The Practice of Instruction
Passage: 2 Timothy 4:1-5
My mom has told me several times that one of my unique quirks as a small child, which is still one of my quirks, is that I was always very interested in food. She has noted that any time we would go somewhere or take a long trip, one of my first questions was always, “Where are we going to eat?” I remember that being very important to me. I’ve always loved food. But while I loved food as a kid, I was also relatively picky. Some of that was good. I didn’t like chocolate ice cream, of all things, and I didn’t like greasy foods. I never ate what tend to be unhealthy staples for little kids like chicken nuggets, fish sticks, or tater tots. But I also was picky about some healthy foods. In particular, I remember despising broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and bananas, and I remember battles at the dinner table over whether or not I would eat a tomato. All of us can probably remember being the child or the parent in one of those conversations. Mom recognizes that a child needs a balanced and healthy diet to grow and function properly, but the child doesn’t understand why he can’t eat Frosted Flakes for every meal. They taste really good, and they give you a quick burst.
Sadly, many Christians have the attitude of a child toward God’s Word and the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures. They want something easy to swallow, that makes them feel good, and that answers the immediate concerns of their hearts. They want the preacher to feed them Frosted Flakes rather than meat and vegetables. And many churches have responded to these demands. They’ve got to keep the church full, and to do that, they believe they have to keep people entertained. As well, they believe that if they are going to reach new people for Christ, the church must compete with the sensory experiences people have every day while playing video games or going to a movie theatre. Because of that, they’ve adjusted their preaching to make it shorter, funnier, and “more relevant.” The kids are determining the menu, and some of these churches are very full. But are they growing healthy disciples? What kind of diet is necessary to build a healthy church and growing disciples?
This morning, I’d like to continue our series “Foundations for Church Ministry” by looking at the second major practice of the church. Last Sunday, we looked at worship; today we will study instruction from 2 Timothy 4:1–5. To establish context, I’d like to read 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5. Five weeks ago, we studied vv. 14–17, which teach that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, and that it is sufficient for every spiritual need. In light of the incredible value of God’s Word, our text challenges us regarding how to communicate the Bible as a church. The commands of v. 2, and especially the first command to “preach the Word” is the center of the text. As a result, it provides us with valuable instruction regarding the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. This text has value for all of us whether you are a teacher or not because all of us at least listen to preaching and teaching, and because all of us do some sort of teaching even if it is one on one.
There are four principles I’d like us to see from this passage.
We are accountable to God (v. 1).
The command comes from God.
Verse 1 is set up as a solemn and weighty introduction to the central challenge in v. 2. Before Paul gets to the command, he wants to emphasize its significance. He does so in several ways. “Therefore,” links this text to the previous verses. As I already mentioned, the significance of biblical instruction is ultimately grounded in the value of God’s Word. We hold in our hands God’s speech to us, which he has designed to meet every spiritual need. This book is precious, and because of that it needs to be proclaimed. But Paul raises the stakes even higher when he says “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The verb translated “charge” is often used of taking an oath; therefore, Paul is calling on Timothy to take an oath in the presence of the Father and the Son to faithfully preach the Word. This is a weighty picture. I believe that ultimately Paul is calling on every pastor and teacher who will ever stand up in the church. This includes me, Pastor Kris, and anyone else in our church who is in a teaching role. He calls on us to take an oath before God that we will proclaim God’s Word faithfully and boldly.
Christ will hold us accountable for our task.
Paul adds further weight to the command with the conclusion of v. 1. This statement refers to the great hope of Christians. Jesus is coming again. The Scriptures teach that the next event on the biblical calendar is the Rapture of the church. First Thessalonians 4 states that the trumpet will sound and those who know Christ will meet him in the air and be taken to heaven. We will remain in heaven with Christ during the Tribulation until Christ returns to earth and establishes his Kingdom. During this period between the Rapture and the establishment of the Kingdom, we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of how we have used the gifts and opportunities God has provided for us to serve him. Several times the NT states that this accounting will be especially weighty for pastors. Hebrews 13:17 states, “Obey those who rule over you (speaking of pastors), and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.” And James 3:1 states, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” Christ is going to hold pastors and teachers accountable for how they fulfill their ministry. That’s a sobering reality for me to consider. Someday, I’m going to stand before Christ, and we are going to discuss my preaching and teaching. If you are a teacher or desire to be one, then this should be a weighty thought for you as well. James says we should count the cost before teaching God’s Word because we will face a stricter judgment. God takes the communication of his Word very seriously. He is paying attention to what we are doing right now, and someday, I’m going to be accountable for this hour. But it’s not just me who will be accountable. Luke 12:48 states, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” You will be held accountable for what you have done with your opportunities to hear God’s Word. If preaching and teaching is that important to God, it ought to be very important to each of us. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word is not just something churches do, and enduring a sermon is not simply a Christian obligation. We all need to take the preaching of God’s Word seriously because God takes it seriously.
In light of that, the second principle I’d like us to see from this passage is that…
We must faithfully proclaim God’s Word (v. 2).
This verse consists of 5 commands though the first command ultimately dominates the verse with the others describing how to fulfill the first.
Paul commands Timothy before God and in light of his coming accountability to…
Preach the Word:
The noun form of this verb was often used of a herald whose job was to make public proclamations. Therefore, this is a command to proclaim loudly and publically the Word of God. It needs to be emphasized that what Timothy was responsible to proclaim was not his opinions or some funny jokes; he was responsible to proclaim the Word, which is defined in 3:14–17. It is Scripture, which God has inspired and designed to be profitable for every spiritual need. The need for the church to proclaim God’s Word has already come up once in our series. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus commanded us to make disciples by “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” God wants his Word to be proclaimed because the Word is what changes lives. As a result, our church takes the responsibility of instruction very seriously, and we are very committed to feeding people the meat of God’s Word. When I prepare to preach each week, I constantly remind myself that the Word is what will change people, not my oratory skill or the slickness of my presentation. Because of that, my goal is simply to accurately present the Word, to explain it’s meaning, and to demonstrate its significance for our lives. We’ve been doing a topical series, but this means that for the most part I plan to simply preach through books of the Bible or sections of books. Lord willing, in three weeks, we will dive into 1 Peter and spend several months wading through what God inspired Peter to say in this book, and once we finish 1 Peter, we will move onto another book with the goal of exposing us to everything God has said in his Word. We must do this because the God has commanded us to do so and because the Word is profitable and changes lives.
The verse follows with four more commands about how to fulfill the first command.
All the Time:
The idea behind “in season and out of season” is that we are to proclaim the Word when it is convenient and popular but also when it is costly and unpopular. Sometimes people are eager to hear the Word and receptive to its message, but oftentimes proclaiming the Word is costly. This is because the Word confronts our sinful desires and ungodly ideas thinking. But Paul says we cannot let man’s response determine what we say or if we say it. We need to accurately and completely proclaim God’s Word at all times. May God help us as a church never to back down from the truth of Scripture regardless of its popularity or the cost it may bring us?
The third command is to “convince,” you could say “reprove” or “correct.” The term communicates the idea of correcting someone who is at fault. It could be over doctrinal error or over a sin pattern. It doesn’t necessarily involve a harsh rebuke; rather, biblical preaching should confront wrong beliefs and wrong practices.
The fourth command is to “rebuke.” This term is similar in meaning to the previous term, but it seems to involve a stronger, more direct rebuke. It might be directed at someone who is hardened in sin or has been unresponsive to softer rebukes. This is an idea that we might rub us a bit wrong. We don’t necessarily like it when a preacher is direct about sin, and confrontation over sin is certainly not looked upon highly in our day. Yet, Paul commands Timothy not to be timid when there is a need to be direct. Faithfulness to God’s Word requires that we call sin and false doctrine what it is.
The fifth command is to “exhort.” This term is not as strong as the previous two, and it would be directed toward a sympathetic audience that wants to hear from God and change. Even the godliest of us needs to be challenged and pushed kindly but directly.
With all Longsuffering and Teaching:
Paul then follows with two descriptions of how we are to fulfill the final three commands. Even when we have to rebuke very directly, we should always do so with patience. As well, confrontation and exhortation must always be based in teaching or doctrine. We don’t call on people to change based on the force of our personality or embarrassment; rather, the ultimate force of change must be the truth of Scripture.
In sum, v. 2 describes how the preaching ministry of the church must be conducted. God’s Word must be the driving force, not the preacher’s personality, pop psychology, or guilt trips. Since preaching is based in God’s Word, it must confront where the Scriptures confront and encourage where they encourage. It must manifest the love and patience of God in all that is said. All of us who preach and teach must embrace this model, and as we listen, we need to value these qualities, encourage them, and hold each other accountable to them.
We must faithfully proclaim God’s Word. The third principle is that…
We must not be discouraged when people reject God’s method (vv. 3–4).
These verses read as if they are a prophecy, and what they describe certainly sounds familiar 2,000 years later, but it’s probably best to read these verses primarily as a warning to Timothy about what he would face in his day and what all preachers will face until the end of the age. I say that because the “for” which begins the verse indicates that these verses give the basis for the commands in v. 2. Timothy is to preach the Word because this is how people will respond.
People will reject God’s truth.
Verse 3 might seem a bit discouraging when it says that some people will not put up with sound doctrine, or you could say the biblical preaching of v. 2. What is even sadder is the fact that Paul is not describing pagans or other unbelievers who want nothing to do with the church. Second Timothy has a lot to say about false teachers who will arise from within the church. Notice 2:16–18. Hymenaeus and Philetus were influential within the church. Therefore, Paul is warning that some people who profess to be Christians will reject biblical preaching, and they will…
People will replace God’s truth with what suits their evil desires.
The end of v. 3 paints a sad picture of what professing believers sometimes do. They don’t like biblical preaching because they think it’s boring or it’s too confrontational, so they run after teachers who fulfill their desires rather than God’s. Paul describes them as having “itching ears.” The idea is that they are looking for something that will tickle their ears. Verse 5 specifically mentions that they will be turned aside to myths. First Timothy 1:4 states that these myths involved “endless genealogies.” It seems that people in the church were amused by speculative fables related to OT genealogies. They would sit around and come up with amusing stories about OT figures. These stories appealed to their arrogance, and they also avoided the confrontation and hard truths of Scripture. Doesn’t that sound like what a lot of professing Christians are looking for today? Sitting through a weighty biblical sermon can be hard work. The Scriptures challenge us to think, and they convict us of sin. People don’t want conviction; they want to feel good about themselves. They also want to be entertained. Because of that, they swarm together into sometimes massive churches where the preacher gives little more than a pep talk. Or maybe he just does topical studies on the immediate needs people feel; rather than systematically teaching people the Bible and everything it says about God, the gospel, and godly living. It can be very discouraging to see people flee from solid churches for this kind of teaching, and so churches are tempted to adapt, to cater to the itching ears of sinners. But that’s not what Paul tells Timothy to do. Rather, he commands him in the most earnest means possible, to keep preaching the Word fully and faithfully. At the end of time, Christ will judge, and what ultimately matters is his evaluation, not the evaluation of people. That has to remain our focus as a church. We have got to pleas God no matter what it may cost us. But we’ve also got to trust the means of change that God has provided. Sure, some people will not respond to biblical preaching. But 3:16–17 is clear that the Word is profitable and that it is sufficient to change lives. Therefore, we’ve got to believe in the power of this book and the means of transformation that God has provided through biblical instruction, and we’ve got to be faithful to God’s method of building the church. We must not be discouraged when people reject God’s method.
The final principle is that…
We must remain faithful to God’s calling (v. 5).
Verse 5 closes out the text with four more commands. Paul challenges Timothy to “be watchful” or “sober.” This is a challenge to keep a clear head. Timothy would face real pressure as people rejected and opposed biblical preaching. When we face pressure, it’s easy to react emotionally. We might cave into the pressure, or we might get angry and lash out. But it’s essential that the pastor maintain a clear mind at such times.
And rather than running from the conflict or fixing it his way, he must be willing to endure the afflictions that come with obeying God’s will.
Work of an Evangelist:
We talked about this term in Ephesians 4. There it was used of someone especially gifted to share the gospel. Here, Paul doesn’t call Timothy an evangelist; he commands him to do the work of an evangelist. Paul is simply commanding Timothy to share the gospel. When hardship comes or people even leave the church because it doesn’t scratch their itch, then lead new people to Christ.
Finally, he commands him to…
Fulfill Your Ministry:
This is a general command to faithfully and fully accomplish the ministry God had entrusted to Timothy. This command applies to all of Timothy’s responsibilities as a pastor, but it certainly included his responsibility to preach the Word. Paul concludes this paragraph by driving home the need for Timothy to stay focused on the task that God had given him and to not move to the right or the left.
I hope that you will demand and encourage Pastor Kris and me to obey these four commands. We need you to encourage us and pray for us that we would keep a clear head under pressure, that we will endure affliction rather than running from it, that we will share the gospel aggressively, and faithfully fulfill all of the duties God expects of us.
In sum, the message of this text that I hope we will all embrace is to believe in the power of biblical preaching and teaching. In light of that faith…
We must keep instruction at the center of our life as a church.
We live in a society that is dominated by emotion. People are always looking for a high and when negative emotions come, they do little to fight back. And it’s easy for the church to buy into this emphasis. The gathering of the church becomes about feeling a high or meeting the immediate concerns of my heart. Certainly, those things are important. We want church to lift the emotions and answer your questions, but the church can do so much more. For example, if I hurt my back, a doctor may give me some pain medicine to get me through the day. But if he really cares about me, he won’t want me to depend on pain medicine forever. He is going to want to fix my back and to make me healthy again. That may require something very painful like surgery or the discipline to do therapy. Popping a pill and surviving the day may be easier in the short term, but it will leave me unhealthy and dependent. We don’t want to be a church that just gives you a pill to get through the day. We want to build healthy disciples who know the Word, know God, rest in the gospel, and obey his Word. Because they have a healthy foundation, they can endure the storms and trials of life. And they don’t limp into church on Sunday barely alive but strong and hungry for more. We’ll never reach that kind of health getting an emotional boost every 7 days. That kind of health only comes as we eat a healthy and balanced diet of rich Bible study that equips us to go home and continue that study all week. I hope we recognize that and that we will keep this long-term focus of building disciples.
This means that…
We must gather with a heart to hear and respond to God’s Word.
We all naturally prefer Frosted Flakes over broccoli. We have to develop a taste for broccoli, and we need to build a taste for biblical preaching. Tonight, I’m going to offer some practical help for how you can learn to become a more dynamic listener to sermons. You can make yourself a better hearer, and I hope you will join us.
Biblical preaching is the healthy diet that makes a healthy church. Praise the Lord for the gift of his Word.
In a moment we are going to close with #143 “Be Thou My Vision.” Spiritual health requires that we see life in light of God’s character and plan. Let’s sing this as a prayer that God would build this kind of vision in us through the Word.