In his book Presidential Praise: Our Presidents and Their Hymns, authors C. Edward Spann and Michael E. Williams Sr. note that the title of President George W. Bush’s autobiography, A Charge to Keep, was drawn from Charles Wesley’s hymn.
Apparently, this title choice was an indication of the influence this 18th-century hymn had on President Bush, as well as so many others in the past 250+ years.
“A charge to keep I have” is based on the Old Testament passage in Leviticus 8:35-36. This text involves the ordination of Aaron and his sons in the consecration for the priesthood.
This morning I was reading another “charge.” One that I and all who preach the gospel must take personally. In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, the apostle Paul charged his young protégé with these words:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
“Preach the Word” was a serious and solemn charge given by inspiration, not just to Timothy, but to all of us who are privileged to be ministers of the gospel.
Sadly today the doctrine of Christ is being diluted with human dogmas, personal opinions, and in recent years a “health and wealth gospel.” Preaching is not a light-hearted after-dinner speech. Neither is the pulpit a place for presenting political views, as occurs in too many cases. Nor is it time to entertain.
To preach the Word is to clearly articulate the revealed will of God. God’s Word is Truth (Jn 17:17). And Truth is objective. Not subjective. Neither can one aspect of truth be isolated to the exclusion of the rest of the Word. For then you will find yourself on shaky ground spiritually and doctrinally. Indeed the totality of God’s Word comprises the Truth (Ps 119:16).
Jesus is the epitome and essence of truth (Jn. 14:6) It was the truth into which the Holy Spirit guided the apostles (Jn 16:13). Paul based his preaching on the truth of Christ (1 Tim. 2:7). So should preachers today.
Preaching that benefits and blesses its hearers must be Bible-based and Christ-centered. We must give book, chapter and verse for all we say. The old adage “speak where the Scriptures speak and be silent where the Scriptures are silent” is still relevant in the 21st century.
“In season and out of season” speaks to when it is favorable and when it is not so favorable. When it is convenient and inconvenient. When people want to hear it. And when they don’t. The Word must be preached at every opportunity and on any occasion when we are given an audience. There should be no excuse for God’s minister to shirk from this serious responsibility.
“Reprove, rebuke and exhort” are necessary elements of preaching the Word. However, this is not a mathematical formula. I’ve heard it said that two-thirds of our preaching should be negative. That exegesis entirely misses the point.
In his book, Common Sense Preaching, Dee Bowman says that effective, Bible-based preaching should “storm the will.” I agree. We must preach with purpose and passion. With ardor and enthusiasm. And with feeling and fervor.
Preaching the Word should convict the hearer, as Peter did on the day of Pentecost. Of course, conviction cuts both ways. Sometimes people respond in obedience as they did in Acts 2. But other times they rebel and react in disobedience as in Acts 7.
Preaching must warn as Paul did in his defense before Felix in Acts 24. People need to be warned of their sinful attitudes and actions. And the judgment to come.
Preaching should appeal to the heart–the emotions, mind, conscience and will of the hearer. Exhortation and encouragement are much needed today. There is an old adage that says preachers should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” It requires judgment to know what is needed at a given point in time, to a particular group of people.
The Word must be presented in clear, concise, and concrete terms. Sermons filled with theological jargon, big words or ambiguous explanations are not a compliment to a preacher and do an injustice to the hearer.
Preaching is a serious responsibility and a solemn charge. None of us should take it lightly. Nor should the brethren.
In Wesley’s words:
A charge to keep I have,
a God to glorify,
a never-dying soul to save,
and fit it for the sky.
Help me to watch and pray,
and still on Thee rely,
O let me not my trust betray,
but press to realms on high.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman