Keeping the Pulpit Alive
By Dr. Tolbert Moore
In II Timothy, chapter 4, verses 1-3, we read: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts (or strong desires) shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. . . .”
He said, “I charge thee therefore” which points back to the preceding verses, beginning in verse 14 of chapter 3: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, (equipped completely)throughly furnished unto all good works.” And then, “I charge thee therefore. . . .”
He is saying to Timothy, this young preacher, that he has what he needs in the scriptures, which are inspired of God. All through this second epistle to Timothy, HE IS TEACHING HIM HOW TO KEEP THE PULPIT ALIVE.
I readily acknowledge that preaching sometimes and in some instances (especially in Mark) meant giving the gospel on a one on one basis, but here he is talking about being the preacher, being the overseer, being the leader of a congregation and breathing life and challenge into the congregation by the preached Word of God.
Now, notice, he said for you to: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For (or because) the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers (not just have one or two teachers, but a heap, many teachers). They will start looking after every instance and every place they can for something, because they have not desired, will not endure, stay with, suffer through sound doctrine, and they will heap to themselves teachers. They will look for every kind of teacher, and everywhere they can, because they will have itching ears.
You cannot satisfy an itch just by scratching it. Before you know it, it will begin itching again! The bacteria or fungus causing the itch has to be removed before you can get any real relief. Now, I never had the “7 year itch,” thank God, but I did catch the itch at school one time, and I’ll tell you, that was a terrible thing to have. Back then old folks would put all kinds of things on it including sulfur to give some kind of relief, but until the bacteria was removed, it wouldn’t be long before it itched again, and it would nearly itch you to death! Now, can you imagine having the itch in your ear?
And then, I know what it is to heap up something. If you heap up hay or corn, you have a pile of it! That verse says they would pile up teachers to themselves, because they had the itch in their ears. But, friend, the only remedy is the preached Word of God. Paul emphasized this all through II Timothy. In chapter 1 he gives the way, the program, the plan that God has to keep the pulpit aflame. I want to emphasize and challenge you with some things which will help keep the pulpits alive in America, in the Bible belt, and overseas.
I have been in many pulpits in recent years–some of which were dead. In some cases it took several times of preaching with all the might and power God would give to liven it up–to bring it back to life. Sometimes one sermon would do it, but many times it would take several sermons.
Most places now do not have time to have revival. We have two nights or three nights or five night meetings, but you cannot have real revival in that length of time. You can talk about revival, but it takes some real time and power of God to have revival–to bring a church back to life.
He said in verse 6 of chapter 1 of II Timothy: “Wherefore, I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” Stir up that gift. God gave the gift when they were having the laying on of hands. And in I Timothy 4:14 he says: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” So, you have a gift. The question is not how you got it–the question is whether or not you have it?
Who does have it? He tells us in II Timothy 1:9: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling. . . .” God hath saved us. He has saved us by grace through faith. That is the only way God ever saved anyone. That is the only way you could be saved! No one deserves to be saved, because sinners do not deserve anything but hell–that is justice. “The wages of sin is death” and in Revelation 20:14 it says, “. . .death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” Sinners deserve to go to hell, and we are all sinners. But, by the grace of God, He has provided Christ Jesus who dies on the cross of Calvary to pay for our sins, “. . .that whosoever believeth in him (trusts Him, relies on Him) should not perish, but have everlasting life”(Will be saved). Paul said, He hath saved us!
A man who is preaching the gospel of Christ must be saved. I am not saying that the gospel loses all of its effect if a lost person reads it or quotes it or even tries to sermonize it, but that lost man–no matter how gifted he may be as far as the physical or natural charismatic part of his personality, no matter how well educated he is, no matter how well crafted his sermon is–will not breathe life, real spiritual life of God into the congregation unless he is saved. He has no witness of the Spirit and is not Christ’s.
And, he will not have that ability to breathe and fire life into that congregation from the pulpit unless he is CALLED OF GOD. Whether or not a preacher is saved is not as controversial today in fundamental circles as whether he has been called. I have discovered, to my dismay, that there are Christian colleges with supposedly well education professors who are teaching that you do not have to be called of God to preach–that God is looking for volunteers! Well, I think you should volunteer after you have been called, but volunteer all you want, you will not be a real preacher if God has not called you, because He will not anoint you. A man who is saved, has the witness of God in himself. And a man who is called of God has a gift. He has a creative gift of God in his spiritual makeup so that he will get sermons, fresh thoughts and material from God as he reads and studies God’s Word. Now, I am not saying he is going to get revelation in addition and besides God’s Word, because I do not believe that. But, I believe God will give him new insight, a fresh approach and fresh thoughts, and (if you please) fresh food from a far country, as Proverbs says, because he has that gift. God gives that gift.
I’ve heard some preacher preach who have shouted and run the aisle, jumped benches and everything else, and they did not have a bit of the freshness of God on them. Of course, I have heard some who have run the aisle, jumped the pews and did all kinds of antics who really had the power and touch of God in their lives. So, I am not saying the antics make the difference. I am saying what really makes the difference are the calland anointing of God.
I have heard men preach who did not get out of their tracks–who stood and preached with anointing and the touch of God in their lives, and it would literally burn your spirit, burn your heart, and set you afire for the glory of God and the cause of Christ as they preached the Word of God, exercising the gift that God gave them. A man is doing a congregation much more good when he is spending four or five hours in prayer, meditation, and study as he prepares to preach than he would be if he were running all over town, talking to everybody he could find, and reading everyone else’s sermon books!
Most all of us read sermon books (some do not admit it and some may be so prejudiced that they would not). Sometimes it is good to get other men’s ideas. It is good to read other sermons by men inspired of God, but if you have a gift of God, you are going to get some sermons on your own. As you read the Bible, it is going to just jump out at you and say, “Here preacher–preach me!”
So, you have to be saved (both sure and knowledgeable about your salvation), you need to be called–with that gift and anointing of God, andyou must not neglect that gift. You must stir up that gift of God. You have to work at it. You can stir it up in many ways. You can stir it up through prayer. You can stir it up through reading the Bible. You can stir it up sometimes by hearing someone else preach. But, if the calling is there, the gift is there!
And, you need to preach the Word. You need to preach it all the time! You need to preach it in season, and you need to preach it out of season. Now, who doesn’t enjoy preaching when the tide is in and the church is rejoicing and the Spirit of God is flowing–everybody who has any preach in him at all enjoys preaching in those times. You can say “Jesus” and they will weep or shout or at least say “amen” at high tide when the season is in and the people are responding and rejoicing.
But, what about when it is out of season? Much of our preaching today across this country and in other countries is out of season. That is when that firey preaching, that move of the Holy Spirit, that freeness of spirit, that powerful sermon–not necessarily a crafted or an organized sermon, but an explosive sermon, is needed most.
I learned when I was just a young preacher that I could not depend on my congregation all the time to give me inspiration. I was taught not to think or meditate on what I was going to preach, just read my Bible and study in private, and go to church with nothing particularly on my mind, get up and preach and the Holy Spirit would inspire me and give me something to preach on the spot. I found that would work if it was in season and if the Spirit of God was flowing. God would, right on the spot, give me a message or a sermon, or give me a verse of scripture and a thought, either to exhort or challenge or even rebuke.
But, I found out in a hurry, if the season was out and the Holy Spirit was not there, the fire was not there and the congregation was looking to the pulpit, looking to me, for inspiration, and I was looking at the pew for inspiration–then sad to say, there would be no inspiration!
So, the preacher must be ready out of season. He must be ready to preach the Word instantly in season (on a moment’s notice). But then, when it is out of season, he has to preach too. He has to be prepared, and I would dare say, it take more preparation and more prayer and more earnest seeking of God out of season than in season, but I would also say, it is more needful out of season.
Then, reprove–that means prove it again and again and again. Not only prove it by repetition, but prove it and reprove it by scripture, by experience and by illustration.
And then rebuke–nobody likes to be rebuked! Nobody likes to be chastened. Nobody. I do not enjoy doing it, and I certainly do not enjoy receiving it–but it is good for you. Actually, rebuking messages sometimes do more good than others.
And then, right after rebuke comes exhort. After you rebuke them sharply, abruptly, scolding them–then you exhort them, because they are going to need a pick-up after they are rebuked. They are going to need to be built back up.
And then, he said there should be must longsuffering and doctrine involved, because the time is going to come when they are not going to endure sound doctrine. They are going to heap to themselves teachers–get a big pile of material from teachers, lesson after lesson after lesson from teachers. Oh, how we are seeing that happen today–especially in America! You have everything from the ridiculous to the sublime on radio and television. You have any kind and every kind of odd ear that you want. Whatever you want to believe, if you will keep searching, you will find it on radio or television. Whatever you want to excuse. Whatever you want to justify. Whatever kind of sinful life you want to live, you can find it justified if you will keep looking for those teachers. And, because those teachers are there, you are going to have to be ready to preach the Word. I mean, preach it! I mean, announce it! I mean, say, this is it–dogmatically, with conviction, without backing up, without any apology.
On my last trip to Wales, one of the men said to me, “Dr. Moore. I know why you and your group of preachers are effective.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You’re dogmatic! When you speak, you speak with authority! You say, the Bible says something and it is right!”
I said, “Dear Brother, that is exactly the way I feel. That is my conviction.”
“When you are preaching with that kind of conviction,” He said, “we understand it, we hear it, and it comes our way.”
So, when you preach with conviction, using that gift and calling of God, stirring it, it is effective. You will have to have that where they have heaped up teachers to themselves–where they have itching ears. They will just keep scratching and keep scratching.
I hear people say it all the time, I went to hear this teacher or that teacher, and boy did he teach me so and so, but the next day they are just the same sinful person. They are going on in their sinful way. They really need to be rebuked by the power and Spirit of God using the Word of God telling them that their lifestyle is destroying them, eating them up. But, instead, they come back happy. They really want someone to scratch their itch–but not give them a cure. And, oh, it is much easier to teach a little lesson and be well liked by people–but what about when their lives fall apart?
It is like the newly elected superintendent of an asylum who was strolling around the grounds one day, and a patient came up to him and said, “We all like you better than the last man, Sir.”
“Thank you,. Why is that?”
“Well,” replied the patient, “you seem to be more like one of us!”
People have the idea they can live any way and get someone to tell them how to be happy. This is the kind of teaching they are looking for. They want to believe any kind of twisted doctrine. “I want to be with my crowd and my group. I want to have fellowship with them. I want you to teach me how to fit into a certain crowd.”
Brother, the congregation needs to learn that the breath and fire and blessing of God in their lives gives them the strength to go against the grain–not with the grain. Who said we needed to be at peace with the world? We need to be at sword’s point with the world. Christ said: “. . . I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. . . .”–those against each other, so that they could make the proper and correct stand.
We need called preachers. We need anointed preachers. We need preachers who will preach the Word, instant in season and out of season, with longsuffering and doctrine.
God bless you.