The Pulpit: 2 Timothy 3-4

Yesterday at Karis I began a brief, three-part series looking at the mission and vision of Karis. I began by explaining this diagram. I then began by discussing the “pulpit.” In the diagram, the “pulpit” represents the entire realm of the church, which, at Karis, involves the components of the Sunday Gathering, Community Groups, and Leadership Training. Examining our “Gathering” in detail, I zoomed in even further to the ministry of the preaching of the word of God. Why do we do what we do at Karis? Below is what I shared with our congregation: Note: I have no idea why the below quotes aren't displaying.  But, if you highlight them with your mouse, you can read them.  

Sermon: The Pulpit (2 Tim. 3:14-4:5)

04.27.08, Kevin P. Larson, Karis Community Church

Did you hear recently what they think sunk the Titanic? Sure, hitting icebergs is not a good idea. That was the main problem. But a recent New York Times article argues that the main problem was faulty riveting. Researchers have looked through the archives of the Titanic’s builder, and have found that, due to trying to build the three biggest ships in the world at once and a resulting rivet shortage, the company turned to other, smaller companies as suppliers that simply made lower quality rivets. So when the ship hit the iceberg, the ship literally tore apart at its seams.

What should hold everything together here at Karis, friends?

There are a number of things I could focus on, as we look at “the pulpit” from our diagram today, but I want to choose just one—to discuss the literal “pulpit,” the preaching of the word of God. Now, planting a church plant is a busy job. There is much to do and little time to do it. It’s tempting to rely on cheap materials. You’re trying to build three Titanics, it seems, so throwing something together can be a tempting option. But, as with that great ship, my friends, if we do that, the fabric of the church will tear apart. I want to argue this morning that the preaching of Scripture holds together Christ’s church. And we can’t get off easy or cheap. Turn with me to 2 Tim. 3-4. Here is the main point I want to share now and unpack in our time together today.

At the foundation of Karis life and ministry will be the proclamation of the word of God, biblical preaching, because Scripture is sufficient, and false teaching is rampant. This will begin in the literal pulpit and flow to all aspects of the Karis community.

Here’s, then, the course we’re going to take. First, we’ll take time to understand the argument of 2 Tim. 3:14-4:4. Second, we’ll then see how that looks in the context of the local church. Third, we’ll consider contemporary challenges to this calling. Fourth, we’ll briefly look at how this should impact all of Karis life. Let us pray.

Let’s see the flow of this section of 2 Timothy. Paul is again writing to a young pastor named Timothy, encouraging him in his calling. Look at the center of the passage found in 2 Tim. 4:1-2. Paul says, “Serve as a herald.” He says, “Preach.” In other words, don’t just teach the message, but rather herald it. Proclaim it with conviction and passion, encouraging people to trust God’s words. He says, “Do it all the time.” It reads, “Be ready in season and out of season.” Don’t do it when it’s popular or convenient or easy. Be a man and stick with it. He also says, “Practice it in diverse ways.” “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” Sometimes yell at people and knock them down. Sometimes speak tenderly and lift them up. Say the right thing at the right time. And, Paul says, “Keep doing it faithfully.” Do it, he says, “with complete patience and teaching.” People aren’t going to get it over night—you sure haven’t. So stick with it. Rely on God to do the work. And, Paul commands, “Maintain the Bible as your message.” He says, “Preach the word.” Don’t say what you want to say, Timothy. Don’t say what they want to hear either. Preach the word, which means, “Preach the gospel!”

And notice the way Paul frames this command in v. 1. He says, “I charge you.” He strongly commands him, “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.” He wants Timothy to get the seriousness of this. God would hold him accountable for this. And eternal matters are at stake. Paul wants Timothy to be gripped by the seriousness of this. And we should, as well.

“Preach the word,” Paul says to Timothy. Let’s now move to the point of the passage. Why do this? Preach the word for what reason? We see two reasons here. First, there is a “for” that is explicit at the beginning of v. 3. But there is also a “therefore,” I’m convinced in v. 1 that is implicit. Why preach the word? It’s for two reasons. Scripture is sufficient. And false teaching is rampant. Here’s what I mean.

First, Scripture is sufficient. In vv. 14-17, Paul speaks of how Scripture is all we need for life and ministry. Then it seems clear that he says, although it’s only implied, “Therefore, in God’s presence, preach the word!” So one reason we should preach the Bible is that the Bible is sufficient. Paul says, in v. 16, that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” It’s inspired. In other words, God moved by His Spirit in writers of Scripture, using their own personalities and styles, to write exactly what He desired Scripture to communicate. Because it’s inspired, Paul says, in v. 15, it is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” In other words, it will create life. God working by His Spirit, with the word, will convert people. And, says v. 16-17, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” In other words, Scripture won’t just create life. It will grow life. It will grow us in the Christian faith, and, as we share that word with others, it will grow them, as well. Scripture is sufficient. It leaves us, Christ’s sheep, totally “competent” and totally “equipped.”

But, we see a second reason, also, for doing this. False doctrine is rampant. Wolves are present. See again vv. 3-4.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

People aren’t going to want solid teaching. They will end up getting people to tell them what they want to hear. And, consequently, they will wander from the word of God to error. So, implied here is this: preaching the word involves teaching sound, or healthy, doctrine for the good of God’s people. Here is our argument: “Preach the word, because the Bible is sufficient, and false doctrine is rampant.”

Second, let’s consider what this looks like in the context of the local church. Preaching, first, should take place. Again, the term “preach” means essentially “to herald.” In Paul’s day, heralds would act as imperial messengers, going through the streets, making announcements loudly and passionately. As they would sometimes shout, “Here comes the king!”, this is the task as the preacher, as well. It’s preaching that Jesus is Lord, that He has made a way for salvation. This is something entrusted to Christ’s church.

And this preaching is tied to church leadership. In 1 Tim. 5:17, it reads, Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Preaching is primarily entrusted to the elders and pastors and to those to whom they additionally entrust the pulpit. Pastors are charged as shepherds to fight off wolves. But they are also called to feed the sheep. This primarily happens as someone like me gets up week after week and heralds the word of truth. First, preaching must take place.

The Bible, second, should be preached. Again, Paul says, “Preach the word.” This manifests itself in two key ways: biblical sermons should be expositional in method and should have the gospel as its focus. What do I mean by expositional? We expose the clear meaning of the text. Mark Dever calls expositional preaching “that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” Expositional preaching involves seeing a passage of Scripture in its context, discerning the author’s intended meaning as inspired by the Holy Spirit, and proclaiming that meaning and its application in the power of the Spirit to God’s people. This method most often looks like taking a biblical book and systematically, carefully teaching it verse-by-verse each week. If we truly believe that God’s word creates life and grows life, we need a method that magnifies the word of God and minimizes the word of man. Expositional preaching should have what Dever calls a “certain transparency of form,” where all those sitting in the congregation know, without a doubt, that they are hearing a man simply and clearly proclaiming what God has said.

What do I mean by gospel-focused? I’m not saying every message should be what we characterize as an evangelistic message. That results in immature saints. I’m not saying that every sermon ends with a gospel summary. That results in “tune out” by God’s people. What I am advocating: every sermon must proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as the only means of salvation and spiritual growth. And this isn’t difficult, because Jesus says the entire Bible is all about Him. After his resurrection, in Lk. 24, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus spoke to two men on that road, and Luke says that, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” The gospel is everywhere in the Bible. Jesus is on every page!

But what ends up happening is that we talk about the gospel, but we never proclaim it. Our problem today is that so many people who say they believe the gospel don’t preach the gospel (just like the fact that so many say that they believe the Bible but don’t preach the Bible). We don’t preach Christ. We get the disease wrong. We preach that “I’m ok and you’re ok” instead of that we are fallen sinners who need a Savior. We get the cure wrong. We say, “You gotta try harder,” instead of calling sinners to trust Christ. We end up maximizing the worth of man and minimizing the work of Jesus. And we end up either removing the need of the gospel altogether or making the solution found somewhere other than in Christ. As Al Mohler has said, our society sees the problem as outside of us, and the solution within, while we teach the opposite: the solution is outside of us and the problem is within. As I say so many times at Karis, the gospel is that we are far more sinful than we ever dared to imagine, but we are far more loved than we ever dared to hope. This must be our constant message.

Every sermon, whatever the text, must proclaim the sufficiency of Christ to save and sanctify sinners. Now, it’s easy for us in the church to conceive of the gospel saving non-Christians. But it’s also meant for people who already know God. Our task as believers is to preach to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters the gospel—that we must turn from self and rely on Christ. We must be reminded how this comes from every page of Scripture. We must hear how this applies to every aspect of our lives. We must be reminded that the gospel is not the ABCs of our faith, but rather the A to Z! It isn’t just about finding salvation. It also deals with spiritual growth. How much more must this happen in the pulpit! So every passage must focus us on the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. So our preaching must be biblical, and I’m arguing this is done when we preach expositionally and when we preach the point of the Scriptures, the gospel.

Third, it should be the preaching of doctrine. Again, in speaking of people walking away to false teaching, Paul implies that we should be teaching true doctrine. That preaching of doctrine or theology will have two angles to it. It will include systematic theology and biblical theology. First, systematic theology refers to how we can answer the question, “What does the Bible say about… hell or angels or Jesus?” We then look at all the verses that touch on those subjects and systematize our conclusions.

Second, biblical theology deals with the storyline of the Bible. It deals with redemptive history. Of course, all theology should be “biblical,” but this is a technical term to speak of looking at the flow of the Bible from creation to fall to redemption to new creation. Whenever we try to place a particular passage in the flow of this grand story, and show how it points to Jesus, we’re doing “biblical theology.”

To preach sound doctrine, it’s clear to me that we need to do both. Every week, as I handle a text, I should point out what God tells us about a key subject of theology therein. For example, last week, we looked at a passage dealing with the Sabbath. So, I summarized all of what the Bible says about the Sabbath and shared that with you. That’s systematic theology. What does the Bible teach about the Sabbath? But, if you remember, I also painted it in its context of redemptive history. I showed how we began in the garden with rest and how one day, through Jesus and His gospel, we’ll be in forever rest in the garden. That’s biblical theology. How does the Sabbath fit in or develop within the flow of redemptive history? Both are involved in teaching sound doctrine. There is certainly as we see in the passage a call for pastors to rebuke and correct false doctrine—to fight off wolves—but just as important is to form true, sound doctrine in people—to feed the sheep. This is a critical task.

Now this task, my friends, will stretch you and me in at least three dimensions. Regarding depth, expositional sermons will expose you to deeper truths of God than you have ever experienced. But if you want diamonds, you can’t rake on the surface of the ground. You have to get out a shovel and dig. Regarding width, expositional sermons will expose you to broader truths of Scripture than you have ever experienced. You will encounter a host of topics as you plug through God’s word, and you won’t be able to skip over them. Regarding length, expositional sermons will expose you to longer times in Scripture than you have ever experienced. We’ll have to stretch ourselves and be patient. And to hear the gospel each week requires great humility. So, we must preach the word and its doctrines.

Third, let’s consider contemporary challenges to each of these. For each, I want us to see an older challenge that we still face, as well as a contemporary, postmodern challenge. First, regarding preaching, the age-old temptation is just not to work at it, but to rather be lazy. One well-known mentor of church planters puts it this way:

“A church plant pastor has at least 50 different tasks and doesn’t have 35 hours per week to prepare for a message. This is the ultimate reason why you need other people to help you. You need help with your message… …If you are using your time correctly, you will be adapting other pastors’ messages the first few years. It’s helpful to have a basic framework that has worked for someone else and build on to the essence of that message with your own stories and life experiences… Spend your time in the right ways, especially in the early days…Don’t spend too much time on sermon preparation.”

But today’s challenge hits at the heart of the office itself. Many people are questioning whether or not preaching is even needed today. At the heart of this is a suspicion of authority. Who wants or even needs some guy standing up yelling at you? The common thinking is that today church should be a dialogue, not a monologue, and that preaching is too authoritarian, too oppressive. But read the Bible. Jesus, as we’ve seen in Luke, received the Spirit and went out preaching. The early church, just as Jesus, received the Holy Spirit and went out preaching. And this calling is all over the New Testament. So we do well to follow what God says. And we should welcome it from authorities over us.

But let me further challenge this challenge to preaching. A woman by the name of Marcia Nelson wrote a book entitled, The Gospel According to Oprah, where she argues Oprah is a huge American religious leader. Listen to some excerpts:

“Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, film producer, and philanthropist, is not ordained. She is neither preacher nor religious professional. Yet her multimedia empire, built over two decades, has given her the scope and stature of an influential leader. Oprah has a prominent pulpit from which to preach… Go to this house of worship and sit down for an inspiring hour that will engage you and give you a lift… An hour-long show five days a week adds up to a lot more pulpit time per week than the average pastor enjoys, and Oprah commands a lot bigger congregation… She translates what religions would term transcendent into something that is inspiring but secular. She would call it a vision of possibilities. She has tried to develop her own unique language, which means talking about values in a secular and inclusive sense in a religiously pluralistic country.”

The question is not: will you tolerate preaching? It’s rather: who will you let preach to you? All around us in culture, voices are fighting to preach at us, and we’re letting it happen. God wants His word to be preached and heard.

Second, let’s take the challenge to preaching Scripture. The problem of old is not really preaching Scripture at all. You choose a topic, maybe quote a Bible verse, and then you stand up and say what you want to say. Of course, still around today also is the question of whether or not the Bible is reliable enough to preach. Bart Ehrman and others are out there today trying to question or trust in God’s word. But there are different challenges today that we should discuss briefly. Many today are saying that the Bible isn’t even meant to be handled in this way. It isn’t meant to be seen as absolute, propositional truth to be proclaimed verse by verse. Rather, Scripture is to be seen as primarily relational, primarily telling the story of God’s love for us. It isn’t meant to be seen as a bunch of arguments for theological points. If you listened a bit ago, I argued that the Bible tells a story. And it does primarily speak of Christ’s gospel—in other words, that He loves us. But what I want you to hear is that story of love is expressed through absolute, propositional statements.

Let me illustrate this. Let’s say I go on a mission trip to Uganda. Each night I go over to an internet café, where I can type an email, and I begin telling Amy how much I love her and miss her. Yes, I’m speaking to her relationally. I’m perhaps speaking in poetry more than legal arguments, yes. But in making those points to her, I’m making propositional statements. For example, “Baby, I love you.” That is a proposition. “Because you are my best friend.” That is a ground for that statement. “You are the funniest woman on the planet.” That is another reason. Do you see my point? We use propositions to speak relationally. So does God.

But here’s another problem today. People say, “Why are you so bound to a text? Why your script instead of another? Who are you to say which story is true?” But here’s the truth I want you to hear in this section. If you don’t use this text, you’ll use your own. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently got busted for going around supposedly quoting Scripture. She said, “The Bible tells us in the Old Testament ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.’” Now I don’t think that’s a bad inference from Scripture, but as many scholars pointed out in an article I read, that simply isn’t in the Bible. Now maybe you write your own script. Maybe you use a book from another world religion. More likely, you borrow a bit from here, a bit from there—Oprah style. But, you put those together, even if they’re not written down, and you have a text. The question isn’t, “Do you have a text that is authoritative in your life?” It’s, “Which text is authoritative in your life?” Only the Bible, I argue is reliable and should be preached faithfully. Only it conveys propositions that give such a glorious gospel of a loving, relational God.

Third, let’s consider challenges to preaching doctrine today. Of course, the age old problem has been preaching weak doctrine. This is giving people junk food, a lack of substance. If I gave my kids nothing but cake and cookies, not only would it not nourish them, it would end up killing them. This is the same with theology in the church. I have a friend named Barry planting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the shadow of a huge megachurch. The pastor of that church tells people that his teaching is “dessert” and “if they want something deep, they should go somewhere else.”

But did you hear about the former Jefferson City man who poisoned his wife? He gradually gave her anti-freeze until it killed her, so he could receive the insurance money. This is what happens with false doctrine. Sometimes the people teaching it think they’re actually helping people. Sometimes, they are truly trying to hurt them. Listen to these quotes by a well-known modern teacher. First, he denies hell:

“Many of us have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular. . . Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly. . . This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we've said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.”

Second, he refuses to speak with the Bible on sexuality:

“Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say 'it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us.' That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives whom seem to know exactly what we should think. Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection.”

But, third, he endorses a book, saying that it could “save Christianity,” that says this:

“The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed [as the doctrine of penal substitution makes it out to be]. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.”

See, bad doctrine is still out there, for sure. But here is a particularly postmodern thing we’re seeing today: people aren’t just questioning historic doctrines, but they are questioning whether we should engage in theological inquiry at all. They say, God didn’t reveal himself in a bunch of doctrines. Again, he has revealed Himself in a narrative. Now, if you’ve been around here much, I talk about the story of redemption as much as anybody. I love it! But in revealing that story, God deals with a bunch of different doctrines. We learn truths about who God is and how He works in the world, if we’re looking. People say, “Let’s just talk about Jesus.” But which Jesus are you referring to? To talk about that, we dive into doctrine. We study theology. Was he fully divine? For what purpose did He die? Where is Jesus now? These are all questions for theology. And we all do this. We all have understandings of who God is and how He works and it shapes how we navigate our world.

Let me illustrate this for you. Have you seen the film, Gone, Baby, Gone? In this movie, a young child is kidnapped from a pretty bad home. He ends up in the hands of some pretty decent parents, but not in the proper way, obviously. The man and woman, both working together as detectives, find out who has the child. And they disagree as to what course should be taken. One says, “The child needs to be in a healthy home. We should leave this alone.” The other says, “Kidnapping is illegal. These people need to be busted.” This is the moral dilemma the movie wrestles with. Each has an understanding of how the world should work that drives each of their behaviors. And this is the same thing for us. The question is not: do we do doctrine? It’s rather: do we have good or bad doctrine? We all have a theology, an understanding of God in our heads that guides how we live in this world. We have beliefs that determine what we do. We’re theologians, all of us.

If we turn back to Gen. 1-2, we see God preaching the Bible’s first sermon. He speaks the world into existence, and calls it good. He then creates humans by His word, calls them good, and commissions them to build civilization. But right after that, in Gen. 3, the serpent, Satan comes and preaches another sermon. He undermines the word of God. He says, in v. 3, twisting Scripture, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” He then says, in v. 4, responding to Eve’s words, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There He questions God’s character. He teaches bad doctrine. Brothers and sisters, hear me here: Satan has been doing that ever since. He is still preaching. You can hear his words all around you, coming from a host of places. He is still undermining God’s words, trying to get you to buy his. He is still undercutting truth about God, attempting you to buy into the theology of the serpent. Don’t buy it. We are called to preach the Bible and its doctrines—in other words, listen to the Lord and not to the serpent.

Briefly, our final point: how will this impact all of Karis? In the realm of the “pulpit”, other than in preaching in the “Gathering,” you see “lead training” and “C-Groups.”

Leaders are formed. Shepherding happens. Proclamation of the Bible and its doctrines will be the foundation of those realms. We will always ask, “What does God say?” That will be of first importance. In the realm of the “table,” we will informally speak with each other and unbelievers constantly about the Scriptures and the teachings contained therein. This won’t be preaching proper, but it will be sharing truth with each other. In the realm of the “square,” we will take to our community the truths of the Bible, including God’s story of redemption with the cross at its apex, as well as our worldview, how its doctrines apply to life, through our conversations, alongside our acts of restoration, and as we engage in participation, with prayers for multiplication.

Many, many years later, as we’ve seen in Lk. 4, that same serpent approached our Lord in the wilderness. He tempted Christ in the same way, undermining God’s words, trying to get Jesus to believe falsehoods about the Father. But Jesus preached back at Him, expounding Scripture, teaching right doctrine. Jesus went on to a life of perfection. And then He died on the cross for sinners like you and me that often resent preaching and doubt God’s word and have lowly thoughts of God in our head. If we trust in Him, His life and death can be given to us. And He will begin a process of making us back into His image, as in the garden before that first encounter with Satan. That same Jesus gave the church this task of preaching. He called us to teach the Bible and the doctrines within its pages. Will we obey Him? Will it be the driving force behind all we do?

In last year’s collapse of a Minneapolis bridge, experts have found that missing bolts and cracked steel contributed to the tragedy. But also a factor was the buildup of pigeon dung. It apparently corroded the bridge and caused rust and weakened its structure. Here’s the question for today: what is holding us together? Is it stable? Is it strong? Is it steel-solid? Will it support us? Or is it just crap? Stuff that will kill us? Stuff that will diminish God’s glory and will steal our joy? Let’s build Karis on the word of God.