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PREACHING THE GOSPEL IN THE LAST DAYS

by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, December 3, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (II Timothy 4:2-5).


This is one of the clearest passages on preaching in the New Testament. It is set in the midst of the Apostle Paul’s great description of the apostasy predicted at the end of this age. I believe that we are now living in that prophesied period of history today. That being the case, we should be able to learn a great deal about the need of preaching, and the difference between preaching and teaching, in this passage of Scripture.

There are three main themes in this passage. They are (1) preaching and teaching contrasted, (2) mere teaching warned against, and (3) evangelistic preaching encouraged.

I. First, preaching and teaching contrasted.

In verse two the Apostle says, “Preach the word.” At the end of verse three he speaks of “teachers, having itching ears” In this passage he extols preaching and downgrades that kind of teaching, especially the type which is presented in many modern pulpits.

It is essential that we should understand the difference between preaching (Greek: kērugma) and teaching (Greek: didachē). The preacher must always decide which of the two he is going to focus on in his sermon. Is it to be a preaching sermon or a teaching sermon? Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The first is what you may call the message of salvation, the kērugma, that which determines evangelistic preaching. The second is the teaching aspect, the didachē, that which builds up those who have already believed - the edification [or building up] of the saints. Here is a major division that we must always draw, and this must always be a controlling factor in our preparations of our sermons and messages” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, 1981 reprint, p. 62). Thus, Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells us that the preacher must decide whether he is going to preach an evangelistic message (kērugma) or a teaching message (didachē). He must decide whether he is going to evangelize the lost who are always present in a congregation in the sermon, or if he is going to teach and instruct the people. The two may overlap, and should. There ought to be instruction and teaching in evangelistic preaching, and there should be evangelistic preaching in most teaching sermons. But there should be a clear distinction in the mind of the preacher which one (preaching the gospel or teaching the Christians) should have the most prominence and most emphasis in each sermon he gives. So, that is the first theme in this great passage - the basic difference between preaching and teaching.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

Every preacher should be, as it were, at least three types or kinds of preacher. There is the preaching which is primarily evangelistic. This should take place at least once each week. [Then] there is the preaching which is instructional teaching, but mainly experimental [that which is actually experienced in the life of Christians]… [Then] there is a more purely instructional type of [teaching] (ibid., p. 63).

What he means is there should be three kinds of messages given to the local church (1) evangelistic sermons (2) teaching on the Christian life in general, and (3) teaching that bears on how the Christian life should be lived in particular. In this division of the types of messages, he points out that the first, evangelistic preaching, is most clearly described by the Greek word kērugma, while the other two types of messages are best described by the Greek word didachē (teaching).

That is all well and good - and very true to the Bible. All three types of sermons should be given by pastors. If the preaching is all evangelistic, the people may be warm to the gospel, but not know how to live it out in their daily lives. So, there must be a balance.

But in our text (II Timothy 4:2-5) the Apostle indicates that the first kind of preaching, the real kērugma, preaching, evangelistic preaching, will be pushed into the background as this age draws to a close. Notice how Paul extols and emphasizes evangelistic preaching, and warns against mere explanatory teaching of the type in this prophetic passage. Stand and read verses two and three again.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove [correct], rebuke, exhort [encourage] with all longsuffering [great patience] and doctrine [careful instruction]. For the time will come when they will not endure [will not put up with] sound doctrine; but after their own lusts [desires] shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears [who say what their itching ears want to hear]” (II Timothy 4:2-3).

You may be seated.

This leads us to the second point.

II. Second, mere teachers of this type warned against.

Notice that the teachers in this text reject preaching (kērugma) and substitute in its place only teaching (didachē). That should be a warning to every preacher in these evil days. Some pastors have been led astray on these things in the last 125 years or so, and especially in our day. They may mean well, but they have been led in the wrong direction by the trends and fads of the age in which we live - which does not want strong Biblical preaching - but calls for more and more teaching. There is a great danger in this, for as Dr. Lloyd-Jones pointed out: “If our preaching is always expository and for edification and teaching it will produce church members who are hard and cold, and often harsh and self-satisfied” (ibid., pp. 152-153).

I am thinking of a well known pastor who always teaches what are called “expository sermons,” sermons that go from one verse to the other and explain those verses with little application. I am told that his church members are “hard and cold, and often harsh and self-satisfied.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones blamed this attitude on detached, academic expository teaching. He said, “I do not know of anything that is more likely to produce a congregation of Pharisees than just that. A further result of this wrong attitude is that such people only attend one service each…This is deplorable. [The pastors think] these people are Christians, and so they never hear preaching of the type that will make them sure that they really are. The way to correct this…is to ensure that one service a week should definitely be evangelistic in a Biblical sense” (ibid., pp. 152-153).

My personal feeling is that the Sunday morning service should be evangelistic. That’s where those who attend only once a week generally come, and they are the very ones who need to be challenged by the gospel most.

Even a good man can fall into the habit of giving dry, academic Bible teachings, designed to give “new and interesting” interpretations of the text and, quite unconsciously, become one of those that they “heap to themselves [as] teachers, having itching ears [saying what they want to hear]” (II Timothy 4:3). Which leads us to a third point brought out in this passage in II Timothy four.

III. Third, evangelistic preaching encouraged.

Notice verse five:

“But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry”
     (II Timothy 4:5).

“Do the work of an evangelist.” What is that work? It is the work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ. The word “evangelist” appears only two other times in the New Testament. In Ephesians 4:11 it appears as a special office, different from a pastor. In Acts 21:8, we are told of “Philip the evangelist.” So, Philip was one of those who did this work specifically. Acts 8:5 explains what his work was,

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5).

We therefore conclude that the work of evangelism is to preach Christ! The word “evangelist” itself means “a preacher of the gospel” (Strong #2099). Commenting on the preaching of Philip the evangelist in Acts 8:5, Dr. John R. Rice said that he surely followed the New Testament pattern:

He preached the wickedness of men to reject Christ. He preached that God had raised Jesus from the dead. He preached repentance, a heart turning away from sin and trusting Christ “the only name whereby men could be saved” (John R. Rice, D.D., Filled With the Spirit: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Acts, Sword of the Lord, 1980, page 186).

It seems that Timothy himself was not an evangelist, as Philip was. But even so the Apostle Paul told him to “do the work of an evangelist” (II Timothy 4:5). Probably the greatest example of this was C. H. Spurgeon, who never called himself an evangelist, and was the pastor of the largest Baptist church of his day. Yet Spurgeon constantly did “the work of an evangelist.” A great many of his sermons were evangelistic masterpieces. He kept the gospel of Christ central in his preaching, as anyone can readily see by reading his printed sermons. The sermons of other famous preachers of Spurgeon’s day have largely been forgotten, but Spurgeon’s sermons live on - and I think the reason for their continued popularity lies largely in the fact that they were evangelistic. Dr. Wilbur M. Smith said,

Spurgeon in his preaching invariably led his vast audiences to the throne of grace, and especially to the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ…there are no printed sermons one hundred years old, or even fifty years old, that are so fresh and so satisfying and so Christ exalting as the volumes of sermons of Charles H. Spurgeon. They have been reprinted against and again and they will continue to be printed as long as men are interested in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Wilbur M. Smith, D.D., “The High Character of Spurgeon’s Sermons,” jacket cover, The New Park Street Pulpit, volume V, Pilgrim Publications, 1981 reprint).

How simple, and yet how satisfying, are the words of the gospel! Gospel preaching keeps us straight! We will never be “turned unto fables” (II Timothy 4:4) like the mere “teachers” in this passage, if we keep Christ central in our preaching! With that thought in mind, I can do no better than to quote Spurgeon himself to close this message.

Poor, trembling, guilty, self-condemned sinner, I have a word from the Lord for thee. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us,” that is you and me, “cleanseth us from all sin.” That “us” includes you, if you are feeling your need of a Saviour. Now that blood is able to save you, and you are bidden simply to trust that blood, and you shall be saved. But I hear you say, “Sir,” you said, “If I feel my need. Now I feel that I do not feel. I only wish I did feel my need enough.” Well do not bring your feelings then, but trust only in the blood. If you can rely simply on the blood of Christ, whatever your feelings may be, or may not be, that blood is able to save. But you are saying, “How am I to be saved? What must I do?” Well there is nothing that you can do. You must leave off doing altogether, in order to be saved. There must be a denial of all your doings. You must get Christ first, and then you may do as much as you like. But you must not trust in your doings. Your business now is to lift up your heart in prayer like this - “Lord, thou hast shown me something of myself, show me something of my Saviour.” See the Saviour hanging on the cross, turn your eye to him, and say, “Lord, I trust thee; I have nothing else to trust to, but I rely on thee; sink or swim, my Saviour, I trust thee.” And as surely sinner, as thou canst put thy trust in Christ, thou art as safe as an apostle or prophet. Not death nor hell can slay that man whose firm reliance is [in Christ]. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” He that believeth shall be saved, be his sins never so many; he that believeth not shall be damned, be his sins never so few, and be his virtues never so many. Trust in Jesus now! Sinner, trust in Jesus only.

“Not all the blood of beasts
    On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
    Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
    Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
    And richer blood than they.

(C. H. Spurgeon, “The Blood,” The New Park Street Pulpit, volume V, Pilgrim Publications, 1981 reprint, p. 32).

(END OF SERMON)
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THE OUTLINE OF

PREACHING THE GOSPEL IN THE LAST DAYS

by Dr. Robert Hymers


“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (II Timothy 4:2-5).

I.   First, preaching and teaching contrasted, II Timothy 4:2-3.

II.  Second, mere teachers warned against, II Timothy 4:3.

III. Third, evangelistic preaching encouraged, II Timothy 4:5;
cf. Ephesians 4:11; Acts 21:8; Acts 8:5.