“Preach the Word [Logos!]” Brad Jersak
“Preach the word…” —2 Timothy 4:2
How many times was I exhorted as a Bible College student to “preach the word”? My memories are admittedly reconstructive but here’s how I recall those instances.
I’m hiding in the balcony of the old chapel, trying to sneak in an extra 30 minutes sleep. One of my highly skilled Evangelical instructors is beseeching us with booming preacher’s voice, waving his (always a “him”) well-worn, leather-bound Study Bible before us. And he’s nearly shouting,
“Preach the word!”
That is, when you preach, always preach from the Bible. Whatever you say must be found in and founded on this book, the inspired “word of God.” I remember taking that to heart and being very critical of those who didn’t. Trendy topics, human opinions, clever speech were shallow puddles compared to the living water drawn from the deep well of sacred Scripture. Above all else, they taught me to be biblical.
In the right spirit, I still hear the truth in my teachers’ words. I have seen the perils and undergone the boredom of sitting through meandering messages unhitched (and unhinged) from the great drama of redemption proclaimed in our Bibles.
I hear Christ’s warning to the Sadducees in Matthew 22,
- 29Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
At the same time, I’m also aware hyper-aware of Jesus’ warning to the best biblical scholars of his day. From John 5:
- 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
By the grace of God, when I heard those stern words of Jesus, I knew he was not addressing my teachers, who were devoted and faithful Christ-followers of deep character, but at me. I recognized that all my best efforts to be biblical did nothing to ensure I would become Christlike. When that dawned on me, I knew I needed to double down, not on biblical academia, but on Christlike surrender. He was calling me to follow him to Gethsemene, to conjoin with him in surrender to his Father. Over 30 years later, I can testify that I didn’t realize how long that road can be, or that my surrender would need to be renewed daily. I’ve not arrived.
“Preach the Word…” —2 Timothy 4:2
In those Bible College days, we knew that 2 Timothy literally says, “Preach the logos.” We would delineate the written word (logos) from the preached message (rhema). We also knew that in the prologue of John’s Gospel, he proclaims Christ as the Logos of God. So we distinguished between two uses of logos: the living Word (Jesus) and the written Word (the Bible), both as the inerrant, objective and ultimate truth. I don’t believe I inferred that. You’d find it in my freshman classnotes. It was on the chalkboard and dictated repeatedly.
Here’s my question: when ‘Paul’ says, “Preach the word!” is he exhorting his protege to “preach from the Bible”? Does logos in the New Testament actually ever refer to the Scriptures? I have no doubt that the apostolic practice was to preach “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). But that’s not what it means to “preach the logos.” You can study and prepare and preach all sorts of messages from the Bible while utterly failing to know or preach the Logos. That was Jesus’ warning.
“Preach the Word!”
To “preach the Word” is to preach Christ and his gospel. We “preach Christ” according to the Scriptures, according to the testimony of those who knew him, and according to our living connection with him. “Preaching Christ” or “preaching the good news” draws from the Scriptures but is not limited to them. And even when using our Bibles, “preaching the Word” is centered around a particular message, summarized by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-4:
- Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word (logos) I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
- For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
“Preaching the Word,” the Logos, is preaching Jesus, which is to say, that Jesus came, suffered and died, was buried and raised, and now lives as Lord of life. It’s that Logos, that living Person, that gospel, that life, which we invite the world to experience.
Note: So “preach the Word” does not mean preach the Scriptures. But it does mean we preach Christ according to the Scriptures. I love to share my personal experience of the living Christ and I don’t always use a Bible verse to do so. The apostles didn’t, if you read their sermons in Acts. But I do share my experience according to the Scriptures. What I mean is that my current personal encounter with Jesus Christ has a backstory in the Incarnation. The “Jesus story” matters to me because that’s where I discover the treasury of riches available in our relationship.
To preach the Word is to share how he co-suffered the human condition with us, revealed God as Abba to us, settled the issues of sin and death for us, and sent his Spirit to live in us. So I preach the Word—the good news of Jesus—the message to which the Scriptures serve as a witness. We preach Christ and we use the Scriptures to point to him. And in the end, I think that’s what my college profs intended.