The New Testament Portrait of a Minister (3)


Preach the Word. This is the last word of Paul to Timothy. In the fourth chapter of his second epistle to Timothy, Paul writes: “Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (verse two). These words constitute the transfer of a sacred trust which had been committed to Paul and is now given to Timothy. Timothy receives the charge to proclaim the Word of the Lord as a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.


When we think of Timothy as a person, we think of a youth. Did not Paul give him this advice: “Let no one despise your youth.” (II Tim. 4:12). But what was the age of Timothy when Paul wrote his letters? Of course, the book of Acts does not furnish the figures, and much of our research is guesswork. Yet by approximation we can say that Timothy must have been in his early forties when Paul wrote his first epistle to him; he must have been between forty-five and fifty when Paul wrote his second epistle from the prison cell at Rome.

From the book of Acts we glean the following information: “And Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a jewess that believed; and his father was a Greek. The same was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him” (16:1–3). We know that Paul visited Lystra and Derbe on his second missionary journey, which took place in the year 50. Because Timothy had a good name among the believers in Lystra and Iconium, we presume that he must have been thirty years of age. First, he had to prove himself in his own area; second, Timothy had to teach and he had to do this with authority; and third, the customs of his day demanded that a teacher should be thirty years of age. For these reasons, we feel that when Paul called Timothy as a fellow worker, he could not have been younger than thirty.

We also know that Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy (in which he makes the comment about the youthful age of Timothy) in the year 63. Four years later, from his Roman prison, Paul wrote the second letter to Timothy. In short, we presume that Timothy was at least forty-live years old when Paul gave him the commission to preach the Word in season and out of season. In our day, a person in his forties does not have a claim to youth, but in the second half of the first century a man in his early forties was still considered young.


It is evident that Timothy had proclaimed the Gospel for many years already when he received the second letter from Paul addressed to him. We cannot say, therefore, that Timothy at this time when he reads the letter is installed as a minister of the Gospel. For many years he had preached the Word. Therefore, the charge of Paul is not at all new to him. The significance of the charge does not lie in its novelty but rather in its timeliness. Perhaps we can best compare the charge which Timothy receives with the charge which a minister receives when he is installed in a congregation to which he has accepted a call. The minister has proclaimed the Gospel for years and has served many congregations. Yet at the time of his installation in his new congregation, a fellow minister addresses him with words which are the same as when he was ordained to the Gospel ministry.

In his farewell sermon Paul addressed the elders of Ephesus who had come to Miletus with these words: “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Of course, the elders of Ephesus knew that this was their task for they had always done their work accordingly. And they understood very well that Paul did not give them a new charge but that his words conveyed a timeless admonition to continue the work entrusted to them.

The charge which Timothy receives is placed within the context of the return of Jesus and the day of judgment. In other words, the charge to preach the Word will be discussed in the day of days. Then an investigation will be made to see whether Timothy has been faithful to the charge. And that means that Timothy may never take his charge lightly. He must be fully aware of the seriousness of his work. Life and death are the outcome. Therefore Paul writes: “I charge you in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.” He could not have chosen words more solemn than these.

Paul testifies to Timothy that he may never forsake his calling as a herald of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, he may not change the message of the Gospel in any way. Timothy may never neglect his duty in bringing the Word of God. He must proclaim that Word as he has received it from the Lord. Besides, preaching the Word is urgent business: “be urgent in season and out of season.” The preacher must be ready at all times to proclaim the Word.


“Be on duty at all times” is a rather fitting translation of the charge given to Timothy. The Word of God is always profitable whether it is a good time or a bad time, whether it is convenient or not convenient. Because the Word has something to say at all times, the servant of the Word may never neglect his duty. Nothing may stand between the Word and the servant of the Word. Nothing may divert his attention. His duty is to proclaim the Word.

Timothy ought not to think that his task is easy: his task is most beautiful, but at the same time most difficult. Of course there is the story of the Negro who worked in the cotton fields of Alabama. One afternoon he prayed the following prayer: “O Lord, the field is full of weeds, the sun is hot, the work is hard. I believe, Lord, that 1 have been called to be a preacher.” If this man had become a minister, he would have had to admit that his work in the cotton field was easy in comparison to the work of the minister. This is rather obvious from the charge which Paul gave Timothy: “Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.”

It is the task of the servant of the Word to preach the Gospel in such a way that the believer will he strengthened in his faith and the sinner called to repentance. In his work he receives much joy and satisfaction because those who are strengthened in their faith and those who are called to repentance express their joy in the Lord. But the servant of the Word must also preach the Word when it is not convenient. He preaches the Word but meets hardened hearts, steps on sensitive toes, and finds doors that are closed. Often he must listen to insults hurled in his direction. Yet he must convince people of the error of their way. He must reprove the sinner, rebuke the wayward, and exhort the backslider. He may never impose his own opinion on his audience but must always come with the Word of God. On the basis of the Word he convicts people of sin as through the working of the Holy Spirit he shows them the way to Christ. And his teaching has authority for the simple reason that he says: “This is the Word of God.” His teaching, therefore, has authority because it comes from God.

In the midst of all his work, the servant of the Word ought to be unfailing in patience and in teaching. His conduct must be above reproach. And he should exercise complete self-control so that the Word may find entrance everywhere.


When Paul wrote these words to Timothy he spoke of years of experience. Nearly ten years earlier he had preached his farewell sermon to the elders of Ephesus. At that time he used words which were quite similar to those written in his second letter to Timothy. He told the elders of Ephesus that during his three-year ministry in the Ephesian congregation that “he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). That’s what Paul had done faithfully: proclaim the whole counsel of God.

It may be of interest to know that these words are found in the emblem of Westminster Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this seminary, students are taught that they must preach the full counsel of God. They do not do this because of the word of Paul. They do this in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Paul took leave of the congregation of Ephesus by addressing the elders of that congregation, he cast a thoughtful look upon the years of his ministry there. For three years he had been the minister of Ephesus. The time to speak words of farewell had come. Had Paul conducted himself as a true servant of the ·Word?

Paul testifies that he had been faithful to his calling. He had proclaimed the Word without interruption; that is, he had proclaimed it when the occasion was favorable as well as unfavorable. Thus he said: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Of course Paul did not think of the sixth commandment: “you shall not kill” when he said that he was innocent of the blood of all. What he had in mind was that which the prophet Ezekiel had received directly from God—words recorded in chapter thirty-three, verses seven and eight: “So shall, son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die, and thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand.”

Paul thought of this word when he preached his farewell message to the elders of Ephesus. He knew that he was appointed a watchman on the wall of Zion. As a watchman he had to blow the trumpet to warn the people of the approaching enemy. If he failed to sound the trumpet loud and clear, the enemy would come and kill the people. Consequently the watchman would be held responsible and would be executed.

When Paul said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” he spoke in all humility. No conceit marked his words. As a faithful servant of the Word he had warned the people. He had proclaimed the Gospel in season and out of season. He had reproved, rebuked, and exhorted. And this had not always been easy for when he wrote to Timothy he had to mention the names of Hymenaeus and Alexander, both of Ephesus, who had made shipwreck of their faith. And when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, some four years later, these names come up again. Hymenaeus tried to overthrow the faith of some believers, and Alexander had done much evil to Paul. Yet Paul had worked with them, warned them, and had shown them the error of their way. But when they did not wish to listen to the Word and continued to oppose Paul, all Paul could say was “the Lord render him according to his works” (II Tim. 4:14). Paul could not be held accountable. He had done his duty.


As a faithful watchman Paul had guarded the church at Ephesus. He had sounded the trumpet and warned the people. Whenever he had seen intruders come in who taught a doctrine different from that of the doctrine of Christ, he had sounded the trumpet. He had stood firm on Zion’s walls to rebuff the enemy.

Paul had proclaimed the whole counsel of God. He had served the Lord in all humility, had suffered much because of the Jews, but had never neglected to preach the Gospel of salvation. Paul had put much weight on proclaiming the whole truth of God, the revealed will of God, and the full counsel of God. Paul had called the people to repentance and faith; he had not done the one without the other. Faith without repentance is like sprouting grain on rocky soil; before long the scorching sun dries up the grain and it perishes. When persecution arises because of the Word of God, faith that does not have its roots in repentance withers and dies. Also, repentance without faith is a dead-end road. It causes endless frustration to the traveler. Repentance without faith leads nowhere because remission of sin has not been accepted in faith.

When Paul reviewed his work after his three-year mini~try in the church at Ephesus, he came to the conclusion that he had been faithful in his work. lie had brought the Word faithfully and had called the people to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He had experienced the intense hatred of the Jews when they more than once had plotted to kill him. For his own safety he could have omitted parts of the Gospel so that the message would have bee acceptable to the Jews. If he had proclaimed a Gospel which was in line with the teaching of the Jews, he would not have had to fear opposition and hardship. And because of his learning and travels, Paul had firsthand knowledge of the mind of the Greek. He knew that the Gospel of Jesus was folly to the mind of the Greek. If he had changed his message of his Lord so that it was intellectually acceptable to the Greek he would have had followers. But Paul had not omitted anything, he had not changed the message. He had proclaimed the full counsel of God.

To proclaim the whole counsel of God means that the minister of the Word must call the people to repentance and faith. He may not only speak of the love of God. He must also warn the people that if they do not repent of their sins, the wrath of God shall come upon them. He may not speak only about election, that is. the comforting assurance of God’s love and grace to the sinner redeemed in Christ. He must also point to the responsibility of man. He may not speak only of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hie’ must also teach the people to follow the Lord Jesus in faith and obedience. If the minister of the Word willfully omits part of the message, he is not a faithful servant of the Lord. Besides, leaving something out of the message is detrimental to the hearer of that message, because to receive only a half-truth is to he deceived by the bringer of that message, an:l deception leads to destruction. Most applicable are the words of Paul written to the church at Corinth: “For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Cor. 14:8).


Quite often the scope of the minister’s task is not understood by the members of the congregation. And this is understandable. The average member of the congregation happens to see the minister only on Sunday at the worship services and perhaps once during the week at a prayer meeting. As a jest, the minister is said to work one day out of seven -Sunday. If this should be true, the work of the minister would be one-sided and incomplete. Of course the minister must proclaim the Word on the Lord’s Day. for that is the day all which the Lord meets His people at the worship services. The minister must also proclaim the Word of God the other six days of the week. On Sunday he brings the Word from the pulpit; on weekdays he brings the Word to the patient in the hospital, the invalid at home, the catechumens in the classroom, the prisoner in jail. In short, he brings the Word of God everywhere. He is the preacher seven days a week.

When Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, he told them that he had been faithful in bringing them the Word of God fully. “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable. and teaching you in public from house to house…” (Acts 20:20). The matter could be stated in the following words: on Sunday the people come to the preacher to receive the Word of God, and during the week the preacher comes to the people to bring the Word of God. Though nothing can or may replace the proclamation of the Word of God on Sunday, the minister simply cannot and may not neglect visiting the people during the week. Those that have drifted away from God are usually found on the highways and byways of daily life, seldom in the pew during the worship service. The preacher as undershepherd must go out to find the forlorn and lost and bring them to the fold. While proclaiming the Word on the Lord’s Day he may be assured that he is building the believers spiritually. During the week, he becomes aware of his task to seek that which is lost.

Likewise in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul testifies that he preaches the Gospel. The Word of God does not discriminate. Bather the Word of God unites people from every tongue and every race, because they constitute the body of Christ. And that Word, when faithfully proclaimed, builds up the body of Christ.

During his ministry Paul brought the Gospel to people in authority. While in prison he reasoned with Governor Felix, Governor Festus, and King Agrippa. On his second missionary journey he reasoned with the Athenian philosophers on the Areopagus. When he was imprisoned at Rome, lie brought the slave Onesimus to Christ and caused him to return to his master Philemon. Wherever Paul went he brought the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In his letters to Timothy, he charged his successor to be faithful in proclaiming the Gospel in season and out of season. Wherever the Lord opens the way, preach the Word. Be on duty at all times.

Simon Kistemaker is a professor of Bible at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.