The Man of God, the People of God, and the Word of God
If you’ve gone to church at all before you know that preaching is a significant part of what happens during the service. Odds are that many of you have heard someone preach hundreds and even thousands of times in your life.
But just because someone has heard preaching a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand why preaching is so important to Christians, or what preaching actually is supposed to be, or what kind of preaching we should be exposing ourselves to—and why.
And so I’m really thrilled to get to preach today on a passage about preaching which I hope will help bring some clarity to these matters for us.
Preaching is very important to me. Preaching is very important to many Christians. But more importantly, preaching is very important to God. Preaching has played a central role in every major work of God in history, and I believe that, in every generation, there are few things more important than for churches to recover and hang on to a right understanding and a right practice of preaching. And today’s passage can really help us with that.
So we’re going to jump in here, but as we do that, we want to remember where we’ve been, and specifically where we were last week.
Last week we studied verses 16 and 17 which were an encouragement for Timothy to faithfully continue to build his life and ministry upon the Bible. Because all Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching us what we should believe and how we should live, and for setting us straight when we get off track, and God gave us His word so that the man of God might be “complete, equipped for every good work.”
There is no good work for which the Bible is not enough to completely equip us. There is no aspect of our lives as individuals or as a church in which the Bible should not have the first and the last word. And so last week we really drilled into the truth that the Bible is not just true, it is truth itself. It is not just authoritative but the final and sole authority. It is not merely useful but it is enough to equip us for every good work.
The Bible is not just the guardrail that keeps us from driving into the ditch. The Bible is the GPS telling us where we should be driving in the first place. The Bible is not just the last thing we check to make sure we’re not breaking any rules; the Bible is the first place we should go in order to get priorities and directions for what we should even be doing in the first place. The Bible is not like a referee who just blows the whistle whenever we do something wrong. The Bible is like our coach and personal trainer who has been preparing and equipping us all along.
And we can talk this way because, like we saw last week, the Bible teaches us a specific and understandable set of doctrines and practices which we should believe and do. It’s not just choose-your-own-adventure. And, we can talk this way because Scripture is God’s very word—it was breathed out by God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and God is at work in His people today through His word.
And so that’s the big idea from last week. Scripture and Scripture alone is sufficient for the people of God. It’s all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). It’s all we need to equip us for every good work.
“The Man of God”
Now that’s the backdrop to today’s passage. But there’s one more final stop we need to make in verse 17 which really sets the stage for chapter 4 and the material on preaching, and that’s the little phrase there, “the man of God.”
This phrase is so important because, in the Old Testament, it was a standard phrase for a prophet—a messenger from God.
“Man of God” was first used of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and over sixty times is used to refer to the messengers from God who followed in his footsteps. God spoke to His people time and again through His word, and those messengers who brought His word were the men of God.
And what’s helpful for us to remember is that not all of the prophets or messengers from God came with new words. Not all came with information about the future. Many times the prophets or “men of God” were simply preaching the existing word to the people. They were taking what God had already said in the Torah and applying it to God’s people in their current situation.
And that’s why it’s not too surprising to read, back in 1 Timothy 6:11, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.” And then in verse 17 of today’s passage, “the man of God.”
These phrases indicate that, here in the New Covenant, people like Timothy who proclaim the word of God to the people of God should be considered men of God. In other words, messengers from God, standing in line with the Old Testament prophets.
They don’t come bringing new information. But they do come bearing the word which God has already revealed, and they proclaim that word to the people of God.
Now just because verse 17 speaks about “the man of God,” that doesn’t mean it’s not applicable for everybody. If the word of God is enough to equip the man of God for every good work, then it’s enough for anybody!
But we do need to pay attention to this phrase because it helps us see a specific point: when a pastor or preacher who is living a holy life stands up in front of God’s people to declare His word to them, they do so as a man of God, a messenger from God, a prophet who stands in a long chain stretching back to Moses.
And that’s why it’s no surprise to hear Paul speak about “the man of God” being “equipped for every good work,” and then in chapter 4 to jump right into a discussion on preaching. Preaching is the #1 good work which is carried out by the man of God. Proclaiming God’s word to God’s people is his defining task and his top priority. And for Timothy, staying faithful to the end means committing himself to preaching this God-breathed book.
So what we’re going to do now is turn our attention to the first five verses of chapter 4. And we’re going to see in them six aspects of preaching.
These verses will help us see the stakes of preaching, the content of preaching, the readiness of preaching, the authority of preaching, the future of preaching, and the faithfulness of preaching.
So let’s jump in.
1. The Stakes of Preaching
We discover the stakes of preaching in verse 1 of chapter 4: “I 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 Timothy 4:1).
Paul has “charged” Timothy before, and Paul has told Timothy to “charge” others before. But nowhere else do we see a charge in which the stakes have been raised so high.
This is not just a charge from Paul to Timothy. This is a charge from Paul to Timothy in the presence of the Father and His crucified and risen Son, with a view to His return and final judgement and eternal rule.
It is in the light of these truths that Timothy must receive this charge to preach the word. Timothy will not just answer to Paul for how or if he preaches. He will answer to God. And these realities—the living God, the return of Jesus, the final judgement of the living and the dead—form the backdrop for his preaching.
He is to preach as if he was in the throne room of God. He is to preach as if he could see Jesus ready to return and reign forever with the bride He died for.
He is to preach to a people whom he knows will appear before the judgement seat of Christ and who will either spend eternity in joy in Jesus’ kingdom or an eternity receiving God’s wrath. And he is to preach in order to prepare them to stand before Jesus, ready to meet Him.
Those are the stakes of preaching, and this is why preaching is a serious business. A preacher is not just there to entertain people but to prepare them to meet the crucified, risen, returning Saviour. And a preacher who remembers this will not preach in a way that feels flippant or breezy or sloppy or comedic.
Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead and reign forever. These are the stakes of preaching and they could not be any higher.
2. The Content of Preaching
The second aspect of preaching we consider is the content of preaching. What is the man of God supposed to preach? And the answer is found at the beginning of verse 2: “Preach the word.” Preach the word.
The word here for “preach” has the basic meaning of “proclaim.” Not suggest or discuss but, as the prophets of old, proclaim God’s word.
And that “word” is the Bible. The Old Testament Scriptures and the apostle’s message about Jesus who fulfilled those Scriptures.
In 2 Timothy Paul has told Timothy to “Follow the pattern of the sound words” that he heard from him (1:13), to rightly handle the word of truth (2:15), and now he tells him to preach this word.
The job of the preacher, who preaches in the light of the returning son of God, is to preach the word, and nothing else. The job of the preacher is to proclaim to God’s people what the word says, and what it means, and what it means for them. His job is to preach sermons whose point is the point of some part of God’s word. His job is, with God’s help, to try to do for God’s people what God was originally doing in whatever passage of Scripture he is preaching from.
Sometimes he might preach on one passage, sometimes one word, sometimes several different passages or even a whole book, but in the end it is the word which he is to preach, proclaiming God’s message to God’s people.
So let’s be really clear here. Preaching the word is not reading some Bible verses and then talking about whatever is on his mind that day. Preaching the word is not using the Bible as a springboard to his favourite topics or to his commentary on current events. Preaching the word is not reading some Bible verses and then spending half an hour telling inspiring stories.
Preaching the word is not even preaching whatever he feels is on his heart. I’ve heard that one a lot. “I preach what God has put on my heart.” That’s not what you’ve been charged to do. You’ve been charged to preach what God has already put on the pages of His word.
Now, because the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of His people, and the Word of God is living and active, it’s not unusual for God to press some part of His word onto the heart of His people. It’s also important, as the preacher applies a particular passage from the Bible, to help them see how that passage applies to current events. Often a story will help illustrate some truth from God’s word, and sometimes a preacher will find that the passage he’s preaching on happens to line up with one of his favourite topics.
But at the end of the day he is not up there to share whatever is on his heart or to commentate on current events or to tell nice stories. He is to preach the word. The preaching pastor, like the prophets of old, is to proclaim the word of God to the people of God, unpacking and explaining and applying what the Bible says and what it means and what it means to the people of God.
He is to preach the word.
3. The Readiness of Preaching
So we’ve seen the stakes of preaching and we’ve seen the content of preaching. Our third stop is to see the readiness of preaching. And that shows up in this next phrase here in verse 2 where we read, “be ready in season and out of season.”
The idea here is “be ready when it’s a good time and when it’s not a good time.” Be ready to preach the word of God when people are eager to listen and when they are not eager to listen. When people are happy to receive your message and when they are not happy to receive your message. Be ready when they like what you’re saying and when they don’t like what you’re saying.
The preacher is always on duty and his call to preach the word does not rise and fall with public opinion or willingness to listen. Because he preaches the word, the content of his message does not change with what’s popular. Like I once heard someone say, the preacher’s finger is in the text, not the wind.
He must be ready in season and out of season. Always on duty, always preaching the word.
4. The Authority of Preaching
The fourth aspect here is the authority of preaching. “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” says the rest of verse 2.
“Reprove” and “rebuke” are corrective words, which speak to confronting and correcting error. You’ll remember from last week how all Scripture is useful for reproof and correction—setting us straight in our beliefs and our behaviour. And the preacher is to put Scripture to use as he preaches to confront and correct.
The third word here is a positive word, “exhort.” It speaks about strongly urging or even commanding. And this word helps us understand that, as commentator Denny Burk has written, “Preaching is authoritative, exhorting people about what they ought to believe and do by issuing commands to that end.”1Denny Burk, “2 Timothy,” in Ephesians–Philemon, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. XI, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 490.
Now some people recoil when they hear about “command” or “authority” in the context of preaching. All they can think of is pastors who have abused their authority for their own personal ends.
But that’s not what’s going on here, because the authority lies not with the preacher but with the word He preaches.
And, Timothy is not to issues commands in a rough or a demanding way. He is to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Yes, he’s to correct. Yes, he’s to confront. Yes, he’s to command. But he’s to be totally patient as he does it, thoroughly teaching and explaining and instructing along the way.
Another comment here—I hope you notice here that of these three words used to describe Timothy’s preaching ministry, two are negative and one is positive. And if that confuses you I would compare the work of a preacher to the work of a farmer or a gardener. If you want a good crop to grow, you need to spend a lot of time dealing with the weeds.
And so preachers must not avoid the work of confronting and correcting, not because they enjoy that in and of itself, but because they loves their people enough to tell them the truth and to go after the weeds that stifle the growth of good fruit in their lives.
5. The Future of Preaching
And that brings us to the fifth aspect of preaching which is the future of preaching. Timothy needed to correct and command not just because of the situation at Ephesus but because, verse 3, “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).
We’ve already been warned in chapter 3 that in the last days, which began with the resurrection of Jesus, difficult times were coming.
Jesus himself warned that “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). And these processes had already begun in Timothy’s lifetime.
And what’s what we’re seeing here in verses 3-4. As the last days progress, less and less people will want to hear the truth, and more and more people will wander into error.
And because of this, Timothy needs to stay resolute and faithful in preaching the word whether it’s in season or not.
With that big picture in mind, there’s a few words and phrases in verses 3 and 4 that we need to pay attention to. The first is “endure sound teaching” (v. 3).
Just think about that. Sound teaching, healthy teaching, sometimes needs to be endured. In other words, it can be hard to listen to. It can feel like you’re needing to put up with it. It can be tough to swallow.
This shouldn’t surprise us. The things that are best for us often feel hard. Think about exercise or healthy eating. They can be hard. And that’s why many people don’t “endure” them. Junk food and laziness just feel so much better and easier.
And similarly, the time is coming when people will not endure healthy teaching. They won’t like the sound of the truth and, rather than submitting themselves to it and learning and listening and growing, they’ll go off and find teachers to suit their cravings.
That next phrase “having itching ears” (v. 3) is also important because it describes what this process feels like. Most of us know what an itch feels like. Especially an itch in the middle of your back where you can’t reach it, and you’re just desperate to get it scratched.
And the time was coming when people would have itching ears, and the preaching of the word would not scratch their itch. It wouldn’t do it for them. They’d sit there Sunday after Sunday hearing the word being preached and go hime still itchy for something else.
And so what will they do? They’ll “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (v. 3). Passions or lusts or cravings—that’s the root issue here. These people have cravings and if their pastor isn’t satisfying those cravings then they’ll go find someone who will.
That’s super easy to do these days with podcasts and YouTube and tv stations, isn’t it? And it’s so tricky because our sinful cravings are so tricky.
I remember in my younger 20’s realizing that I had a craving for controversy, something we read about back in 1 Timothy 6. I was all into those “discernment ministries” you’ve heard me talk about before. I just loved listening to preachers who criticized other people and tore their opponents to shreds. And the internet made it really easy to accumulate for myself teachers like this.
The tricky thing was that my theology was biblical. These teachers I was finding were all orthodox preachers who believed the truth of Scripture. But God helped me see that I wasn’t loving the truth because I loved Him and loved people. I was all into the truth because I had a craving for controversy and being driven by an itching ear and sinful passions.
And I’m grateful that God helped me see that, because who knows where I might have ended up if I had kept on that train? Verse 4 tells us that when our own cravings are running the show, we’ll end up turning “away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Like someone getting lost in the woods, we wander off the path of truth without even knowing what’s happened, and before we know it we’re lost in the wilderness of human myths. And before long we can’t even see the way out.
That’s where our desires will take us if we follow them.
6. The Faithfulness of Preaching
So what was Timothy supposed to do about this? The answer is found in verse 5, and this is our sixth aspect of preaching we’ll consider this morning, which is the faithfulness of preaching. Despite this warning about what was going to happen in the future, Timothy was to “always be sober-minded.” Clear-headed. Not getting swept up and influenced by every movement, but a clear thinker.
He was to “endure suffering.” Preaching the word would bring about suffering, no doubt. Perhaps, as more and more people wandered off into myths, he’d experience the suffering of a small church. The suffering of being slandered and gossiped about. The suffering of being embarrassed and shamed for holding on to the gospel.
He was do “do the work of an evangelist.” That means speaking, proclaiming, the gospel. Some people think that Timothy had a special office or ability in this regard, but in this context it makes more sense to understand this as an encouragement to keep speaking the gospel despite the shame and the embarrassment that came along with it.
It was embarrassing to believe in a crucified king. It was culturally inappropriate to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But it was true, and it was glorious. And so Timothy was to keep on proclaiming the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus despite how hard or out-of-touch that was.
Finally, he was to “fulfill his ministry.” He was not to quit, he was not to walk away with the job half-done. He was to continue to serve and lead and preach and persevere until his work was completed. Don’t quit, in other words. And we’re going to see next week what “not quitting” looked like for Paul.
Not every preacher is meant to preach until he dies, but every preacher must make sure that he fulfills his ministry and doesn’t quit early because he’s afraid of suffering or embarrassed of the gospel.
How Do You Listen?
So, we’ve seen six aspects of preaching. The stakes, the content, the readiness, the authority, the future, and the faithfulness of preaching.
Now I know that as I preach on preaching, there are a number of other men here who have preached or want to preach or will preach, and for them, this is a straightforward passage to apply.
Men, preach the word, the whole word, and nothing but the word with an eye on heaven and a heart that aims to prepare your audience to meet the risen Christ.
It’s not going to get any easier, but who said anything about easy? Don’t let anything distract or intimidate you away from proclaiming the word of the living God to the people of God for the glory of God.
But what about the rest of us this morning? Those of you who do not preach or will not preach?
I think the most straightforward way of understanding how this passage applies to you today is by considering how you listen to preaching. How you receive the preached word of God.
Do you listen to the word of God being preached as if you were listening to a prophet of old, a messenger from God declaring His word to you?
Do you listen to preaching “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 Timothy 4:1)? Do you listen knowing that you will stand before the crucified and risen Lord Jesus one day, and that you will be held accountable for how you listened and what you did with His word when it was preached to you?
Do you listen to the word? Do you have an appetite for the word of God? Can you tell when a preacher is just proclaiming himself, or his own ideas, or just telling nice stories, instead of proclaiming what God has said and done in His word and through Jesus?
Do you listen in season and out of season? Do you come and receive the preached word when you feel like it and when you don’t? When the passage interests you and when it doesn’t? When it feels relevant and when it doesn’t?
Do you submit to the authority of the preached word of God? Do you respond when your assumptions are corrected, when things that you hold dear are challenged, when your behavior or beliefs are called into question? Do you willingly obey when the word of God commands you to respond and obey in certain ways?
We all love it when the preacher goes after those other people who we disagree with. But how do we respond when we find ourselves evaluated by the word of God?
Do you endure sound teaching? Do you bear with the preached word of God even when it sounds hard and uncomfortable to you? When you start to feel the itch for something a little more to your liking, something that suits your cravings a little bit more, do you go find yourself a teacher to suit yourself, or do you receive the healthy teaching and let God’s truth shape your heart?
I want to be honest here for a moment. In these last few weeks in 2 Timothy, I haven’t liked everything we’ve heard. I don’t like the idea that someone like Timothy can faithfully preach the word for years in a place like Ephesus with no guarantee of success and breakthrough. God might use him, but he might not, and all Timothy can do is press on in faithfulness—even if that means pressing on alone as things go from bad to worse.
I really do not like the idea of working hard for years with no guarantee of outcome. I don’t like it. But whether I like it or not has nothing to do with whether it’s true or not, and whether I need to hear it or not. And I’m sharing this with you to let you know that I, myself, need to endure sound teaching even as I’m the one delivering it. I’ve had to submit myself to the preached word of God whether I like what it says or not.
And I’ve found that, after a few weeks, my heart is opening up and I’m more and more okay with gladly submitting myself to what God has said.
And I invite you to do the same. Let’s come together and submit ourselves to God together. He speaks to us in His word, and one of the main ways he does that is through the preaching of the word. Pray that God would give you an insatiable appetite for His word, so that you’ll be hungry for it and won’t be satisfied listening to mere human opinion or following your own desires.
And as we end here, I just want to acknowledge that this has been a sober passage that realistically prepares Timothy for some hard realities. But this is not the whole picture. If Timothy is going to keep on preaching the word, there will always be people who are there to listen. In every generation there have been those who love to listen to the word, whose appetites are shaped by the Spirit, and who delight in the preaching of the word of God.
And I want to celebrate all of you in this room who match that description. I know that as I just asked that series of questions, so many of you can nod and say “yes!” You love the word of God, you love the word of God being preached to you, and you’ve seen it do work in your life.
Like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, you’ve seen the word transform your heart and give you life. And like Jeremiah in our call to worship passage today, when God’s words come, you gobble them up because there’s nothing better to you.
If that’s you, and I know that for so many of you it is, then praise God. You didn’t do this to yourself. The living God is shaping you and your appetites and He’s at work in you.
So keep it up. Keep hungering, keep listening, and just watch what God does in and through you as He equips you for every good work through His word.
And if that’s not you, why don’t you pray and ask for a hungry heart? Why don’t you ask him to transform you and make you an active, ready, submissive listener to His word?
This last song we’re going to sing together is a prayer that the Holy Spirit would cause His word to come alive in us. Whoever you are, I invite you to sing this prayer with all your heart.