John Piper: Preach the Word
I am happy because I love to be involved in the most important things in the world.
I am more honored and more happy to be in this role right now than most people can know. I am honored because what we are about here is more important than the installation of a mayor or governor. You will see why in a few minutes. I am happy because I love to be involved in the most important things in the world.
I thought that I would give two messages in this one sermon, one for [the pastor], and one for the congregation. But there is time only for one. So let me just quote the text of the one that will not be given. At the end of the parable of the soils where there are four different ways to receive the Word of God, but only one way that bears fruit and leads to life, Jesus says (in Luke 8:18), “Take heed how you hear; for whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” So let it simply be a word of exhortation to all of us to take heed how we hear this afternoon. And as you hear my message to [the pastor], think over what it will mean to help in this charge and to respond the way Jesus wants.
The message is mainly to [the pastor].
First let’s read the text, 2 Timothy 3:16–4:4 (NASB). Keep in mind that in the original letters the chapter and verse divisions were not there. They were added later to help us tell people where we are reading.
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
[Pastor], my message to you is very simple and very precarious. It is 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word.” I call it precarious, because there is a constant temptation to do other things in the place of this. There ARE other things to do in the ministry, as these letters to Timothy show. And we must do them to be found faithful. But none of them is treated as solemnly and forcefully as this one simple exhortation from the apostle: “Preach the Word.”
Five Things That Intensify the Command
Notice the five things in verse 1 that intensify this command:
- “I solemnly charge you”;
- “in the presence of God”;
- “and of Christ Jesus” (both the Father and the Son have a great concern in this matter);
- “who is to judge the living and the dead” (the stakes are raised to life and death, and beyond life and death to final judgment — this is why what we are doing here is more important than the installation of a mayor or governor. [A pastor] is called on to deal in more than life and death — the eternal judgment of Christ and what becomes of this congregation, not just in your earthly state, but much more in the eternal state);
- and by his appearing and his kingdom — that is, “I solemnly charge you … by the appearing and the kingdom of Christ.” That is a remarkable reinforcement of the charge. It must mean that the ministry of preaching has a lot to do with what happens at the appearing of Christ in glory. At that appearing you, [pastor], will be called to account. Were you faithful to this charge? And at that time the congregation will be judged: How did you respond? Were you like the people in verses 3–4? Some “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” That’s what the appearing of Christ and his kingdom will reveal.
So I say the command is precarious. Paul realizes that there are many distractions and many obstacles and many temptations to make this seem less important than it is. So he leads into his command with the five introductory intensifiers. And then says, “PREACH THE WORD.” So that is my message to you. “Preach the Word.”
To unfold the command, we will ask first what the “Word” is and second what it means to “preach” it.