2 Timothy 4:1-5
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 long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry, (vv. 1-5)
As we read this letter we need to remind ourselves again and again that it came from one who was about to die for Christ’s sake, a man who was under no delusion as to his future. He knew that within a little while he would end his long career at the executioner’s block, yet there was no fear on his part, no regrets that he had given himself to that ministry which was to close so tragically, as far as this world is concerned.
He wrote this letter, as we have seen, to one whom he loved, whom he had the privilege of leading to Christ many years before, and who had then gone out with him in the Lord’s work and was now ministering in various places where Paul himself had labored for some time. He does not for a moment intimate to the younger preacher that perhaps, after all, it would be better not to give oneself so drastically to the work of the Lord, not to be so self-sacrificing—that perhaps it would be better to compromise to some extent, and thus avoid persecution for Christ’s name’s sake. No, there is nothing like that in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. He exhorts him to endure his share of suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake. It is a poor kind of Christianity that rejoices in the fact that Christ has purchased for us eternal life through His death on the cross, yet refuses to identify oneself with Him in suffering and persecution.
Here we have the Apostle’s last charge to the younger preacher. Notice the things he stresses: “I charge thee therefore before God,” who in infinite grace had sent His Son to redeem sinners to Himself, “and the Lord Jesus Christ,” whose Timothy was and whom he served. Notice how he gives our blessed Savior His full title. He is Lord. He is Jesus. He is the Savior. He is the Anointed of God the Father, “who shall judge the quick and the dead [the living and the dead] at his appearing and his kingdom,” or as it might be rendered, “and by his appearing and his kingdom.”
Believers are to look forward to the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. At that time He is going to give rewards to those who have labored for Him down here, who have been ready to suffer with and for Him, and have held the things of this world with a loose hand while fixing their affection on things above. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
In both the Old and New Testaments we have promises of the coming kingdom. That golden age is still in the future to be ushered in when the Lord Jesus returns from heaven in power and glory, to put down iniquity, and to reign over this lower universe for a thousand wonderful years. This is the kingdom for which we pray when we join together in saying, “Thy kingdom come,” when, “Thy will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
So it is in view of the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ and the setting up of His kingdom that Paul stresses the importance of faithfulness to Christ while we await the fulfillment of His promise.
He says to Timothy first of all, “Preach the word.” He did not tell him to preach philosophy, nor preach politics, nor preach some system of morals, but preach the Word! And that takes in the entire Bible, for our commission is not only to preach the gospel that tells us how lost sinners may be saved, but we are to proclaim the whole truth of God which not only gives us the way of salvation but also shows how we ought to live after we are redeemed. The servant of Christ who preaches the Word will never be at a loss for subjects, for he has the whole Bible from which to choose.
There are many ministers of Christ who have never learned that it is their business to preach the entire Word, and they are always trying to think up topics that may thrill, charm, and entertain the people. But the servant of God is not called to do these things. He is to seek to make people acquainted with the mind of God, to preach the gospel to the unsaved, to show them their lost condition, and then to set before them the remedy that God has provided. He is to open up God’s Word to Christian people, showing them how they may be kept from sin and live daily in this life to the glory of God. This is the charge of the Holy Spirit to every minister of the gospel: Preach the Word! He who does this may never be highly esteemed among men as a great orator or declaimer, but he should not mind that. His one object should be to glorify God in setting forth His truth in the way He Himself directs.
Observe the next charge: “Be instant in season, out of season.” Paul is really saying, “Be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to glorify God and to make Him known to others.” You remember when William Haslam, that English church clergyman, was converted. He preached with such power that he won every member in his own parish to Christ. There was not a person living in the Baldhu section of Cornwall who had not confessed the Lord. Then he became greatly concerned about his neighbors, so he began preaching in adjoining parishes and winning souls there. The other ministers became upset over it, and sent in their objections to the Bishop, saying, “Mr. Haslam is interfering with our work. He is poaching in our parishes, telling our people that they have to be converted and need to be born again.”
The Bishop sent for William Haslam and said, “I understand you are preaching all the time. You don’t seem to be doing anything else.”
William Haslam replied, “My lord bishop, I assure you I preach only in two seasons of the year.”
“Oh,” said the Bishop, “I am glad to know that. And what seasons are they?”
“In season and out of season,” replied William Haslam.
That is the charge that comes to everyone of us if we really know Christ. It is not just for official proclaiming of the Word, not just for pastors and elders, but for all Christians. Let us be instant in season and out of season in winning precious souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then there will be occasions when we will have to “reprove, rebuke, exhort.” The last word has really the thought of comfort. So we are to comfort those who need help, assuring those who have sinned of pardon and restoration if they will turn to the blessed Lord and make confession of their failures and wrongdoing. But we must do this with all longsuffering and tenderness. The preacher of grace must not behave in an ungracious manner. I am afraid that when many of us try to reprove we get in a bad spirit ourselves and forget that the servant of the Lord should not strive, but should be characterized by longsuffering, by patience, by tender consideration even of those whom he has to rebuke or reprove.
Note the emphasis put upon teaching sound doctrine. Some people say, “I am not interested in doctrine. I like practical preaching not doctrine.” But we need to know the great truths of Scripture in order that we may learn how to behave in accordance with the revelation God has given. Sincerity of purpose is not enough. We are to be sanctified by the truth. David prayed, “Order my steps in thy word” (Ps. 119:133). We must know the Word in order that our lives may be as God would have them. The servant of Christ is therefore responsible to give out sound teaching.
The Apostle knew that the day would come when people would not want this kind of ministry, when they would prefer to hear smooth things. He says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” It is not that the teachers have itching ears. The teachers in this instance generally have itching palms! They are in the business for filthy lucre. But the people have itching ears. They want preachers who will say things to them that will not trouble their consciences but will tickle their fancy.
I never feel worried when people write me letters, saying, “I resent your personal attack on me last Sunday.” They always come from people I do not know. If I do know something bad about a person, I am careful never to refer to it in a public address. I would rather see him privately. But every little while I receive a letter, saying, “I don’t like your preaching, and I don’t think you had any right to expose me in the way you did. I don’t know who has been talking to you about me.” And they always end up by saying, “It is not true.” So whatever made them think I was talking about them, I do not know. I am never concerned about such letters, for when the preacher presents God’s Word it is bound to speak to some people. You remember what Sam Jones said, “If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs and one of them yelps, you know who got hit.”
We should so walk before God and so live in fellowship with God that the Holy Spirit can speak directly through us. Many will not like this kind of preaching because they have itching ears. They want people to say nice things to them so that they can go away feeling good.
Then we read, “They shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Some years ago two gentlemen were sitting opposite one another in a railway car. One was reading his Bible. The other looked across and said, “Pardon me. Is that a Bible you are reading?”
The man looked up and said, “Yes, this is the Bible, God’s Word.”
“Well, well,” said the other, “that really astonishes me. You look to me like an intelligent man. I didn’t know that intelligent persons ever read the Bible anymore. I used to believe in that when I was a child, but after I became somewhat educated I found there was nothing to it. I believe the day will soon come when civilized people will have no more confidence in the Bible than they have in the old idea of ghosts.”
This Christian gentleman looked up quietly and said, “You may be right, but when the day comes that people no longer believe in the Bible they will believe in ghosts again!”
And we see the evidence of that on every hand. People turn away from the truth and take up with—what? With Spiritism, Theosophy, and all kinds of other weird systems and strange cults. They turn away from the truth to satanic doctrines that lead men down to perdition.
Paul says to Timothy, “Watch thou in all things.” The Christian life is a warfare. We are in conflict with three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. We need to be on our guard continually, watching in all things. “Endure affliction,” that is, be willing to suffer for faithfulness to the truth.
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?
He adds, “Do the work of an evangelist.” Now I do not think Timothy was an evangelist. I think, as I read over the passages of Scripture that give information regarding the character of his work, that he was a pastor. He had a shepherd’s heart. He cared for the sheep and the lambs of Christ’s flock. But Paul says to him, “Do not forget the gospel. Men are dying in their sins. Do not be so occupied with feeding the flock that you overlook the need of those who are out of Christ. Do the work of an evangelist.” Some ministers say, “I don’t feel I have any evangelistic gift, so I never preach to the unsaved.” It is not necessary to have any special gift to preach to the unsaved. Just give them what God says in His Word about the salvation He has provided in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The last exhortation is, “Make full proof of thy ministry.” In other words, Paul is saying to Timothy, “Do not be halfhearted, Timothy, and do not be content with halfway measures. Give your whole soul, all your strength, all your ability, all your talents, all your heart, your whole life to the great work to which God has called you.”
Although these words were addressed directly to Timothy, they have been preserved by the Spirit of God Himself in order that they may come home to everyone of us, that we may seek to act upon them in our day and generation even as he was responsible to do in his.