Posted By Matthew on July 24, 2014
It was an hour and a half from the center of Dallas-Fort Worth. It was in a small littleTexastown. The building was an old school house that was moved to function as a church building. It was my first real-kind of job preaching. I was at Brown Trail for approximately six months when Gary Garner approached me taking over the Sunday Morning service for this tiny congregation. The little church met once on Sunday morning, and I was required to preach the lesson, not Bible class, just the sermon. In the building, we met on the side in a little classroom because the church did not have enough funds to heat or cool the worship center. Up to this point, I preached about 2 lessons before in a congregational setting. Both of these times, everyone knew me and desired to support me in this work. There were numerous eyes focused and heads nodding. But this church was different. I was just another young preacher trying to improve in speaking. This experience shocked me, but mostly one man. One man would come to worship and partake of the Lord’s Supper. After this, I would stand up to preach. As I was standing, he was arranging the chairs. This created some nervous feelings, this never happened before. He turned the chair in front of him, he stretched out on the chair under him, and he placed his cowboy hat over his head. And the man slept. This was not a big congregation. Maybe there were 12 people. It was a small room, you could not hide. People get tired in church, but most people try to stay with you. Not this man, sermon time was nap time for him. This show really bothered me. I really thought what I was talking about was interesting. For the first three weeks, I tired to preach strong, enthusiastic lessons. But this did not work. Finally, I thought I would preach on the death of Christ. There is no way; a man will sleep through the death of the Lord. As always, the man turned the chair and placed the hat. I started preaching in a too loud tone for the small room. I raised my voiced; I told the story of the death of Jesus Christ. And the man slept, he did not move until the invitation song. He slept through the death of the Lord. I realized then that I needed some help in preaching.
Paul changes his focus from Timothy’s personal conduct to his public ministry among the congregation inEphesusin verse 13. Paul mentions, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Paul is expecting to see Timothy again. Previously, Paul mentioned this expectation for a reunion. He said in 1 Timothy 3:14-15 that he is hoping that He will come to Timothy soon. Paul is not sure of his timetable but is hoping to support Timothy in his located work. Knight speculates “that Timothy may be assigned other tasks when Paul arrives and perhaps that Paul himself will take over some of these responsibilities” (207). There is some debate concerning this because of the usage of the “eJvwV” clause. This could be seen as a post-positive, in which the text would be rendered with what precedes it. So the text would read “make yourself an example until I come.” This view is supported with “eJvwV” being the indicative, which would make the rendering as “while” instead of “until.”
The only other verses that mimic this phraseology are found in John 21:22-23, “Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’ This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not.” In this context, the phrase is rendered “until” instead of “while.” Probably, whatever way the text is rendered, the meaning does not significantly change because Knight points out that this phrase means generally “turn one’s mind to.” Paul does not indicate in the verse that he is coming to relieve Timothy, but simply instructs Timothy to be busy conducting his ministerial responsibilities (207).
The Preaching Model
Paul gives three major responsibilities for Timothy to perform. Paul says in verse 13, “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” The word for “attention” is “prosevcw” which means to “turn one’s mind to, occupy oneself with, devote or apply oneself to” (Knight 207). Timothy is to give his focus to these duties that Paul is about to list. The works that Paul lists are the priorities for Timothy to accomplish. Instead of following the example of the false teachers who “pay attention to myths” and “to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” Timothy is to devote himself to the word of God. In fact, the word for “attention” is a present imperative, which indicates that Timothy was to continually give his attention to those acts of service (Lawson 82). Lawson argues from this text that this is the model for a minister’s ministry. The first order of work for a preacher is preaching. He is to work on “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Lawson, instead of seeing these elements as separate, sees them as making up the whole of biblical preaching (82-84). He is close to the truth in this view because each of these elements has a special attribute, but all of them make up the preaching event. Even the order of the verse is important because Paul tells Timothy to immerse himself in the biblical text, to encourage people to follow the text, and to teach its doctrines (Mounce 260).
First of all, Timothy is to focus on “the public reading of Scripture.” The modern church typically places little emphasis on the public reading of the scripture. This was not the case in the early church because the reading of the scriptures was a major feature in the public assembly of both the synagogue and in the worship of the church. This was influenced by culture because most believers did not have personal copies of the Old Testament text, so the public reading of the scriptures was an opportunity to hear the voice of the Lord (Moss 93). To a certain extent, there was also to be the public reading of the New Testament scriptures. On numerous occasions, Paul commanded for his letters to be read for the assembly. 1 Thessalonians 5:27, “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.” Also, Colossians 4:16, “And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.” After Timothy has read the text for the congregation atEphesus, he is to give an exhortation. He is to motivate the people to follow the instructions of the inspired text. He is to encourage the people to practice the Word of God.
This method of Christian preaching followed the established methodology of synagogue worship. After the text was read, there would be a word of encouragement (Mounce 261). This seems to be the order of worship in Acts 13:15-16: “And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.’ And Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, he said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.” In this text, the Old Testament was read and then Paul proceeded to preach a message from the text. This method continues with the reading of New Testament letters with the exhortation following. Acts 15:30-32 seems to record an event like this:
So, when they were sent away, they went down toAntioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.
Timothy’s third duty is to teach doctrine to his hearers. The concept of teaching has been a major theme throughout Paul’s correspondence with Timothy. This seems to be the major defense against the false teachers. Timothy must be rooted in the word of God. Timothy is expected by Paul to give the theologically correct rendering of the text. It was not good enough just to have a basic comprehension of the text, but there needed to be a fuller awareness of the text’s meaning. This meaning would be found through study, reflection, and singular devotion (Mounce 261). Knight mentions that the word “teach” has an “unmistakable intellectual character” (208). Where the exhortation was for application, teaching is for knowledge. All of these elements are needed in biblical preaching. The exhortation is to help the hearers respond appropriately, and the teaching is referring to the principles of the faith.
The Model of Healthy and Biblical Preaching
In verse 13, Paul gives some advice on the preaching event. He says, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” The preaching event, whether on the street corner or in the marketplace is a defining work for a minister. Though these locations would have been more prevalent during Paul’s preaching career, today the minister is typically given the task of speaking a message from the word of God on Sunday morning and evening in a designated church building. Whatever the time or location, the importance is everlasting. There are volumes of books on how to preach. There are endless possibilities in the style or methodology of effective communication of God’s word. Whatever the method or form of the sermon, Paul gives the three essential ingredients for a Biblical lesson. At the core of preaching, there is the focus on the word of God. This is the centering point for all lessons. The scripture must be exalted. The idea of preaching has numerous images that influence the style of proclamation. One of the images is the herald. The idea of the herald is a spokesman for God. God is the one speaking through the minister to give moral advice and truth. The preacher’s role is not one of beauty but more of faithfulness to the truth. The herald’s role is simply to proclaim the message of Christ. It does not have to be interesting, flowing, or provoking because the herald is to speak plainly and in a straightforward way. A herald’s core value is one that avoids a flashy presentation. Another image of the preaching event is one of pastor. A pastor is most concerned with the needs of the congregation. He speaks the word of God into the troubled life of the congregation. He is concerned with changing the congregation for the better. Unlike the purpose of the herald that places all the duty for listening on the members, the pastor believes himself to be responsible for the application to the member’s lives. The final image is one of storyteller. The storyteller sees the text through narrative as the base for life. The stories communicate the gospel truths. The storyteller takes great responsibility for making the message relevant to the needs of the congregation (Long 24-38).
A minister must realize that the image he brings into the pulpit will affect his delivery and sermon presentation. In all of these roles, the use of scripture must be woven together to create a message from the word. This message must be rooted in the eternal truths of God’s revelation. A message that is rooted in worldly wisdom or pop culture is unbiblical and lacks transforming power. But one must understand that declaring truth does not have to be accomplished through a point-by-point treatment of the text. In fact, Fred Craddock gives four ways to handle a biblical text accurately. Craddock states there are the historical context, the pastoral context, liturgical context, and the theological context. Whatever lens the minister uses to proclaim the message of God, it always has to be centered in the biblical text (33-47). But this does not mean that the preacher has to avoid illustrations or application or humor. Paul realizes that the preaching event must also encourage and teach. A preacher needs to be wise in varying the purposes of his sermons because a minister who is given to instruction only will build a head faith, a preacher that is just a cheerleader for the congregation will not build strong convictions and values, and the minister who never uses relevant material to add flow will lose the attention of the listeners.
As one surveys the biblical text, the wide variety of sermons is amazing. Jesus used considerable variety in delivering His messages. In the Sermon on the Mount, He used pithy lines to gain attention and transformation. These lines would be easy to recall at a later date. Jesus also used parables to communicate and cloak his message. Matthew 13:10-13 addresses the paradoxical style of Jesus’ teaching:
And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.’
It is natural to make Jesus the model for teaching, but one must realize that Jesus is not providing a pattern in teaching. The methods or styles of teaching are constantly changing as the culture develops. Jesus is using the customary practices of a Rabbi in communicating His messages. It would be erroneous to assume that Jesus would not use PowerPoint or humorous stories to convey his thoughts in today’s world.
Paul and Peter also demonstrate a wide variety of forms in preaching the gospel. In Acts 2, Peter in addressing a predominately Jewish audience made appropriate use of the Old Testament scriptures. Peter’s audience would place great importance on the Old Testament verses. By using the Old Testament, Peter is adding authority to his words about the Christ. In contrast to Peter’s inspired sermon, Paul, in Acts 17 in addressing those on Mars Hill, a predominantly Gentile audience with philosophical leanings toward a Greco-Roman culture, never used a single Old Testament verse. Paul used more of a philosophical line of reasoning with his hearers because this thought process would connect better than using Old Testament verses to prove his point. Unlike sermons from the past, which were judged on the number or the amount of verses provided, a scriptural sermon is one that declares a Biblical truth using whatever godly discipline available. Because of the diversity within the early church with regard to preaching, every congregation should restrain from placing one style of preaching on a pedestal as the authorized way. The development of preaching has always been one of the strengths of the restoration movement (Crisp 17).
Timothy Kelly provides some practical advice to help preaching remain relevant. He lists five major disciplines of the preacher’s life: daily prayer, daily reading, writing, sharing God’s word with intimates, and getting away from people at times (263). These seem to help in the constant pressure to deliver in one location heart-moving sermons week after week for numerous years. The pressure to preach can be enormous if one does not have a strong connection to the Lord and His word. But the Bible never must be turned solely into an instruction manual of a godly man. It is larger than a tool book or a medical book that prescribes, to a minister, practices that will heal because it is the living word of God. The minister wrestles with the word as the word wrestles with him. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book The Preaching Life gives a beautiful statement concerning the nature of the Word.
For all the human handiwork it displays, the Bible remains a peculiarly holy book. I cannot think of any other text that has such authority over me, interpreting me faster than I can interpret it. It speaks to me not with the stuffy voice of some mummified sage but with the fresh, lively tones of someone who knows what happened to me an hour ago. Familiar passages accumulate meaning as I return to them again and again. They seem to grow during my absences from them; I am always finding something new in them I never found before, something designed to meet me where I am at this particular moment in time. This is, I believe, why we call the Bible God’s ‘living’ word. When I think about consulting a medical book thousands of years old for some insight into my health, or an equally ancient physics book for some help with my cosmology, I understand what a strange and unparalleled claim the Bible has on me. Age does not diminish its power but increases it (55).
Only through the proclamation of the gospel can man be transformed into the image of God’s divine Son. Whatever the sermon event looks like in society, present or past, and ultimately the future, at all times it must be connected to the word of God. If it is not connected to the word of the Lord, all power, significance, and control is lost and replaced with man’s weak wisdom. This is why Paul declared to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 to preach the word. The word has the power to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. But this teaching is going to take time and patience. After the pursuit of godliness, the preaching of the word is the next priority. The word is at the core of developing a godly lifestyle and faith.