Many have written, preached, and taught on the importance of preaching. This importance cannot be overstated since God, in his omniscience, chose the preaching of his word as the mode for man to be saved (Rom. 10:9-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Thus, any man undertaking the endeavor of publicly proclaiming God’s word must be aware that such a job is a serious responsibility. Likewise, those who hear the public proclamation ought to respect the sound preacher who feeds flocks and reaches the lost through his study and pronouncement of God’s word.It is with these facts in mind that those who preach, and those who listen, must be knowledgeable of the preacher’s responsibilities. Perhaps no scripture better illustrates the preacher’s responsibilities better than Paul’s encouragement in Second Timothy 4:1-5, from which the following points are drawn.
Before a preacher can be proficient, he must recognize his responsibility. He must not take preaching God’s word lightly, lest he turn the pulpit into a space for levity. He, like Timothy, must recognize that he is charged to preach by God, Jesus Christ, “who is to judge the living and the dead,” and by Christ’s appearing and kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1). This is not a light matter. Along with a recognition of this responsibility must be the recognition of the fact mentioned in James 3:1. Indeed, those who teach “will receive heavier judgement” (ASV). Therefore, the responsibility must be recognized. A man who does not recognize the responsibility to preach God’s word to the best of his ability whenever he stands behind the pulpit need not stand behind the pulpit. The proclaimer of God’s word must realize that he in some sense is standing between men and their eternity. The recognition of his great responsibility should follow.
Preach the word
While this point may seem redundant, it is perhaps the most important (2 Tim. 4:2). I would like to, for a moment, place emphasis on the word. The preacher’s responsibility is not to preach political satire or the best zinger from the Sunday morning funnies. In contrast to those who have itching ears and “will not endure sound teaching” (2 Tim. 2:3), and in contrast to those who preach “myths” (NAS) or “fables” (KJV), a preacher has the responsibility to preach the word. This signifies a dedication to doctrine. For a preacher to be proficient he must “Be diligent to present [himself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 NAS). To be able to preach the word, one must know the word; and to be able to know the word, one must study the word. A man cannot preach what he doesn’t know; nor can he know what he doesn’t study.
The word must be preached because the word is the only thing that can be preached and result in the salvation of man. After all, it is the power of the gospel that saves man (Rom. 1:16), but if this gospel is never heard, it can never achieve its purpose (cf. Rom. 10:9-17). The preacher must give diligence to knowing the word well enough to preach it and defend it. If a preacher proclaims something other than what “is consistent with sound teaching” (Ti. 2:1 HCSB), he is failing to fulfill his responsibility—he is failing to answer the charge of God, Jesus, and the kingdom. God forbid!
Paul explains what to preach, and when to preach. A preacher has the responsibility to preach “in season and out of season.” In other words, the preacher must preach and “persist in it whether it is convenient or not” (2 Tim. 4:2a HCSB). There will be times when preaching the word is “inconvenient.” Whether there is a controversial subject that needs to be addressed, or there is an opportunity to preach to a crowd hostile to the truth; the word still needs to be preached. The preacher’s responsibility to preach the word is not only binding when he feels up to it. It is ever-present.
Preachers have a responsibility to preach the word, but that preaching is further described by three imperatives: reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2b). In these verbs we see that the preacher has a responsibility to be balanced. Paul did not encourage Timothy to rebuke, rebuke, and rebuke (as some preachers prefer), or to exhort, exhort, and exhort (as other preachers prefer). The proficient preacher is a balanced preacher. His preaching ought to consist of “correct[ing] error by the use of reasoned argument,” rebuking a “straying conscience whenever the need appear[s],” and “giv[ing] hope to the fainthearted by providing tender encouragement in the face of opposition” (Lea, et al. 243). It can be difficult to be balanced in one’s approach from behind the pulpit; but such balance is needed. Such balance is a responsibility.
Composed, faithful, and fruitful
Lastly, Paul encourages Timothy to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). In contrast to the false teachers and ear-ticklers mentioned in Second Timothy 4:3-4, Timothy was to be sober-minded. He was to be aware, alert, and level-headed. Otherwise, he might fall into the same trap of wandering off into myths. Preachers today have the same responsibility to be “watchful in all things” (NKJ). Preachers need to be aware of false doctrine and its proponents, lest they fail to warn the flock or stand firm themselves. Likewise, a preacher needs to “endure suffering” while being level-headed. Hardship is an inevitability for many preachers as it was for Timothy (cf. 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3; 3:12), but the preacher must endure. While enduring, the preacher must do the work of an evangelist—reaching the lost and feeding the spiritually hungry. And lastly, the preacher must fulfill his ministry. He must do all that he is charged to do in his service to the Lord. To preach, to be ready, to avoid false doctrine, to be diligent, to endure.
Overall, the responsibility of the preacher is multi-faceted. While it may be difficult to always fulfill these duties, let all Christians remember the authority which charges the preacher. It is not from man or council that the preacher has these responsibilities; but from God. Therefore, let those who preach endeavor to do so proficiently and Biblically.
Lea, Thomas D., and Hayne P. Griffin. 1, 2 Timothy, Titus. Vol. 34. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.