onto your computer in mp4 format. You can then post that recording on your personal Facebook page. I was once told, “It doesn’t matter what technology you have because you can make anything work in your favor.” Another idea that can be implemented is using the built in camera on your laptop. Understandably, the video most likely will not be high definition quality, but you will be able to put the lessons on the Internet. This can be a temporary fix for a long-term goal.

The previous ideas are easily implemented and can further the evangelism and personal work of the church. Many times we are scared of the unknown to the point that we lose sight of the end goal, which is bringing souls to Christ. Acts 8:4 states, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” We see that, although the Christians were scattered, they were preaching everywhere. They were not ashamed of the Gospel and they were not afraid. We must, with all of the tools at our disposal in the twenty-first century, be willing to do everything we can to bring souls to Christ. In Acts 2:46-47, Luke states, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” When we continue in one accord and the people outside the church see that, then we will have favor with everyone and God will give the increase. Paul would state, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor. 3:6-8).

I recognize that when reading these passages we do not read of social media or the Internet. However, we do read of what we must do as Christians to spread the gospel of Christ. As long as we do not go against Scripture when we spread the Gospel, then we must use any tool at our disposal. Gospel Broadcasting Network based out of South Haven, MS, has taken up the mantle to show churches that it does not have to be as hard as we make it to spread the gospel through various media mediums. After having spoken with Mark Teske, who is one of the men involved with GBN, he says, “If a church has website they can go to the Gospel Broadcasting Network website and copy the embed code of the live stream, then create a page on their website to embed the code. Once embedded on the page and it is made live, then you will have a 24 hour broadcast people can watch from the comfort of their own homes on their computers or other devices.” This simple addition can be wonderful tool to let people see the truth of the Word of God taught in its’ simplicity and power.

My belief is that churches should embrace the use of technology to spread the borders of the kingdom. We have the means and the access, but we must first step out of our comfort zone. Our mission as Christians is to bring souls to Christ each day and to show them the way of true salvation through the Word of God. Some people have never heard the Word preached and are afraid to come to a church service for fear they will be mocked by those in attendance. The avenue of social media is a great way to give those people a chance to hear the Gospel and to become acclimated to the way worship is done. As long as we make sure they understand that they are always welcomed in the services and that they will not be judged for what they have done, then we will see our attendance grow spiritually and numerically.

Social media preaching, when used effectively, is great source and tool to use to bring people to knowledge of the truth that would never have had the opportunity previously in their lives. We must work diligently to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ because souls are in jeopardy. May we strive to bring souls to Christ each day of our lives till the day we are called home to be with our Father!

Will is a fourth-generation gospel preacher who is married to Sarah. He preaches at the Osceola Church of Christ in Osceola, AR.

Preaching From The Old Testament — Victor M. Eskew

When individuals hear that the churches of Christ teach that the Old Testament has been “done away” (2 Cor. 3:11), they often believe that the churches of Christ do not believe in the Old Testament. Such is not true. Too, there are some members of the church who despise any preaching from the Law of Moses since the law has been abolished (Eph. 2:14-15). Again, this is not true. It is true that the Old Covenant has been taken away. Paul wrote: “Blotting out the handwritings of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14). But, this same apostle also wrote: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The Old Testament is not the law that governs man today. The law that now governs man is the New Testament, or, the Law of Christ. The Old Testament, however, is extremely valuable to a person’s studies. There is a wealth of information that can be obtained from it. In this article, we want to examine this topic: “Preaching from An Old Testament Perspective.”

There are so many ways that a preacher can use the Old Testament in his preaching. Let’s list several of them. First, the Old Testament has so much to teach us about God. The opening verse of the Old Testament states: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). So much can be learned about God from this one verse alone. Hundreds of others verses also give us insights into the Almighty God (Gen. 17:1). We learn about His attributes, His promises, His faithfulness, His generosity, His longsuffering, His anger, and His wrath from verses of the Old Testament narrative.

Second, Christ is also found in the Old Testament. He Himself affirmed this to the Jews during His earthly ministry. “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah reveal Him unto us. We also seem a glimpse of Him in a figure referred to as “the angel of the Lord” (Gen. 16:7; Exo. 3:2; Judg. 2:4). Several Old Testament characters are types of Jesus: Melchizedek, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon to name a few. Yes, the Son of God is manifest from Genesis to Malachi.

Third, we can study the narratives of the Old Testament and glean the bountiful harvest of lessons that are found therein. Every text taken from the Old Testament has some lesson that can be learned. In Genesis 2, we learn about marriage. In Genesis 3, we learn about temptation, sin, accountability, and punishment. In Genesis 4, we see the difference in the practice God-ordained worship and man-made worship. We could continue from chapter to chapter to chapter noting the storehouses of lessons the Old Law provides for us.

Fourth, the Old Covenant helps us to understand vital principles that are also taught in the New Testament. We often sing the song Trust and Obey. As Christians, we must practice both of these things to be right with God (Eph. 1:13; Rev. 22:14). These principles, however, are not new. They have been around since the dawn of time. A man who trusted God and obeyed Him was Noah. “By faith Noah…” (Heb. 11:7). Noah heard God’s words about the flood and the ark. He trusted everything that God told him…but he also obeyed. “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (Gen. 6:22). It was his faith that moved him to obey. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark the saving of his house…” (Heb. 11:7). Today, God has not warned us of a flood, nor has He commanded us to build an ark. He has given us other facts, promises, and commands that must be trusted and that must be obeyed. Noah encourages us to do these things. He did and was saved from the waters of the flood. If we will trust and obey, we can be saved from the wrath of God at the last day.

Fifth, preachers can take the Old Testament and preach about books, chapters, and verses found therein. There are thirty-nine unique books in the law. Each book has a theme. This theme can be tied to the overall theme of the Bible, “The Salvation of Fallen Man through Jesus Christ the Son of God.” When Christians come to have an overall view of a book, the internal matters of that book make so much more sense. There are many special chapters that preachers can focus upon such as: The Creation (Gen. 1), The Fall of Man (Gen. 3), The Call of Moses (Ex. 3), Blessings and Curses (Deut. 28), The Contrast of the Godly and the Ungodly (Ps. 1), The Shepherd Psalm (Ps. 23), and The Suffering Servant (Is. 53) just to name of the few well-known chapters. There are also individual verses that stand alone. Joshua 24:15 is one of them: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Another familiar text is found in the little book of Ruth. “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). Many others could also be singled out.

These are just a few of many ways that the Old Testament can be profitably used by ministers of the gospel today. If we ever begin to think that we have run out of preaching material, all we have to do is start reading the book of Genesis. We will find enough sermons in the Old Testament to keep us busy for a lifetime. Many of the New Testament writers did not hesitate to use the Old Testament in their preaching. When we read Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 10, and Hebrews 11 we see this to be true. Dear preacher, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). This includes preaching the wonderful messages of the Old Testament.

Victor is a graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, University of Memphis, and Ambridge University. He is married to Kathleen, and they have three children and six grandchildren. He preaches for the Oceanside congregation in Atlantic Beach, FL.

Preaching Reverently — Robert Curry

The world has no respect for God, His authority, and His Word. Paul wrote, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18, ESV). The apostle expressed that view in the first century to the church in Rome within the culture of the expanding Roman empire, but it could easily apply to our own world. In fact, it is, tragically, not only a loss of a fear of God, but a rejection of authority as a whole. Richard Stennet, a NYU sociologist, commented, “We have come to fear the influence of authority as a threat to our liberties, in the family and in society at large.” So then, such an outlook offers nothing to which one might give honor, respect, and reverence.

Out of this fear and inept worldview there has arisen a rejection of authority in preaching and the result is a loss of divine reverence in preaching. When absolute authority is rejected—all authority in heaven and earth belongs to the Lord (Matt. 28:18)—then the goal of biblical preaching is altered to something more socially palatable. Lost is the recognition of God and the divine authority that lies behind all preaching. Fred Craddock lamented, “But where have all the absolutes gone? The old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minister tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities.”

While the world demands cautious neutrality to anything authoritative, Christianity expects courageous submission to the inescapable authority of God. Yet, “the old thunderbolts” continue to rust in far too many pulpits. Our pews are filled with hearts deadened to the authoritative truth of God’s Word because the Lord is not approached with a desire to be in His presence with reverence.

The Preaching Task

Biblical preaching is an awesome privilege and a serious task, never to be taken lightly for it is centered on the Lord. Tom Holland wrote, “Preaching Christ involves three necessary things: one, preaching a message from Christ; two, preaching a message about Christ; and three, preaching for the purpose of leading men to Christ for salvation.” More than just making a speech or having something to say, preaching, when it is done properly and responsibly, is done as a messenger (Isa. 52:7). Paul alluded to this in Romans 10:15, too often seen only as a general reference to the act of preaching when it is actually a reminder that as a messenger of God’s Word the preacher brings into the pulpit something that originates with and authorized by God. “The man who is a herald for Jesus Christ,” wrote Holland, “or one who serves as an evangelist, does not proclaim his own message. He preaches the message from the King. The evangelist proclaims the good news from the King.”

So then, preachers are given what belongs only to God. Albert Mohler wrote, “The preacher dares to speak in behalf of God, standing in the pulpit as a steward of the mysteries of God.” “This is how one should regard us,” said Paul, “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). The preacher as a steward of what belongs only to God is an intriguing thought. As the stewards of the mysteries of God, preachers are caretakers of the biblical story, seeking to present it to all who will hear it and will respond to God’s authority.

The preaching to which I refer has been associated with expository preaching, which when opened for discussion would elicit a number of responses and definitions. Peter Adam wrote, “Expository sermons help us let God set the agenda for our lives.” Put simply, expository preaching involves the exposition, or comprehensive explanation, of the Scripture; that is, expository preaching presents the meaning and intent of a biblical text, providing commentary and examples to make the passage clear and understandable. The expository preacher’s goal is simply to expose the meaning of the Bible, verse by verse. Mohler commented, “Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people.”

Mohler’s statement, “Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people,” evokes a powerful challenge to the dynamic of biblical preaching. An elder I knew years ago stated that “anybody can preach.” I insist that while many and perhaps most can stand before the congregation and have something to say, to preach as the Bible expects and demands is something far beyond anything casual. If the preacher will perform his task biblically, and so properly, he will realize that the sermon is not the task of the preacher alone, but of the audience as well, for it is a shared experience. That the Word of God has been engaged together must be a goal of preaching. When that is desired by both the preacher and the congregation, a sense of “reverent expectation” forms a foundational element in the preaching event.

Preaching With Reverence

The word “reverence” is translated from two Hebrew words: yare’, “fear, so then respect” (Ps. 89:7; Lev. 19:30; 26:2) and shachah, “falling down, prostrate” (1 Kgs. 1:31; 2 Sam. 9:6; Esther 3:2, 5). In the New Testament “reverence” is rendered from deos, “awe, Godly fear, profound respect” (Heb. 12:28), phobeo, “to be frightened, alarmed; deep respect” (Eph. 5:33), and entrepo, “inferiority & superiority, submission to a higher level” (Matt. 21:37; Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13; Heb. 12:9). So then, “reverence” implies a respectful attitude of submission leading to a sense of honor and esteem of the word of God. This is a very biblical thing for we are to reverence the name of God (Matt. 6:9) and His house (1 Tim. 3:15), His attributes (Mal. 3:6; Eze. 18:25; Is. 45:21-22; 1 John 4:8; Titus 1:2), His commands (Jn. 12:50), and, therefore, His word (Ps. 119:160; John 17:17). This reverence represents our desire for and the privilege of worship (John 4:24).

To preach with reverence begins and ends with one profound truth: what is proclaimed is the very Word of God. The preacher has been entrusted with what belongs only to God and that is a staggering realization for any man who takes the task of preaching seriously. The English preacher and scholar, William Gouge (1575-1653), wrote that preachers preach the Word of God in four respects: (1) the preacher realizes and embraces that the author of the text proclaimed is God (e.g. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21); (2) the subject matter of the biblical text is the will of God (e.g. Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:17); (3) the Word is to exalt the glory of God (e.g. John 1:14; 1 or. 10:31); and (4) the effect and power of preaching the Word of God is salvation (e.g. Ps. 3:8; Rom. 1:16; Col. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). We can see then that biblical preaching requires recognition of reverence toward what is being presented. The speaker and hearers together must enter into the preaching event with a reverence toward what is being said and done. In so doing the congregation expresses a true sense of reverence for biblical preaching, understanding that the sermon brings the word of Christ into the worship of the assembly.

Conclusion

Preaching the Word of God is an awesome, but serious task, one never to be taken lightly. To understand and embrace the Bible’s authority to guide (2 Tim. 3:16), its power for salvation (Rom. 1:16), and its timelessness (Is. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25) will lead any responsible and faithful preacher to embrace his task with reverence. By the essence of its vitality the preaching event becomes the task of the man who acts as a steward of the very words of God, for he proclaims from the depths of his heart the good news of eternal salvation.

Knowing and embracing this demands that the preacher enters the act of preaching with reverence to all that belongs to God.

Robert has preached for forty years and presently preaches for the church of Christ in Sidney, MT. He is a published author, former adjunct professor, and teacher in the mission field.

 

References

  1. https://www.albertmohler.com/2013/09/06/preaching-with-authority-three characteristics-of-expository-preaching/
  2. Fred B. Craddock, As One Without Authority (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), 13.
  3. Tom Holland, Preaching: Principles and Practice, Vol. 1, Homiletic Handbook (Henderson, TN: Holland Publications, 1974), pgs. 53, 39.
  4. Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Expository Preaching (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 128.
  5. https://www.apuritansmind.com/pastors-study/preaching-gods-word-by-dr-william-gouge/

Having To Say Something Or Having Something To Say — David Bragg

Mark Twain is credited with saying that the “difference between the almost right word and the right word is…the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” (www.goodreads.com). A similar dilemma faces the preacher trying to make the decision of what to preach on Sunday. The terrifying answer, from the viewpoint of the pew, is that the preacher simply comes up with something to say. The exhilarating answer, from the viewpoint of the pulpit, is that the preacher will have something to say that will help, bless, and challenge others to walk closer to God.

If there are exceptions, they are rare. No preacher should be frantically searching on Saturday night to decide what they will preach on Sunday morning. To do so, especially habitually, is to reflect a gross lack of understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a gospel preacher. The speaker who struggles from week to week to come up with “something to say” is not only destined for frustration, but will be doing a disservice to those whom he seeks to serve. Of even greater significance, he will be failing God by not becoming the man and the minister God wants him to become.

To be fair, the struggle of a preacher over the conundrum of what to preach may not be so easily dismissed as inadequate training or poor time management. The fact is that Sunday rolls around every week. In many cases, that means the preacher is required to prepare a lesson for Bible class and present two sermons. Then there is the mid-week Bible class. To properly prepare a Bible class lesson or sermon requires a greater investment of time and energy than many people expect. Add to these expectations other tasks such as hospital and home visits, personal evangelism, counseling, benevolence calls, editing and preparing the church bulletin, weddings, funerals, youth events, following up on visitors, keeping tabs on members who have become lax in attendance, mending friction, concerns and complaints that arise between members, and a multitude of other expectations placed upon the preacher. These can contribute to the preacher’s struggle with sermon preparation. In addition, the preacher must not neglect his family, a delicate balance especially as his children grow older. A sensitive eldership and observant church leaders should do what they can to make sure the preacher has adequate time for sermon preparation.

Ultimately, however, the preacher is responsible for how he uses his time in sermon preparation. Fortunately, there are some important steps to progress from needing to say something to having something beneficial to say.

First is to develop a healthy devotional life. When it comes to the Bible, familiarity breeds spiritual maturity. If the preacher is not growing spiritually, how can he expect such growth from those he teaches? If as a young preacher one adopts the disciple of reading through the Bible once a year, imagine the blessings he would reach after twenty years. There is much to be said for such devotional practices in which one does not read the Bible looking for a lesson to preach but rather to gain insight into drawing closer and enriching his relationship with God. Such deepening knowledge of God’s inspired Word will pay rich dividends.

One of the best ways for the preacher to avoid the turmoil of staring at a blank piece of paper on his desk, desperately willing that an idea will come to him so he will have something to say as Sunday morning rapidly approaches, is to adopt a workable plan or timetable for his sermons. The preacher who etches out a proposed plan, even if it is only a month ahead, alleviates a tremendous amount of pressure. Extending out further to three, six, or even twelve months of proposed sermons will allow the preacher to have more “breathing room” from the frantic stress of last minute sermon preparation. Such an approach will allow the preacher to chart out his lessons to ensure that his sermons have a more balanced representation from all various divisions of the Bible (Acts 20:27), provide him more time to “live with” the text or topic while accumulating insight into the deeper meaning of God’s Word, look for and collect relevant and memorable illustrations, and make personal application to his own life before challenging others to do the same.

A third suggestion is for the preacher to demand of himself never to step into the pulpit to preach a sermon without a clear, practical purpose. Except for delivering a lesson at odds with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3), few things will be more unfair to those in the pew than to walk away from a sermon asking, “So what?” What does God expect to result from the study of the text or topic the preacher has selected? A clear purpose statement will serve the preacher well as a guide to what the lesson should accomplish and a measure for how well he has achieved that purpose. With these thoughts in mind, the preacher can step into the pulpit with greater confidence that he has prepared something worth saying that will bring a blessing to his hearers and glory to God.

One of the great privileges in life is to stand before a congregation of God’s people and proclaim the Word. He does not proclaim a message of his own making. If he has done his job properly he will stand as a herald proclaiming God’s truth. The herald is only a middleman speaking on behalf of one with greater authority. He speaks on behalf of the king. When the preacher stands before a congregation to preach, he is not speaking on his own authority, but on the authority of the King! Therefore, the preacher takes onto his shoulders a tremendous responsibility as he dares to stand and deliver a lesson from the eternal King (Jas. 3:1).

David serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

 

Lessons From Chapter Four of 1 & 2 Timothy — Stephen Scaggs

Elvis has left the building.  A well-known idiom, it means that it’s all over, the show has come to an end.  In his last two epistles to Timothy, Paul is basically saying, “Paul is leaving the building.”  Yet he ends each epistle with an appeal to the glorious hope which awaits us all…when we leave the building.  In the fourth chapter of each respective epistle, Paul tells Timothy that he needs to take his ministry seriously if he is going to be successful as a minister.  Paul is passing the torch in his second epistle to Timothy; he charges Timothy in God’s sacred court to preach the Word.  In this article I would like to share some lessons we can learn from the fourth chapter of both of these epistles.

While these books have general application for all Christians, their primary application deals with preachers.  As preachers, we must be careful not to fall away (1 Ti. 4:1-5).  Rather, we must discipline ourselves (vs. 6-10) and allow our ministry to reflect in both our walk and our work (vs. 11-16).  We must also preach and hear God’s Word faithfully (2 Ti. 4:1-5), finishing our ministry well (vs. 6-8) while preparing ourselves to face life’s winters (vs. 9-22).

How To Behave In God’s Household

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, the real purpose of the letter is revealed.  Paul had presented his purpose in writing in the previous chapter.  He had stated he was writing these things to instruct Timothy on how to conduct himself while administering the affairs of the church (3:14-4:10), while also encouraging Timothy by providing him counsel concerning his own spiritual progress (4:11-16).

Falling Away (1 Ti. 4:1-5).  Paul first discusses the present problem.  Apparently this is an explicit prophecy about apostasy.  Perhaps he is referring to Jesus’ prediction about the apostasy before the destruction of Jerusalem (Mk. 13:22), or to other prophecies Paul had made (2 Th. 2:1-12; Ac. 20:29).  Some in Ephesus were already apostatizing; we know they were already wilting by the end of the first century (Re. 2:4-5).  This present apostasy are people that are not enjoying God and the blessings He provides, but rather denying certain things.

Paul tells Timothy that this warfare is spiritual, something he had already told the Ephesians (Ep. 6:10-20).  Paul told them that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12).  Some of these teachers were following deceitful forces and demonic teaching (2 Co. 11:13-15).  Demonic influence can be blatant and obvious, but also subtle.  Evil spirits continue to work in churches to thwart God’s truth by their demonic doctrines.

Falling away always begins in the mind because the mind is the seat of all facilities for the body.  These spirits are misleading.  The teachings they espouse appear healthy, but they are a recipe for disaster.  They try to get into your head and twist your thinking.  However, God’s people believe and know the truth (4:3).

Falling away leads from the mind to our morals.  The demonic teaching seared people’s consciences (4:2).  Instead of leading them to repentance, their wrong thinking led them to wrong morals.  Biblically speaking, a person that apostatizes can go in two directions: either legalism (2 Ti. 4:1-5) or licentiousness (2 Pe. 2:1-3; Jude 1:18-20).  These Christian teachers forbade marriage and certain foods, probably an early form of Gnosticism.  Some concluded that since the body was evil, we must discipline the body through asceticism (i.e., a rigorous denial of self and pleasure); others concluded that since the body was evil anyways, it did not matter what you did in your body.  These are the results of wrong thinking, stemming from deceitful spirits.

Paul then discusses what Timothy’s perspective should be.  This apostatizing was already taking place and Paul warns Timothy to be on his guard.  In contrast to falling away, the remedy is holding to God’s truths with thankfulness, gratefully enjoying God and his creation.

Literally, these people are hypocritical teachers who speak false things.  When I say “hypocritical,” I suggest “a practical denial of their” inner self (Wieseler).  They concealed their more legalistic convictions, but had an open verbal profession of adhering to the Christian way.  To salve their guilty conscience, they took a hot iron and seared it shut.  The prescription medication for a seared conscience is allowing God’s truths and goodness to melt the inner man — allowing the Bible to confront our sins and enjoying the simple pleasures in life that God gives to every one of us.

Paul mentions gratitude twice in the text.  If we overflow with gratitude (Ep. 5:20; 1 Th. 5:18), our consciences cannot be seared shut.  If we are bitter or grumble toward God, we will doubt God’s goodness and will eventually fall away.  In a practical manner, we can be thankful for our spiritual blessings in our physical joys.  God wants us to enjoy this world with its literature, art, and music; its mountains, oceans, and valleys.  God wants us to share meals, to enjoy marriage, and to participate in the joy of creation.  However, in these things we should not just enjoy the gift, but the Giver of all good gifts.  Yes, we do not need to overindulge or become self-centered (Paul deals with discipline immediately after), but Paul’s point is that all of life is spiritual and sacred.

This extends beyond saying table grace, but to all our life.  Whether we hike in the mountains, enjoy the warm company of family and friends, a concert, or a good book, it ought to exuberate with prayers of thankfulness.

Discipline That Matters (1 Ti. 4:6-10).  Paul’s message to the young evangelist Timothy is that if he wishes to succeed in his service, he must be disciplined in God’s Word and healthy teaching. Perhaps Timothy desired to be disciplined, but he had several old habits into which he just kept falling back. The key to discipline is motivation. Athletes drive themselves relentlessly for years because they are motivated to win that gold medal and all the implications it carries. We must push ourselves to do what we don’t want to do to achieve what we’ve always wanted to be. Our motivation is eternity and all the implications of eternity.

Eternity should motivate us. While Paul does not despise bodily exercise, he is making a comparison between bodily and spiritual; while the body is temporary, the spirit is eternal (4:8). Many live for this life, but fail to live for eternity. Many are obsessed with beauty and health, dietary restrictions, and physical performance, but none of that will change that death is inevitable.

The living God should motivate us. Paul said that he had set his hope on the living God.  He is not merely a projection of Paul’s mind.  God created the universe and all that is in it. Because he is living, Paul could commune and draw strength with him daily. If it is true that God is living and our hope is fixated on him, then the living God should motivate us.

Salvation should also motivate us. Paul tells us that God is the Savior of all humanity, and thus counters the teachers he mentioned before who bound their dietary laws and forbade marriage. In effect, Paul is saying, “God wants to save all types of people, in every place, from every walk of life. He has provided salvation for all, but not all are saved.” Apart from Christ, humanity is alienated from God, but with God humanity has sufficient salvation. This fact of our salvation ought to motivate us.

What is discipline? Discipline is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. Paul uses the verb in the present imperative, stressing continuous action. Discipline involves hard work. Paul said, “We labor and strive.” “Strive” is a wrestling term, giving all strength to win. Discipline means discarding hindrances. Paul encourages Timothy not to have anything to do with the random babbling of the false teachers. The Greek word for discipline implies stripping off hindrances – if we’re going to win, we must strip off the weights. Discipline means keeping your eyes on the goal. Paul tells Timothy that the goal is godliness, growing in conformity to God, taking God seriously, and recognizing the implications of a godly life.

How do we implement discipline?  By nourishing our faith with truths (4:6b), continually feeding on God’s spiritual nuggets.  Spiritual warfare involves the mind and affects the morals.  We must take in God’s Word by hearing it preached and reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it.  We must be obedient to the truths that we are following (4:6c).  True wisdom is not intellectual knowledge, or an accumulative database of facts.  True wisdom reaches out and changes lives.

Timothy’s Walk and Work for Christ (1 Ti. 4:11-16).  Paul tells us in another place that God gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ep. 4:11-12). It seems as if there are droves who are either burning out on ministry because they are exhausted or bombing out of ministry because of moral failure. Timothy’s danger was that he would just fade out of the ministry because his timid personality tended to want to avoid conflict. The fact is that we cannot preach God’s truths without inevitably confronting error and offending some people. Timothy was in danger of neglecting his ministry (4:14), so Paul took him under his wing out of love for him.

Paul tells Timothy to pay close attention to himself (his walk) and to his teaching (his work.)  He gave similar advice to the Ephesian elders (Ac. 20:28).  The goal of every disciple is to develop godliness through daily discipline, walking with the Lord.  The walk and work of a preacher ought to be inseparable.

In ancient times, age meant a lot.  Often just having gray hair was a sign of a credential. The young Timothy was probably somewhere in his late 20’s or early 30’s. Paul tells the young man to not “let anyone look down your youthfulness.” Some might shrug Timothy’s teaching because, “Well, he’s too young to know what he’s talking about.” If your message is backed by a disciplined, godly life, then it doesn’t matter how young or how old you are.

Paul mentions five areas where Timothy needed discipline for godliness: speech, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. No one would respect Timothy’s message if his mouth was full of sarcasm, profanity, ridicule, gossip, blaming, destructive criticism, angry words of threat and revenge, griping, complaining, lying, filthy talk, or dirty jokes (Ep. 4:29). Honesty, integrity, how we spend our time and money, priorities, attitude toward possessions, personal appearance, home, how we treat people…all of these factors would be important if any would take Timothy seriously. Without agape love, he would fail in crafting people into growth. If love does not permeate our life, then we will fail in our ministry (cf. 1 Co. 13). If Timothy was going to succeed in his ministry, he would need to be consistent in his life, unlike the hypocritical teachers that Paul mentioned earlier. If he was to succeed in his ministry, he would have to expunge sickly thinking from his mind. Timothy’s walk was essential if he was going to be successful.

Timothy was to focus on the public ministry of the Word. He was to read it aloud (especially in an illiterate society), apply it to life (“exhortation”), and teach it (4:13). Paul tells Timothy not to neglect his public ministry (4:14), to take pains to progress it (4:15), and to persevere in it (4:16).

Every believer has a gift whether in benevolence, evangelism, or edification. The elders laid their hands on Timothy, prayed for him, and empowered him via encouragement. Timothy had to develop his teaching. Paul tells him, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them.” “Pay close attention.” “Persevere in these things.” Paul later tells him to rekindle the fire (2 Ti. 1:16). Sometimes preachers get discouraged.

Timothy was a timid person. While timidity is not a negative trait, Timothy allowed it to affect his ministry. Paul tells Timothy to grow in confidence and authority, backed by a godly life (4:11). He tells him to grow thick skin for when opposition comes (4:16).  Going back to the seriousness of ministry, Paul concludes by saying, “You will save both yourself and those who hear you.” Timothy was to have a view of eternity.  Even if he was catching flak, he was to persevere.

Timothy needed to persevere in God’s truth with thankfulness. Because of what was at stake, Timothy needed to discipline himself for godly living. Timothy’s walk with Christ a necessary basis for his work for Christ.

As servants today, we need to persevere in God’s spiritual truths with grateful hearts. As servants today, we need to be motivated by what is at stake and discipline ourselves to godly living. As servants today, we need to make sure our walk with Christ is in step with our work for Christ. If we our ministry is going to be successful, we cannot allow our fear to paralyze us from performing these solemn, sacred duties.

Timothy’s Charge

The last 22 verses of 2 Timothy are Paul’s final recorded words before the apostle’s execution.  Having just emphasized the trustworthy nature of that Word and its vital importance (3:16-17), he now charges Timothy to be faithful in heralding that Word (4:1-5). He then reminisces that he has fought and he is finishing well (4:6-8). He then asks a few things in the face of winter, a doxology, and a few other miscellaneous concluding remarks (4:9-22).

Preaching the Word (2 Ti. 4:1-5).  Why preach?  Preaching the Word is a serious charge.  Paul invokes Timothy to take an oath as in a court of law before God and Christ.  Timothy was to preach with a view of eternity, which reflects the seriousness of preaching and the solemnity that ought to be a trait of all preachers.  How many preachers today have taken this solemn oath in God’s court?

What to preach? We have a few clues in the immediate context. Paul references the Scriptures earlier (3:16-17), followed immediately by the command to preach. The Word (4:2) is the God-breathed Scripture (3:16). Paul gives the reason for preaching the Word (4:3). He refers to the Word as sound teaching. He has a solemn duty to herald the King’s messages for the people, as do we.

When to preach? Paul answers this question: in season and out of season. Preaching must not be play; it must be a life-consuming passion. A rhetorical question might be, “When not to preach?” As Timothy, we need to be ready in view of eternity, which implies readiness always.

How to preach? Paul charged Timothy to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. How? “With great patience and instruction.” We need to show people where their life is not in line with God’s truths and we need to show them how to make those steps back in line with God’s truths with patience and instruction in mind. People require time to change – they don’t always get it on the first time around. He gives them careful instruction to help them in view of eternity. We also need to be patient with the people we teach.

Hear the Word.  Paul charges Timothy to preach healthy teaching, which would result in healthy living.  Healthy teaching does not always mean that society and culture will like it.  Why preach healthy teaching?  Paul answers, “Because otherwise people’s ears shall turn aside to myths.”  Like Timothy, we cannot allow public opinion to override our personal convictions.  Like Timothy, we must confront sin, give encouragement, and strengthen the struggling.

Persevere in the Word.  Paul tells Timothy to persevere despite people not listening to him. First, Paul tells Timothy to keep a clear head.  Some preachers get so caught up in the little details that they miss out on what is going on around them. We must keep alert. Many young preachers tend to allow themselves to be easily influenced by things going on around them, perhaps also taking a side.  This is a danger we need to avoid.

Paul also tells Timothy to put up with flak.  A preacher is going to catch flak.  If he is going to remain a preacher for very long, he is going to have to grow thick skin…but still be patient!  We must find a healthy middle ground in that we must become resilient while not becoming calloused.

Paul then tells Timothy to get his job done.  Despite modern definitions of the word “evangelist,” the term euaggelistes simply means a preacher of a good report.  An evangelist’s true success is measured primarily on whether he is faithful in proclaiming the Word.

Paul also tells Timothy to discharge all his duties in his service to King Jesus.  This requires faithfulness in proclaiming the Word, suffering the hardship as a soldier.  What Paul is about to write concerning how he has fulfilled his service to his King and is about to die embraces this idea.

Finishing Well (2 Ti. 4:6-8).  Paul viewed his past, present, and future all with confidence and conviction.  How many of us as preachers live in such a way that we can say these same words when it is the time for our departure?  How many of us are passing the torch to the younger generation?

Paul views the present (4:6).  He reminds Timothy of his circumstances by basically saying, “I am about to die.”  The flow of thought is this:  “Even in opposition, Timothy, you must preach the Word because I am about to die.  I am passing the torch.”  Dying is easier when we know that we’re leaving behind people that can carry on with Christ.  Paul did not view his execution as tragic, but saw it as the culminating drink offering being poured onto an existing sacrificial life (cf. Ro. 12:1-2; Nu. 28:7).  He refers to his death as a departure, literally the unyoking of an animal from his plow, the loosening of a rope from a soldier’s tent, or releasing the mooring ropes of a ship.  Death means the end of our physical strains, that the victory is won, and our earthly vessel awaits the culmination which is to come.

Paul views the past (4:7).  While reminiscing about the past, he recalls, “I have fought a good fight,” using an athletic metaphor about either a wrestling match or race.  We are in an onslaught “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12, ESV).  If our living centers around comfort and pleasure, can we say we have fought a good fight?  Paul recalls, “I have finished the course,” using another athletic metaphor.  Per legend, the Greek marathon originated after a decisive battle between Greece and Persia, when a Greek soldier ran from Marathon to Athens with the gospel (good news) that they had won the battle in Marathon against Persia and then dropped dead from overexertion.  Paul said with confidence that he had finished his course.  He recalls, “I have guarded the faith.”  Timothy was to guard that deposit (1 Ti. 6:20; 2 Ti. 1:12, 14).  Paul is basically saying, “I have done precisely what I told you to do.  I have guarded it with my life, and now you do the same.”  Paul viewed his past with confidence and his present with conviction.

Paul views the future (4:8).  He reassures Timothy and himself about the future.  Paul desired to meet the Lord, the righteous Judge.  Despite his dismal circumstances, he had security about the future.  He did not fear the final judgment.  Rather, Paul lived in view of that day when he would receive that garland wreath of righteousness, that prize given to the victor of the Olympian games.  Not all receive a crown, but only those who participated in the games (1 Co. 9:24-25).  Even though his earthly judge wrongly condemned him, he knew that the righteous Judge would vindicate him.  Even though he knew that evil wins the battle temporarily, he knew that the Lord would come in a day of reckoning.  Even though he knew life was unjust, he believed in the One who brings equalization to all.

Facing Winter (2 Ti. 4:9-22).  As Paul concludes his final letter to his beloved son in the faith, he urges Timothy to make every effort to come to him before winter.  Paul was human.  He is wrestling with his feelings and disappointments.  However, he was also confident in the Lord.  He triumphantly states, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen” (4:18).  Such an amazing attitude is something we as preachers need to take to heart.

Committing to Christ (4:17-18, 22).  Even in a cold, dark dungeon in Rome, Paul reveals five things about the Lord.  He is sovereign.  Even though God could have rescued Paul from the evil deeds of wicked men, He delivered Paul through them.  He is ever-present.  Paul said, “The Lord stood with me…The Lord be with (Timothy’s) spirit.”  Even with no one around him, Paul had company.  He is saving.  Paul said confidently, “He will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”  Even in the face of death, Paul would be saved.  He is glorious.  Paul said in a doxology, “To him be the glory forever and ever.”  Even in shackles, God retains His glory.  He is gracious.  Paul’s final words are, “(God’s) grace be with you.”  Paul was committed to the living Lord.

Committing to the Cause (4:11, 14-17).  Even in a jail cell, Paul is still strong.  Even in the face of death, Paul still refers to his ever-present ministry and service (4:11).  This is truly what it means to preach out of season.  Whatever circumstances we face, we seize our opportunities for ministry.  Nero was torturing Christians; testing in Nero’s court meant peril and danger.  Paul said, “No one stood with me.”  The Roman Christians were committed, but they were afraid.  Paul is gracious to them, shown by his words, “May it not be counted against them.”  Alexander opposed the cause.  Paul recounted how he had done him much harm.  While we don’t know who this was, it is likely he was a believer and perhaps the one who informed the Roman authorities to arrest him.  Paul said, “The Lord will repay him for his deeds.”  Paul was stating fact; while he did not desire personal revenge, he trusted in God to make everything right.  Demas was committed, but deserted the cause.  He used to be a fellow worker (Phile. 24), but he fled now that identifying with Paul meant death.  We do not know if he repented like Peter had after denying Christ, but in that moment he was not committed.

Committing with Others (4:9-10, 12, 19-21).  Paul was not a lone ranger.  He trusted in his fellow workers:  Timothy, Crescens, Titus, Tychicus, John Mark, Carpus, Prisca and Aquila, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, along with all the brethren in Rome.  He was not  a loner.  He was committed with others, and they labored together.

Committing to Growth (4:13).  Knowing of his imminent execution, Paul wants Timothy to bring him his books.  Paul didn’t tell him, “Bring me my TV and movies.”  He wanted to use his mind to read and think.  He wanted to develop his mind.  He wanted to develop his soul, to know Christ more and more.  He wanted to take care of his character.  Even at the end of his life, Paul still had room to grow.

Paul was confident that Timothy would keep his charge (4:1-5).  He was convicted in and committed to his risen Lord (4:6-22).  This should be our goal as well.

scaggsstephen@gmail.com

 Stephen preaches at the Collinsville Church of Christ in Collinsville, VA.  He is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN.  He is married to Rebekah and they have two children, Emmett and one on the way!