Paul instructed Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). In the institutional church model, this is usually assumed to mean expository, verse-by-verse teaching through the Bible, or some variant of expository preaching. But is that what Paul meant? Let’s back up the cart for a minute and take a second look.
Was Timothy a Pastor?
This is an important question to ask as we begin to broach this subject for a couple of reasons. 1) Pastors have become central in most modern church settings. They have become the “preachers” in the institutional church and as such, they carry the burden of “preaching the word” meaning proclaim the Bible, usually from a pulpit. It continues to amaze me how we’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears once in the New Testament (with reference to the body of Christ) and institutionalized it. We’ve made pastors the central figure of our religious institutions without questioning why. We’re told the pastor preaches and our job is to hear and obey. It’s almost like we don’t need Jesus because the pastor is there to tell us what we need to hear. 2) Because it’s assumed Timothy was one of those pastors, we call the letters bearing his name, along with the letter to Titus “pastoral epistles.” We view them as pastoring handbooks and manuals for doing church.
But there is nothing in the New Testament that would lead us to conclude Timothy was a pastor. Nothing. Tradition has given us that idea, not scripture. Top-heavy church tradition steeped in man-made top-down authority perpetuates that idea. It’s not in scripture. Think about it. If those with supposed authority want to keep that authority (and most do), what better way than to put poor Timothy in the same category as they view themselves and then insist verse-by-verse preaching of the Bible from the pastor is “biblical” because Paul told Timothy “preach the word,” meaning preach the Bible from a podium and tell the audience what they need to be doing and believing, especially as it relates to the perpetuity of the institution and the preacher’s tight grip on their top-down authority. That’s what I did and what I thought was right, because I was trained to think it was right. I acknowledge there are exceptions but I’m being candid to make my point.
Preach The Word?
What did Paul mean when he told Timothy, one of his co-workers in the gospel, to preach the word? It couldn’t have meant preach the Bible because the Bible didn’t exist yet. Nor could it have meant mount the pulpit one day a week and give a lecture from the Bible because there were no pulpits and the early church had no such practice in the assembly. I think Paul was simply giving Timothy final instructions and encouragement to keep preaching Jesus. To keep preaching the gospel. I think this is clearly illustrated for us elsewhere in Paul’s writings in those instances where he uses “the word” in his letters. Let’s look at a few.
1 Corinthians 15
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (emphasis mine)
1 Thessalonians 2
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God…. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. – 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 13 (emphasis mine)
1 Corinthians 1
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe….. but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, – 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 23 (emphasis mine)
The word Paul preached was the message of Christ, the Word himself, Jesus. In Paul’s own verbiage, the word is synonymous with the gospel, not a reference to the canon of scripture. Far from most of today’s expository preaching, designed to extract behavior modification, moral conformity, or higher commitment to the institution through guilt and shame with the pastor’s Sunday message central, the gospel liberates those under such control and sets them free to enjoy living life loved and without condemnation. That’s the message I need to hear from every passage of scripture. That kind of freedom threatens the institutional church where control is paramount.
Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Jn. 15:3
Preach the Word!