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. 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.
We are getting close to the end of this book of 2 Timothy, and as we do we will wrap up with Paul’s final words of inspired text. He was nearing the end of his life, and what we have remaining were his last words, at least last written, inspired words. There is ample biblical evidence that Paul knew the end of his earthly life was near. If Paul knew that this would be his last bit of biblical text then we may be seeing what he held most dear in this life. What we will see is that Paul valued, highly valued faithfulness to God’s Word. We see this in his life, in his prayers, in his relationships, in his persecutions, in all things – for Paul, faithfulness to God and God’s Word was primary. And since this was so important to him, he desired that other believers would also remain faithful.
Sometimes faithfulness to God’s Word seems easy. Sometimes faithfulness to God’s Word is hard. In this church where Timothy was pastoring there was an ever increasing intensity of persecution. In fact, this increasing persecution was not just in this church in particular but was spreading rapidly throughout the region. What was happening then was that as persecution increased, many began turning away from sound doctrine. There was clear reason for understanding that, for the people in the church, this persecution had to do directly with their faith. Those who were doing the persecuting hated God and His truth. So the bottom line was if you were a Christian in that culture at that time, you would be persecuted, and sometimes very severely even, losing your job, home, and possibly your life.
It was becoming less popular to be a Christian, and I think we sort of get that in our culture today. Mark talked about the various groups of people with various labels out there today. For us to hold Christian views and live out the Christian life, if we do that sincerely and faithfully, we won’t fit into any of those groups, exclusively, not really. If you listen to the news at all, we see the Neo-Nazis, or the anti-fascists (antifa), the Black Lives Matter groups, the alt-right – all of these groups having firmly held beliefs. And as Christians what do we do? The alt-right and the antifa groups, do you know what they need? They need Christ. No matter what group somebody’s in, they need Christ. So what are we to do? There’s a sense in which we need to interact with all these groups if we are to be evangelists in our world, our culture, our day. Yet we don’t fit into any of them, exclusively.
For some who were nominal members of the church, persecution was their cue to abandon truth and find a more accepted way of life. For them, their faith was so shallow that when trouble came as a result of it, they quickly and easily turned away. That is a shallow faith; in fact, this is not real faith at all.
With so many defecting and turning away, some of whom would have probably been a surprise to Paul, he looks to his friend Timothy and he longs for Timothy to not somehow be one of them. As we pray for one another, we may think in these terms. As we pray for our children, our parents, our siblings, and our friends, we too may say, “Lord, please keep them in the faith.” Even as we talk to each other, we can regularly encourage each other as Paul does with Timothy so often to keep the faith, stay in the faith, remember truth, don’t step away from it.
As crisis comes, terrible sickness, loss of work, broken relationships, disappointments of all kinds, unfulfilled expectations; like, “At this point in my life I wanted to be here, but instead I am way over here”; a realization perhaps that you will never get what you have always desired – any of us may be tempted to walk away from the Lord, but though tempted, not all will succumb. Now is the time to grow stronger in the Lord, now is the time to worship the Lord in truth, now is the time to cry out to God for strength and faithfulness. Don’t be one who walks away, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, test your faith to be sure it is real and then walk in it, live according to it.
Paul gets really formal with Timothy, he brings a certain weightiness to his encouragement to Timothy in chapter 4. It is like a scripted, serious charge that he states. Listen to his words in verse 1.
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:
When Paul says, “I charge you,” it is a forceful, serious term. The formality and forcefulness here would have gotten Timothy’s attention. It is like we can, I am sure you have if you’ve been the parent of a small child, given that child many commands. “Go pick up your toys, go to bed, be nice to your brother.” Maybe hundreds of commands a day. But if you want a particular command to carry more weight and be more impactful, you may go to your toddler and say something like, “Look at me, pay attention,” or even put your hands on the child’s cheeks so you can look eye to eye and then say something important. Well this is Paul getting Timothy’s undivided attention. He does this by saying, “I charge you.” Paul then adds more weight.
He says, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.” We don’t hear words like this often. We tend to be a very informal culture. The only place I hear words similar to this, a charge like this is in a wedding or maybe an ordination type service for deacons and elders. In weddings we say things like, “You are taking these vows before God and before all these people.” Or even, “You are promising to love and honor each other in the presence of God” and so on. Paul in this special way is simply reminding Timothy that this charge is given not just in God’s presence but also according to His will. Paul was not speaking out of turn here, but consistent with God’s will for Timothy. We are all, including Timothy, accountable to Christ. And we see that in the next phrase where Paul refers to Jesus as the judge.
In the New Testament we see three types of future judgments that will take place. These judgments can be described as a judgment for rewards (this is a judgment for believers only), a judgment of separation (this is where believers and non-believers will be identified and separated), and lastly a judgment of condemnation (this is only for non-believers).
We understand the judgment of believers, for reward, from places like 1 Corinthians 3.
1 Corinthians 3
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
The judgment of separation where believers and non-believers will be eternally separated is understood from places like Matthew 25. Jesus Himself told of this in His ministry.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The judgment of condemnation is described in Revelation 20.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The judgment that Paul is referring to here would be the judgment of believers. Here as in all judgments God will be the ultimate authority, and His judgments will stand. He of course knows all things. He knows us much better even than we know ourselves, and so Paul says:
1 Corinthians 4
4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
We can examine ourselves, but even we fall short, but God’s judgments are true.
As a part of this charge Paul adds, again, more weight: “and by his appearing and his kingdom:” So, what is the charge? “Preach the Word.” With all the formality and introduction, we get to the heart of the matter. “Preach the Word.” This was Timothy’s calling, this was his charge, and so Paul urges him, “Continue to preach the Word.” This was Paul’s love, he loved Christ and therefore His Word, and he so wanted Timothy to remain faithful in it as well.
Timothy was an elder and a preacher of the gospel. He was already a preacher and yet Paul says to preach the Word. Was Paul just stating the obvious? Is this like if you are a welder and I say, “Go and weld”? If I do you may think, “Well okay, I do that every day, I’ve been doing that every day for 20 years.” Well, Timothy had been preaching, but there is great evidence that Timothy struggled with this. Paul was a preacher too but Paul, you know Paul, he had a strong, aggressive sort of personality. Paul was very educated, he would have learned how to argue, how to speak, Paul was not at all timid privately or in public. But Timothy was not like that. He may not have been so educated, he didn’t have such a strong personality. And remember all of the persecution that was at his doorstep at this point. Timothy was probably a struggling preacher in this environment, asked to stand against false teachers when he may have wanted to stand down.
Paul’s encouragement here is simply, “Be faithful to what God has for you. Don’t let circumstances or people knock you off track from your calling. Be faithful.”
Everyone here is not called to preach, but every believer here is called to be faithful wherever God has you right now. Be faithful in the roles that God has given you as a father, mother, child, employee, employer, whatever your roles are. If persecution comes, be faithful; if trials are in sight, be faithful; if you feel weak, be faithful; when you are tired, be faithful. As you take your last breath, be faithful. When you are on top of the world and all is going your way, be faithful.
I just don’t want us to read this and just say, “Yes Timothy, preach the word! You are a preacher, preach the Word.” We don’t need to be just a cheerleader for others in their roles, or even critics of others not doing their roles well, but to look at what we have been called to and live that out for the sake of Christ’s name!
When is Timothy to preach, when is he to be faithful? “be ready in season and out of season.” That sounds like all the time to me! It is either in season or out of season all the time, right? Basically the point is always be ready to be faithful, in his case preach the word. Be ready when it is convenient and when it is not. Be ready when people want to hear and when they do not. Be ready when it is easy and when it is not. Be ready when persecution is near and when peace is at hand.
With the Word, be ready to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience. The Word, the Bible is so exhaustively relevant and applicable. Reproving is correcting misbehavior and wrong doctrine. Rebuking has more to do with the heart, like conviction of guilt. Exhorting comes after reproving and rebuking. Exhorting is coming alongside and encouraging right thinking, right behavior, it is the putting on part of change in the believer’s life.
And all this is to be done with patience, that is with endurance. We are to suffer long with each other if necessary while change takes place. We are to be patient with people as Christ is so often, daily, with us.
Christ is the ultimate example for us in these things. He is so patient while he reproves, rebukes, and exhorts us in His Word. He is faithful always, in season and out. He brings to mind His Word, sends teachers counselors, friends to us to instruct us in His Word. He is the supreme example for us in this life. And He is also our great motivation for obedience to these words. It is only in love that we will be faithful. If we love Him we will keep His commandments. He is being faithful to us so we can be faithful in His Spirit to Him.
Faithfulness – what a tremendous trait. We, in our roles, are to be faithful as Christ is faithful.