Summary of 2 Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

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?

  1. 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!

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

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Living a Better Story (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

When I was a high school cross country coach, I would take the occasion of the first long bus trip to an away meet to have a talk with the team. I would ask the question, “Why are we doing this; why are we participating in this sport this season?”  And I would get answers like, “to win today … to win the county championship … to win the conference championship!”  And I would say, “Yes, yes we going to do those things, but there’s more.”  And then someone would think really, really big and say, “We’re doing this to win the state championship!”  And I would say, “Yep, we’re planning on doing that, but that’s not the biggest reason.”  What?? What’s bigger than that?  And I would say, “We are doing this so that you will have, during your teenage years, an experience in setting goals and achieving a series of small victories that lead to bigger victories. You will learn discipline, endurance through hard times, and the reward of accomplishment from hard work. And this will make you fit for living life, for getting through college, for having a career, for handling crises like a cancer diagnosis with a family member or something of that gravity. We’re doing this so that you learn how to live life like a champion.”

We all need a bigger story to live for than simply finding happiness, something that we all know is rather illusive and very fleeting. Rather, what we really need is a bigger picture … a grander story. And the Scriptures teach us that this bigger and better story is to live for and serve God, yielding eternal satisfaction.A photo by Joanna Kosinska. unsplash.com/photos/B6yDtYs2IgY

As Chris stated in his fabulous sermon on Sunday, we can get to the end of life and look back with satisfaction, or we may sadly reflect on a life tinged with regret. Another way of saying this would be: It is a terrible thing to spend all of life climbing the ladder of success, only to get to the top and find out it is leaning against the wrong building!

Even secular research says if we choose mere happiness as the goal of life, we’ll not find true purpose and meaning.

As we go to 2 Timothy 4:1-8 in our reading today, rather than rehash Chris’ sermon and points from this past week, let me give you another (and similar) exposition from his pen and from a devotional on this site a couple of years ago. Chris wrote the following …

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.  In his letter to this young pastor, Paul writes:

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.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. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

What was the danger?  Paul knew that Timothy would face an era where people turned from God’s truth to instead embrace a seductive lie.  Itching ears?  By that he meant that sometimes our “felt” needs outstrip our deeper, spiritual needs.

I hope you recognize that this danger is no less real today.  Go into any bookstore—even the Christian bookstore—and you’ll be confronted by a wall of self-help teachers that offer advice on finance, dating, weight loss, and anything else you can conceivably think of as leading to personal happiness and fulfillment.  With itching ears and greedy stomachs, modern day Christians have unrepentantly devoted themselves to a curious blend of spiritual platitudes and consumerist delight.

Why is this so dangerous?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?  But that question only assumes that my deepest problem is unhappiness.  If my deepest problem is financial, then financial planning is my surest savior.  If my problem is singleness, then dating advice becomes my gospel.  If my deepest problem is low self-esteem, then a self-help manual works wonders.  But the gospel says that my deepest problem isn’t a lack of personal fulfillment, but the excess of personal fulfillment.  What the Bible calls “sin” is a form of self-indulgence, self-interest, self-absorption.  And the only true remedy for that is the gospel.

You see, the greatest problem within the walls of today’s church is that we’ve assumed the gospel to be elementary when it should be elemental.  We’ve assumed that the God has saved us from hell, but fail to recognize the ways he has saved us for new life.  And when we minimize that, we’re left to thrive on the petty dalliances of consumerist religion.  What today’s church needs is not a change in her substance, but a return to it.  To refocus our eyes on the beauty of Jesus and his message of forgiveness and transformation.   To realize that when—not if—we fully understand the exhilarating, electrifying joy that comes from knowing Christ, that our so-called needs and “itching ears” will seem trivial by comparison.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was the last that would appear in the New Testament—and most likely his final before being killed in Rome.   Paul faced this inevitability with courage, with conviction, and with words of encouragement for the rough road ahead:

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.

If we care deeply about others, it naturally means caring less about self.  Often people struggle to find a church that “meets my needs.”  But such an approach treats faith as if it were a series of projects, self-improvement schemes with Jesus as the means and self as the end.  But Christianity says that religion isn’t something that you can master; religion is something that must master you.  And so if the gospel is true, I find hope and purpose and joy in Christ alone—and not the cares of my earthly appetite and itching ears.