There are few things as dangerous as a preacher who does not know why he is preaching. When preaching becomes something that we do out of routine, necessity, contractual obligation, fame, entertainment, monetary gain, or anything other of the like, then we run the risk of spiritually abusing or neglecting our congregation. More than that, we create space in our ministry for blasphemy against the Word of God, for which we will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment (James 3:1).
Preaching is serious business with very high stakes. Eternal life and eternal death hang in the balance, not only for us, but also for those whom we seek to teach (1 Tim 4:16). This being so, why do we preach?
There are many reasons to preach and this blog will not be able to capture them all. However, over the next seven weeks we will examine seven essential reasons to preach Jesus Christ. Today we will look to the first of these seven:
(1) Scripture Commands Us to Preach
If this were the only reason to preach, it would be enough. Repeatedly the Bible exhorts elders in the Church to preach the Word.
Paul commands Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). In another letter Timothy is charged – in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead – to preach the Word at all times, reproving, rebuking and exhorting with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Consider for a moment the elements presented here that make up the preaching ministry of the Church. We are commanded to use Scripture to reprove, rebuke, and exhort.
To reprove is to expose and bring to light false understanding of truth and improper conduct. It means that our preaching ought to use Scripture to find fault and to correct by words, sometimes reprehending acutely, and to call ourselves and our people to account for our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
To rebuke is similar but not exactly the same. It means that we are to raise the bar of belief and practice, to warn of consequences for unfaithfulness, and to admonish sharply with conviction based on the Scriptures.
To exhort is to comfort, encourage, and to plead with the congregation. It means that we are to call people to imitate us in our imitation of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). It also means that we are to teach and instruct so that our congregation knows the whole Word of God and will be without excuse if they fail to heed the commands of Christ.
Of course all three of these – reproof, rebuke, and exhortation – are qualified by Paul so that even the more severe tasks of the preacher are done with complete patience and teaching. Derek Prime and Alistair Begg (On Being a Pastor, 51) wisely caution:
Although as we expound the Scriptures our task will sometimes be to rebuke and correct, it will always have as its end that God’s people, responding with the obedience of faith, will know an overflowing and inexpressible joy in Christ.
Paul also insists that Titus and the elders in Crete teach that which accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Furthermore, they are to be able to refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). Doctrine is important because it is the source of all practice. A right understanding and embracing of doctrine will inevitably lead to a right way of living. In our current evangelical churches there is an increasing divide between those who prioritize doctrine and those who prioritize practical living. This kind of dichotomy would have been unfathomable to Paul, who saw the two as being inseparable. As preachers, it is our task to help the congregation to see the vital connection between belief and behaviour. We must also be on guard against those who contradict sound doctrine because wrong doctrine will certainly lead to wrong living.
Of his own call to be an apostle Paul said that he became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to him for us, that he make the Word of God fully known (Colossians 1:25). He also wrote that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17). And of his ministry he declared unequivocally, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16) Paul was consumed by his call to make Christ known to all who would listen and hear. He prioritized his preaching ministry above all other ministries entrusted to him because he understood himself to be a herald of the Good News for both the Jew and the Gentile (1 Timothy 2:3-8). The priority that God has placed on preaching has not diminished since the days of Paul.
Peter also explained to the early Church that it was not right that he and the other the apostles should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables, but rather, that they ought to have been devoting themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:2-4). To serve tables was a good and noble task, requiring the oversight of men who were filled with the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. Nevertheless, this task was not to be the task of the apostles, who were the first preachers of the early Church. In the same way, preachers in the local church today need to be freed from administrative and pastoral tasks that take them away from their preaching ministry. The call to preach must take priority in the life of the preacher over all other needs, whether they are real or felt. It is not that these other needs should be neglected, but they should be attended to by others who have been intentionally equipped and appropriately empowered within the local church.
As we have explored, these exhortations to Timothy and Titus, as well as the apostolic examples of Paul and Peter, are to be heeded by elders in the local church today. Just as Scripture commands the early Church to preach the Word diligently so too we preach in order that we might also be obedient to the charge of God.