In Paul’s final charge to Timothy, he instructs him to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). The word “evangelist” only occurs three times in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 as a description of Philip, Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts to the church, and here in 2 Timothy 4:5. There is not enough data to conclude that there was a distinct office of evangelist in the New Testament. What is clear, though, is that the evangelist proclaimed the gospel. “Evangel” represents the Greek word for gospel. Speaking and living out the gospel was essential to Timothy’s and to our ministry.
In a 1992 article in Evangelical Quarterly, Alastair Campbell explores the meaning of “doing the work of an evangelist.” He examines each of the passages above. He notes that in each case the evangelist explained the Scriptures. Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 is one of the gifts to the church for equipping, building up the body of Christ towards maturity. In 2 Timothy 4:5 the work of an evangelist is mentioned in the context of Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word. Campbell concludes his study:
1. There was never an office of evangelist, but there were of course many who spread the gospel and founded churches, which they then proceeded to build up over time. … 2. Evangelism was never a specialist ministry of people called evangelist. … 3. The work of an evangelist was inseparable from explaining the scriptures, that is, from the work of a teacher, and this will still be true today. The scripture provides the evangelist with his essential resource, so that however far from that centre the evangelist may need to begin in his work of building bridges for the gospel, it is to an understanding of the scriptures that he will be seeking to bring his hearers in the end. For the work of the evangelist is not complete ‘until we all attain to the unity inherent in our faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God – to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13).
Alastair Campbell, Evangelical Quarterly, 64:2(1992) 128, 129.
Paul is not adding an additional task to Timothy but is describing his ministry comprehensively. The work of an evangelist is not restricted to ministry to unbelievers as is often assumed today. The gospel/evangel is central to all Christian ministry. D.A. Carson brings this out:
In short, in the NT the gospel is preached both to unbelievers and to believers. It calls unbelievers to repentance and faith; it calls believers to ongoing faith and conformity to Jesus. … Gospel ministry is ministry that is faithful to the gospel, that announces the gospel and applies the gospel and encourages people to believe and thus live out the gospel.
D.A. Carson, “Do the Work of an Evangelist,” Themelios, 39:1 (2014), 3.
Carson understands “doing the work of an evangelist” as “doing gospel work.” He makes some helpful observations on the context of our passage:
This does not sound like a list of discretely defined chunks of ministry, as if Paul were saying, “study hard for your preaching, visit the elderly, catechize the youth, provide good counsel, do the work of an evangelist” – add them all together, and you will be a well-rounded minister. Rather, the list Paul provides focuses not on discrete ministries but on global stances throughout Timothy’s ministry: “keep your head in all circumstances” is not a discrete thing to do, something to be added, for instance, to “endure hardship.” No, all of the entries on this list are comprehensive. In the context, then, “do the work of an evangelist” simply means “do gospel work” — and that summarizes all of the instructions in the preceding lines. That’s what ministers do. They “discharge all the duties of [their] ministry”: they do gospel work.
Doing the work of an evangelist includes speaking and living the gospel. It is tied to preaching and teaching the scriptures which make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Whatever our ministry specialty may be, we won’t “fulfill our ministry” without doing “the work of an evangelist.” Let us pursue opportunities to live and speak the gospel, especially during the Christmas season.