Question: "What does it mean to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2)?"
Answer: Second Timothy is likely the final letter that the apostle Paul wrote. It is written to Timothy, who was his “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2) and personal envoy. Paul would send Timothy to churches to help take care of problems when Paul was unable to go there himself. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul writes, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
In his final epistle, Paul tells Timothy how to build up the church where he is ministering, and he gives instructions that apply to all pastors and ultimately to all believers. In chapter 4, Paul begins to conclude his letter and gives Timothy his instructions “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom” (verse 1)—in other words, this is really important. The one thing of supreme importance that Paul wants to impress upon Timothy is his duty to “preach the word” and to “be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (verse 2). This preaching of the Word is necessary because “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (verses 3–4). People normally tend to be comfortable with falsehood, and Timothy must combat this tendency by being ready at all times to preach the truth, that is, to preach the Word of God.
The Word spoken of here is the Bible—biblical truth. This is to be the content of preaching. Pastors have a biblical mandate to preach the written Word of God.
Some might ask how this can apply to the everyday Christian who does not have the opportunity to preach in a church service. The answer comes from a proper understanding of the word translated “preach.”
The word translated “preach” is the Greek word keyroxon, which simply means “publish or proclaim openly.” When Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word, the idea of a formal setting behind a pulpit or in a church service is not present. Nor does it connote a certain style of speech—“preaching” vs. “teaching” vs. “normal conversation.” In the context of 2 Timothy, any presentation of the truth of God’s Word is “preaching.” Therefore, any Christian can and should do this.
Preaching or proclaiming the Word can happen in an informal conversation over coffee or in a formal counseling session. Parents can proclaim the Word to their children around the dinner table, in the backyard, or on a vacation to the beach. The Word can be proclaimed on TV, radio, and the internet (e.g., Got Questions). The Word can be proclaimed by books, magazine articles, and email. The Word can be proclaimed through Facebook posts and Tweets. The Word can be proclaimed through music and the visual arts. The Word can be proclaimed by a get well card to a sick friend. The Word can be proclaimed by a public billboard or in a private telephone conversation. The Word can be proclaimed by men, women, and children of every age and station in life. And, yes, the Word can and should be proclaimed when the church gathers together for corporate worship (whether the pastor “preaches” from behind a pulpit or sits on a stool and “just talks” to the congregation). All of us are responsible to preach, that is, to communicate God’s Word to others in whatever situation we find ourselves in with whatever tools of communication we can muster.
To “preach the Word” in 2 Timothy 4:2 simply means to communicate the truth of God’s Word. The verse goes on to tell us that we should be ready to do this when it is convenient and when it is not (“in season and out of season” or, as the NLT has it, “whether the time is favorable or not”). Perhaps one of the most convenient times is when faithful church members have gathered to hear their pastor “preach.” Perhaps one of the most inconvenient times is when a group of co-workers are gathered around the water cooler. Even when it is inconvenient, we must proclaim the Word with “great patience and careful instruction,” even when the situation calls for rebuke.
There is a popular saying among many Christians that is often (probably incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Christians often take this to mean that they can live God’s truth before others and never actually explain it, and that this will be sufficient to fulfill God’s command to “preach the gospel.” Second Timothy 4:2 contradicts this understanding. Of course, our lives should never detract from God’s Word and our message. Indeed, the Christian is called to live in such a way as to make the gospel attractive (Titus 2:10). But, ultimately, if the Word of God is to be proclaimed, we must use words.