In this famous passage, Paul is exhorting Timothy with a solemn charge which he calls upon God himself to witness (v. 1) to fulfill his ministry (v. 5). The previous words (vv. 2-5c) explain how Timothy (and each man of God who seeks to walk in his footsteps) is to fulfill his calling to ministry.
The first thing, first in importance and priority, the man of God must fulfill his ministry by preaching God’s Word faithfully and fully.Paul’s charge to Timothy (from 4:1) is given here in 4:2 with five imperatives, four of which carry distinct actions behind them. The following verses (4:3-4) offer an explanation for why these imperatives are so important.
The first one, “preach the word,” sets the pace for the passage and stands out by virtue of its being first and because the second imperative seems to be an elaboration of it. While we often hear this expression, and repeat it, we usually focus on the second part, “the word,” without giving thought to the importance of the first, “preach.” In an age when faithful preaching of the Word is often abandoned (not to mention faithful systematic preaching of the Word), we must ask, “Why do we preach to begin with?” We preach because God commanded it, because God has prescribed it as an essential element of worship, and because we need to hear it.
The word translated “preach” refers to public proclamation and is used in the NT to refer to proclamation of the message God has given.
Paul adds what it is that is to be preached: “the word,” that is, the Word of God, the word of truth, which is the message and teachings from God. This is especially important considering the following explanation that some will not want to hear the truth.
The second imperative is to “be ready” or “be prepared” and elaborates on the previous imperative by explaining how the command to preach the word is to be carried out. This imperative is modified by two terms which both use the same Greek word as a source (the source is used in the next verse) and so form a play on words: “in season” and “out of season” means “whether it is convenient or not.” This exhortation will certainly apply to Timothy and those who follow in his steps, but it is to be viewed not from Timothy’s perspective, but from the hearer’s. Timothy must be ready to preach whether it is a good time for him or not, but the focus is on his preaching whether his hearers think it is a good time or not. Perhaps Paul is alluding to Timothy’s apparent timidity (1:6-8) and reminding him that his task is independent of the judgments of his hearers’ sense of convenience.
The third imperative, “reprove,” speaks of correcting an opponent or someone who continues in sin. It is closely connected to the fourth imperative, “rebuke,” which refers to confronting someone who is doing wrong. So the preacher must “reprove” his hearers in an attempt to keep them from doing what they should not, and “rebuke” them when they are doing wrong to get them to stop.
The fifth and final imperative in the passage is the command to “exhort” the hearers. This word, used often in the NT, and with a range of meanings, may be summed up in terms of issuing an appeal. As George W. Knight observes, this term alongside the other imperatives in this passage carries the idea of “’urging’ truths upon hearers and ‘exhorting’ them to respond” (p. 454).
This fifth and last imperative is also, like the first, qualified by a prepositional phrase, “with all longsuffering and doctrine [i.e., teaching or instruction],” which elaborates on how these three tasks are to be done. “Longsuffering” or “patience” can refer to patience as we think of it, that is short-term patience to stand in a long line, or to deal with a difficult person, but here it is more likely that it points to patience in the long term, what we might call “endurance” or “steadfastness.” Such patience is difficult and yet necessary in general and even more so when thinking of ministry in the long run (that is, in terms of one’s whole life and ministry, not just a few years spent in one church before moving on to a larger one, an all-too-common practice). Paul attaches “all” in front of it to remind Timothy that every ounce of endurance will be necessary when dealing with people in gospel ministry week-in and week-out.
Paul also adds that this must be done in accordance with “doctrine.” The word translated by “doctrine” in the KJV and NKJV means “instruction” or “teaching” and can refer both to the content of what is taught and to the act of instructing or teaching itself. It is on the basis of such instruction that one can both exhort, as well as reprove and rebuke.
- The Word sets the agenda. The church, to follow God’s agenda, must have a steady diet of “expository” preaching.
- The preacher must be faithful to preach the Word because that is how the saints will grow.
- The preacher, like the prophet of old, must preach both the sweet and the bitter of the Word.