II Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
This morning, honesty with source material is pivotal to credible presentation. When someone presents a paper or some other work, they will cite other works that were utilized in the construction of the paper, oration, etc. However, recent days have seen many – in various venues – utilize source material in ways not intended by the framers of those source works. For example, did any of the founding fathers of America envision the high courts making constitutional rulings as we have seen in recent years such as no prayer in public schools? Would some of our Baptist forefathers grant approval to the ways and means that some men today utilize their documents to advance ideas that those men they cite did not believe? Rather, should our founding fathers of this country or those faithful soldiers of the cross see today what men are doing with the source material that they wrote, I rather envision that disapproving scowls and harsh admonition might come forth. Therefore, as we pay homage to the sources we use, we must not only use them but use them in faithful honesty to their meaning and construction.
The verse above shows what the source material is for the minister of the gospel. When he comes to preach, he cannot come preaching himself or his opinion(s). Whenever I have opinions that I cannot fully prove by the word of God, I should do my best to limit their appearance in a sermon. Should a point be stirred in my mind from reading some other work, I should search diligently to study and find that point in God’s Book, for there is the final proof and material to cite when preaching to God’s hungry sheep. Having opinions and using other materials are not inherently bad, but they should be limited as much as possible while preaching. By doing so, the sure and safe ground of Holy Writ provides tenable positions that cannot be justly condemned. However, let us examine another aspect of “preaching the word” that quite often goes unnoticed or overlooked in these types of discussions.
Surely, whenever this verse is declared from the pulpit whether at a preacher ordination or otherwise, we hear the man speaking say, “You should preach what God says. Tell them what the Book says.” Statements following this sentiment flow forth and certainly follow the heart of Paul’s message to Timothy. However, unlike most other source materials that we might use, the Bible also provides not only the material for preaching, but it also contains the presentation for preaching. Whenever someone presents a proof paper in intellectual or academic circles, the sources they use do not provide the structure for the defense, dissertation, or presentation. They provide the necessary elements to build and construct the defense, dissertation, or presentation. The written word of God, on the other hand, provides not only the necessary elements but also the most conducive construction for the presentation of preaching.
One of the most common complaints that we hear about preaching is that Elder So-and-so preaches either too much doctrine or too much duty. Generally speaking, most ministers are more given to one than the other (although there are a few exceptions). Yet, regardless of the man’s tendencies, the word provides the necessary elements and presentation to solve this dilemma. Paul just concluded – right before our verse – showing Timothy what the Scriptures are profitable for. (II Timothy 3:16-17) When Timothy spoke, he should be speaking doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Our verse reiterates that point to exhortation with all longsuffering and doctrine. Therefore, knowing that the ingredients are there in God’s word, how do we present them?
Looking at the Scriptures in general and the New Testament epistles in particular, what is the most common structure and presentation of these elements? Notice the order that Paul employed in II Timothy 3:16-17. That order is indicative of his presentation of points whenever he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. By laying a doctrinal foundation of God’s work and what He has done, we are better suited, prepared, and ready to hear about what we should do in love and thanksgiving in return. By hearing about God’s work, we better hear the words of reproof (what we are doing wrong). By hearing those words of reproof, we better receive the correction (how to amend what we are doing wrong). By heeding the correction, we better follow after the instruction in righteousness (exhortation to continue in the paths we are currently following). Therefore, by taking the Bible as our source well for our points as well as a roadmap for presenting them, we should preach following the general pattern of doctrine to duty.
Another presentation method that is also often criticized is speaking from the negative. Quite often, I hear the complaint, “It is a turn-off when brethren run down Arminians, Calvinists, or some other group.” Recently, I was involved in a conversation in which someone made that comment while someone else said, “But sometimes presenting the other side and showing the error helps me when confronting people who take that side.” What does the source material say, and how does it present it? The Bible is primarily written from the standpoint of positive construction. What we mean by that is that more of the pages are written and time is spent building the towers of truth (the way things are), rather than pointing out the towers of error (the way things are not).
Quite often, Paul would employ verse after verse (with no end of the sentence in sight) building a construction of doctrinal truth with practical light shining out of the interwoven thread. In building this construct, he would occasionally raise the logical objection of the critic – such as Romans 9:14. In so doing, the critic’s views were put on display (albeit briefly) to show forth the rich truth of God’s work that they missed by their belief. So, the word does show forth that positive construction generally prevails with an intermingling of comparison by contrast to error.
Preaching by the minister should follow the same general pattern of primarily building the construct of truth with an occasional illustration by contrast to show the richness of truth. My father worked in the banking industry for many years and used this analogy quite often, “When we train tellers for the bank or savings and loan, we don’t show them the 10,000 different counterfeit bills that we know about. Rather, we let them handle the real thing enough so that the smell, feel, and sense of it is so ingrained that they immediately spot the counterfeit when they see it.” As I have often thought of that analogy, our preaching should promote the truth to such a degree that sheep immediately know the counterfeit by the feel, smell, taste, or sense of it. One might now say, “But what about the occasional contrast of error?” Whenever a counterfeit hits the bank – or a bad check hits a grocery store – the workers there generally all see it and observe it. It is not necessary for success in their particular function, but the contrast is studied “briefly” by all in the house.
Some complaints have been raised in times past about the manner of preaching that seems “scattered and disorganized.” Sometimes these same complaints carry the tenor of thought, “It’s just so unclear.” While the Bible does have some hard to be understood passages, Paul laboured abundantly to make things as clear as possible. (II Corinthians 3:12) As we have already mentioned, Paul’s writings were particularly well organized into logical and flowing patterns. Even though Paul brought in illustrations to help bolster his points from time to time, he steadily marched as an orderly and smartly aligned soldier of the cross of Christ when presenting rich truths to God’s people. Even though Paul relied on direction from the Holy Spirit and impression from on high as much as any minister, the manner of presentation demonstrated the orderliness of Him who did the impressing. Since God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33), confusing, scattered preaching does not originate with Him.
Lastly, the Scriptures show forth the way in which touchy subjects should be addressed. Have you ever heard someone say, “He didn’t say anything wrong. I just don’t like how he said it.” Using our source material, we find that even though the writers had to harshly criticize certain behaviours in different places (Paul’s first epistle to Corinth for example), there is never any doubt from the overall tenor of the writing that the speaker loves and cares for the people he addresses. Could anyone doubt that Paul loved the church at Corinth even though many of their actions probably were a headache to him? Could anyone doubt that John’s pursuit of truth in writing his epistles were not beautifully knit with the bonds of love as he repeatedly called them “beloved?” When a minister speaks to God’s heritage the harshest of criticisms should never completely veil the love and tenderness that he should have for them. Much like parents correcting children, the spankings should never hide the love (like an abusive parent would). Rather, the love should be seen in the correction, and the way in which it is administered will prove the difference.
While the Bible has the necessary elements and points to preach about and from, may we also heed its source material on how to present these things. May our sermons provide the stable construction of doctrine leading to duty, primarily built upon the construct of truth with occasional illustrations of contrast. May they be plain and orderly thereby making them easier to digest among the hearers, and may the love of the servant to the people and his Lord be seen no matter how “out of season” the words may seem. By following these charted points of Holy Writ, we will grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord as well watered trees of righteousness showing forth the glory of God in our lives.