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Joel, it is an honor to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me to come. It’s an honor and a privilege to open God’s Word with you. If you have the scriptures in front of you, I would invite you to open them up to 2 Timothy chapter 4, 2 Timothy chapter 4, and here we have a classic charge, classic parting words, that the Apostle Paul is giving to Timothy. This is his final letter to his friend, the man that he mentored, a pastor in Ephesus. This church loved Paul, too. They wept over Paul leaving in Acts chapter 20, and here in chapter 4 Paul knew that his days were numbered and his martyrdom was probably looming just around the corner.
What would be the parting words that someone like the Apostle Paul would give to Timothy, someone he loved, the time that he had spent with that person? We have an opportunity to listen to him to what those parting words were.
Let’s look at 2 Timothy chapter 4 and I’ll read verses 1 through 8.
“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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Will you please pray with me? Dear heavenly Father, I pray that You would send Your Holy Spirit to speak through me. I have no wisdom and power in and of myself. I simply want to honor Your Word. Lord, You are the one who knows those places where we need to be encouraged and built up because we’re hurting. Holy Spirit, You know those places where we need to be challenged and humbled by the Word of God. Holy Spirit, have Your way with us. Let Your Word sharpen us, convict us, nourish us, for Your glory, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A couple of years back my wife, Elizabeth, and I had an opportunity to go to England and Scotland and we were in Edinburgh and we had a chance to look at some beautiful churches and many of them were ruins. I remember we were in downtown Edinburgh and there was one particular church that we were admiring and the friend that was with us was a local. I said, “What’s the name of this church here?” and he bowed his head sort of in embarrassment, he paused, and he said, “Well, that’s not a church anymore. That’s now an event venue.” I said, “What happened?” He said, “That church stopped proclaiming the Word of God and over time there was an erosion of truth and they lost their way.”
Like the churches in Edinburgh, the church of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey, they were beginning to lose their confidence in God’s Word. They wanted to hear preaching that was suitable to their ears, to their own passions. I wonder if we also could learn from that as well. Could that happen to us? Like the church at Ephesus, all of us are prone, apart from the work of the Spirit, to itching ears as well.
We want to hear what we want to hear. Yet this is why Paul would boldly proclaim to Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus, that he must preach the Word of God.
We need these words, too. It’s not just that Joel being set aside to the ordained office. Surely, he is called to proclaim the Word of God. But no matter where you’re called, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, if you’re caring for little ones, if you’re working a blue collar job, a white collar job, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re calling in life, if you’re a believer in Christ, all of us are called to give a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, and to proclaim the Word.
So this has applicability to all of us as well as those who are called to the ordained office, like Joel.
What is it that Paul is laying out for us here? He’s asking us to consider three things as we proclaim the Word of God. We need to consider the when, the how, and the why of proclaiming God’s Word.
When. When must we proclaim the Word, according to Paul? He says in verse 2, “be ready in season and out of season.” What does that mean? 24/7. When it’s convenient, when it’s inconvenient. When you see it coming and when you’re caught off guard and you’re sitting next to it on a plane flight. The Word of God is so front and center for Paul and he is putting this before Timothy that’ it’s our lifestyle.
It reminds me, my daughter plays basketball. She’s in middle school and she says, “I love Coach Reeder because he already says, ‘EJ, you never know when your number gets called. Be ready to get in the game whenever.'”
In many ways, Paul is saying that to us, you never know when your number is going to be called. You never know when you’re going to be called to give a reason for the hope that you have in Christ.
Where are you tempted at times to be lulled to sleep? And to only focus on when it’s convenient or scripted? Where are you tempted to avoid the inconvenience of moving toward people? What might it look like for us to move toward people with the good news of the Gospel?
So the when is very clear. In season and out of season, 24/7.
But he spends a little bit more time talking about how we’re called to proclaim the Word of God. He highlights the manner of how we must proclaim the Gospel in verses 2 and 5. He says this: Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. Then in verse 5: As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
If we’re to proclaim the Word of God, in our living rooms, in our work place, in our neighborhoods, in whatever we’re called to do, it’s going to require tremendous wisdom. Do you notice the descriptions that Paul gives to us? These imperatives of reproving, to rebuke, to exhort, and to teach.
The idea of reproof means to expose falsehood. To rebuke is to warn by instruction. To exhort means to comfort or encourage. To teach carries the connotation of doctrinal instruction. Obviously this list is not supposed to be instructive, but it’s supposed to show the full range of wisdom that is required to be faithful to God’s Word.
It’s like my next door neighbor Mike always said. The guy could fix anything. He said, “Well, Justin, you know you can hit a nail with a screwdriver, but a hammer works a lot better.”
Sometimes when we have been called to love and to move toward family members or friends with the Word of God, it will require us to use discernment and wisdom. Does this person need encouragement? Do I need to ask really good questions? Or honestly, does she need to be challenged by what the Scriptures say?
Jesus perfectly held the tension, full of grace and truth. So must we.
Proclaiming with wisdom means bringing the whole Scriptures to the whole person.
But also, we not only need wisdom, we also need sober-mindedness. Did you see that in verse 5? This is the idea of clear judgment, a calmness, that you have your wits about you, that you’re not reactive and all over the place. You’re settled, you’re focused, you’re having a conversation.
Notice it’s also with complete patience. Now since I don’t really struggle with that, but I hear that there’s people in churches that struggle with patience, I’m just going to kind of move right on. Who of us here is patient? It is so hard to be patient. Particularly if you have family members or friends or coworkers and you’re spending time with them, you want them to know Jesus or you want them to grow in their faith. I have been guilty at times, honestly, of pushing people a little too quickly, because I am impatient apart from God’s grace.
So Paul is reminding us, in all that we’re doing with this wisdom, with this sober-mindedness, we have to be patient with people. They are not a project. They are people for us to love and to put the Word of God in front of. People can feel it when we are impatient.
Where do we need wisdom, patience, and sober-mindedness to proclaim God’s Word? This all has to go back to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fullness of sober-mindedness, He is the fullness of wisdom, He is the fullness of patience. Think about how Jesus has been so patient with you. Let that drive us into the hearts and lives of those around us. Think about the wisdom that He perfectly knows exactly what we need by the power of His Spirit, exactly when we need it.
So Paul lays out in front of us not only when we’re called to proclaim the Word, which is 24/7, but also how; with wisdom, with patience, with sober-mindedness.
But I love the motivations that Paul gives us. Why? Why must we proclaim the Word?
The first motivation is by Paul wants us to look at the people in front of us. Look at the people that God has given to us. Look at those relationships. Specifically he’s talking about those people in verses 3 to 4 who are described in this way – they will not endure sound teaching, having itching ears, turning away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
I can’t help but think about Jesus only days before His suffering, looking at Jerusalem and saying, “O Jerusalem, how I long to gather you to Myself.” He looks at Jerusalem with a broken heart. They’ve rejected Him.
Can we look at the people around us and say, “O, I long for them to know the hope of the Resurrection.”
We have these itching ears and they need to hear Jesus. The need is great, even here in Matthews. People don’t know Christ. There are believers here who are still living in slavery and not in the freedom that Christ has already accomplished. They need us to move toward them and proclaim God’s Word.
So we need to look in front of us. But Paul also gives us another motivation, to look behind us. Look at those mentors who have gone before us. Remember how much Paul had invested in Timothy. There was a tight relationship. Three of Paul’s 13 letters were written to the Ephesian church. Paul wants Timothy to follow his example, “Be like me as I am like Christ.” To pass on what Paul had invested into him. Paul wants Timothy to be motivated to proclaim Jesus because of that great investment that he had made.
Joel, many people have invested in you. Your amazing parents have been putting Jesus in front of you. The Lord has provided mentors in your entire life. Consider those who have gone before you, who have invested in you. All of us have those mentors in our lives as well, don’t we? We need to consider those who are behind us, who have poured into us.
That’s simply not enough. Paul is urging us in verse 1 to look above, to look to Jesus Christ.
Look at verse 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.
It is all about Him. It is all about looking to Him. He is the object of everything that we are doing. He is the motivation. He is our drive. We want to follow His example. We are trusting in His empowerment. We can keep going because Jesus has been the faithful One. We can keep going because these are His words, not our words. We can keep going because Jesus is the head of the Church, not us. Because of Jesus we are free to be faithful, we are free to fail, we are free to try, we are free to work hard, because we are entrusting the work of God into His hands.
This is not the last place or the last time that we find the church of Ephesus being mentioned. In the very last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, the church of Ephesus, the very same church that Paul wrote this letter to, is also one of the churches that is mentioned, a church that was founded by Paul, pastored by Timothy, received these letters. But listen to what the Apostle John says about the church of Ephesus.
“I have this against you, Ephesians church. You have abandoned the love that you had at first. Remember from where you have fallen. Repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.”
This church, with a celebrity pastor like Timothy pastoring it and Paul planting it, they lost their first love. Never forget what it was like when we first received the Good News of Jesus Christ. His love for us. Never forget the first time that your heart was gripped by the fact that in Christ you’re fully forgiven and you bear those sins no more. That in Christ you were robed with Christ’s righteousness, not your own. That God loves you and knows every hair on your head. That God will not leave you and He will not forsake you. That in Christ God will be faithful to complete the work of salvation that He began in you.
This, my friends, this is what it means to never, ever forget our first love. Lean on Jesus this evening.
Let’s pray together. Dear heavenly Father, we pray that this entire evening would be completely pleasing and honoring to You. Were sobered by the reminder of the demise of the church of Ephesus, deviating from the Word of God and the proclamation of the Gospel. Let that humble us, let that make us dependent, let that make us circumspect in our own hearts and motivations, and let that allow us to repent and receive afresh Your grace and hope that we might proclaim the Word of God in season and out of season. In Jesus’ name. Amen.