One of the most penetrating series of imperatives that explode from the pages of Scripture is found in Paul’s letter to his young protégé, Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2nd Timothy 4:2, ESV).

Preaching has fallen on hard times. There is an increasing intolerance for preaching in the church. Paul warns Timothy that the day is coming when people will grow impatient with preaching. They will resist the ministry that faithful preachers are called to engage in: “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 Timothy 4:3-4).

This is exactly where we find ourselves today. The Greek word anechō, translated “endure” means “to be patient” or “to accept”. Paul’s warning to Timothy then indicates that people will not accept sound teaching. That is, they will recoil at biblical exposition. Rejecting such a ministry never occurs in a vacuum, however. When people repudiate the ministry of the word, they exchange the truth of God for a substitute. In this case, they turn to teachers who tell them what they want to hear. False gospels, such as prosperity theology, thrives in this context, as people flock to hear about health, wealth, and man-centered ideology.

But Paul he not deterred. The imperative is still in force. He charges Timothy to “preach the word.” The Greek phrase, keirúdzō tòn logon, means “to herald, proclaim, or announce.” The ministry of the proclamation is not for the faint at heart. It is not for the timid. And compromisers need not apply.

God is looking for preachers who herald the truth with passion, power, and conviction. He is looking for faithful men who will wield the mighty sword so the nations would find their joy in Jesus. God calls men of the Book to boldly announce the saving benefits of His Son, in the power of the Spirit, for the great benefit of sinners.

Biblical preachers must be ready in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). They preach Christ with bold resolve—both in times of fruitfulness and times of famine. Nothing deters the faithful preacher of God’s Word. He is unmoved by criticism and unhindered by persecution. This is a man who is transfixed by the Word of God and compelled by God’s Spirit to faithfully proclaim the unadulterated truth of Scripture. This is a man who is riveted by the reality of the gospel. This is a man who is untouched by the stain of the world, the lure of pragmatism, and the opinions of men. This man is ready in season and out of season.

Biblical preaching is marked by three critical characteristics: challenge, warning, and exhortation. These imperatives in 2 Timothy 4:2 serve as immutable anchors that guide the tone, strategy, and message of the preacher.

First, biblical preaching challenges people. The word translated, “reprove” (élégchō) means “to expose or convict”. This kind of preaching helps uncover sin in the heart of the listener. It challenges his worldly presuppositions. It reveals an evil heart of unbelief.

Frankly, in our day, preaching that challenges people is hard to find. The church is awash in “preaching” that follows a therapeutic model and coddles people. Much of the preaching in our generation is man-centered. This kind of preaching is not only semi-Pelagian; it is sub-gospel.

Second, biblical preaching warns people. Paul urges the young pastor, Timothy, to “rebuke”—a word that means, “to reprove or censor”. Preaching that rebukes offers a stern warning to sinners; it reminds them that sin is serious, that sin has a price. Preaching that rebukes, reminds sinners, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12, ESV).

Preaching that rebukes, reminds people that sin must be accounted for. That is, sinners must either bear the weight of their sin in hell, or Jesus must bear the weight of all their sin on the cross.

But once again, the kind of preaching that warns is rare in the contemporary pulpit. Much of the preaching today is filled with anecdotes, warm stories, poems, and platitudes. Much of the current preaching is designed to tickle ears and fill pews. The end result is spiritually hungry and impoverished congregations.

Third, biblical preaching involves exhortation. The Greek term, parakaleō means “earnestly urge; to implore; to invite.” John Piper refers to this kind of preaching as “expository exaltation”, which involves a kind of holy gravitas and pleads with people to follow earnestly after the Lord Jesus Christ. Preaching that exhorts summons people to live to the glory of God. This kind of exhortation is a sort of divine invitation, a plea to walk according to the Spirit, to be people of the Book, and to place Christ above all.

Preach the Word

Timothy’s mandate was to preach the word: “Timothy was to herald God’s Word with the authority of heaven behind him. The Word of God is what both sinners and saints need. It is a pity that many churches have substituted other things for the preaching of the Word, things that may be good in their place, but that are bad when they replace the proclamation of the Word.”[1]

The mandate has not changed, nor has it been altered. Our call is to preach the Word. God calls pastors to herald the truth in season and out of season. This proclamation must be marked by biblical challenge, warning, and exhortation. Biblical preaching is not dialogue. It is not a two-way conversation. It is not a comedy routine. Rather, biblical preaching involves proclaiming the timeless truths of God’s Word in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ and builds up the Body of Christ. To do any less is do violate the clear teaching of Scripture.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Steven J. Lawson stand before the preacher’s desk in Orlando, Florida. Lawson uttered one sentence that is forever etched on my heart and mind. These words encapsulated the three-fold imperative to challenge, warn, and exhort. At the conclusion of the sermon, I asked him to inscribe those words on the flyleaf of my Bible, as a permanent reminder and a personal challenge in my own pastoral ministry:

“Now is the time for the strongest men to preach the strongest message in the context of the strongest ministry.”

Martin-Lloyd Jones says, “The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called…The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.”[2] May we be faithful biblical preachers who proclaim the Word of God without compromise. And may Christ receive the glory as His Word is heralded for the great benefit of sinners!

[1]      Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 254). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]      Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 9.