Today, I’m writing to my fellow expositors out there—men who have dedicated their lives to mining the riches of God’s Word, who have committed themselves to drawing their people to the text of Scripture, and who rest on the Spirit to take their lisping words and change their people’s hearts.
It’s a tireless task—far from an easy calling. We know the command—it’s been etched into our soul: “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Every week we feel the weight of the aorist imperative, reminding us of the great urgency of our task. We hear Jesus’ words as we study the text and write our sermons, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15).
And yet, we also hear the criticisms, don’t we?
“Pastor, you’re too long, or deep, or direct. You’re not political enough, or personal enough, or funny enough. You talk too much about sin, too much about Jesus, too much from the Bible.”
Words that show that our churches have been affected by our distracted culture, an individualized religion, and a consumeristic mindset.
What should concern us more than these trends having seeped into the hearts of our people, is the fact that we are affected by their criticisms far more than we are willing to admit. We know the weakness of our heart. We know our unspoken desires. We want our church to like us and affirm us. We long for their praise. We want our people to stay, not leave.
And if we are not careful, if we do not prepare our hearts for the inevitable discontentment we will hear, we will cave under the pressure, and be pulled to places in our preaching we never thought we would go.
To appease the people, we’ll begin to feed them the spiritual junk food they crave.
And yes, they will leave Sunday morning on their sugar high—happy and energetic—but they will also leave malnourished because of the diet we have just fed them.
How do we, expositors of God’s word, guard our hearts against the pull of the people? How do we prepare ourselves for their criticism? How do we stay committed to serving the feast from God’s word, when so many, are so often, ordering from a different menu?
Answer: we read, re-read, and read again 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2, and apply those divine principles to our expository calling.
Remember the Divine Nature of the Scriptures You Have Been Called to Preach
We must remind ourselves about the divine nature of the Scriptures we have been called to preach. Paul’s command, “preach the word,” was not written in a vacuum. It’s the necessary command if 2 Timothy 3:16 is true, if “All Scripture is inspired by God.”
Our commitment to exposit the word is based upon the nature of the book, not the fickleness of the people. Yes, we could preach other things. Yes, we could tell more stories, and be more political, and social, and funny. But why would we? Why would we turn to any other menu to feed our people. Why would we draw attention to anyone other than the God of the universe? Why would we be so arrogant to think that some other source is more significant than God’s creative-breath? Oceans rise and empires fall, and people leave, but only God’s Word endures forever.
Believe the Sufficiency of the Scriptures Your People Will Hear
We must also believe the sufficiency of the Scriptures our people will hear.
Despite what the critics might say, the Scriptures are not archaic, outdated, or culturally irrelevant. And they are certainly not boring or dull, or useless and impractical. No, they are profitable (ὠφέλιμος), beneficial, and vitally important for the sanctification of our people. They are powerful to change minds (ελεγχω), and pierce hearts (ἐπανόρθωσις), and train for a life of righteousness (παιδεία). What else is there? What else do we long for our people?
Paul even assures us that, if the preached word is received with the right heart, it will have its perfect result, “the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
David Wells is right, “This is why the dearth of serious, sustained biblical preaching in the Church today is a serious matter. When the Church loses the Word of God it loses the very means by which God does his work.” Only through the Scriptures are our people equipped for a life of holiness. Only through the Scriptures does the Spirit perform His work of sanctification.
Though every expositor will receive his criticism, preaching the Scriptures is not a burden, it’s a privilege—the privilege of being used by God, to do His work, of preparing His people, to bring Himself glory.
Be Driven by the Future Judgment We Will One Day Face
We must be driven by the future judgment we will one day face.
We will not ultimately answer to our people about the sermons we have preached. There is a far more serious setting than the church-foyer after the service. This is why Paul reminds Timothy, before he issues his command to “preach the word,” “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 4:1). By mentioning these two members of the Trinity, Paul indicates that God (the one who breathed out His Word in 2 Timothy 3:16) and Jesus (the focal point of the Scriptures) are supremely interested in how their Word is proclaimed.
Specifically, the reference here is judgment and the picture is sobering: Christ is the sitting judge and (keeping this judgment scene in its 2 Timothy 4 context) the expositor will be the one scrutinized. No new evidence will be offered at this time and no excuses will be heard. It will be the preacher’s fidelity to “preach the Word” that Christ will evaluate. Fullness, faithfulness, and diligence will be His criteria.
I’ll never forget Steve Lawson’s charge at the 2005 TMS graduation: “When we stand before the Lord on that last day, He will judge us, and it will be a judgment of our motives, of our methods, of our message. And it will be a judgment that will discriminate between gold, silver, and precious stones and wood, hay and stubble."
"I believe every sermon that I have ever preached or ever will preach, I will give an account to the Lord on the last day."
"I believe that our entire ministry will be brought into view at the judgment seat of Christ. And as Paul says this, he is reminding young Timothy and us that this charge is in the name of Him who will scrutinize and who will judge our ministry on the last day.”
Exposit the word, not only because the lives of our people depend upon it, but because our life in glory depends upon it as well.
Men, I too feel the pull of the people. And it is strong. Far stronger than I would ever admit. But God’s word and promises are stronger and greater. Read and re-read Paul’s charge—it’s for us! And then remind yourself of your calling. Remind yourself of the privilege it is to proclaim God’s eternal truth. Remind yourself of the Scripture’s sanctifying power. And then feed Christ’s sheep the nourishment they need. “Preach the word…in season and out” (2 Timothy 4:2) with conviction, vigor, and joy; because, as Spurgeon has put it, “We cannot play at preaching. We preach for eternity.”
 David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 9.
 διαμαρτύρομαι indicates an emphatic admonition (cf. 1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 2:14), while the first person singular “gives the charge a direct and forceful quality and conveys the fact that the charge is given by Paul and his apostolic authority (cf. 1:1).” Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 452.
 As quoted in Steve Lawson, Famine in the Land, 56.