Paul tucks two words at the end of his charge to Timothy: “I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
I’ve scratched my head at those two words. Why did Paul feel the need to emphasize teaching? Doesn’t “preach the word” already cover that?
I believe Paul wants to underline an important point: good preaching is doctrinal preaching. If we’re going to fulfill our charge as preachers, we must teach our people what to believe.
Over the past decades, we’ve rightly emphasized the importance of practical preaching. Preachers must do more than convey truth. We must demonstrate how that truth changes how we see the world and transforms every part of our lives.
But the most practical preaching is doctrinal preaching. The urgent need in our day is to know who God is and what he’s revealed about this world.
“Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives,” wrote J.I. Packer. “The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”
Good doctrine is practical. Understanding and worshiping God is our most pressing need. When we understand who God is, who we are, the nature of the world, the problem of sin, and his plan of redemption, we’re much better equipped to live in the world. Doctrinal preaching, done well, is the most practical kind of preaching possible.
State of Theology
Given the importance of preaching doctrine, we have some work to do.
Ligonier has just released the results of their State of Theology survey in the United States. Some results are encouraging, but other results are alarming. A third of evangelicals believe Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God, for instance. Half of professing evangelical Christians affirm some notion of religious pluralism.
“These results reveal an urgent need for clear biblical teaching on the person of Christ, the gospel of grace, and the way that the truth of God informs our ethical decisions in everyday life,” the conclusion states.
Pastors: our people need practical preaching. The most practical preaching we can offer is doctrinal preaching.
“We need far more training in the ways of grace, of spiritual perceptions, and of what God is really like, than we do in how to communicate with our spouse,” writes Lee Eclov. “Understanding the glory of Christ is far more practical than our listeners imagine. Properly preached, every sermon based on a passage of Scripture is fundamentally practical.”
Let’s give our listeners that kind of preaching.