The last days of the apostle Paul were spent in a Roman prison awaiting death under the wicked emperor Nero. Not long before his death, the apostle wrote his second letter to Timothy. This was the last of Paul's apostolic letters, and in it he shows that he was gravely concerned about the condition of the church after his departure. False teachers had already begun to arise in the church "teaching perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Paul knew that the doctrinal and moral purity of the church would depend largely upon the soundness of the teaching it received. He therefore issued to Timothy a most solemn charge regarding the duty of one who preaches the gospel of Christ. Paul said, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (2 Timothy 4:1, 2.)
This divine charge needs to be observed by preachers today even as it was needed in Timothy's day. The word of God has not changed, nor has the need for preaching the word changed. False teachers still arise "teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." These must be opposed and exposed so that disciples of the Lord will not be drawn from the truth by their "good words and fair speeches," and so that others who would be servants of the Lord will not be led into the ditch by blind guides. Let us consider, therefore, some lessons we can learn from Paul's charge to Timothy.
One could scarcely read these verses without being impressed with the fact that the first and foremost duty of a gospel preacher is to preach the word. The Lord did not intend that preachers as such should be pastors. The practice of calling the preacher the pastor of a church developed as a result of men's rejecting the word of God as their guide in religion and in their establishing systems of their own choosing. In the New Testament churches there was always a plurality of pastors or elders over each local church. Paul's practice was to ordain "elders in every church." (Acts 14:23.) There was no such thing in that day as one man's being the pastor of the church. Nor was the preacher considered a pastor simply because he preached the word. Sometimes a preacher was chosen by the church to serve as one of its pastors, but when this occurred the preacher served as pastor in addition to his service as a preacher. The duties of each office were kept separate and distinct. The elders or pastors were the overseers and rulers of the local church. The duty of the preacher was to preach the word.
Preaching the word is not a matter of choice with preachers. Preaching the word is a divine command. The preacher has no choice but to preach the word if he would serve the Lord. The command to preach the word is both inclusive and exclusive. Preaching the word includes preaching anything contained in the word. Preachers are not at liberty to omit any part of God's truth regardless of how distasteful or unpleasant the preaching of it might be. He does not perform his work to please men. The Lord never intended for preachers to be ear ticklers. Paul declared, "I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (Rom. 15:19.) Concerning his work among the Ephesians he said, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you… Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." (Acts 20:20, 26, 27.) And in writing to the Galatians, Paul said, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10.)
Not only are gospel preachers required to preach the full gospel, but they are forbidden to preach anything other than the gospel. Listen carefully to these verses: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8.) "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." (1 Pet. 4: 11.) "Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." (2 John 9.) It matters not who the preacher is, nor how good and pious he may seem to be, he has no authority to preach anything not found in the word of God. Even an angel from heaven who would do so is accursed.
Obviously there are preachers who refuse to be governed by the word of God. Instead of preaching only the word, they go beyon1 the word to teach doctrines and commandments of men. What attitude are we to have toward such false teachers? Paul instructed the Romans to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom. 16:17, 18.) The church is to mark and have nothing to do with the exponents of error. Then, too, God makes each person individually responsible for the teaching he receives. Each must "prove all things; hold fast to that which is good." (I Thess. 5:21.) It is dangerous to put so much confidence in a preacher that we accept whatever he says without examining it in the light of the Scriptures. Paul said, "And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another." (I Cor. 4:6.)
Paul's charge to Timothy states that the word must be preached "in season out of season." He commanded Timothy to "be instant in season, out of season." To "be instant" means to be ready always, to be persevering or steadfast in. "In season, out of season" indicates that the preacher is not to wait for convenient times to preach the word, but he must discharge his duty at all times whether it is welcome or not. The preacher must be constant in the discharge of his duty to preach the full gospel of Christ. He is not at liberty to choose seasons of personal convenience to do his preaching. Paul did not fail to preach the word even when it caused him to be hated and despised even by some of his own brethren in the church. He preached the word when it resulted in beatings, imprisonment, and eventually death.
Preaching the word involves reproving, rebuking and exhorting. Paul said, "Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." Bible preaching is therefore both negative and positive. The word of God is "pro" some things and it is "anti" some things. The faithful preacher will necessarily be for those things authorized in God's word and against those things, which are not authorized. The word of God being his only rule o f doctrine, he will "reprove" and "rebuke" whatever he finds contrary to the sound doctrine, and he will "exhort" or "encourage" men to follow the course of conduct which the word prescribes. "We walk by faith, not by sight." This reproving, rebuking and exhorting must be done "with all longsuffering and doctrine." Much harm is done when preachers are impatient with people and when they forget that teaching and learning are often slow processes. But when the preacher faithfully performs his negative and positive obligation to preach the word "with all patience and teaching," God will give the increase to his labors. Souls will be saved and made ready for the harvest of God, which Christ one day will reap for the heavenly garner.
It is a source of deep regret that the average 20th century preacher pays little or no attention to Paul's charge to Timothy. Instead of devoting himself to preaching the word, the modern preacher is more often a promoter, an organizer, and an administrator than a teacher of the truth. Instead of preaching the pure word, he is often so wrapped up in human creeds and traditions that he all but loses sight of the word. He is usually more interested in pleasing the church that pays him or the higher-ups who have charge of his destiny, than he is in pleasing God. The average modern preacher promotes the "social gospel", which is more interested in man's welfare on earth than in preparing him for heaven when this fleeting life is over. He is generally more concerned about the size of the church he preaches for, the amount of his salary, and positions of honor in the community, than with humbly serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul's charge to preachers needs to be made the standard for ministerial conduct today.
"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season; out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine." (2 Timothy 4:1, 2.)