Preach the Word

Rev G G Hutton

Some time around 64–66 AD, when the New Testament Church was still in its infancy, the Apostle Paul addressed a most solemn charge to a young minister: Timothy. That charge has been providentially preserved for all generations, providing all who occupy the Church’s pulpits with a divinely-inspired directive: “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 Tim 4:1,2).

In order to stress to Timothy the importance of his solemn calling, the Apostle confronted him with his personal accountability to the final Judge, who would pass judgement on his ministry. It is obvious from the following verses that Paul was not expecting Timothy’s ministry to crown him with popularity. He charged Timothy to be steadfast in his ministry, knowing that he would encounter temptations to dilute the Word and even deviate from it. Ministerial faithfulness demanded from Timothy a personal conviction about the substance of his preaching. His messages must all originate from one clearly-identified source of truth. If he had any uncertainty about this, Timothy would be vulnerable to the temptation to compromise the truth, and to imagine that popularity with one’s hearers is evidence of a successful ministry — pressures to which preachers remain subject to this day.

Thus Paul’s charge to Timothy is precise and transparent: “Preach the Word”. Timothy is not advised to apply his intellect in order to discover a fountain from which he might draw information which would be interesting for his hearers. He is not afforded licence to use his own discretion in sourcing material for his preaching. The charge from the glorified Head of the Church, through Paul the experienced apostle, confines him strictly within the bounds of divine revelation: “the Word”. Paul was simply reiterating the sentiment God expressed to the Old Testament preachers, the prophets: “He that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jer 23:28).

In order to fulfil his calling to the ministry, Timothy was required to master God’s Word. So must every Christ-sent minister of the Word; no book will be of greater importance to him than his Bible. Commentaries on the Bible may be illuminating, theological works developed out of controversy about the teaching of the Bible may be helpful, but nothing can be a substitute for the Word of God as the source for his sermons. The gospel minister must daily live in his Bible, while its contents must live in his heart. Preaching the Word demands the most diligent and ardent study of the Word in order to ascertain what God is saying, to whom He is saying it, and why He is saying it.

It is always “Thus saith the Lord” which clothes the preacher with the mantle of authority. Therefore he needs to be confident that he is conveying the mind of God to his hearers when he addresses them. When the preacher’s mind is directed to a particular portion of divine truth and the Spirit of God opens it up to him as he prayerfully studies it, he can proceed with the same divine warrant as God gave to Jonah, when He sent him to preach to Nineveh: “Arise, go…and preach…the preaching that I bid thee” (Jnh 3:2). Jonah was not in a position to decide what he would preach to the people in Nineveh. God had a particular message for this people, and Jonah was required to deliver it accurately, without abridgement, addition or embellishment.

When Christ, the living Head of the Church, appoints a spiritual shepherd over a congregation, it is to feed them “with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). If they are to grow spiritually, the flock of God needs to know biblical facts, but they also require a spiritual understanding of those facts. Thus it is the chief business of the preacher to explain the spiritual meaning of divine truth. When the Holy Spirit directed Philip to accompany the Ethiopian eunuch, as recorded in Acts 8, the eunuch was reading a portion of Scripture. Philip obediently joined him and enquired, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” When the eunuch replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” Philip seized the opportunity to explain its meaning, much to the Ethiopian’s spiritual edification.

In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, when God’s law had been largely forgotten in Jerusalem, it is recorded that men who knew the Scriptures “caused the people to understand the law…So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh 8:7,8). These incidents testify to the need for the Word to be expounded.

God, who created man, knows best what is required to sustain spiritual life in him. He taught the Israelites that “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut 8:3). Man is so constituted that his spiritual well-being depends upon him spiritually ingesting the words of the Lord. The written Word contains the spiritual nourishment which God knows man needs. Only as the preacher feeds the minds of his hearers with the Word of God can he hope that it will penetrate their innermost souls with life-giving and life-sustaining power.

Many churches today are offering their adherents religious entertainment, emotional excitement and social togetherness, while promising them holistic well-being. Through the use of psychological manipulation, “counsellors” and “leaders” take the place of preachers and succeed in increasing the number who attend their ministry, enhancing the reputation of their particular church as a desirable venue for weekly religious socialising. Sadly, the long-established ministry of exposition appears to have little appeal to this generation, so that faithful ministers of Christ find themselves ever less favoured among church-goers.

Although no servant of Christ deliberately sets out to be unpopular, gospel ministers are required to persevere like Timothy, “instant in season, out of season”; they must have the conviction that enabled Paul to endure in spite of difficulties: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:21). If perishing sinners are to be saved by the grace of God, then the Church of Christ must maintain the preaching office. God’s people must pray earnestly for a divine reviving of Spirit-anointed, God-centred preaching in this wayward generation. Back in the days of the prophet Hosea, the Lord drew attention to the prevailing ignorance among His people: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). Whenever the teaching ethos is lost in the Church, not only is the great commission of Matthew 28:19,20 neglected, much to the dishonour of Christ, but doctrinal ignorance among the people is the inevitable result.

Those whom Christ has called to the ministry of the Word are required to “labour in the Word and doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17); they are to labour both in the Word and in instruction. Although the preacher, being human, may not be consistently successful in this respect, he must make every effort to give sound instruction, with a desire that his congregation will improve in its understanding of divine truth. The servant of the Lord does not occupy the pulpit in order to make suggestions to his hearers; he is not authorised to express personal opinions, however profound; his bounden duty is to “preach the Word” — to announce and expound God’s unchangeable Word.

Although the minister of the Word cannot transform hearts, he is under a solemn charge to instruct the minds of his hearers. It is his duty to stir up the minds of his congregation to think (2 Pet 3:2). Because the mind, however, is naturally in darkness, the conscience functions in ignorance, while the will operates under an inherent enmity to God. Thus, while the gospel preacher must expound the Word, it is God alone who produces spiritual fruit — or as Paul stated it, “giveth the increase” (1 Cor 3:6,7). This sobering fact must be acknowledged both by ministers of the Word and those who attend their ministry. Nevertheless a particular responsibility lies upon all who hear the Word: “Remember them…who have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation”. How solemn it is for us all to remember that both preacher and hearer must finally account to the God of the Word for their stewardship of it.

Reproduced with permission.
Hutton, George G. “Preach the Word” The Free Presbyterian Magazine, June 2013: 176–179.