by Hiram Kemp
The preacher of God’s Word is to speak with all the authority God has given him (Titus 2:15). He is to speak as the oracles of God (I Peter 4:11). He is to proclaim the gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). However, all of these things assume that the preacher is deeply acquainted with the Word of God. It is not enough to know that one has a Divine responsibility to preach. We must also see that those who would echo God’s Word have a Divine mandate to study.
Someone has said, “A desire to preach without a desire to prepare is a desire to perform.” I believe this is accurate. We must not fall into the snare of thinking that anyone who likes to talk in front of others will make a good preacher. God makes preachers as they spend time with His Word. Preachers should remember that the Bible defines preaching as work for a reason. Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5). Much is involved in that, but it communicates that preaching will not be easy and should not be taken lightly. It takes effort to honor God and adequately communicate His Word to His people.
While few see what a preacher does “behind the scenes” to prepare to deliver God’s Word, preachers should remember that God sees (Proverbs 15:3). It should be both a comfort and a challenge. It should be comforting to know that as preachers do their best, God is pleased with the sacrifice and diligence put into doing His will (cf. II Corinthians 4:5). However, God’s knowledge of the preacher’s preparation is challenging because God knows when we have robbed His Word of the attention it deserves (cf. II Corinthians 4:2). God knows when we have microwaved a sermon because we have failed to steward our time properly. He knows when we have plagiarized the material of others and have passed it off as original to ourselves. May the private nature of the preacher’s study be something that causes God to smile at our efforts and not scowl in disappointment. The preacher’s goal is to honor His God (I Thessalonians 2:4). It does not necessitate perfection, but it does involve persistence and integrity. There are a few things to keep in mind about the preacher and his study.
The Preacher and His Bible
The preacher who prepares to dispense God’s Word must have a proper handle on the Word of God. As Paul was preparing to exit his earthly life, he wrote to Timothy and encouraged him to execute his duties as a preacher faithfully. Throughout Second Timothy, take note of how often and how pointedly Paul speaks of the Word of God. He mentions the Word of God and speaks specifically of how it is to be handled and how Timothy could best use it as a gospel preacher.
Paul commanded Timothy to hold firmly to the pattern of sound words he had previously been taught (II Timothy 1:13). The Greek term (echō), translated as hold (ASV) or hold fast (KJV, NKJV), carries the idea of holding fast to matters of transcendent importance (BDAG, 421). Timothy would have to have a firm hold on the pattern of sound words he had been taught. It would require more than a flippant or casual familiarity with the Scriptures. Instead, Timothy would keep his grip strong on the teaching pattern he had been taught to the degree that he regularly rehearsed the sacred writings (cf. Joshua 1:8; Psalms 1:2). Preachers today will hold the pattern of sound (i.e., healthy) words to the degree that our attention is spent digesting and reflecting on God’s Word. Our grip will loosen on sound words when our grip loosens on our Bible. Long before unsound words come out of a preacher’s mouth, the Bible has usually first slipped out of his hands.
Rather than engaging in pointless arguments and discussions over words that do not profit (II Timothy 2:14), Timothy was to study (KJV) or give diligence (ASV) to present himself as one approved unto God as he handled the Word of Truth properly (II Timothy 2:15). The word translated “be diligent” or “study” (spudazō) in II Timothy 2:15 means to be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation (BDAG, 939). The same word appears in the text urging Christians to seek unity (Ephesians 4:3) and to make one’s calling and election sure (II Peter 1:10). Paul commanded Timothy to give his every effort to handle the Word properly. No haphazard approach would be satisfactory. Paul wanted Timothy to handle the Word of God properly so that he would not be ashamed because it is possible to mishandle the Word of God and be ashamed before the God who gave it. Preachers today must be zealous to handle the word properly. It will involve prioritizing study time, reading carefully, saying no to things that distract or take away from this, and avoiding things that waste time. The goal is to be approved by God, not applauded by men. As the preacher sits down with his Bible, he should read passages, cross-reference verses, look up words, and underline and circle phrases, all with one goal: to be pleasing to God (II Corinthians 5:9).
Timothy had been taught the Scriptures early on (II Timothy 1:5, 3:15), but he needed to continue in what he had previously learned (II Timothy 3:14). Again, this highlights the idea that Timothy had not fully arrived. He had not learned all that there was to know. He needed to keep studying and keep growing. The Scriptures have the potential to fully equip, train, and complete preachers, but only if we let them (II Timothy 3:16-17). There is a temptation for preachers to rely on yesterday’s knowledge instead of doing today’s study. It does not mean that a fresh study will yield new conclusions foreign to the text but that we must continue studying what we have learned. Preachers do not have the luxury of resting on their laurels. The adage, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” is true for Bible knowledge. One who was formerly fresh and deep in the pulpit can become stale and shallow without a commitment to continued study.
Lastly, Paul told Timothy to preach the word and be ready in season and out of season (II Timothy 4:2). While this verse does focus on preaching, we must not overlook what it clearly communicates about preparation. Paul told Timothy to be instant (KJV), ready (NKJV), or urgent (ASV) at all times. This word (ephistēmi) means to be present in readiness to discharge a task; in this case, the task was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (BDAG, 418; cf. II Timothy 4:2-4). How could this be done? What would Timothy need always to be ready when the opportunity presented itself to preach the Word? Timothy would have needed to prepare beforehand rather than wait until the time came to prepare. The preacher who would preach the word as Paul commands in II Timothy 4:2 must also be prepared as Paul commanded in the same verse. One who has not prepared will be ill-equipped to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (II Timothy 4:2). As Paul was preparing to leave Timothy and head to paradise, Timothy needed to be assured that the tools that make a faithful gospel preacher were still at his disposal. If he studied diligently, he would be able to faithfully preach the Word long after his earthly mentor had departed. Preachers today must do the same. The diligence needed has not diminished. If anything, the need for such has heightened and increased.
The Preacher and His Study Habits
Sometimes the question is asked, “how much should a preacher study?” There is no one correct answer. When it comes to studying to handle the Word of truth properly, it is not necessary to count the time spent in the study, but instead, make the time count when we do study (cf. Nehemiah 8:8). Preachers would be wise to read the Bible for personal devotion and development, not merely sermon preparation. Reading the Bible apart from preparation for classes and sermons will help when the time comes to prepare lessons. Regular reading through the Bible (Old and New Testament) will provide ideas for sermons and give the preacher a breadth of knowledge of the entire Bible (Psalms 119:160). Preachers are not merely reading for others, but for themselves. The preacher has a responsibility to grow a good soul himself and let the Word of God flourish in his own heart and life.
If preachers are to preach “the whole counsel of God,” we must read and study the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The preacher should make use of good Bible study tools to do his work effectively: a good English Bible translation, Hebrew/Greek Lexicons, a Bible Atlas, various commentaries, background text which provides information on the ancient world, an English dictionary, and more. However, all the tools one can obtain will be of no value to the one who does not properly use them. Moreover, with all the books one gathers and reads, preachers should remember that there is one Book to be placed above all others and prioritized in reading and studying (Psalms 119:97).
The study that a preacher does should be deep and thorough. We should be careful not to equate deep and thorough with confusing. The depth and richness of one’s knowledge are not manifested by his ability to confuse and perplex others. Instead, as the preacher mines the text and allows it to mold and shape his thinking, he can share the riches he has discovered with others. The psalmist believed there were wonderful things found in God’s law, and preachers must believe and know the same (Psalms 119:18). Jesus opened the Scriptures, and the hearts of His hearers burned as they were drawn into His message (Luke 24:32). Preachers of the gospel should dig into the passage and ask the essential questions: what does the text say; what was the author trying to communicate to his original audience; what did the text mean to its original audience; how does the same message apply today? These and similar questions should be on the preacher’s mind in his study as he wrestles with the Bible and tries his best to present it in a way that honors God.
Preachers should be readers of the Bible, but they must also be students of the Bible; there is a difference. Reading the Bible fills our minds with knowledge and gives us information, but reading does not always involve slowing down and digging deeper. Preachers must study the Bible by slowing down and spending dedicated time with a particular passage, book, or section of Scripture. Understanding what was happening when the passage or book was written and other things in the context will help one better understand what is read. While there must be regular reading of the Bible, preachers will also benefit significantly from a detailed and concentrated study of the Bible.
The Preacher's Stewardship of Time
One of the greatest perils the preacher faces is the potential to waste time on frivolous matters rather than giving attention to the work of studying to preach. Preachers indeed have to do more than study¬, but the weekly preaching of the Word requires time and attention that cannot be surrendered. The apostles left the serving of tables to others so that they could give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). If those men endowed with the miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit felt they could not do everything at the expense of proclaiming the Word, preachers today without the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit should take note.
Effective studying involves effective time management. Today, it is too easy to waste time on our tablets, phones, and computers and put off studying until the last minute. Proper stewardship of time means we realize there is limited time at our disposal to prepare every week, and preachers should make the best use of their time by giving themselves over to study and preparation in the time provided. Christians are to make the best use of their time in an evil world by living holy lives (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). Jesus realized He had a job to do while He was on earth, and He was sensitive to His need to make the best use of the time and so must we (John 4:34; 9:4). If a congregation is supporting a preacher full-time so that he can spend the majority of his time studying the Word, he should do that. He should be a good steward of his time and the brethren’s resources. Rather than waiting to the last minute, stealing someone else’s material, or hoping for Saturday night inspiration, gospel preachers must have a mind prepared to work and put in the time it takes to represent Jesus well. It does not mean that every sermon will be a masterpiece, but it does mean we can give our best every time (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Giving God Our Best
There are various components to preaching, but as we consider the preacher and his study, we should consider that God wants our best (cf. II Timothy 2:15). Jesus said we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Loving God with all of our minds involves surrendering our minds to Him in studying His Word. A preacher with a superficial knowledge of the Bible will not be a good model for his listeners as they observe his lackluster approach to God’s Word (cf. I Timothy 4:15-16). The congregation will struggle to take the Bible more seriously than their preacher. Bible knowledge is a means to an end; we are studying so that we can practice, but we cannot practice what we do not know (James 1:21-25). Zig Ziglar was right when he said, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”
Giving God our best means that we desire to keep growing. Rather than becoming stagnant and complacent, we realize there is always more for us to learn and apply. Preachers must be students of God’s Word before being teachers and preachers of God’s Word. The better we know the Word, the better we will know its Author. As we come to know the Author better, we will be able to proclaim Him faithfully, boldly, and passionately to others. The apostles spoke like those who had spent time with Jesus, and the people knew it (Acts 4:13). Can the same be said about us? None of us do this perfectly, but we can all do better. Let us fix our minds on being more serious Bible students and effective preachers because God chose preaching on purpose (I Corinthians 1:21)!
- Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.