I remember being enraptured, but not so much by the spokesperson — though Piper is of course a powerful preacher — as by the force of these verses that spoke to me that day. There is a sense in which that was the first time I began to understand more clearly what a call to preaching and ministry would mean.
“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. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” — 2 Timothy 4:1-5
I still remember the first time these verses laid hold of my heart. It was February of 1998, and a few college friends and myself hopped in a little car and drove north from Mobile, Alabama to Birmingham, to the campus of Samford University. John Piper was slated to preach the Conger Lectures there.
I remember walking into the majestic chapel at Beeson Divinity School on the Samford campus, and I just sat there and took it all in. It was a magnificent experience. And then John Piper preached 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I do not know if I had ever heard anyone preach this passage before, but if I had, they had not come to my mind since I had been wrestling with a call to ministry.
And I remember being enraptured, but not so much by the spokesperson — though Piper is of course a powerful preacher — as by the force of these verses that spoke to me that day. There is a sense in which that was the first time I began to understand more clearly what a call to preaching and ministry would mean. It would mean that I would fall in this great line of godly preachers for 2,000 years who have sought to preach The Word. It would mean that I would give my life to a task of preaching not knowing where that would take me, what that context would be, what that ministry would be like. I began to understand more clearly that, for me, saying yes to ministry would be saying yes to preach. It invigorated me, enlivened me, and exhilarated me to begin to see the weighty sense of the calling to preach The Word.
As President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I can say that we aspire to do many things well as an institution, but that which we most urgently aspire to do well is to train a generation of preachers who will preach The Word. It is the irreducible, indispensable task of the ministry to preach and teach The Word. I want you to see what I came to see in this text, four general marks of faithful preaching. The first is quite straightforward:
1. Preach Biblically
This exhortation is situated front and center in these five verses and front and center in the book of 2 Timothy as a whole. “Preach biblically.” It is stated plainly in the beginning three words of verse two — “preach The Word” — but it is embedded throughout the entire passage.
The words of Scripture themselves–all of the words–are inspired, and thus inerrant, and thus authoritative for us. So we see throughout this book the setting forth of the primacy of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and how Timothy’s ministry must be built upon it. If you are not convinced of Scripture and its truthfulness, authority, relevance, and power, you will be disinclined to preach The Word. You may look to it for sermon points because that is what evangelical preachers are told to do, but you will never let The Word be the point and points of your sermon. There has to be a correlation between our stated belief in God’s Word and our commitment to preaching it.
I understand the liberal preacher who does not believe the Bible and therefore does not do much preaching from the Bible. I actually get that and think it is intellectually consistent. I think it is horrible and ruinous to the church, but at least that person is being intellectually consistent. I do not, however, get the person who states to be an evangelical, who affirms belief in the Bible, but then is careless, negligent, or reluctant to preach it with full-throated force.