Posted: 21 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
FEW PASSAGES HAVE PROVED more popular at evangelical ordination services than, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2).
We reflect, first, on the charge itself. It may be broken down into four components. (a) The focus of the charge: "Preach the Word." This is central to all gospel ministry—the heraldic declaration of the content of God's gracious self-revelation. (b) The urgency of the charge: "be prepared in season and out of season." It is one thing to be prepared for the stated meetings, the ordinary scheduled obligations to speak, to preach; it is another to be ready to declare the whole counsel of God at the drop of a hat. Paul demands both kinds of readiness. (c) The scope of the charge: "correct, rebuke and encourage." Preaching the Word means more than the mere conveying of information. There is information, of course, but it is so shaped and applied that it functions in one or more of these transforming ways. Thus the minister of the Gospel is necessarily a spiritual diagnostician, discerning the ailment and knowing what remedies to apply. Pity the minister of the Word who applies encouragement when rebuke is called for, or the reverse. (d) The manner of fulfilling the charge: "with great patience and careful instruction." Paul's view of the ministry demands a focus on the long haul, on personal patience, on great care with the substance of what is preached. This is not simply a job to be done, a job by which to support yourself and your family. This demands strong Christian character traits and a mind devoted to thinking through and implementing all that is embraced by "careful instruction."
In the second place, we observe some of the themes surrounding this charge. (a) This charge to preach the Word Paul solemnly delivers in the name and presence of God and in the light of Christ's return to judge the living and the dead and to consummate his kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1). It is difficult to imagine a weightier introduction. (b) Paul delivers this charge in the expectation that many "will not put up with sound doctrine," but will prefer teachers who say what they want to hear. There are more "itching ears" (2 Tim. 4:3) within evangelicalism than we would like to admit. The proper response is to "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:5). (c) Paul's charge is uttered in a context that insists on how important godly mentors are (2 Tim. 3:10–11), how bad the world can be (2 Tim. 3:12–13), and how unshakable the Scriptures are that must be preached (2 Tim. 3:15–16).
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