Clear Instructions for Staying on Target
There’s a famine in the land, and it’s growing. It’s not a famine for bread or water—it’s a famine for the Word of God. Wherever I speak, I discover people’s hunger to know the Bible. In answering that hunger, you will encounter situations you can’t expect, predict, or know in advance. We can prepare and stay focused by returning to 2 Timothy 4, where we read Paul’s final words to Timothy. This passage is home base for people who are committed to the essential responsibility of the follower of God: to communicate His Word.
In 2 Timothy 4, we’re reading a letter written in a dungeon. Paul knew he would be executed soon, and we sense his urgency. Think of these words as though they were written directly to you. They apply to each one of us. They’re our marching orders. I think of them every Sunday morning before I drive to church. I always remember that it’s my responsibility to declare God’s Word in a way that is accurate, clear, and practical.
Preach the Word!
As I look at this passage, I see it as an inspired job profile for those who will preach the Word. Paul opens with a powerful charge: “I solemnly exhort you, in the presence of God” (2 Tim 4:1 NASB). These are serious words. They are all-important. You’re not all-important—the message is all-important. And so Paul charges us with this message.
He follows this with a command that you see all around the campus of Dallas Theological Seminary: Preach the Word. Make it known, declare it, make its truths central. Don’t hold back. Share from the Scriptures, knowing that it’s the Scriptures, not your opinion or insight, that give life. The Scriptures embody the truth. Expose people to the truth. This is real-life stuff! The Scriptures are what will bring life, hope, relief, forgiveness, salvation, great patience to endure. We certainly need all that, don’t we? So . . . Preach the Word!
Verse two continues with a series of commands: Be ready. Correct. Rebuke. Exhort. These are to accompany what we do when we open our mouths to communicate the truth. People won’t resent that—rather, they’ll respect it, because you’re giving attention to what the Lord says. In verses 3 and 4, we read Paul’s predictions of a time that will come—in fact it has already come. We live in a time when people seek those who will tell them what they want to hear, not realizing that it’s not good for them. Consider the analogy of the physician: you don’t want to see a physician who tells you something only to make you feel good. No! You want the doctor’s words to be accurate. Good physicians tell you the truth, and that’s what you need to do when you open the Scriptures. Don’t shy away from things that are difficult to hear. Your concern is not to make people feel good but to communicate what they need to hear.
Paul closes the passage with this marvelous conclusion in verse 5: “Use self-restraint in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” I don’t know what that ministry will be for you. You’ll touch lives I’ll never reach. You’ll reach people whom others will not reach. Make sure your message is authentic. Don’t deceive people. Acknowledge weakness, knowing that in ministry, failure is part of the learning process. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. Why? Because you’re bringing people face to face with an authentic message. It’s impossible to do that through an inauthentic messenger.
Next year, I will have been in ministry for sixty years, and I still love it! I think of it in the daytime, and I dream of it at night. If I want to be known for one thing, it’s the faithful exposition of the Scriptures. Whatever ministry God leads you to, take Paul’s charge as seriously as he intended it. Preach the Word—and then get out of the way so that God can use it to meet people’s deepest hunger.
This is an adaptation of Dr. Swindoll’s chapel message at DTS on October 14, 2022. Watch the entire message here.
About the Contributors
Charles R. Swindoll
Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as the founder and senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. His leadership as president and now Chancellor Emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry. Chuck and his wife Cynthia, have four grown children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.