Called to Preach the Word
More and more today we’ve got men who look at the ministry as a “profession.” The ministry is not a profession. It is a calling. This man that was talking to me about his salvation, he said “You know, there are three things I’m sure of. I’m sure of my salvation, sure of my wife, and sure of my calling.” There have been times in my life that I have doubted my salvation, but there’s never been a time I doubted my calling. My calling is more sure, if that’s possible, than my salvation.
I heard about a young man who felt like he wanted to be a preacher. He said to his pastor, “I really believe God’s called me to preach. Could I preach one Sunday night and you critique me?” Sunday night came and the young man preached. After the service they were walking out together, and he asked his pastor, “Well, do you think I’ve been called?” The pastor said “Yes, son, I do, but I believe it was local and not long distance.” We ought to be called, and we ought to preach the Bible confidently.
The Word says “Preach it compellingly.” In 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Be ready.” That was a Greek word that was used of a soldier who was ready to go into battle at a moment’s notice. Jeremiah was right when he said “I tried to shut my mouth but I couldn’t do it.” He said “It was like a fire in my bones.” When the Word of God becomes a fire in your bones that’s when you know you’re a preacher who’s called of God. I know some preachers who either ought to put some fire in their sermons or put their sermons in the fire. Can I tell you a little secret about preaching? Your people will never be more excited about your sermon than you are. I heard about a man who went to sleep in church. The preacher looked at an usher and said “Wake that guy up.” The usher looked at the preacher and said “You wake him up. You’re the one who put him to sleep!”
One preacher said, “I’ll tell you how I prepare my sermon. First, I read myself full, then I think myself clear, then I pray myself hot, and then I let go.” And that’s what Paul said, “Preach compellingly.”
Then it says “Preach continuously.” He said “Be ready in season and out of season.” Preach the Bible when it’s convenient; preach it when it’s inconvenient. Preach it when it’s popular; preach it when it’s unpopular. Preach it when people like it; preach it when people don’t like it. It is not your job to make the message acceptable; it’s your job to make the truth available. Preach it continuously.
And then it says “Preach convictingly.” Verse 2 says, “Convince.” The word “convince” means to reprove. In other words, “Timothy, if you’re going to really preach, you’ve got to confront people with the fact of their sin.” We’re being told today by some church growth gurus “You can’t talk about sin on Sunday morning. You can’t hit controversial topics. You can’t confront people with the fact that before a holy God they’re guilty of sin.” A good old-fashioned word for that is heresy.
Peter Cartwright was a circuit riding Methodist preacher in the nineteenth century, who on one occasion was getting ready to preach to a very large congregation. Somebody came to him and said “Preacher, you need to know that President Andrew Jackson is in the audience, so make sure that whatever you say is not offensive to the President.” He said “Thank you for telling me that.” He got to the pulpit and said “I have been told that Andrew Jackson is in this congregation and I’ve been asked to carefully guard what I’m going to say. I want to begin by saying that Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sins.” You could have heard a pin drop. After the service, President Andrew Jackson walked up to Peter Cartwright and said “If I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip this world.”
We need more Peter Cartwrights. Can I be very frank and honest? I get sick to my stomach when we have prominent government leaders and even Christian leaders in blatant open sin broadcast all through the media, and pastors go scurrying for cover and don’t have the guts to confront sin and call it sin. Our nation might be in a different situation today if we would call our leaders—both within the church and in the government—to a place of repentance instead of trying to sweep it all under the table.
If your major concern is to be popular in the ministry, you ought to get out of the ministry. The greatest man who ever lived made such a great impact on this world, He got Himself crucified. Your goal in life should not be to make the list of the 100 most admired people in the United States. Your goal in life as a pastor ought to be to preach the whole counsel of God in such a way that the Word of God is magnified, the Son of God is glorified, and the Spirit of God is satisfied. So—preach it—convictingly.
Then preach it courageously. Paul said “Not only should you reprove, you ought to rebuke.” What is the difference between reproving and rebuking? You reprove when you confront someone with the fact of their sin; you rebuke when you confront someone with the thought of their sin. Paul said to Timothy, “Not only do you need to tell people that they’re sinners in need of salvation; you need to tell them how bad sin really is.” Sin is a stench in the nostrils of a holy God. It is your sin and my sin that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are those who would say “But if you preach like that, you might offend somebody. It’s not “might”—you will offend somebody. You will upset somebody. They’ll call you harsh, they’ll call you narrow minded, they’ll call you mean-spirited, and they’ll call you (and this is the worst one) intolerant.
Once when Billy Sunday preached a hard message on sin somebody said “Billy, you gotta quit preaching that way. You’re rubbing the fur on the cat the wrong way.” Billy Sunday said “The old cat’s headed toward hell. If she’ll turn around, I’ll rub her the right way.” Preach convictingly.
Preach constructively. He said “Exhort.” I don’t want you to hear me say you ought to get up and preach on hell every Sunday. And I don’t mean you gotta spit saliva fourteen feet or you’re not preaching. I’m not saying you gotta point fingers, and you gotta put people down. He says “Exhort.” That word means to build up. We’re not to be negative in our preaching; we’re to be positive. Your message ought to center not around what people are not without Jesus, but what they can be with Jesus. Exhort. Build up.
And then preach compassionately. Paul said, “Do it with all longsuffering and teaching.” Do you ever go home after a Sunday morning service and ask yourself, “Am I really making a difference? Is anybody out there even listening to me?” When you’ve been in one place eighteen years, you do start to ask, “Am I making a difference?” You know what keeps coming back to me? Just keep preaching the Word. Receive the charge to be faithful.
How else can you confront a post-Chritian culture? Number one, you’ve got to receive the charge to be faithful. Number two, you’ve got to realize there will be a choice to be doubtful. Paul predicted that in the last days three things would happen to people who sit in the pews of our churches. First, sound doctrine will be excluded.” Look at verse 2 Timothy 4:3. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” The word for sound in the Greek language is the word that gives us the English word “hygiene.” It literally means healthy or health-giving. In other words, Paul said, “The day will come when people will look for a church that will tell them how to be happy, not how to be holy. Dr. Eugene Peterson in his translation of the Bible called The Message says it this way. “You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching. They will fill up on spiritual junk food. Catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages.” If you’re preaching the Word faithfully, you’re going to have people who will come to your church, they’ll hear you one Sunday, and say “That’s not what I want to hear. That’s not for me.” They don’t want to hear sound doctrine. They want their preaching perfumed. They want it chloroformed. They want it covered with velvet. Some people who come to our churches today will tell us, “I want to hear about the love of God; don’t talk to me about the holiness of God. I want to hear about the mercy of God; don’t talk to me about the judgment of God. I want to hear about the wonders of heaven; don’t tell me about the wrath of hell.” Paul said “Don’t let that surprise you.” Sound doctrine will be excluded.
Secondly, he said selfish desires will be exalted. Verse 3 says, “But according to their own desires, because they have itching ears they will heap up for themselves teachers.” He’s talking about people who are more concerned about the length of your sermon than they are the depth of your sermon. Don’t fool yourself. The best of our churches are filled with people who are much more concerned that you finish at twelve o’clock than they are that you preach the truth of the Word of God and people get saved. They have this itchy ear syndrome.
I heard about a little girl whose mother was going out of town for the night, and she asked her next-door neighbor, “Would you keep my little girl? I’ll be back tomorrow at noon.” She said “I’d be glad to.” The little six year old girl packed her things and came over to the neighbor’s house. The lady wanted to make a real impression on the little girl. She wanted the little girl to tell her mother how well she was taken care of, so she got up early and fixed ham and eggs, grits, hash browns, toast, jelly, orange juice and milk. She called the little girl in for breakfast, and the little girl just sat there and looked at all that food and didn’t get anything. She said “Honey, is something wrong?” “My mother always fixes biscuits,” the girl replied. She said “You gotta be kidding.” “No ma’am, she always fixes biscuits.” The lady didn’t have the ingredients to make biscuits. She said “Honey, you’ll be all right if I just go to the store for just a minute.” It was pouring down rain. She got her coat and her umbrella and went to the store, got the stuff and came back and made the best homemade biscuits you could imagine. She placed them on the table and the little girl just sat there. She asked “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” the little girl replied. She said “I thought you said your mother fixes biscuits every single morning.” “She does, but I don’t eat them,” the little girl said.
You can fix the best biscuits on Sunday morning for your people, but it’s not your fault if they don’t want to eat them. John McArthur said, “Bad doctrine is tolerable; a long sermon is not.” The timing of the benediction is of far more concern to the average churchgoer than the content of the sermon. Sunday dinner and the feeding of our mouths takes precedence over Sunday School and nourishment of our souls. Longwindedness has become a greater sin than heresy. Did you know there are churches today that will base their calling of a pastor on the length of his sermons? It’s incredible to me how people just don’t want to hear sound doctrine. They don’t want to hear real truth.
Then Paul said self-delusion will be experienced. Verse four reads, “And they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.” Let me tell you why exposition is so important and so crucial. If the solid meat of biblical exposition is not fed to your people they will drink the curdled milk of political correctness, new age theology, and satanic deception. If you don’t teach your people to believe the right things on Sunday morning, they’ll believe anything on Monday morning. You’ve got to receive the charge to be faithful. You’ve got to realize there will be a choice to be doubtful, but then Paul said “Remember the challenge to be watchful.”
In 2 Timothy 4 Paul is saying, “You may as well get ready for it. The closer we get to the second coming, things are going to get worse, not better. They’re not going to get better until Jesus comes back.” Paul closes this little passage giving four great pieces of advice on how to confront a postmodern world. He said “Number one, Timothy, be alert.” Verse 5 says, “But you be sober minded in all things.” That word means “watchful.” Be sober. When there’s a world out there intoxicated with the liquor of liberalism and drinking from the cocktail of compromise, keep your eye on the Word of God and keep faith in the Son of God. Be alert.
Second he said, “Be adaptable.” He said “We must endure afflictions.” Let me give you something that I’m learning all over again in ministry. When you stand for God and live for Jesus and preach the Bible and do what you believe God wants you to do in your ministry, you’re going to endure affliction. Vance Havner said. “A preacher ought to have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros.” If you haven’t heard anything else I’ve said, hear this next statement: If your ministry is going to count, it’s going to cost. If it doesn’t cost, it doesn’t count. That’s why David said, “I will not offer God that which costs me nothing.” If your ministry’s going to count, it is going to cost. He said “Be adaptable. You’re going to endure afflictions. Be alert, be watchful in all things.”
Then he said “Be aggressive.” Do the work of an evangelist. Not every evangelist is a pastor, but every pastor ought to be an evangelist. Not everybody is equally gifted in the area of evangelism. But don’t use that as an excuse not to do evangelism. I was among the first graduates in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention to graduate with a Ph.D. in evangelism. Now, mercy is not my gift. That’s just not my gift. Anybody who has ever heard me preach knows that’s not my gift. Am I therefore justified in never showing mercy just because that’s not my gift? God has called me to be merciful even though it’s not my gift. It may be harder for me to show mercy, but I need to do it. You say “Evangelism is not my gift.” Maybe it’s not, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. “But I’m not going to be as effective as you are.” Possibly, but you can be as faithful as I am. Do the work of an evangelist. Don’t ever get away from winning people to Christ. Don’t ever get away from sharing your faith. Don’t ever get so big for your spiritual britches that you think you’re too good or too busy to knock on a door and tell somebody how to be saved.
John Wesley said “You may be elegant, you may be winsome, you may be a good fund raiser, you may be in great demand as a speaker, but if you’re not winning souls, you’re a failure. Be aggressive.
And then last—be accountable. As you confront a post-Christian culture, never close a service without presenting clearly the gospel of Christ and giving people some type of an opportunity to respond to the gospel. If you know anything about church history you know that the “come forward” invitation came in with Charles Finney. Two of the greatest preachers that America ever knew, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, never gave a public come forward invitation. I’m not here to say there’s anything wrong with it. All I’m saying is don’t get hung up on that. There’s more than one way to give an invitation. There’s more than one way to get people to respond. Make sure you present the gospel. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He was buried, and three days later He was raised from the dead. I say that every service I preach. I present the gospel. I tell people how to be saved. At our church on rare occasions we give a “come forward” invitation, but I’m not hung up on that. In some someway, give people an opportunity to be saved. I’ll tell you why that’s so important.
I want to tell you about a man named Robert Eaglen. He was a deacon in his church in Colchester, England. He woke up one Sunday morning in January. The ground was blanketed with a foot of snow. He started to turn over and go back to sleep, but he thought to himself, “I’m one of the deacons in my church. If the deacon’s don’t go, who will go?” He put on his boots, hat, and coat and walked six miles to church. He was right. Most of the members did stay home. As a matter of fact, even the pastor didn’t show up. Only thirteen people were at church—twelve members and a thirteen year old boy he had never seen before.
Somebody said “Why don’t we just sing a little bit and go home. We don’t have a preacher.” But Robert Eaglen said “It’s foolish for us to come all this way and not have a worship service.” “Who’s going to preach?” they asked. Impulsively, Robert said, “I’ll preach.” He’d never preached in his life. He got up and did not know what he was going to preach. I’m sure that’s happened to some of us as we prepare, as well, but he didn’t have a clue what he was going to be preaching. In his quiet time the day before he had been reading in Isaiah, so he turned to Isaiah 45:22, “Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” Later he recalled, “I preached maybe twelve minutes, and I must have said fifty times ‘Look to Jesus.'” It was all he knew to say. “Look to Jesus.” He got through with saying “Look to Jesus” about fifty times. He looked at that little thirteen year old boy and said “Young man, if you’ll look to Jesus you’ll be saved.” And they had prayer and left.
That boy, years later, wrote these words: “I did look, and then and there the cloud on my heart lifted, the darkness rolled away. At that moment I saw the sun, I accepted Christ into my heart, and I was born again.” That thirteen year old boy was Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
I thank God that Robert Eaglen didn’t get up that day and preach a message on “How to be Up When the Weather is Down.” Thank God he didn’t get up and say “Let me talk to you today about how to glow in the snow.” Thank God he didn’t get up and preach a sermon called “Snow White and the Eleven Disciples.” Thank God, he preached the Word. He shared the gospel with a thirteen year old boy and gave that boy an opportunity to be saved. We don’t need to follow fads, fashions, or flakes. We need to keep the ship of our ministry anchored to the rock of the Bible, believing it, obeying it, defending it, sharing it, and preaching it until Jesus comes. We are called to preach the Word!
Author: Dr. James Merritt, Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church and Host of Touching Lives