Preach the word!

by Robert Strivens3 June 2015

One of the texts most often preached at induction services must be 2 Tim. 4:2, ‘Preach the word!’. It is an obvious choice. But does it mean quite what we think it means? We probably take it to refer to the regular, week-by-week preaching and teaching ministry that a pastor normally exercises from his own pulpit. We imagine, perhaps, Paul instructing Timothy to work his way systematically through Isaiah or 1 Kings, chapter by chapter, expounding the meaning and applying its message to his congregation in Ephesus. But is that quite what Paul meant?

The word that Paul uses here for ‘preach’ is the verb, to herald or proclaim (kērussō). It is the word used in the gospels to describe the preaching ministries of John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples (e.g. Mt 3:1; 4:23; Mk. 3:14; Lk. 8:1). The word is used in contexts which indicate the proclamation of the gospel message, usually to numbers of people at once and generally outdoors. In Acts, the word is used of Philip bringing the gospel to the Samaritans (8:5) and of Paul preaching in the synagogues (9:20) and to Gentiles (20:25; 28:31). In his letters, Paul uses the word for the preaching of Christ or the preaching of the gospel. In short, the word indicates authoritative proclamation, a preaching that holds forth a message (the gospel) and a person (Jesus Christ) in such a way as to demand a response from those who hear. This is not dialogue, discussion or debate (although those modes of communication have their place), but the heralding forth of something which must be heard, a challenge that requires an answer.

What of ‘the word’ which Timothy is to preach? The word (logos) means a message. It does not tend to be used in the New Testament to refer, as we do, directly to Scripture. Rather it refers to the message of God, obviously rooted in the Scripture, his revelation, as it comes to people through preaching and proclamation. This is how the phrase ‘word of God’ (logos tou theou) is used, for example, by Jesus in Jn. 17:14, by Luke describing gospel ministry of Peter in Acts 11:1 and of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:5, as well as the growth of the gospel generally in Acts 12:24. In his instruction to Timothy, then, Paul has in mind the entirety of the message revealed by God in Scripture. This is what Timothy is to herald, to proclaim.

We see then that the command to ‘preach the word’ is a broad one, extending to the whole of God’s revelation to mankind. Timothy is to proclaim this, to announce it with all the authority of God. He is to do it, no doubt, in regular ministry on the Lord’s Day, but also at all other opportunities (‘in season and out of season’). It will involve, perhaps, continuous exposition, but it will require every other legitimate form of gospel proclamation too. Timothy is to carry out this instruction, Paul says, by means of reproof, rebuke, exhortation and patient teaching. It is no coincidence that Paul here re-uses a couple of words that he had employed a few verses earlier, in reference to Scripture (3:16 - teaching, rebuke). He thereby ties together his instruction to Timothy in 4:2 with his description of Scripture in 3:16-17 as the all-sufficient, God-breathed means of equipping a man ‘for every good work’.

So Timothy’s ministry is most certainly to be rooted in the exposition and application of Scripture, the same scriptures that he was taught as he grew up (presumably the Old Testament) as well as those written more recently under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (the New Testament). It is the message of these Scriptures that he is to proclaim, herald, announce, and it is by means of these Scriptures that he is to rebuke, reprove, exhort and patiently instruct the people of God.

That is the central task of every minister of Christ. To prepare for such ministry, we need to immerse ourselves therefore in Scripture, including, surely, in its original languages to the extent we are able to do so. We need to study it with all our ability and with the help of Almighty God whose word it is. And we need to learn how to communicate its message to those to whom we announce it, with the authority that it requires as the God-breathed revelation of God to us, able to save us and equip us for every good work. Preparation for gospel ministry must maintain at all costs its focus on the study of God’s word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Other subjects are also necessary and have their place, but the study of the Bible must always remain central.


 

 

About the author

Robert Strivens

MA (University of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College)
ThM (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia)
PhD (University of Stirling)

Having trained for the pastoral ministry at LTS, Robert pastored an evangelical church in Banbury for 8 years. Prior to training for the ministry, he was a solicitor in private practice, working in London and Brussels. He has been involved in training pastors in French-speaking West Africa. He teaches New Testament and Greek and also lectures on Contemporary Issues. His doctoral research was on Philip Doddridge and early 18th century Dissent. He is married to Sarah and they have three sons.