May 02, 2024

Why Is Preaching Important in the Church?

Nathan W. Bingham & Joseph Pipa Jr.
Why Is Preaching Important in the Church?

Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in and out of season is a calling that requires dedication. Today, Joseph Pipa explains why it is vital for the sound preaching of God’s Word to be at the center of church life.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week on the Ask Ligonier podcast, we’re joined by president emeritus and professor of systematic and applied theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Dr. Joseph Pipa Jr. Dr. Pipa, when it comes to the life of the church, why is preaching so important?

DR. JOSEPH PIPA: Actually, there’s nothing more important in the church than preaching. In 2 Timothy 4—and this is Paul’s last will and testament, so to speak. In the Pastoral Epistles, he takes that which was descriptive in the Apostolic age and tells us what is prescriptive for the church today, where he lays out church government and the work of elders and whatever. And he concludes—pretty much the last commandment he gives is in 2 Timothy 4 on preaching, where he gives the commandment:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim. 4:1–5)

Well, the central part of this paragraph is the commandment that is in verse 2: “Preach the word.” And the term that Paul uses here is the Greek word kēryssō, and it’s a family of words that has to do with the work of a herald, who in ancient Greek civilization would have been an official spokesman for the king or the general. In our parlance, it’d be like an ambassador. And so, the message that the herald delivered was an authoritative message; it was verbal and public. And so we actually, from this and seeing how the word is used elsewhere, we would define preaching as the authoritative public proclamation of the Word of God by a man appointed to that task.

So that’s Paul’s summary here: to preach the Word—nothing else but the Word which he just defined in the end of chapter 3: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”—to do so at all times, “in season,” “out of season,” when it’s convenient, inconvenient; with “reproof” and “rebuke” and “exhortation”—so not just teaching the truth, but applying the truth to the hearts of people—but to do so with patience and continued instruction.

Now, the reason for preaching is that the church will constantly go through the temptation of people wanting to have their ears tickled, wanting to dictate what is said. So, Mr. Larson and I were talking last night at supper that yes, the seminaries are part of the problem of the decline, but partnered with that are the congregations that don’t want the truth any longer. And so, God will give them false teachers. That’s why it’s so important that we be on preaching.

And so, he says in verse 5 that we’re to “be sober”—that means to be diligent and watchful. We’re to “endure hardship.” It’s not going to be an easy road. “Do the work of an evangelist,” which is not evangelism or the itinerant evangelist, but the special Apostolic office of evangelist. Thus, “Fulfill the ministry.”

But he anchors all of this in verse 1 with the solemn vow, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word.” So, we’re going to give an answer to God, who calls us to this task. So there, Paul lays out really what preaching is all about and why it’s important.

Now, this builds on what he also would write in Romans 10, and this teaches what we call the preaching as the primary means of grace. When we talk about the means of grace, we’re talking about those ordinances that King Jesus has appointed for communicating the benefits of His mediation to his elect people for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. And in Romans 10:13, he gives this promise from Joel: “Whoever will call the name of the Lord will be saved”—wonderful gospel promise. But then he asks, in verse 14, a series of rhetorical questions: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” And then the second question is, “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?”

Now, a lot of our English Bibles translate this “of whom they have not heard.” But this grammatical form is always in this particular way. It’s the accusative: “How should they believe in Him whom they have not heard.” Now, what that teaches us is when the lawfully ordained man preaches, Christ Himself is speaking with a living voice. So, how will they hear without a preacher? There’s that part. And how will they preach unless they are sent?

So, at the center of all church activity, of all of our evangelism and all of our edification, of course, at the center of worship, then, is going to be preaching, by which Christ through the Holy Spirit exercises His ministry to us through the Word. So, there’s nothing more important than preaching. That’s why we’re committed to training men to preach.