Whole Counsel Theology

Saturday, December 31, 2005

What is "Preaching the Word"?

This has become an important topic to me as of late, especially with a conversation I had with my pastor about it recently. That conversation spurred me on to a study of 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2, and for that, I am very grateful to God and to him. The text, and a brief exegesis of the passage, is below.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 4:1 Before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom, I solemnly charge you:
2 Timothy 4:2 proclaim the message (preach the word); persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.


OK, the main issue that I wanted to address when I came to this passage is to find out what "preaching the Word" (in this translation, "proclaim the message") meant. In other words, what does Paul mean when he gives Timothy the command to preach? What is this word, this message, that he is to proclaim?

The answer is not that difficult to determine if we use the rules of hermeneutics.

An important thing to remember is that chapter and verse breaks were not in the original texts. They were added much, much later. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for them -- to a point. :) I am glad that we have them, because without them, it would make it extremely difficult to navigate the Scriptures, especially larger books like Genesis and Isaiah.

However, that being said, sometimes the chapter breaks can be prohibitive to interpretation. The most glaring example I can think of is one of the so called "Servant Songs" that is located in Isaiah 52-53. The unit starts in verse 13 of chapter 52 and goes to the end of chapter 53. The chapter break therefore, to keep with the same thought, should have been at verse 13 in chapter 52.

I think the same situation is true here. Paul does not appear to intend a break between chapters 3 and 4. The thought flows nicely right over the chapter break. Let's then address these four verses about what the Bible says about itself and what preaching ought to be.

First we start with the first phrase in verse 16 -- "All Scripture." How much Scripture? All of it; there is not a word of Scripture that is excluded from this word. Nothing else in this passage qualifies the word "all" so it must taken universally -- to what it applies to. Paul was telling Timothy in verse 15 that he (Timothy) had been brought up with the "sacred Scriptures," having known them since he was young. These Scriptures, says Paul, "are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Now, Paul clarifies in verse 16, continuing the thought. ALL Scriptures are important, and profitable, and inspired, etc. The word all, according to Strong, means "all, any, every, the whole." Nothing is left out here with these Scriptures; every single part of Scripture is included.

The next question we should ask ourselves is what is meant by "Scripture?" According to Thayer, "Scripture" is:
1) a writing, thing written
2) the Scripture, used to denote either the book
itself, or its contents
3) a certain portion or section of the Holy Scripture

So then, we're talking about the Bible. Paul is obviously not talking about anything ever written because of verse 15; the things written were "able to instruct [Timothy] for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." However, even though we're talking about the Bible, how much of it are we talking about? Much of the New Testament was still being written; do we include its contents under this heading of "All Scripture?"

To that, I would give an unqualified YES. First of all, Paul understood that what he was saying, was indeed God's message:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 Also, this is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the message about God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God, which also works effectively in you believers.

The word for "message" here is the same word used in 2 Timothy 4:2 -- the word "logos." Note also that it works "effectively in you believers." We'll address that a little more later in verse 17 of chapter 3. Clearly, Paul understood that what he was communicating to the believers was none other than God's word, His message. Peter also has a few things to say about at least some of the writings of the New Testament:
2 Peter 3:15 Also, regard the patience of our Lord as an opportunity for salvation, just as our dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you.
2 Peter 3:16 He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.

Peter equates Paul's writings with the rest of Scripture -- the same word as 2 Timothy 3:16. There is also a warning here -- notice what kind of people distort them: untaught (ignorant, unlearned) and unstable people. It behooves us to learn as much as we can about the Bible and how to interpret it properly! In fact, this is one of the main reasons this blog even exists, so we can rightly understand the Bible and therefore apply it properly, in addition to showing some examples of it -- like this! :)

Now, we know what the Scriptures are -- the Bible. We also know how much of it we're talking about here -- ALL of it. The next thing Paul says about these Scriptures, the Bible, the Word of God, is that they are "inspired by God." Literally, this means "breathed out by God." The Bible, the words of the text, are literally "breathed out by God." Everything in them is there because God caused it to be there. From this passage like no other we get the doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture; that is, everything in the Bible is wholly accurate and without error. The implications of this are great! We can rely on EVERYTHING we read in Scripture; it is 100% dependable, a sure foundation on which to build any understanding in life -- and Paul says that very thing, in effect, in his next words.

The Scriptures (all of them) which are inspired by (breathed out by) God, are PROFITABLE for "teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness." The word "profitable," according to Strong, means "helpful or serviceable, that is, advantageous." What are the Scriptues profitable for? They are helpful, serviceable, and advantageous for teaching (instruction, doctrine, learning), rebuking (conviction, evidence of/for something, proof/proving something), correcting (restoration to an upright or right state; improvement of life or character), and training (chastening, chastisement, instruction, nurture) in righteousness (integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling and acting).

Wow! The Scriptures do all these things! Not only that, but Paul indicated the purpose for it in verse 17! The purse is so that the "man of God" (that is, in a broad sense, Christians) will then be complete (fitted) and equipped (thoroughly furnished; equipped fully) for every, or all (same word as verse 16 for all), good work{s} (upright deeds, good things done).

I love this! The Scriptures provide everything we need to know how to live in life! Anything that we need to know about God is found in the Bible. Any training that we need is from the Bible; if we want and need (and we should and do) purity in life, rightesouness -- it is in the Bible. And through the Bible, Paul says, we are equipped FULLY for EVERY good work. Nothing is excluded! Thanks be to God for the Bible that He gave to us!

What does this have to do with preaching? EVERYTHING! We'll see that shortly! In verse one of chapter four, having just told Timothy how important the Bible is (the Holy Scriptures), he (Paul) then gives Timothy a "solemn charge" (to attest to earnestly), and calls God and Christ Jesus as hit witness to it. He saying in no uncertain terms that what follows is critically important, and it is based on what he just said about the Bible. What is the thing Paul is charging young Timothy to do? Verse two tells us: "proclaim the message" which is often rendered "preach the word,"and it is to be done "whether convenient or not." What is Timothy suposed to preach, and subsequently others who preach? The anwer is simple: we are to preach the word, even when it isn't easy to do so. We work hard to preach the word!

How does this relate back to what Paul was talking about in the previous verses? Notice the words Paul uses here in verse two; rebuke (convict or convince), correct (admonish, sharply charge), and encourage with great patience (forbearance, longsuffering) and teaching (instruction, doctrine).

Do you see any similarities? Scroll back up a little and see what he used in verses 16 and 17 in the previous chapter. What we see in verse 2 here in a couple of cases is merely the verb form of the nouns in verse 16. So, what we have then is, from the context and also the words used, an EQUATION. That is we have this:
{Preaching the message = preaching the Word = preaching the Scriptures}

The text says just that! Paul is admonishing Timothy to preach the Scriptures! That is what preaching should be! It should be the the text of the Bible exposed before the congregation. There is a style of preaching that is just that, and it is called Expository Preaching. Expository Preaching, according to www.9marks.org, is defined as:
preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing God’s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.

So then, using that definition of Expository (or Expositional) preaching, let's adjust our equation a little:
{Preaching the message = preaching the Word = preaching the Scriptures = Expository Preaching}

I don't think it is a stretch at all to say that. Expository Preaching simply seeks to obey the command of 2 Timothy 4:2 and preach the Word of God, explaining its meaning and applying it. When a preacher gets up into a pulpit and delivers a message, he should be able to say confidently with the prophets of old, "Thus saith the Lord," or "This is what the LORD God says." The only way we can be sure of that is when we are declaring text of the Scripture itself, the very thing that God has already said, what He has "breathed out" so that we might take it in. A preacher that fails to do this is being disobedient to this command.

I've heard objections to this of course; the main one would be, I suppose, "So are you saying the only appropriate style of preaching is expositional preaching? What about Jesus? He often taught parables and told stories in His preaching." There are two ways to answer this:
  1. I am saying that we are commanded to preach the Word. If we don't do this, we fail to obey this command. It is that simple.
  2. Trying to use what Jesus said as an example of non-expository preaching is a fallacy. The reason why is that EVERYTHING Jesus said WAS the Word of God! He was God in the flesh; the very words He spoke were quite literally "breathed out by God" as they were spoken!

If then we want to preach a story, let it be the story that Jesus preached! Use an illustration of course to help in understanding the text, but let it point to the text always!

What are we, in effect, saying if we do NOT preach expositionally? Are we saying that we have something better to say that what God has already said? Are we indicating that, by our actions, that the Bible has become irrelevant and we need to say something else that we, by our own determination, have said IS relevant? Do we dare substitute our errant experiences for the inerrant Word of God?

May God help us, and forgive us, for often doing just that, and may He restore to pulpits, around the nation and the world, the powerful preaching of His inerrant, completely sufficient, Word.

To God Alone be the Glory.

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