My dad finished preaching a service in a revival meeting one night and was “complimented” by a dear older lady. “Brother Ouellette, that was a good sermon,” she said. “There wasn’t no doctrine or nothin’ in it.”
When I was a young man, those who most avidly promoted expository preaching seemed to be boring. But more recently, those who opposed expository preaching seemed to go off into unscriptural tangents. Preachers seemed to be caught between two extremes—exegesis without enthusiasm or fire without foundation. But God intended for preaching to be both passionate and doctrinally sound.
In 2 Timothy 4:1–4, Paul writes to Timothy, “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. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” In this passage we find a responsibility, not only for the preacher to preach the Word but also for the hearer to receive it.
The King’s Herald
The word preach in this passage is the word for the King’s herald. It has the idea of communicating a message which requires a response. Our message is not to be “shared.” It is not a “dialogue.” It is not a “conversation.” It is to be heralded. It’s the passionate plea from Christ in Luke 8:8, “He that hath ears to ear, let him hear.”
Of all the instruments in God’s orchestra, He chose the trumpet to compare to the preaching of His Word. Isaiah 58:1 says, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” God didn’t pick the smooth sound of the saxophone or the sweet strings of the violin; not the faint tinkling of the triangle, the mellow sounds of a trombone or the lovely lilt of the flute. No, we are to trumpet out His message.
Many Forms, One Source
A respected preacher once said to me, “It is not always the preacher’s job to preach the Word. Sometimes we preach the Word. Sometimes we reprove. Sometimes we rebuke. And sometimes we exhort.”
I believe he missed the point of the passage. The verse begins with the Word and ends with doctrine. In other words, all of our preaching is to be from the Word of God and to be doctrinally sound.
In preaching the Word there are times we reprove—admonish, convict, convince, or tell a fault. There are times we rebuke—forbid certain behaviors and activities. There are other times that we exhort or motivate. But whichever we do, we do it from the Word of God with a doctrinal foundation.
God’s Word commands the preacher to be instant in season and out of season. The word instant means “to be at hand, to be present,” while the word season means “opportunity” and is related to convenience. In other words, the Bible tells us that we are to preach the Word when it is convenient and when it is not.
Some preachers can preach well before a large crowd, but when they do not have the stimulation and response of a large number of people, they fall flat. Some preachers preach with enthusiasm if their life is going well but struggle in the pulpit when they are struggling personally. But the Scripture tells us we are to be instant in season and out of season.
A preacher friend once asked a young man from his ministry about the pastor the young man worked under for several years. “Sometimes I preach pretty well and sometimes I don’t. But that pastor seems to never ‘lay an egg.’ Was he that way at home?”
“In nine years,” the young man replied, “there are only three times I heard him when he was off.” That preacher was instant in season and out of season.
Enduring the Preaching
What we often miss in this passage is that there was not only a responsibility for the preacher but for the hearer. The Bible warns us that the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. The word endure is an interesting word. It means “to hold oneself up against, to put up with, to forbear, to suffer.”
What a strange term to use for listening to Bible preaching! If we had been writing the Scripture, wouldn’t we have said the time will come when they will not enjoy sound doctrine? No, the Bible says we have to put up with sound doctrine. God knew that Bible preaching will sometimes be unpalatable to us.
Preaching challenges our presuppositions, moves us out of our comfort zones, or causes us to re-think our basic philosophies of life. Our human flesh would rather hear pop psychology, feel-good stories, and simple aphorisms which, while they tickle the ear, do not build the soul or change the life. Much of the preaching today (particularly in the contemporary churches) reminds me of the statement in Jeremiah where God says, “They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly” (Jeremiah 8:11).
How to Hear God’s Word Preached
How can we fulfill our responsibility to hear the Word of God? Here are some suggestions:
Be attentive. “And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8).
Be accepting. The Bible says of the Bereans in Acts 17:11, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” We often quote the second half of this verse but not the first. We get the idea that the Bereans sat around with their concordances out, their pencils sharpened, and their notebooks ready looking for some flaw in the sermon. This was not their spirit at all. They “received the word with all readiness of mind.” They were open to and accepting of the truth.
The Scripture tells us that not all the responsibility for the message is with the herald, some is with the hearer. The parable of the sower tells of the same sower taking the same seed and apparently using the same system in four different places with four different responses. The difference was not in the seed, the difference was in the soil. It is our job as hearers to be good ground, unencumbered by the rocks of rebellion, uncluttered by the weeds of worldly distraction with a heart that is soft and open to the truth.
Be appreciative. I once heard a preacher tell of how he sat with Dr. Tom Malone Sr. and listened to a man preach. The man telling the story described the man preaching as “a sorry preacher.” He said he was boring, unexciting and uninteresting. But he said that Dr. Malone “amened” that “sorry preacher” to death.
He said to Dr. Malone, “That preacher couldn’t preach his way out of a paper sack. Why did you amen him so?” Dr. Malone replied, “That preacher was preaching about Jesus.” In other words, Dr. Malone might not have liked the organization or delivery of the sermon, but he appreciated the fact that the man was endeavoring to lift up his Saviour.
I Still Need the Preached Word
When the respected preacher said to me, “It is not always a preacher’s job to preach the Word,” I was thirty-five years of age. I responded to him, “That works well for you. You have a thoroughly biblical philosophy of life. But at my age and in my stage of the ministry, I need the authority of the Word of God behind me.”
Twenty-two years later, I find I still need the authority of the Word of God behind me when I stand up to preach.
If you are privileged to be a God-called preacher, be sure you preach the Word. If you are privileged to have a God-called preacher for a pastor, be sure you listen with an open heart and are good ground as he preaches.