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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (ESV)
In English we seldom use the word charge in this way. However, the choice of translation from the Greek doesn’t leave many options. The word is elsewhere translated as testify or witness. It is only in First and Second Timothy (1 Tim 5:21, 2 Tim 2:14, 4:1) that the word is used in such a way as to be rendered, charge. Paul could have said that he instructed or commanded Timothy but that would not covey the same idea. In English it is a very serious to charge someone to do something, for instance a judge will charge a jury to study all the evidence. There is an implied responsibility that goes along with a charge.
In each of these three instances where Paul uses the word, it is binding and solemn because he is calling God and others to be witnesses to the command. Is this command only for Timothy or is it also for us? If it is for us, then we could not be held more accountable to carry out this instruction than if it had been given to us directly from the Lord.
Sure, this was written specifically to Timothy, but we have just seen that all scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training (2 Tim 3:16). If we only pick out those promises in the Word that are blessings or commands that are easy to obey and ignore the ones that are more difficult by claiming they don’t apply to us, then we are manipulating God’s Word to suit our own comforts. As an example:
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11 NIV)
Most of us have quoted this verse and claimed it as a promise for our lives. Yet this verse was very specifically addressed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It was so specific that it was dated to occur seventy years after the exile to Babylon. If we are to claim this promise for our lives and ignore the solemn charge to Timothy than we are not being consistent in the application of the Word to our lives. Every one of us needs to preach the Word in one way or another in season or out.
In God’s Presence
Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!, Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips;, For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." … Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" (Isa 6:5, 8 NASB)
One of the many passages in the Bible that describe someone in the presences of God occurs in Isaiah, chapter six. Ezekiel, Daniel, and John all experienced similar things when they had visions of God. In Isaiah’s encounter, his sinfulness is revealed and God’s holiness is emphasized. Yet it is God’s grace that enables and commissions Isaiah who responds to God’s question, “Here am I. Send me” (Isa 6:9). If we want to be serious about serving the Lord, we should think about standing before God and Jesus as we read Paul’s charge to Timothy. We should have the same awe and fear that struck Isaiah. We are also standing not only before God, but before our risen Savior who has cleansed is from all sin. Perhaps, we should be in even more awe, knowing how much we owe Him.
He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. (John 12:48 NKJV)
This charge is all the more solemn because God is our judge. He is the one who will decide whether we will be saved or to be cast into hell. Jesus warned us that physical judgment during this life is not to be feared, but we really need to fear our eternal judgment (Matt 10:28). Fortunately, Christians will not face the consequences of our sin because Jesus has paid for that and is our advocate before the Father (Jude 24, 1 John 2:1-2). Contemplating this wondrous salvation should make us stand all the more in awe of God and Jesus.
Jesus’ words will be used to judge us, and all of Scripture can be considered Jesus’ words because Jesus is the Word. Therefore, we should consider this command to preach the Word in the same awe as if we were standing in the judgment. While we will not be punished as unbelievers, we will be held accountable and may lose some of the blessings if we are disobedient (1 Cor 3:12-15, Rom 14:12). Paul says the God judges the living and the dead. This makes it even more imperative to preach the Word because we will be held accountable even while we are still alive for our failure or our fulfillment of our obligation to preach the Word. Peter made it clear that we are being judged even during our lifetime (1 Peter 4:17). The results are discipline if we are straying or being lazy in our commitment to the Lord (Heb 12:6).
His Appearing and His Kingdom
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.” (Matt 25:41 NLT)
The charge is made urgent by Paul’s inclusion of Jesus’ return. When He returns it will be too late for many. They need to hear the Word preached now. We need to remember that Jesus could return at any moment. Those who are not ready will not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus made it clear in the parables that preceded His description of the final judgment.
Five foolish virgins in the parable of the ten virgins wanted to be included in the kingdom by borrowing from those who were prepared (Matt 25:8). To put this in terms of today, they didn’t have what it takes to know Jesus because they hadn’t heard good preaching. They never had a relationship with Jesus but may have had all sorts of religion. When Jesus appears to welcome believers into His kingdom, only those He knows will be included. Those who were taught that they could earn their way into heaven or were taught some other path need to hear the Word preached, not pop religion.
The third servant in the parable of talents had a terrible image of God and acted accordingly (Matt 25:24). He was taught bad theology or made up his own. Had he heard good preaching and responded to it, he would not have hid his talent in the ground. He would have recognized God’s grace and provision for His children and would have served his master even while He was away. At his master’s appearing, he was judged by his own faulty concepts of God. So, preaching the Word is extremely important in view of Jesus appearing and kingdom.
Preach the Word
What does it mean to preach the Word? If I’m right, then we are all supposed to preach the Word. At the very heart of preaching the Word is making sure that our theology is based on the Bible instead of our own desires or concepts of who God is. Preaching the Word may be as simple as quoting a verse at an appropriate time or may be as complex and writing a doctorate thesis. For most of us it is being ready to share the hope that is within us.
But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15 RSV)
First, we must have Jesus in our hearts and put Him first. If we are to reverence Him, we can’t preach anything that takes away from His Word and we shouldn’t add anything to it either. We can clarify what the Bible says by making application to life’s circumstances. We can substantiate the application with other verses. We need to know the Word to be able to do these things.
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. (Col 4:5-6 NASB)
Preaching may be in casual conversations with other believers or unbelievers. It doesn’t have to be a formal gathering or from a pulpit. When we preach to those who don’t know Jesus, we have to have wisdom about how to make the most of every opportunity. Sometimes it could be just one sentence to correct a false notion about God. However it is done, we are not to be combative but gracious. This doesn’t mean that we passively surrender when someone disagrees with us as we may need to clearly rebuke or correct others (Jude 3). This calls for Holy Spirit wisdom for each situation. As Paul exhorts Timothy and us, we need to do all this patience.
In Season and out of Season
The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. (1 Cor 3:8 NIV)
There is a time for each of us to preach to different people under different circumstances. If we are speaking to people who don’t know the Lord, then the season is planting. Everyone has a different idea about what approach should be taken with unbelievers. Many who successfully deal with homeless addicts and the really down-and-outers would say to just preach the cross. If they don’t respond, preach the cross and keep at it. Some would say that we need to meet people where they are as Paul did on Mars Hill by starting with what they know and bringing the Gospel into it (Acts 17:22). Some say that living a godly life is preaching but it isn’t. Whether it is preaching the cross, or starting with common interests, it isn’t preaching until Jesus is proclaimed. That what Paul says in Romans 10:14.
Watering cold be repeating the Gospel message or clarifying aspects of it until the seed sprouts. Watering is necessary after the seed spouts as well. This would be proclaiming the Word of God to help believers grow in holiness. It may be rebuking sinful behavior and correcting lifestyles. The world has taught us how to live up until the time we become Christians. There needs to be a lot of reeducation to renew the attitudes of our minds (Eph 4:23) after coming to Christ in salvation.
These twenty-three years the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. (Jer 25:3 NASU)
What do we do when it appears that our preaching doesn’t do any good? Have we witnessed faithfully to any particular person or group of people for 23 year? During his life, Jeremiah was treated with contempt for his prophecies and rebuke of Judah. He was imprisoned and nearly killed, yet he remained faithful to God’s calling on his life. While this may seem a long time to us, it was only a fraction of the time in which God sent judges and prophets to all of Israel. If we want to learn what it means to be patient in preaching the Word, then we need to see how God looks at it all. He is patient with us. He doesn’t want people to die in their sins but wants everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:9).
Still, there are times when it appears that even God gives up on people. Jesus told the rich young ruler that he had to choose between his wealth and Jesus. When he choose his wealth, Jesus let him go (Mark 10:17-22). Jesus also told us not to cast our pearls before swine otherwise we would suffer consequences (Matt 7:6). So there is this dilemma between continued patience in teaching, rebuking, correcting, and evangelizing (summed up as preaching) and when to stop and move on.
In a way, it was simple for Jeremiah. God told him to keep on doing it. On occasion, he wanted to stop but God wouldn’t let him off the hook. Jesus only had so much time on earth and had to look at the big picture. If He chased after the rich man, would that have changed things enough so that the timing of His death would have been thrown off? That may be silly speculation, but we need to decide, by listening to the Holy Spirit, where and when to minister. We must also decide what to do when people have so rejected the Word with the possibility that they turn on us with physical violence. It isn’t simple but when the Holy Spirit makes it clear that we are to preach, then that is what we must do.
SummaryThere are as many ways, times, and places to preach the Word as there are people who know Jesus. If we look at the Old Testament, we can see the various ways each of the prophet preached the Word. Micaiah actually used sarcasm (1 Kings 22:15) but that was quickly recognized and then he spoke clearly to King Ahab. We don’t really question how or what to preach; our problem is usually failure to preach.