Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"The Secret to Winning the World to Christ"
2 Timothy 4:1-4

by Dr. Dan Summerlin
Pastor, Lone Oak First Baptist Church
Paducah, KY

 

   Whenever you go to Barnes and Noble or Borders or any other book store, you will find a section of books that gives secrets. There are books on the secrets of golf, losing weight, time management, investing money and grill cooking. In fact, probably whatever you think of, there is a book with the secret of doing it. Why are these books popular? We all want to know the secrets of success.

   In 2 Timothy, we find the Apostle Paul writing a letter to encourage and to advise his young protégé Timothy on being a Minister of the Gospel. It is an important letter because Paul understands that, at this stage in his life, each letter may be his last. He understands the urgency to write what was on his heart. In chapter four of this book, Paul gives to Timothy the secret of winning the world to Christ. It is found in one statement, but in that statement we see his secret and his advice to Timothy. So what advice does he give to Timothy?

   Notice that he doesn’t say, “Play it safe.” He doesn’t say, “Take it easy.” He doesn’t say, “Seek out the latest trend in society and build on it.” His message is concise and clear. Paul says to Timothy, “Preach the Word.”

   Think about that. These are some of the last words of the Apostle Paul. Some scholars believe that these words were written just a few weeks before he was martyred, and we find him giving encouraging words to help Timothy to win the world for Christ. He wants to inspire Timothy him to do God’s work. He wants to inspire Timothy so that Timothy will not get discouraged in his ministry. In that setting Paul cries out, “Preach the Word!”

   Those words were chosen carefully by Paul. He knew the ramifications of doing what he is asking of Timothy. Remember that Paul was in prison for doing exactly what he is encouraging Timothy to do. Paul knew all the risks and the costs. In fact, when Paul gave this charge to Timothy he even tells Timothy that in the future, people will not want to hear the Word, but instead they will want to hear only what they want to hear. The Apostle Paul knew that preaching was difficult and that it would only get more difficult.   Throughout his ministry he understood this fact and communicated it. He had written that the message would sometimes be offensive to the world. He said that the message of the cross would be a stumbling block to some (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11) and to others it would be foolishness. (1 Cor. 1:23). But even though Paul knew the dangers of this charge he gave it anyway. Why? He knew the importance of it.

   We see the importance of it in the way he phrases it. He says, “I charge you.” He charges Timothy to preach the word. The verb “charge” is diamartyromai and that word has a legal background. It is the image of an oath in a court. It means something that is solemn or sacred. It was used also to describe the gods talking to man. Paul is giving to Timothy a charge that was sacred and solemn. He was giving a charge to Timothy – the awesome responsibility to preach the Word to the world.

   R. G. Lee said, “Our charge is not to defend the Word put to preach it. Our charge is not to explain the miracles recorded therein, but to preach it. Our charge is not to praise, but to proclaim. Our charge is not to preach any doubts about it, but our faith it in. Our charge is not to part or to shun any portion of it but to declare unto all men the counsel of God.”[i]

   If Paul was here today he would give the same message. He would encourage preachers of this generation to “Preach the Word.”

   He would say, “In our Post-Modern Society—Preach the Word.

   “In our Anti-Authority Society—Preach the Word

   “In our Theologically Confused Society that proclaims “Open Theism”—Preach the Word.

   “In our Politically Correct Society—Preach the Word.”

   Paul would look at the problems that we are facing and simply shrug and reply, “Preach the Word.” The charge has not changed because this is the manner that the world is introduce to Christ.

   How can we keep this charge? How can we “Preach the Word” today? What shall we do? If we are going to preach the Word, we need to do 3 things.

I. First, we need to love the Word.

   God warns in Amos 8:11-12, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.”
(KJV)

   God says that there will come a day when there will be famine in the land from the word of God. Why? When we cease to love it, we will cease to long for it.

   To preach the Word, we need to love the Word. Why is loving the Word important to preaching it?

   When we love the Word, we will preach with passion.

   We need to be as the Apostle Paul who exclaimed, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (I Cor. 9:16 NAS) One cannot preach with passion if there is no love involved.  And today it seems as if preaching doesn’t have passion anymore.

   People are starving to find someone in our society who has passion about anything. When I was a pastor in Huntsville, Alabama, one Sunday after the sermon a lady came up to me and said, “I enjoy your preaching. I look forward every Sunday to hear you.” I must have had a strange look on my face, because she quickly explained why: “I have been visiting different churches and I am glad that there is someone who has a passion about what they are preaching.”

   When we love the Word, there will be passion in our preaching.  And when we have passion in our preaching, people will come to hear us even if they disagree with us. That is the power of passion.

   David Hume, the Scottish skeptic in philosophy, was seen running at 5 a.m. one morning to hear George Whitefield preach. Someone asked him if he believed what the preacher preached, and he replied, "No, but he does!" That is passion.

   When we love the Word, we will preach with power.

   Our power in preaching does not come from technique, or our voice, or the latest PowerPoint presentation. Our power comes from the Holy Spirit, and when we love the Word of God and use the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will honor the Word of God.

   Look again at the great preachers and notice their power. Look where the power comes from:

   John Wesley: “O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one Book.”

   Charles Simeon:  “If they preach what is founded on the Scriptures, their word, as far as it is agreeable to the mind of God, is to be considered as God’s.”

   Power comes from the Holy Spirit, and He will bless His Word. When we love this book, and proclaim it with love, there will be a spiritual, supernatural power to our preaching from the Author of this book.  We need to love the Bible.        

   We need to love its Literary Truth.

   Remember that the Bible was written over a 1500 year span with more than 40 authors. They were kings, rabbis, shepherds and other professions. They wrote in different places. For example, Daniel wrote in the palace, but Paul wrote in the prison. They came from three continents, in three languages, in different styles, on different topics, and yet there is a harmony throughout this book that defies the human imagination. How could it not be the Word of God?

   We need to love its Historical Truth.

   Throughout the centuries, no investigated archeological discovery has ever contradicted the Bible. Silence does not mean contradiction. At one time in history, because there was no evidence of the Hittite civilization, people laughed at the Bible, until one day that civilization was discovered. At one time in history, people scoffed at the concept of a city of Ur in Genesis, until one day it was discovered. At one time, the skeptics mocked the truthfulness of John 5 because of the description of the pool in Bethesda having five porticoes, until one day it was discovered and it fit the description.

   We need to love its Prophetic Truth.

   Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, we find prophecies concerning future events. We find prophecies concerning Israel, Babylon, Rome, and even today. We see the prophecies concerning Jesus, His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection. Over and over again, we see the prophecies that were given and then the fulfillment of them. This book is an amazing book.

   Not only do we need to love the Word,

   II. Second, we need to learn the Word

   Paul told Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)

   We cannot preach what we do not know. We need to learn the Bible. When you consider the great preachers of history, they were all students of the Bible.   Jonathan Edwards studied 13 hours a day. G. Campbell Morgan read through a book 50 times before he would preach on it. Charles Spurgeon, Alexander McLaren, John Henry Jowett, George Truett, Martin Lloyd Jones, W. A. Crisswell, John Wesley and other great preachers were all devoted their lives to studying the Word of God.

   Do you realize that we are living in a biblically illiterate world? According to George Barna research: Four out of every ten adults (38%) believe that the entire Bible was written several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. 12% of adults believe that the name of Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc. A majority of adults (56%) are convinced the Bible proclaims that the single, most important task in life is taking care of one's family. Three-quarters of Americans (75%) believe that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves. Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. Again from data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can't name even five of the Ten Commandments. We would like to think that only non-Christians do not know the Bible, but for Christians ,the percentage is only a little better.

 

Robert Jeffress, in his book I Want More, wrote that in the last few years at Wheaton College, the biblical knowledge test given to incoming freshman has shown that the biblical knowledge of Christians has deteriorated. These teenagers are from mainline Protestant denominations across America and are above average in intelligence. Yet the result showed that one-third could not put into chronological order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ and Pentecost. One third could not identify Matthew as an apostle. Half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew or that the Passover Story was in Exodus.[ii]

            It is like the story of the Preacher who asked the teenage boys in a Sunday School class who brought down the walls of Jericho. They looked and shrugged and said, “Preacher, we didn’t do it.” He was shocked and told the teacher that he had asked the class who brought down the walls of Jericho and they replied that they didn’t do it. The teacher said, “Well I know those boys and if they said that they didn’t do it, they didn’t do it.” He was more shocked and took it to the deacons. He explained what he had asked and what the boys and teacher had said. The deacons said that they would discuss it and decide what to do. They later came back to the Pastor and said, “We don’t know who brought the walls down, but we will take up a love offering to rebuild it.”

   Our world does not know the Bible. Our churches do not know the Bible. Maybe the reason the world and the church do not know the Bible is that preachers are not preaching the Bible. And maybe the reasons preachers are not preaching the Bible is because they do not know the Bible.

   Have we taken the easy road? Have we stopped struggling and wrestling with the text? Have we stopped seeking for the deep riches of the Word of God? Have we stopped looking at the whole counsel of God?  In order to preach the Word, we need to learn the Word.

   Do you know why we don’t study the Bible the way we should? We give all these reasons why we do not study and learn the Bible, but the answer is obvious. R. C. Sproul nails it when he writes: “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”[iii]

   You see, as we learn this book, we will learn what God wants us to know, to do and to become. Through His Word, He reveals Himself to us and through His power He changes us.

   III. Third, We Need to Live the Word.

   If we simply learn the Word of God and nothing happens in our lives, then something is wrong. James told us, “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22 NAS)  If we are not doing the Word of God, how can we preach it effectively?

   Our lives need to back up what we say and teach. We cannot neglect our lifestyle and still expect to be powerful preachers. If we do not live what we say, we are hypocrites. A hypocrite is an actor, who is simply playing a role. God did not call us to be actors, but messengers in word and in deeds.

   Chuck Swindoll says it best: “Ministry is a character profession. To put it bluntly, you can sleep around and still be a good brain surgeon. You can cheat on your mate and have little trouble continuing to practice law. Apparently, it is no problem to stay in politics and plagiarize. You can be a successful salesperson and cheat on your income tax. But you cannot do those things as a Christian or as a minister and continue enjoying the Lord’s blessing. You must do right in order to have true integrity.”[iv]

   Every area of our lives should be consistent to the Word of God. Our Public Life should be consistent to the Word of God. Our Professional Life should be consistent to the Word of God. Our Personal Life should be consistent to the Word of God. Our Private Life should be consistent to the Word of God.

   We need to be consistent. I like the way R. G. Lee said it. He said, “Don’t preach whole milk on Sunday and live skim milk during the week.”

   Remember that the reason we study the Bible and learn the Bible is not for information, but for transformation. The reason we study the Bible and learn the Bible is not only for interpretation, but for application. If we are not living what we are preaching, then our preaching is in vain.

   In the same way our preaching is not for information only, but for transformation.

We preach the Word of God so that the Spirit of God may change lives through the Son of God. That transformation must begin in our lives.

   Paul’s charge to Timothy was to “Preach the Word.” That is the same message we need today because that is the secret in winning the world to Christ. Let us:

   1.  Love the Word by reading it and digesting what it says.

   2.  Learn the Word by determining what it meant. We cannot know what it means until we know what it meant.

   3. Live the Word by doing what God says through it.

   If we would do that, we could say with confidence that we are doing what God commands us: “Preaching the Word.”

 


[i] R. G. Lee, A Charge to Keep and Other Messages, p. 19.

[ii] Robert Jeffress, I Want More!, p. 82.

[iii] R.C. Sproul , Knowing Scripture, p. 17.

[iv] Charles Swindoll, Rise and Shine: A Wake-Up Call, p. 198.

 

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

   Dan Summerlin has been pastor of Lone Oak First Baptist Church since 2002.  He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama, a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Theology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He and his wife Eileen, have two children, James Daniel and Jenna Eileen.