A Final Word of Warning.
2 Timothy 4
Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 NLT
This was all serious business for Paul. He wasn’t mincing words or beating around the bush. The proclamation of the Gospel and the desire to one day present those under his care as mature in Christ drove Paul’s efforts. He lived and worked as if God was watching his every move. Paul answered to a higher authority, namely God Himself, who was relentless in His desire to have His Son’s saving work proclaimed to the world and His Word carefully and accurately taught to the church. So Paul viewed his work with a certain soberness and seriousness, and he attempted to pass that attitude on to his young disciple, Timothy. As he wrapped up his second letter to this young man, he warned him to remember that God was watching. The righteous Judge of the universe was observing his every move and would one day pass judgment on all that he had done. So Paul encourages him to “preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 NLT). In other words, he was to stay the course, do his job, maintain his focus and not lose sight of his primary responsibility as a shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ.
These words of warning were necessary because Paul knew the truth about the world in which he and Timothy both lived. Paul was neither a pessimist or a wide-eyed optimist. He was a realist. He knew that mankind, apart from Christ, was on a downward trajectory and that any efforts to spread the Gospel were going to be met with apathy and even antagonism. One of the primary problems Timothy would face would be resistance to the Gospel message – not so much in the form of outright defiance as in the more subtle, but no-less-insidious form of apathy. In every generation, those who attempt to proclaim the truth will be faced with the constant temptation to twist its content in order to make it more sensational, palatable, and successful. The desire for larger audiences and a greater impact has always been the siren call of ministry. The danger comes when, in an effort to attract more people, we begin to alter the truth to make it more appealing. Paul warned Timothy, “a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NLT).
Packed pews, popular Podcasts and best-selling books are not the litmus tests for successful ministry. The temptation will always exist to judge our effectiveness based on numbers rather than transformed lives. The key for Paul was the faithful proclamation of the Word of God, regardless of whether people wanted to hear it or not. The truth is not always popular. Our job is not to tell people what they want to hear; providing them with false hope and ourselves with a false sense of accomplishment. Timothy was to preach the Word, patiently correcting, rebuking and encouraging. Telling people what they want to hear will never help them get where they need to go.
This entire letter has been filled with admonitions regarding faithfulness. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to his calling, faithful to the Word, faithful to his flock, faithful to Christ and faithful to the end – just as Paul himself had been. “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 5:6-7 NLT). Paul wasn’t bragging. He was simply encouraging Timothy to consider his life as an example of faithful service. Paul didn’t measure his success based on numbers, but on his own determination to remain faithful to his calling. He was willing to leave the results up to God. Because he had proclaimed the Gospel, preached the truth and prepared the people of God by faithfully and accurately teaching them the Word of God – he could face the future with confidence. He could eagerly look forward to the return of Christ and fearlessly face God knowing he had faithfully fulfilled his calling to the best of his ability.
Paul’s life had not been an easy one. It had been filled with trials and difficulties of all kinds. But he was content and confident that he had lived his life well. He knew that God had been a constant part of his life over the years. “But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death.Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen” (2 Timothy 4:17-18 NLT). His life had been a joint effort between himself and God. He had faithfully played his part and he knew that God had been beside him every step of the way – even in his darkest moments. But his greatest confidence was that God was going to faithfully take him home. His hope was in the future, not the present. His motivation was eternal, not temporal. His ultimate reward was in heaven, not on earth. As believers, we will not be held accountable for the results of our efforts on behalf of God. God will not measure our effectiveness based on our own human achievements, but on our faithfulness to Him. Faithfulness requires dependence on God. The Old Testament prophets were rarely successful – if we judge their efforts based on numbers of converts or the popularity of their message. But they were successful in God’s eyes, because they were faithful to their calling. They did what they had been called to do. They remained faithful regardless of the circumstances or the apparent failure of their message. Their reward was of a heavenly nature, not an earthly one. They had to remain faithful to their calling and trust God for the outcome. That is one of the hardest things for us to do as believers. We are results-oriented. We are trained to judge success based on visible results. Too often in the church, nickles, noses, and numbers are the criteria we use to measure success. And in our efforts to produce those results we can find ourselves tickling ears, twisting the truth, and compromising our faithfulness. Oh that we might hear and heed the call of Paul today. “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.”
Father, may we be a people of faith and faithfulness. It is easy to come to faith in Christ, because it is completely provided for us by Him. We simply have to believe. But to live in faithfulness is difficult. To keep our eyes focused on the future reality of our faith is hard for us to do. We get distracted by the cares of this world and we measure our success by the wrong standards. You have called us to live faithful lives based on a reliance on Your Word and a dependence upon Your power. Don’t let us compromise Your message in an attempt to get better results. Don’t let us rely on our own efforts in the hopes of producing greater success. Keep us faithful to You. Amen.
Ken Miller Grow Pastor
& Minister to Men firstname.lastname@example.org