2 Timothy (8) “Preach the Word, Hold the Line”
2 Timothy 4:1-5
After each election, the leader of the winning Party is sworn in as Prime Minister by the Governor-General, who is the Queen’s Representative in New Zealand. Then each of the Government Ministers is also sworn in, in the presence of the Prime Minister & other dignitaries. Each Minister is given what is called a “warrant of appointment” signed by the Governor-General. They are given a solemn charge – to carry out the duties of their portfolio, serving the people of New Zealand.
In the passage we just read from 2 Timothy 4, Paul gives Timothy a solemn charge. This then is our first heading for today:
1. A Solemn Charge (vrs 1 & 2)
Paul says, “In the presence of God & of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living & the dead, & in view of His appearing & His kingdom, I give you this charge.” (v.1) Let us notice first of all in whose presence & for what reason Timothy was given the charge by the Apostle Paul. The Governor-General, representing her Majesty the Queen, gives the Prime Minister & his Ministers their charge. The charge given to Timothy is given by a far higher authority. Paul says, “In the presence of God & of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living & the dead, & in view of His appearing & His kingdom, I give you this charge.” Yes, in giving Timothy this charge Paul is simply representing the King of kings & Lord of lords. It is “in the presence of God & of Christ Jesus” our Saviour that Timothy is commissioned to service. There is no higher authority. This is indeed a holy & awesome calling.
When a newly elected President is inaugurated in the United States the oath of office is usually administered by the Chief Justice. Timothy is given his charge or commission in the presence of not just the Chief Justice but in the presence of Jesus Christ, who is the Judge of all the earth. As we saw a few weeks ago when we studied Revelation 20, God Himself will sit on the Great White Throne at the Final Judgment. And as Paul says here in 2 Timothy, Jesus is the One who will “judge the living & the dead.” He is the One who will judge, for He is God.
The fact Timothy is given his charge or commission in the presence of Jesus, the judge of all the earth, makes it an incredibly serious & awesome thing. Paul also points out that the charge or commission is given “…in view of His appearing & His kingdom.” The call to service is doubly urgent in the light of the fact time is short. Jesus is coming again. None of us knows when that will be, but it could be anytime. None of us knows when we will come to the end of our earthly life. What we do know is that time is precious & nothing is more important than being ready for when He comes or calls us to be with Him.
The charge or calling to serve is also given in the light of God’s Kingdom. Nothing is more worthwhile or important than serving in or helping build God’s Kingdom. So many believers waste time & effort building their own kingdoms. Pastors & churches can also make the mistake of building their own petty kingdoms rather than building the Kingdom of God.
You might wonder how any of this applies to you if you are not a pastor or a full-time Christian worker. Well, as I have said many times before, every believer is called to serve. We can all be involved in living for the King, in building His Kingdom. Every Christian needs to see their daily work, their profession, their trade, their study, their home, their office, etc as the platform or the arena where they serve the King. The Great Commission Jesus gave to His disciples as recorded in Mathew 28, applies to you & me today. We have all been given our “warrant of appointment” to serve the King. We are all Ministers in His government, in His Kingdom – for the word “minister” simply means “servant”. A minister is someone who serves others.
Let us look briefly at the charge or commission that Timothy was given. Paul says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season & out of season; correct, rebuke & encourage – with great patience & careful instruction.” When I was first appointed as pastor of MBCC almost 10 years ago, I was given this solemn charge. I have sought to be faithful to that calling. I strongly believe the call to “preach the Word” is one of the most solemn & important callings a man or woman can be given. It is the primary responsibility of every pastor to “Preach the Word.” We are to preach & teach the Bible – what God has revealed in His Word. We are to expound the text of the Bible, making it plain & understandable, applying it to the daily lives of the believers in the flock for which we are responsible.
Timothy had discovered that the Scriptures were able to make him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:15) As preachers we must help people come to faith – to be saved. We are to preach the Word, not our own opinions or ideas. We are to expound the Bible not try to show how clever we think we are. Our job is not to moralize or try to persuade people to be good (劝人为善) or to try harder. Our job is not to give people religion. No, our job is to give people Jesus. We are to preach the Word, for the Word of God reveals the Living Word, the Lord Jesus, the only one who can change & transform us. He alone can save us & give us a hope & a future.
Now again, you might be asking, what has this to do with me? You might say ‘I am not a pastor or a full-time Christian worker – preaching the Word is not my calling’. Well, it is true it may not be your calling to stand behind a pulpit each week. It may not be your calling to go out into cross-cultural mission sharing the Gospel overseas. However the same principle applies to every believer. We all preach by both word & by life. We are communicating a message & our lives speak louder than we sometimes realise. I have quoted the words of this little song before:
“What you are speaks so loud,
That the world can’t hear what you say.
They’re looking at your walk,
Not listening to your talk.
They’re judging from your actions every day.”
So then, how we live is very important. How we react in situations, how we relate to people, how we do our work, what we say, what we watch on the TV, how we use the Internet, how we study, what we do with our money, what we do in terms of leisure activities, how we serve, how we treat others – all these things communicate a message. Someone has said, “You may be the only Bible some people read.”
It makes sense then that Paul continues after saying “Preach the Word” to say, “…be prepared in season & out of season; correct, rebuke & encourage – with great patience & careful instruction.” We should always be ready to witness for the Lord – when it is convenient & when it may not be so convenient. We must be alert to the opportunities we are given.
I remember one time waiting to catch a flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong. We were all checked in & waiting in the crowded departure lounge. An announcement came over the loudspeaker system saying that due to the heavy fog all flights would be delayed until further notice. I was with a British friend who had an important connecting flight in Hong Kong. He would miss that flight if we were delayed much longer. Instead of getting anxious & upset, we prayed about it, committing the matter to the Lord. I had peace knowing the Lord was in control. A short while later standing looking out at the fog, I got chatting to a couple of army officers who were waiting for another flight. In a very natural way, it came out in our conversation that I was a Christian. They told me they did not believe in God. I replied, “Well, I was just talking to God a moment ago.” “What do you mean?” they asked. I explained about my friend needing to get to Hong Kong for his connecting flight to the UK. I told them we prayed that the Lord would make it possible for our flight to proceed without too much delay. The army officers laughed. “Did you not hear the announcement & do you not see the fog? No flights will be leaving, of that you can be 100% sure.” Almost right after they had said this, another announcement came over the loudspeaker, “Passengers for Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, your flight is ready for boarding.” Those army offices could not believe their ears. They looked totally blown away as I smiled & waved goodbye. If we had not been delayed by the fog I would not have had that opportunity to share with the army officers. And if I had been fussing & worrying instead of trusting, if I had been pacing up & down, looking at my watch, instead of watching out for people, I would have missed the opportunity God gave me. We must be prepared “…in season & out of season”, whether it is convenient or not, whether we feel like it or not.
Paul also tells Timothy that in carrying out God’s call on his life he is to “correct, rebuke & encourage – with great patience & careful instruction.” Preaching or witnessing is not always an easy task. It may involve correcting error or rebuking wrong behaviour. People do not usually enjoy being corrected or told they need to change or do things differently. The truth sometimes hurts. However Paul also reminds Timothy that if we do have to correct & rebuke, even our children, this needs to be balanced with giving encouragement. We must always give correction or rebuke with humility & love. Our aim must be to build up, not tear down, to encourage not discourage.
With the help of the Holy Spirit we can learn how to be more effective in sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. This is all part of the charge Timothy was given & it is part of the charge we too are given.
Let us move on now to our second & final point for today:
2. Itching Ears? (vrs 3-5)
You all know what an itch is. When we first got married Elizabeth wondered what I was doing rubbing my back against the corner of the bedroom door. Of course I told her I had an itch & this was the best way to scratch it – unless of course she was willing to give me a good back scratch! What then is meant by “itching ears”? “Itching ears” refers to people who want to hear things that tickle their fancy or make them feel better. They look for others who will support their ideas, not challenge their ideas. “Itching ears” are concerned with what feels good or comfortable, not with the truth – after all, the truth often makes people feel uncomfortable. Paul warns Timothy that, “…the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
Paul speaks of a time when people decide not to “put up with sound doctrine”. Instead they look for teachers who flatter them & tickle their fancies with new ideas, ideas that are easier to accept & far less demanding. We see this today – in liberal churches, in the media, on the university campus & in society in general. People claim to be smart & enlightened. They think they know much better than what they regard as the out-of-date teaching of the Bible. These people do not tolerate the truth. Sadly some preachers go along with this. To tickle the itching ears of modern men & women they turn away from the clear teaching of the Bible. They try to fit their message to popular culture. They go for the sensational. They want a version of Christianity that seems more acceptable to modern man. Some churches & some pastors are so worried about being politically correct that they actually corrupt the Gospel. They emphasise grace but fail to mention the need for repentance. They emphasise God’s love but forget His justice & His holiness. They do not want to offend or upset anyone by telling them they are lost & in desperate need of a Saviour. They water-down the message.
These people, says Paul, “…turn their ears away from the truth & turn aside to myths.” (v.4) They turn away from what is true & start preaching & believing myths, man-made ideas. Myths cannot save. It is only the truth that saves. Only the truth can set us free.
Paul however tells Timothy not to be enticed by the latest fashion or popular philosophy. He must not envy the false prophets who get a big following by teaching the things people like to hear. He must not allow political correctness stop him from faithfully declaring the truth.
While some turn aside to myths, Timothy, you must “…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” Keep your head – keep calm, think carefully. Don’t feel pressured to follow the latest craze. Be sober & disciplined. Even if you have to pay a price, even if you are misunderstood or criticized, hold firmly to the truth. Don’t give up. Don’t compromise. Keep sharing the Good News. Be faithful serving where God has placed you. Be reliable & diligent in discharging [carrying out] your duties. Serve with a deep reverence for God.
Again, what clearly applied to Timothy as a young pastor, & what applies to pastors today, also applies to every follower of Jesus. Each of us must stand firm – in society & in the home. Each of us must keep sharing the Gospel, & keep faithfully serving. I thank the Lord for so many in this church who are doing just this. You are standing up for what is right. You are telling others about Jesus & inviting them to church. Well done. And many of you are faithfully serving the Lord. I encourage you to keep doing this.
When Abri comes to be our new pastor, give him your full support & continue to pull your weight in the various ministries of the church. No pastor or pastoral couple can do everything on their own. Even paid church staff cannot & should not do all that needs to be done. All of us have a part to play. As we get older some of us may need to hand over certain responsibilities to younger people. In a sense that is what I am doing. I am not retiring from serving the Lord. I am simply retiring from the position of pastor, making way for a younger brother to step up & lead the church to new & exciting adventures with the Lord. There will still be plenty for me, & Elizabeth, to do in serving the Lord, both in our church & in the wider context of the Kingdom of God.
Before the start of an Olympic Games, runners take the Olympic Torch to different places before it is finally brought to the stadium where the opening ceremony is being held. It is a great honour to be one of the runners carrying the torch on the different stages of the torch’s journey. There comes a time, however, for each runner to hand the torch on to the next runner. This is what Paul was doing, handing the torch of responsibility & ministry to Timothy. We will look at this in more details next week.
If you are a Christian, you have been given a solemn charge. Whether or not God calls you into some form of full-time ministry, you have been appointed as a minister, a servant, in the Kingdom of God. Ask the Lord to fill you with His Holy Spirit & ask Him to enable you to be an effective witness, one who remains faithful & true to His Word & to His call.