THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH- Messasge Three - Preach the Word
THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH
Practice #1: Preach the Word
John MacArthur writes in “The Master’s Plan for the Church” The term church sets us apart from all other human institutions. We are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, purchased with His own blood. No other institution in the world owes its existence to such a fact.
The church is unique. The church is the possession of God, purchased by the blood of the Son of God and uniquely empowered by the Spirit of God. The church is unique in its possession, power and to this list we can add a third item. The church is not only unique in possession, power it is also unique in its practice. When we use the term practice we are referring to the unique activities that only the church can do.
The first and I believe the most important practice of the church is found in 2 Timothy 4:2. The veteran pastor/church planter Paul writes his final letter before his death. He addresses the letter to a young pastor by the name of Timothy and in the final chapter of the final letter he writes these words.
“I solemnly 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, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, NASB95)
Paul says to Timothy, Timothy here is my solemn charge to you. The words solemnly charge are the same word in Greek. They are words of warning. Paul warns young pastor Timothy to above all else to “preach the Word”.
There are three instructions that Paul gives to Timothy in these two verses. First of all he instructs Timothy in what he is to do.
1. The pastor is to preach the Word.
The pastor is to week by week open up the Word of God and preach it, teach it to those whom God has placed under his care. The pastor is simply a messenger. The pastor as we saw a couple of weeks ago, the pastor in a very real sense stands in the place of God, stands in the place of the Lord of the church Jesus Christ and he is to deliver the same message to the church that Christ would deliver.
What does it mean to preach the Word? Is this even an issue that we need to clarify? I believe it is because the vast majority of pastors/churches would tell you that they preach the Word. To preach the Word means that the pastor has been given the assignment to sit down with an open copy of the Scriptures, to read the text, to observe the text, to let the text speak for itself. The pastor must come to the text and place himself in submission to the text; he must not come with his own bias or agenda. He must be willing to examine the words of Scripture to see what they meant in their original context. He must engage in meditation and reflection on the text to discern the meaning of the text, he must pray over the text and a wise pastor will check his conclusions against what others have learned from the text. The pastor does all of this in order to teach the true sense of what God wants to say to us. What God has to say is much more important than anything the pastor has to say. This kind of preaching is what we would call expository preaching. John MacArthur one of the finest expository preachers alive today writes: /You need to read a text, find out what it says and means, draw out a divine truth, and plant that truth in the minds of people by repeating it./
But unfortunately that is not the kind of preaching that flows out of many pulpits. In fact the church growth experts warn pastors to not engage in this kind of preaching. They advise pastors to keep the message short, one expert counsels preachers to keep the length of their sermons to 17 minutes. You would probably appreciate that sometimes! The experts who have not been called by God to the ministry of the Word tell pastors to keep it light, funny, lots of stories and illustrations. Don’t make the message too heavy. The subject matter is very seldom about God. Rather it is geared towards the self-centered sinner in the pew. Such preaching is not biblical preaching. Such preaching does not glorify God or honor the Lord of the church.
2. When he is to preach Word
Not only is Timothy told what to do ‘preach the Word’ he also told when to do it. Paul says to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;” Paul is not simply saying be ready to preach at any time, though I believe there is that element in what Paul was saying. What Paul is teaching Timothy and every pastor is that they must be prepared to preach the word with persistence. They must be prepared to preach the word in spite of the inevitable opposition they will face. Paul instructs the pastor to preach the word whether or not the circumstances are favorable.
Paul teaches Timothy what he is to preach – the Word. When he is to preach – in season and out of season he goes on to tell him how to preach.
3. How to preach the Word
Paul teaches Timothy that as he preaches the word there are several things that need to happen. As Timothy preaches he is to…
v and he needs to do all of that with great patience and instruction.
More mature Christians need to take this to heart. Many times we expect too much too fast. If you are involved in discipling someone you must be patient, you need to understand that you are going to have to go over things time and time again. One way to have patience is to be Spirit filled, and another way to have patience is to simply reflect on the patience that God had with you. How many times did you have to be taught, how many times did you have to be rebuked? How many times did you have to be encouraged? There are some truths from the Scriptures that need to be constantly taught, and re-taught and re-taught again. For instance we try and emphasize and teach evangelism. Some of us have taken part in different training for evangelism. Why can’t we just do that once? Two reasons the first of which ought to be very obvious – we don’t do it very well. Second reason is that a reformed church never arrives. It is constantly reforming itself as it gains a better and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. As we gain a greater and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures we have the responsibility to teach those truths and to teach those truths until we are obeying those truths. The pastor must be willing to do this with great patience and instruction. We must not be too quick to think that the people we are discipling aren’t worth the time or the effort.
Let’s look at these three elements of preaching. Paul says Timothy as you preach the Word of God you can’t preach it or teach it in a detached way. Preaching is not a lecture. Preaching is confronting people with the truth of the Word of God. Sometimes that confrontation takes the form of reproving someone. What does that mean? That means that the pastor must at times take the Word of God and show an individual or perhaps the entire church that they have done something wrong or that they are believing in and practicing false doctrine. The pastor must be able to convince them from the Scriptures that their beliefs and many times their actions are wrong. There is the sense in this word that there is adequate proof that a sin has actually been committed. We have an illustration of this in Luke 3:19
“But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done,”
(Luke 3:19, NASB95)
What was going on here? John the Baptist confronted Herod because he had stolen his brother’s wife. There was sufficient proof obviously that Herod had sinned against God and John the Baptist confronted him with his sin in light of the Scripture. By the way what did John get for doing right? He lost his head! So you want to be a preacher? There are times that the pastor in preaching the word of God must reprove people.
There are other times that the pastor as he preaches the Word of God must rebuke individuals and the church body. What is a rebuke? A rebuke is stronger in that it is expresses a strong disapproval. To rebuke someone is to admonish with urgency and authority. That authority comes from the Word of God. To rebuke someone is to show them their motivation for doing something. But the pastor must not leave them there; he is to point them to repentance and restoration.
Reproving and rebuking are two important elements of preaching, they could be considered the negatives of preaching. But the negatives are used to produce a desired result.
But there is a positive element of preaching as well. Paul tells Timothy as you preach you need to use the Word of God in exhorting people. Again what does the word exhort mean? An exhortation is an encouragement. We find all of these elements throughout the Scriptures. The pastor as he preaches the Word of God must include these elements as necessary. Their use should be dictated by the text. Pastors many times dwell far too much on the negatives than they do the positive. The way for the pastor to keep that in check, to have the right balance is to engage in each of these activities as the text directs him to.
There is one final thing that I want to point out in Paul’s instruction to Timothy and that is the motivation for all of this. The motivation for Biblical preaching, for preaching the Word is found in verse 1
4. The motivation for preaching the Word
“I solemnly 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:”
(2 Timothy 4:1, NASB95)
The motivation for preaching the Word of God is the coming judgment! When Paul says that Jesus Christ is going to judge the living and the dead he is using those terms in the broadest of ways. He is referring to the impending judgment of unbelievers, and he is referring to the coming judgment of believers. The judgment of believers is not a judgment of condemnation it is a judgment of evaluation. Folks we need to understand that there is coming a time that each one of us will stand in the presence of God and of Jesus Christ and we will have to give an account of how we spent our lives. Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 5:10
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NASB95)
Paul also wrote in 1 Cor. 3
“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15, NASB95)
There is a coming day of evaluation for every believer. What has God provided for us to prepare us for that coming judgment day? His Word! That is why the Pastor is to preach the Word! If the pastor does not open up the word of God he is preparing his flock for failure when they stand before the Lord of the Church.
These truths lay a heavy responsibility upon both the preacher and the hearer. The preacher has a responsibility to faithfully preach the Word of God. Week after week, month after month, year after year he is to open up the Scriptures and deliver the message of God. I heard a pastor say on a tape when I was first learning how to preach, he said never forget that the Scriptures are words from the very lips of God! I’ve never forgotten that. The pastor is to faithfully teach God’s Word week by week. But the hearer has a responsibility as well. You have the responsibility to first of all hear, that means more than just listen. To hear God’s Word means to respond to God’s Word. You have the responsibility to be an active listener. To not slumber your way through the preaching time, to make sure that your mind is actively engaged in listening to what God is saying. You have the responsibility to make sure you are not day dreaming, or thinking about lunch or a nap or whatever! But your responsibility doesn’t stop there; we all have the responsibility to begin to obey the Scriptures. Knowledge not only brings responsibility and accountability it also increases both our knowledge and our accountability. Ignorance is not a plea that God will accept. Hearing without obedience leads to deception. James wrote
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22, NASB95)
How you respond to the Word of God has a direct impact on your life both now and in the future. Here as James says if you simply hear the Word of God but you never obey, you never apply what you learn then you end up deluding yourself. You end up deceiving yourself. We all have blind spots, we all have areas of our lives that our displeasing to God. God’s Word properly preached and heard reveals those blind spots and those areas that are displeasing to God and if the Word of God is properly preached it should also reveal the solution, the remedy for these problem areas in our lives.
What happens when we do respond positively to the Word of God? James tells us that as well. James 1:25
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25, NASB95)
The man who responds with obedience to what he has seen in the Scriptures will be as James says, “this man will be blessed”. This doer of the word experiences the blessings of obedience. The doer of the word enjoys the blessings of a life lived according to God’s Word. The doer of the word enjoys the presence of God in his life and he lives life not according to his own resources he lives life successfully by taking advantage of all that God has provided for us through Christ. The doer of the word experiences true satisfaction in life as his life becomes more and more Christ centered and less self centered.
The first practice of a healthy church is to preach the Word. You as a member of the church are responsible to hold those who teach and preach accountable for their commitment to the Word of God.
Every member of the church should follow the example of the noble Bereans who after they listened to Paul and Barnabas preach went home and daily searched the Scriptures to make sure that what they were hearing was the Word of God.
You also have the responsibility to put into practice the things that you hear taught from the word of God. The pastor has the responsibility to faithfully preach the Word of God. The church member has the responsibility to listen, practice discernment and practice what has been faithfully preached by the pastor.
Are you fulfilling your responsibility?
MacArthur, J. (1998, c1991). The Master's plan for the church (electronic ed.). Chicago: Moody Press.