Through the sermon, the pastor has the obligation of teaching the Word of God in such a way as to allow it to fulfill its purpose in the lives of God’s people.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
It’s interesting that the next two verses, not nearly as well known, give the preacher instructions in how to preach.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
We notice right away that there is a ton of overlap between the role of Scripture and the role of the preacher. Two of the words are exactly the same: correct and rebuke. And I think a good argument could be made that “training in righteousness” is done when we “encourage with great patience and careful instruction.”
When I first started preaching, I desperately searched for a definitive list of items that that should be included in every sermon. What questions should I answer? How should I go about bringing the message? I couldn’t find the answers to these questions, probably because every sermon is rightfully so different, that it’s difficult to create a formula for a biblical sermon (besides “preach the Bible”).
However, I think 2 Timothy 4:2 gives us the formula.
- Preach the Word. Do not preach your opinion. Do not preach your experiences. Do not preach the latest scientific study. It’s fine to use these kinds of things as illustrations, but God’s Word ought to be the focus. Preach the gospel. Preach Jesus.
- Be prepared in season and out of season. Always be ready, and be well studied when you preach. Speaking God’s Word is such an honor and high responsibility that we should not take it lightly. When the church gathers, they expect to hear a Word from God, so be faithful and well prepared to speak one to them.
- Correct. Undoubtedly in every passage of Scripture, there are teaching points that will be made that fix wrong ideas held previously. Be aware of these so that you may gently lead God’s people to embrace the truth of God’s Word.
- Rebuke. Though we gather as God’s people, we are still sinners. Sin should never be treated as a trivial thing. So every sermon ought to call sin what it is, and demand that we repent of our sin.
- Encourage. Living in a fallen world, as fallen people, is a difficult thing. We are engaged in spiritual warfare. Believers need to hear encouragement through God’s Word that will help them to get through the week.
- With great patience. Though God’s standard is perfection, we cannot reasonably expect a person to become perfect overnight. God sometimes changes people in an instant (especially in matters of lifestyle sin), but often God changes people over a period of time. Our preaching must both uphold God’s standard of perfection while simultaneously being understanding of shortcomings.
- Careful instruction. As the one who delivers a message from the Word of God, the church is looking to you for direction. Do not use that power lightly. Do not command what the Bible does not command. Only give instruction so far as God’s Word gives instruction.
So in every message I preach, I strive to do these things. The words and the topics will vary greatly, but as long as I focus on bringing the gospel to God’s people, it will accomplish what it needs to.