The historical context to this passage is that this is the last recorded instruction that Paul gives Timothy before his execution. We know that Paul is alone in a cold dungeon and these are the final commands for his close friend and disciple in the Lord. He has spoken a lot about suffering in this whole letter.
What marked and highlighted Paul’s life and ministry after he believed in Jesus was not a bed of roses but suffering and persecution. However, this emphasis on suffering was meant to encourage Timothy and the church and also remind them that suffering is proof that we are truly believers.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12)
The immediate context tells us about the importance and value of Scripture which we learnt last week (full sermon):
- Scripture makes us wise for salvation through Christ Jesus. Please note the phrase “through faith in Christ Jesus” because we can study and learn Scripture without resulting in salvation if we don’t trust in Jesus. That was the issue with the Pharisees
- Scripture is breathed out by God. The imagery is like God breathing life into Adam when he created him. Scripture isn’t just words or a story but life-giving because God breathes life into it
- Scripture benefits us for instruction, conviction, restoration to an upright state and also training us in being righteous so that believers can be perfect and equipped for every good work. Do note how good work is a result of being rooted and built up in God’s Word.
Scripture is so important and precious!
Coming to today’s passage:
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 [a] 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.
Paul starts out by earnestly testifying before the eyes of God and Christ Jesus. It’s like he’s in the holy courts of God and laying this charge on Timothy. We know this is a serious command because he’s involving God the Father and the Son in this! Paul also reminds us how Jesus is the judge of those who are alive and those who are dead! On this earth I think we would be fearful of a Supreme Court judge who can pronounce a life sentence for us.
How much more authority does Jesus have to not only judge the living but also the dead! He also reminds us through the first verse that Jesus’ coming is certain and he’ll appear with his royal power! His first coming was in a humble manger, his second coming will be as a victorious King! Few passages in the NT that talk about Jesus being the judge:
42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42)
because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10)
If there’s something we can gather from this first verse…it’s this what’s going to follow is a very serious command that needs to be paid attention to!
The Command to Preach the Word
What’s the command?
Preach the Word! Why does he say preach the Word? Out of all the things he could’ve said to him, why does he focus on preaching the Word?
Let’s first define what “preaching” means. Preaching is the exaltation of God by declaring what He says in the Bible. It’s a little different from teaching because teaching is the explanation of Scripture. Looking at Scripture, breaking down what it means, interpreting and applying it would be teaching.
Although preaching involves teaching (the process above), it’s more than that! It’s the public cry and heralding of Scripture! I like the way John Piper puts it…to paraphrase he says that the preacher praises and rejoices in God as he declared the Scriptures with conviction.
Now that we know what preaching means…let’s get back to the question: why does he focus on preaching the Word out of all that he could tell him?
It’s not just because preaching was Timothy’s gifting. Context is key here:
The context is about the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word which is able to make believers grow up in salvation (2 Tim 3:15, 16)
I believe what Paul is pointing toward is something more significant. The reason why so much of emphasis was on the Word of God earlier leading to this command on preaching the Word is because God speaks to His people through the pure preaching of the Word.
Right from Genesis we see how God communicates to the people He made. God spoke and created the universe with His Word. He also spoke to man and woman after creating them. So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:27, 28)
After the fall, God didn’t stop speaking to His people. He continued to speak to them through commandments, the Law and the prophets. His final and clearest revelation of Himself came through Jesus.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb 1:1-2)
And we know and understand Jesus through the written Word of God because all of Scripture points to Him. (John 5:39) So I’m not saying that God has stopped prophecies but if you are relying on prophecies or experiences more than what God says in the written Word, then you are in a sense saying that God’s Word is incomplete and insufficient for us.
We are saying then that “we need something additional than the written Word to guide our spiritual life”. That’s not the case as we’ve read in 2 Tim 3:15,16.
Therefore, it is in God’s nature to speak to His people! But His revelation of Himself comes through the preaching of the Word. Because if Scripture is read, interpreted and applied correctly, then the people aren’t listening to a message but listening to God! Which is why it is a serious thing.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (1 Thes 2:13)
That’s why for 2000 years since the establishment of the church, God’s church has gathered in local bodies all across the world on the Lord’s day to do one important thing – listen to the preached Word!
Now you might say, does God only speak through the preacher on a Sunday morning? No, God speaks to every believer through the Spirit when they read the Bible daily.
3 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13, 14)
We see how the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts to understand God’s Word ourselves.
However, there is a growing trend in some churches where they think that the preaching of God’s Word is not relevant anymore. “It’s too old fashioned – now people need new methods of communication – skits, videos and group discussions” is what they would say.
Now all of these things are useful but how do you compare it with 2 Tim 4? Why are we redesigning God’s way of speaking to His people? And another question we can ask is why would Christ “gift” the church with pastors and teachers if every believer could manage without the preaching of Scripture?
That’s why it is a serious thing to preach the Word!
The Need for the Preached Word
I also find it interesting that in the next sentence, Paul encourages Timothy to be prepared “in season, out of season”. He’s telling him “you need to be prepared to preach when it’s convenient and also when it’s not convenient”. Why? Not just because it’s his job and Paul wants to encourage him to do it well. It’s because that’s ultimately what the flock of Christ requires. The sweet and precious words of Jesus. Not activities, events, healing conferences, all night worship sessions.
All these things are not bad but we need to remind ourselves that what we really require is the pure preaching of the Word. My desire is that 50 years down the line, if by God’s grace the Gathering grows as a church, that it will still be about preaching, hearing and obeying God’s Word. If you remember Jesus’ words to Peter after His resurrection.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep”. (John 21:15-17)
His flock need the Word more than anything!
The Goal of the Preached Word
Let’s come to the goal of preaching. Paul uses 3 words to sum up what preaching should do and how a preacher should do it.
It should reprove (convict people of sin), rebuke (admonish the sin), exhort (invite people to respond, instructing and consoling their hearts) with the Word. The way to do it is with complete patience and teaching. Not passing judgments on them.
Sunday morning is not the place where pastors let out their frustration on the congregation. Preachers admonish the church with gentleness acknowledging that they themselves are sinners who have been saved by grace and require grace each and every day. So there is that humility and also the aspect of “teaching” people to not remain in sin but stand up and walk in faith.
But think about it. If the content of a sermon is filled with reproof, rebuke and instruction – it’s not going to be very comfortable to listen to. We don’t like it because in our sin we don’t want to be exposed and told that we are wrong. This brings us to v3-4.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] 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.
The heart to receive the Preached Word
That’s why many hop from church to church because they don’t like certain things that the pastor taught. There might be a few genuine cases where the doctrine is wrong but in my experience of talking to some people….is that people want a pastor who says what they want to hear. This is a dangerous path to tread on.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)
I don’t want to trust and follow my heart when it comes to listening to what I want to hear because of Jer 17:9. In v3-4, the focus shifts from the preacher to the listener.
Ask yourself this question. When you come to a Sunday Gathering, what do you expect or desire from the message?
- Is it entertainment? Jokes and great stories from the preacher?
- Is it motivational and inspiring stuff? Things to inspire you to be better
- Is it the glamour of the pastor?
- Is it to judge and critique the pastor?
Or is it like Samuel said “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. If it’s not to listen, receive and obey God’s Word, then pretty soon you’ll grow bored of one pastor and go to another pastor who will tell you what you want to hear. The issue is that you’ll eventually not want to hear God’s truth but be satisfied with lies and deception. Gradually you’ll wander away from the faith. That’s what is at stake.
What I’m trying to say is that the heart you bring on a Sunday matters. The ears you bring to the Gathering on a Sunday matters. I’m not talking about your physical heart or ear but to humbly bring yourself to Jesus on a Sunday morning.
It might be a hard truth to listen to because God will be exposing a sin and bringing it to light through the Word. But remember that Christ Himself humbled and took on the punishment for these filthy sins.
He died so that we didn’t have to die to sin! I would much rather listen to my Savior who loved me, died for me and saved me than anything else.
Here are few things that we can do to apply this passage today:
- Value the Word of God highly with utmost importance. Let this be your treasure, your food and your comfort. Why? Because you get to know Jesus through the Word. Build your appetite through the week
- Pray for your elders who preach the Word. Pray that their hearts are right before God and they interpret and apply the Scripture exactly as God wants it
- Prepare your hearts throughout the week especially on a Saturday so that you might hear from God through the preached Word.