2 Timothy 4:2-4 “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
Paul has been writing to Timothy about the Scriptures. He has reminded him that they originated in the breath of God coming upon and passing through the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament as they were writing the actual words of the Bible. Paul has already assured Timothy of the wide and pervasive usefulness of the Word of God. Elsewhere he calls it the chosen weapon of God the Holy Ghost – “the sword of the Spirit.” Here is a book that can thoroughly equip all Christian for every good work they will ever be called to do. What a book! What it says then the Creator of the universe says. Facing all the challenges that lie before you you are able to say, “Through this Book I’m able to say more than “Well, I’ll get by” or “I shall survive.” No. I am going to be me more than conqueror of whatever I meet. Shall it be “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword”? The Word of God is alive and powerful to overcome all of those enemies of my safety and peace. The Word of God convinces us “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So here is God-breathed Scripture, and how precious it is, more precious than all the world. So might there be a tendency to take exquisite care of it, and wrap it round in bubble-wrap, and lock it in a vault lest it be damaged or misrepresented? You know how occasionally a farmer deep ploughing a field finds his blade has hit some stones, in fact some long buried building. The archaeologists arrive and they find that it is the remains of fine Roman villa and the floors are a glorious mosaic of small tiles featuring the sun, moon, the trees, crops, family life and so on, and that all the original colours of 1600 years ago have been preserved by the overlying soil. The discovery of the mosaic is featured on TV and in the press. It is a breakthrough in learning of the culture of the Roman occupation in the third century.
Then you know what’s done next? It is an amazing act but essential, that the mosaic floor is once again buried under the soil because exposure to the sunlight will bleach all the colours out of the little tiles. And so, once in a decade it is carefully exposed to spectators for a month or two, and then it is reburied for another decade. It is too precious to be seen and photographed every day. It is buried to preserve it. But here is something far more valuable than Stonehenge let alone a Roman mosaic floor. Here is the Word of God. So the Roman church tended to preserve it and translate it into Latin and forbid its translation into the language of the people, and to burn at the stake those who translated it and would give it to ordinary Christians. What were they doing – these heretical reformers in translating the Bible into English? It was so precious and mysterious a commodity – this Word of God. Many brave men died for getting the Scriptures into the language of common folk.
Of course we must keep the earliest copies of the Scriptures in vault in museum and libraries under lock and key. They are priceless antiquities and any scholar looking at them has to exercise great care and to wear white gloves, but that is not what we do with the God-breathed Scriptures. We don’t preserve them like the Crown Jewels, locked in some ecclesiastical strong room. Paul says to Timothy, “I give you this charge, Preach the Word” (vv.1&2). Herald it, like the old town herald would ring his bell and draw the populace around him and then declare to them the message that came from their king. Spread it abroad. Jonathan Edwards described God as “a communicating being.” He is here with us, and he is not a silent presence. In Scripture he speaks – and listening to his voice new life the dead receive! Read the Bible to the people if they are illiterate. Teach them to read in circulating schools, and print the Bible in their language. A little girl will walk barefoot over 30 miles to buy her own Bible. Make sure she has one and all who want one -“Preach the Word!”
You will make mistakes as you explain it to people, but you don’t say, “I am imperfect and so unworthy! I dare not preach! The call is too great. The honour is too glorious for a worm like me.” In your felt weakness you still preach the word. I have never preached a perfect sermon, and never will, nor will any man. You may proclaim it occasionally with wrong motives, alas, but still you go on preaching the word. Remember Paul speaks of some envious preachers in Rome who were stirred by his imprisonment to get up and open their mouths and teach – out of rivalry to him . . . as a challenge to his leadership. Paul said that they were “preaching Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter?The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Phils. 1:17&18). There are a number of important lessons that these words of Paul to Timothy in our text teach us.
- THE WORD IS TO BE PROCLAIMED TO ALL.
God has taken such pains in breathing out the Scriptures in order for them to be made know to all mankind. The hymnist says, “Preach it to all and cry in death, Behold, behold the Lamb.” The Lord Jesus made this spectacularly clear, that we are to go into all the world and preach the word to every creature. Every man and woman, boy and girl, needs to hear of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Every one of them has his own needs through personal weakness and sin. Here is the Saviour of mankind, the Creator’s only begotten Son, who can meet that need by his righteous life and atoning death and living presence at the right hand of God. “Let us introduce you to the Lord Christ.” Our secrets are for sharing. Our treasures are for giving away.
None of us can bring the whole world to Christ, but we have to bring Christ to the whole world. There are no ‘excepts’ in the Great Commission. Jesus did not say, “Walk across the world and preach the word to all you meet, except . . .” No, preach to all! There are no limitations whatever; none may be excepted. God commands all men everywhere to repent. We believe that this world of fallen rebels will never be Christianized, but it should be evangelized. You can never speak to the wrong man about Christ. You can go to the stranger, and to the criminal, the suicide bomber, the thief, the bored and indifferent, to the cruelest of tyrants and you can say to them, “I have good news for you. I have a word of mercy from God to you. I have a message of the grace of God to you, that Jesus Christ was made sin for us sinners that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Receive him as you repent and turn from your guilt and shame and put your hope and trust in him alone, whatever you’ve done, however bad the record, though your sins are like scarlet that very deep-stained guilt can become whiter than snow – can you believe it? Good news of grace abounding to the chief of sinners. There is mercy with God for you when you close with him, that God may be feared.” We deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus Christ, because he loved us, died for us. “I give you this charge: Preach the Word” (vv. 1&2) and it must be preached to all without exception. Come to Christ. Believe upon Christ. Repent and turn from your sins. Christ is willing to receive you; doubt no more. The word of God is to be proclaimed to all
- ALL CHRISTIANS ARE TO PREACH THE WORD.
Now you know that there is a very useful and important distinction made between the general call to every single Christian to preach the word and that special call that comes to favoured men gifted by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in so much that that is their singular vocation. A gifted young doctor in London will give up his vocation there to travel to a steel mills town inSouth Wales to become a full time preacher. That is the one thing that he does with his life, and the church says, “Thank God.” Favoured gifted men forsake all else and they give themselves to preaching.
i] All Christians are to preach. “Are all Christians to preach the word?” you ask, and we find the answer in the book of Acts and chapter 8 where the first major persecution of the church had occurred. We read, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). Wherever they went they took their religion with them. Both men and women, young people and old illiterates, gossiped the gospel to the people they met. Why were they such a long way from their home in Jerusalem? What had happened to bring them there? And they told people about how the Lord Jesus had met them and changed their lives. They were showing what Christ had done for them. What they lived by they imparted. They weren’t giving the gospel in Moroccan leather, or in cloth covers. They were presenting the gospel is their sandals. Spurgeon said that the sermons most needed today are sermons in shoes. Every single Christian is to ‘preach the word’ in that sense that we give a reason for our hope to everyone that asks us. Are all of you Christians preparing yourself for that? Are you asking God to help your lisping stammering tongues. There is great power in such a hesitant shy voice speaking the word sincerely. Do you know basic gospel verses of Scripture? Have you charged your memory to retain them? I remember when a number of us boys in school over 60 years ago were converted, and we were speaking of our faith. Then we came up against a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in our class who knew his cult’s interpretation of certain verses and quoted them to us and we had stumbling answers to give him. That made us study Scripture. If we are all to preach the word then that word must dwell in our hearts with all wisdom. Our delight must be in the word of God. Every Christian has a general call to preach the word. Every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit, and preaches some kind of gospel. If you can’t shine at least you can twinkle! In this sense preaching is the whole work of the whole church for the whole age. Listen to Charles Wesley . . .
My heart is full of Christ, and longs its glorious matter to declare.
Of him I make my loftier songs, I cannot from his praise forbear;
My ready tongue makes haste to sing the glories of my heavenly King.
ii] There are also those with a special call to preach. But there are those who have a call from God to give their whole lives to the service of the pulpit and the proclamation of the Bible. There are those who can take certain words of Paul and say that that is exactly how they feel. The words are; “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Cors. 8:16). Not every Christian has that conviction. Not every elder or deacon has that conviction. Paul asks the question are all Christians teachers? And the answer to that is no, not all. Many others have gifts to receive ministry, and to grow by exercising that gift, not to become full-time preachers. Stay in the estate which you were in when God called you, Paul tells the Corinthian congregation, because some men were neglecting their wives and children and daily work to talk to people about the gospel rambling about here and there. There was no food in the cupboards and the men were breezily telling their wives and children, “The Lord will provide!” Were other equally poor, needy Christians to give to them so that these husbands and fathers could travel around and debate and argue? Yes, God does provide, but he does so by our six days of labouring! If a man doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat.
I am saying that there is a special call. I am speaking of the men on whom unseen hands have been lain, and so preach they must. Woe to them if they do not. If they can do anything else they probably should. We enter the ministry when the Holy Spirit bestows upon us a gift. It comes from the head of the church. That gift makes a man a preacher. In other words, only the God who made the world can make a minister. He is a man under constraint; he is a man with a growing awareness of having a sovereign commission from God.
So I am saying to you all, “Go on preaching the word by life and words.” And I am saying to our new pastor-preacher, Rhodri Brady, in his absence “I give you this charge: Preach the Word!” The most powerful ongoing Christian witness has always been the speaking of God’s word by one who is living God’s word.
- ALL GOD’S PEOPLE ARE TO PREACH THE WORD ALWAYS.
Timothy is told to “be prepared in season and out of season” (v.2). You see the context in which this phrase, “Preach the word” is given? It is verses 3 and 4, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Such a time had come in Ephesus and in the surrounding churches of Asia minor. At the beginning there had been just one church, one congregation planted by an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was believing the doctrines of his apostles – “he who hears you hears me” – but then a time came of restlessness, and hostility to Paul. All Asia Minor churches turned against him except Timothy’s, and Timothy was under pressure not to be the odd man out, but to allow the right of any professing Christian to believe whatever he or she felt was right. They had itching ears to be confirmed in their own fancies that what they believed was true. So they looked for men who thought what they thought, and who behaved as they acted. There were many such – many, many – that is what Paul says, a great big ecumenical movement of undiscerning religious people. Do you notice these bleak words, “they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (v.3). But then when they’d hear the truth, the plain words of Jesus and his apostles, preached to them by faithful Timothy, what then would be their reaction? “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (v.4).They didn’t want the truth; they wanted confirmation of their error.
So they were days of great opposition to the gospel just like our own day, with severe pressure brought to bear on Timothy as severe pressure is brought to bear on Bible-believing men and women today. So Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (v.2). Most of us are prepared some of the time. We have done a course on witnessing perhaps. We’re on a high because we’ve been to a conference and we’re able to respond to an unexpected encounter, and we can exploit the situation, but not at other times. There are different seasons, warm preaching seasons and then cold preaching seasons, but the apostle is saying that we should be prepared to speak in season and out of season. It may be that a stranger will say to you, “Tell me what you believe?” and we are nonplussed, quite unprepared for such a direct question. Are you always prepared? It may be that some sceptic may blurt out that it is impossible to believe the Bible these days, that science has proved that it is erroneous. Are you prepared to answer him?
It may be for Timothy that there was a local gathering of churches and they were all in the hands of the anti-Paul segment and they were running down the apostle and his teaching. Are you prepared to speak a word for the truth? It might have been that some local Roman official asked Timothy and members of his flock what their faith was, and why they held it. They might have been under examination, or on trial. They must always be prepared, and that is what is concerning Paul here. An opportunity for preaching may spring up in a moment. It may arise out of nothing, but are we ready to take advantage of the moment and be an effective witness for God? In season and out of season.
- WHAT IS INVOLVED FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE IN PREACHING.
There is more involved in preaching the word than declaring that Christ died for the sins of his people. Preaching, whether in a sermon or in personal witnessing, is more than throwing pre-arranged clumps of texts at unbelieving heads. See how Paul expands this exhortation in verse 2; “correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (v.2). He tells us that five characteristics must be involved in preaching the Word.
i] Correcting people is involved in preaching the Word. There are novices in the congregation. There are new Christians who have brought into the kingdom of God with them a lot of muddle. Think of the ministry of our Lord to his disciples. Three years he had of correcting the misconceptions of 12 men about the Messiah and his kingdom. Three years of sorting them out about the necessity of his dying, and that then he would physically rise from the dead. They were foolish and slow of heart to believe all he had told them, and again and again he corrects them. They want to nuke a Samaritan village that rejects them while he is telling them about overcoming evil with good and turning the other cheek and forgiving others as our heavenly Father has forgiven us. Why is Scripture given to us? 2 Timothy 3 and verse 16 tells us that one of the things it is useful for is correcting us. A friend of mine says she loves to hear a sermon that corrects her, that tells her to stop doing something and to do something better. Perhaps you remember vividly a time when you correctly heard that to be justified was not at all to be maderighteous. No it was not being made righteous at all. It was to be declared righteous and that that was through the righteous life and achievements of Christ. You through faith had been made the righteousness of God in Christ, you were clothed in his righteousness in an act of justification. You were justified in Christ; you were declared righteous in Christ. How wonderful.
Then you could sing with the greatest joy “Jesus thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress.” How you thank God for that meeting when the old preacher patiently and clearly explained to you that Jesus Christ is made of God our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. He corrected you in your muddle and you wanted always to sit under such preaching that corrected you in your fallen mistaken views and showed you a better, biblical way.
ii] Rebuking people is involved in preaching the Word. That is the next phrase. Again go back four verses to 2 Timothy 3:16 and see what is one of the uses of God-breathed Scripture. It is “rebuking” isn’t it? Did the Lord Jesus rebuke Simon Peter when he sought to prevent him going to the cross? Did he in fact say to him, “Get thee behind me Satan”? What a rebuke. Did he rebuke the Pharisees? Did he call them names? White-washed sepulchres? A den of snakes? Did the apostle Paul rebuke the Galatian church? Did he say to them, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gals. 1:6&7). Did he say to them, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” ? (Gals. 3:1). Of course he did. He was very patient with the muddles in Corinth because they were seeking advice and were prisoners of Old Covenant attitudes and he allowed them a great spirit of freedom within the church because the gospel was not affected by them for example, keeping specially the seventh day as they had always done as a day of rest as well as the first day of the week. But when in Galatia the false teachers were insisting that Gentiles had to be circumcised on top of believing in Christ in order to get to heaven then the person and work of Christ as finished, and salvation being of grace from beginning to end, was at stake, and so he rebuked them. I am sure when I was a young hot head I rebuked when I should have been more charitable, but the remembrance of past immaturity must not prevent us on rare times rebuking serious errors and purveyors of such errors in the church of the Lord of grace. Then notice this in verse 2 . . .
iii] Encouraging people is involved in preaching the Word. “Correct, rebuke and encourage.” Didn’t Jesus encourage his disciples? Didn’t he tell them that they were the light of the world? Didn’t he say to them that he would no longer call them servants but his friends? Didn’t he quickly restore fallen Peter and recommission him to feed his sheep? Didn’t Paul go out of his way to encourage churches? Isn’t it a fact that all his letters to the congregation except one began with a word of thanks to God for them all? Only the letter to the Galatians is notable for its absence of a note of gratitude, because that church was departing from the gospel. I say that we owe it to one another to encourage one another continually, to be like Barnabas, a son of encouragement, to be like Paul telling the churches, “Whenever I think of you I thank God for you, and I am thanking God for you all the time. I have you always in my heart and I pray to God for you on every occasion and when I pray I thank God for all you are and for all the qualities you possess, your work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope. I think of the love that you have to all the saints, and your fellowship in the gospel, and that the news of your faith has gone out into the whole area round about.” Are we reluctant to acknowledge one another’s qualities, to tell a brother or sister that we are so pleased with them that they make us feel good and their work and witness is so worthwhile. True preaching must contain a ministry of encouragement to the congregations. Then another thing in verse 2
iv] Careful instruction in involved in preaching the Word. It is no good for a minister to be just a ‘nice guy’, friendly and approachable, if he is failing to carefully instruct his hearers in the Word. It is not easy to carefully explain the teaching of the letter to the Romans week by week, to feed the little lambs and also the old lions, not to bore or weary either group. But in your efforts to be liked by young and old in the faith – and who does not want to be liked? – you dare not avoid what Paul calls here “careful instruction”. You will hear a wise Christian say that he loves his minister because he takes such care with the Bible and how he instructs the congregation. I think it was Luther who said that the gospel consisted of the right use of prepositions. Think for example of the phrase, “We are saved by good works” and the phrase “we are saved unto good works.” Just two little prepositions, by good works and to good works. Who is going to make a fuss about the difference there? But it is the difference between heaven and hell. The gospel says that it is the fruit of saving faith in Christ that we do good works. That is our goal. We are not saved by our good works but by Christ’s good works, and the evidence that we have truly been saved by Christ’s good works is that we have become zealous to do good works.
Or think of the difference between being saved through our faith and being saved because of our faith. We are saved because of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life and death, and that salvation becomes ours through our faith in everything he is and everything that he has done. My faith did not live for me and die for me and rise for me. That was Jesus. I am saved because of him and he becomes mine through my faith in him. Paul tells Timothy to carefully instruct the people as he preaches to them. One thing more . . .
v] Great patience is involved in preaching the Word. He is focusing here particularly on long term, full-time pastorates, not itinerant preachers. He is thinking of Timothy as the pastor of the church at Ephesus and the people who attend year after year but seem never to grow in their grasp of the gospel or in Christian usefulness. Timothy needed not just patience but great patience to handle his frustrations and seemingly unanswered prayers. There are so many short cuts offered to preachers these days, to what is called ‘renewal’ and what is called ‘church growth.’ But the greatest gift a preacher can have is patience. Delays are better than disasters. The life of a pastorate is like a symphony and there is always in symphonies slow movements. Be patient. We don’t believe in ministerial dress but we do believe in the livery of holy patience – may it be the sweet vesture of every one of us. Be clothed with it! Patience is rooted in the trust that is convinced that everything is in God’s control. Joni Eareckson Tada said that she found waiting on others to be the opportunity to train herself to wait on the Lord. So you ask the Lord that he make you a more patient person, and then he sends into your family sickness and you find yourself for years as a carer who has to do repetitive tasks every day, and if you get frustrated and talk to God about it then he says to you, “Didn’t you ask me for more patience? I am simply answering your prayers.” Our troubles are shortened when our patience is lengthened. How patient God is towards us. What twerps we can be as Christians! Thomas Watson says that patience makes a Christian invincible and it makes a preacher very useful. That is how the word of God is to be preached and how we are to be prepared to preach it.
29th May 2016 GEOFF THOMAS