December 17, 2017

Foundational Fundamentals Concerning the Nature of Preaching

Gordon Phillips

God charges a preacher with specific responsibilities in His church.  The Apostle Paul tells Timothy about this charge in 2 Timothy 4:1-4,

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Timothy is to proclaim God’s Word, but a preacher’s responsibility does not end with merely delivering the truth.  He is to also “reprove, rebuke, and exhort concerning the truth with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

The word reprove comes from the Greek word ἐλέγχω (elegcho) which means  to convince or convict.  Even in the English word we see its root is the word “prove.”  It is necessary for a preacher not just to proclaim truth but also to bring his listeners to a place of belief by bringing to bear upon their hearts and minds authoritative evidence for the truth.  In a certain sense he is like a lawyer who is trying to do everything he can do to help the jury be absolutely convinced of a certain position by reason of the evidence.  God’s people need to know that something is true by the faithful expounding of the Bible rather than just because, “My preacher said so.”  Oh, that they would know truth because they know that the Bible says so, where it says so, and how it says so!

Secondly, there is the word rebuke.  Sometimes in our English translation the underlying Greek word for rebuke is the same as that cited above for reprove.  Here, however, it is the Greek word ἐπιτιμάω (epitimao) which means to chide or set a weight upon.  There may be some preachers who refuse to acknowledge “weight setting” as a proper Biblical preaching principle due to what Christ said concerning the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:4, “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”  However, the burden being bound on the shoulders of others by the scribes and the Pharisees was that of the vain tradition of men as a supposed mark of superior spirituality.  It had nothing to do with a sense of disapproval of someone’s wrong actions to see a change in them for good.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself rebuked (meaning to set a weight) many times.  In fact He commands us all in Luke 17:3 to rebuke or set a weight upon anyone who has trespassed against us.  “Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”  So then another responsibility of the preacher is to refuse to accept wrong in others by making them feel the weight of the wrong they have done so that they will be willing to look at the Scriptural evidence for truth and to make a thorough change in their life.

The final word in that list is exhort.  It is the Greek word παρακαλέω (parakaleo) which literally means to call along side.  A preacher has a responsibility to call people to move from where they are to where they need to be which is along side of God’s truth.  Too many people think that only the Holy Spirit through His inner workings in the heart should reprove, rebuke, or exhort.  Yes, these are the work of the Spirit in the heart and mind of man, but the truth is that the Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum.  There is a reason that God gave “some, apostles; some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”  There is a reason why He gave His written Word.  God designed a threefold means of spiritual work–His men, His Word, and His Spirit.  All three are vital in spiritual work.  The Holy Spirit can only use that which we have read or heard to do His work in our hearts.  If we refuse to listen to certain things, we can be assured the Holy Spirit will never bring conviction about those things; however, if we would do our part He most certainly would.

Two other vitally important components of preaching as described in this passage are longsuffering and doctrineLongsuffering refers to an attitude in preaching and doctrine as the vehicle or means of preaching.  As the Apostle Paul reminds us elsewhere there needs to be a patience, meekness, and gentleness in a preacher’s instruction.  This does not mean that the preacher is to present truth palatable and inoffensive in its content.  Let’s think about that.  Simply stated preaching’s ultimate goal is change.  If I want men to be changed to Biblical truth, I must preach to them that truth which will be contrary to who and what they are presently.  That will always give opportunity for offense.  In order not to offend in content, my only choice is to alter truth.  This is, of course, the essence of Seeker-Sensitive churches.  The attitude of longsuffering is about the preacher’s character and demeanor.  He must genuinely care about those he is preaching to and be willing to go to great lengths to help them understand Biblical truths that they are either disobeying or ignoring.  The danger for a preacher concerning this is when he becomes apathetic and accepting of wrong and passes it off as his being longsuffering.

Finally, we end with doctrineDoctrine is teaching, and teaching in preaching is a Biblical must!  There has been for too long a false notion that the main difference between teaching and preaching is that teaching is boring, and preaching is exciting.  We have all heard the old expression “He went in deep and came up dry.”  If that is the case, then passion alone will not make any difference because “fluff” is what results from adding air and no substance.  There is no need for preaching either to be dry or fluffy, and it will not be so if it is substantive in its nature.  Doctrine adds substance and authoritative substance at that.  It is amazing to see the excitement that people have about preaching when through the means of teaching they now understand how a passage teaches what it does.  It is one thing to proclaim truth, but an entirely different thing to explain it.  A preacher must be able to expound the Word of God so people understand it!  He must be “apt to teach.”

What does it all mean then?  It means that a preacher who understands his God given responsibilities realizes that he must speak the truth, convince of the truth, chide the neglect of the truth, and finally call all to come along side of the truth (making the truth mine not just in heart but in deed).  All this he is to do with an attitude of all longsuffering and through means of doctrine.  I strongly believe that the importance of sound Biblical-based preaching, which rests on the authoritative truths of Scripture rather than the experience, knowledge, or other resources of man, needs to be given its rightful place in our churches again.  Without it God’s people cannot be changed.  With it great things are possible.

The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.  What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.  Is not my word like as a fire?  saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:28-29

Published on “Faith, Theology, and Ministry” blog at and copyrighted 2016 by Gordon D. Phillips. Used by permission.

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