A recent speaker at my Rotary Club was the local registrar of wills. He spoke of the importance of a final will, talking about how not only does such direct the distribution of material assets, but how it also represents a final statement of what you want to say to those remaining. Such documents have value to the extent that they are fully legal directives, and locally we may choose to have them secured in the vault at the office of the registrar for a very small fee.
People are interested in hearing the final words of an individual before they pass on into eternity. Surely for a person who realizes that time has come, they are going to say what holds the greatest of depth and meaning for them. And this is what we have in the final of Paul’s writings: the second letter of Paul to his dear disciple and son in the faith – Timothy.
These were hard times for Paul. He knew the end was very near, and he was writing essentially from a Roman dungeon. The theme is about faithful endurance through difficult days, and this is a rather timeless theme for Christians in a fallen world.
So how should the Christian endure in such a hostile culture and context and finish well in the Life Race?
- Be Scripture-oriented and truth-infused
2 Timothy 4:1 – I 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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
“Preach the Word” … no person with my school and seminary background can hear that phrase without thinking of the sculpture at the center of Dallas Theological Seminary. This biblical phrase is the motto of the school – the preaching of the Word of God so that it can be clearly presented and clearly understood.
This is ground zero for the successful Christian life … the Life Race. There is simply no connection to God, nor is there a successful way of living life in a manner that counts for eternity without a significant understanding of Scripture. And yet, it is oft resisted or set aside for another day by God’s people. Learning the Scriptures involves a large measure of “want to” and of work, diligence, discipline and thinking.
So Paul is telling Timothy that he has one charge or commission that is above all others in his service as a minister/pastor/elder/shepherd – to preach God’s Word. And receiving and applying God’s Word is therefore logically the most important commission for all of us as well.
As we would put together a sort of personality profile on Timothy, the picture is one of a more timid and gentle soul than the feisty Apostle Paul. He was a guy who seemed to sometimes need to be a bit “pumped up.”
So Paul is exhorting Timothy to be a two-season preacher, and of course this is not referring to winter and summer or anything of that sort. Rather, it is “in season” and “out of season” … essentially all the time. Clearly there were going to be times when the preaching ministry and church leadership work was going to go well, but others times when it was going to struggle. Through it all, Timothy was to be faithful and diligent in the teaching of the Scriptures – that would be his guide and measure of success, not the current seasonal response.
This teaching ministry would at times also feature varied tones. First there is a negative slant that involved reproof and rebuke – often not a natural proclivity for a typical pastor who is by personality frequently a lover of people with a soft heart. But secondly, there was a positive tone – to exhort with gentle patience and instruction.
Let me ask you: As a general pattern of life, do you enjoy preaching and Bible teaching? Do you enjoy reading Scripture and expositional writings about the Word? Do you have a plan of life that you are executing with a goal to be known as a life-long learner of God’s truth? If not, you are being foolish and hurting yourself terribly. I know, I know; we’re a bit crazy about this around here … certainly the most academic of local churches, but there’s a strong reason for it!
- Be mindful of the big picture over the immediate passion
2 Timothy 4:3 – For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Our own Chris Wiles once wrote: Your average preacher is the spiritual equivalent of the TV weatherman. He pays enormously for an academic education, then he gets put in front of an audience that expects him to be entertaining—and gets furious when he tells them something they don’t want to hear.
Paul understood this. This is why he tells the young pastor Timothy to press in, because times are tough and there will always be rivals. Paul knew that Timothy would face an era where people turned from God’s truth to instead embrace a seductive lie.
It has always been true that people, apart from a solid biblical understanding, will drift to places and teachers that will tell them what they want to hear more than what they need to hear. They will choose to be informed by preachers or other public voices who feed their immediate passions rather than majoring upon THE big picture of biblical truth and faithfulness.
The text says they will “accumulate” such teachers (literally means “to pile up”); and in our generation we can see this sort of thing with the plethora of the tele-evangelist types who sound good but say nothing. We see it in the way so many ministries have become a great show on a great stage (not that having a nice stage and lights is wrong … or a guy standing there who can communicate truth in creatively engaging and accurate ways). We see this by noting how rare it is to have a church anywhere that has faithfully preached an evangelical gospel message for, say, 150 years or more.
“Itching ears” – what does this mean? It is when a person wants to hear what they want to rather than what is actually said. I’ll give a dangerous illustration that could make everyone mad … try to get the point of it, OK?? I’m going for a big idea, don’t have itching ears … Donald Trump! Those who hate him only hear what they want to hear about him – something negative, and they don’t hear balancing statements or give credit for accomplishments largely overlooked. BUT, those who love him at all costs because he represents a felt need for radical change, they overlook what is too many times a lack of dignity befitting the position he holds.
The point is that people gravitate to hear and most recall what they want to hear. Paul is saying that this is a pattern of a great many people – to only hear and support the teaching of Scripture that comforts them, rather than what might often need to discomfort.
When people do not hear what challenges them, they wander off the path, having discarded godly warnings and advice. They end up satisfying their natural passions and interests. And these are the things of this world, convincing themselves of the myth that they are in close relationship with God. In fact, they are substituting a temporary picture and vision of life in place of a vision that is better, TRUE, and eternal!
- Be consistent in godly duty and responsibility
2 Timothy 4:5 – As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul tells Timothy to be responsible with his duties, whether they come easily or if they involve hard work and even suffering.
Sober-minded = his internal disposition – to think clearly and deeply.
Endure suffering = his disposition toward hostility directed at the gospel; this is inevitable, and enduring shows genuine trust.
Work of an evangelist = this disposition toward those outside of the faith, recognizing that people are lost without Christ and in a doomed and hopeless condition.
Fulfill your ministry = his disposition toward those inside the faith … the word means to fill something up to the brim. Though directed toward a sort of “career minister” in Timothy, we all have gifts and abilities granted to us to be used throughout our lives to help others.
Paul faced his pending and inevitable demise with courage, with conviction, and with words of encouragement for the rough road ahead …
2 Timothy 4:6 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Drink offering – This is an inference to the OT sacrificial system. The drink offering was something poured on the lamb of sacrifice daily before the burnt offering. In Philippians 2:17 Paul said, “But even if I am poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice…” Now it is happening.
The word for departure used here is one that in the Greek language speaks of loosing a boat from its moorings; or it could have been a description of soldiers breaking down a camp to move on.
Yes, moving on – to glory – this was to be Paul’s soon experience … the end of the race, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.