American Journal of Biblical Theology Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
2 Timothy 4:1-21.
Minister In and Out of Season
As Paul draws his second letter to Timothy to a close, he summarizes the importance of what he has said. Paul knows that there is a good possibility that he will not see Timothy again, further adding to the importance of this communication to the young pastor who Paul respects and cares for so much. Paul also had a close relationship with the church in Ephesus, as he previously spent three years there in an effort to establish the church on firm doctrinal ground. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, the fragmented leadership of the church took its small congregations into a variety of directions, driving it away from the gospel. Because of this, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus in an attempt to reign in this wandering congregation. The content of this second letter reveals that Timothy has been faithful to the task, but the church has not responded. Timothy is frustrated and concerned, seeking specific assistance on how to deal with this situation. In the close of this letter, Paul speaks to the specific ministry tasks that Timothy must apply himself.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
"I charge thee therefore" is the English rendering of a single Greek word that is expressive, emphatic, and carries the thought of a legal contract. It is a contract that is established as a result of a previous event. Such legal documents require the witness and approval of a judge, and in this case, Paul calls upon God and the Lord Jesus Christ to be that judge. Jesus, who is the judge over all creation certainly provides the ultimate seal of a contract, a seal that Paul metaphorically places on what he has been teaching to Timothy in his letters. "Therefore" establishes what he is about to say as a closure to what he has said before. Up to this point, Paul has attempted to shed some light on the dark corners of the church, those areas that are drawing the church away from the gospel. Paul describes a church leadership that is unredeemed, unrepentant, and self-important, a leadership that is using the church to appease their own desires for power, importance, and control. How is Timothy to minister in such a setting? Because the problems that Timothy faces are still common to the church today, Paul's advice provides sound guidance to all who are engaged in any Christian ministry, whether they are of the clergy or laity.
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
Preach the word. Paul's first word of advice, upon which the very nature and success of his ministry hinges, is to simply preach the word of God. Because of its position in Paul's letter, the importance of this advice must not be overlooked. When an individual speaks to a congregation, he/she has the ability to speak on any manner of subjects and philosophies. It is such a liberal use of preaching that has led the Ephesian church away from the truth. Paul adjures Timothy to preach the Word of God, and it alone. Certainly, as Timothy has opportunity to preach, he brings many concerns and opinions with him. However, his preaching is not to be an expression of his own opinions or philosophies, but rather is to be consistent with God's word, never wandering from it, communicating it and it alone to a church that needs to hear the truth. For Timothy, the scriptures are those of the Old Testament, and the context for their teaching is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today we have many of the writings of the apostles, recorded in the New Testament, that serve to clarify the gospel message, providing a resource that the first century church did not have. What is being preached from the pulpits of the church today? All too often one might hear a Bible verse quoted at its beginning, and a word of prayer at the end, with the interim filled in with opinions that are expressed in a manner that are not related to either statement. Many preachers are more concerned with satisfying the desires of the church leadership and holding on to their jobs than they are concerned with brining their people to repentance and faith.
Be instant in season, out of season. The ministry of a Christian is not something that is scheduled for an hour or so on Sunday mornings, or Sunday nights, or even Wednesday nights, times when many congregations come together. A Christian must be ready with the gospel message at all times, prepared to speak God's word whenever needed, and prepared to meet the needs of those to whom God has called him/her to serve on less than a moment's notice. "In season, out of season" is two words in the Greek. That which is done "in season" is done when it is expected. That which is done "out of season" is seemingly taking place at the wrong time. One would not attempt to harvest crops out of season. A farmer would not have any attention on the efforts of harvest while he is in the process of planting. However, a minister has no such natural barriers to the sequence of events that transpire around him. The minister must be ready at those times when ministry would be the least expected. It is often in these times that the impact of ministry is enhanced.
Reprove. Paul then goes on to list some of the tasks that Timothy should be continually prepared for. This list of tasks is not new to us: Paul concluded chapter 3 of this letter with the statement that scripture is profitable for correction and training in righteousness. Timothy can stand firmly on God's word as he attempts to bring those who have wandered from the faith to repentance. The first command of Paul is "reproof." This is similar in thought to what Paul has been doing in this letter. To reprove is to expose error. Preaching that reproves an audience will "step on people's toes." People who bring their hard and self-centered hearts under the hearing of reproof will not be happy with the message. It was Jesus' reproof of the religious leaders that incited them to seek His death. Those who are taking the church away from the gospel know the true darkness of their hearts and do not want the light of the Lord to expose them. Reproof provides such light, and like the creatures of the night that these people are, they will naturally run from it.
Rebuke. Where reproof shines the light of God's word on the darkness, exposing its sin, a rebuke assigns the responsibility of repentance. A rebuke places upon the recipient the responsibility to change. Again, those who are in need of rebuke do not want to hear it, often because they do not want change. They want to maintain control over others rather than surrender it to the Lord who's Lordship in the congregation they have usurped. They want to hold on to the sin that so gratiates and satisfies them. They do not want their own name associated with the object of reproof, because to do so would be to accept responsibility for their own attitudes and actions.
Exhort. A third, and necessary step in this process is that of correction. Once the light exposes the sin, and the sinner is held responsible, it is necessary that corrective steps take place. If this step is omitted, reproof and rebuke serves only to beat one down. Exhortation lifts one up out of the pit by showing a better way. Like a ship's captain who makes a navigational correction by adjusting the ship's tiller, exhortation provides very specific correction
Note that this process that Paul prescribes starts with "preaching the word." The process of reproof, rebuke, and exhortation should be heard in and out of the pulpit. We hear very little of this type of preaching in today's modern church. When we look back at the great revivals that were led by preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, we find preaching that carries a continual theme of reproof - rebuke - exhortation.
With all longsuffering and doctrine. This type of preaching is going to require a lot of patience. Not only are people going to fail to change overnight, they are going to resist Timothy's message. Those who are receiving the rebuke may resist the message even to the point of attacking the pastor. Certainly, Paul's ministry is replete with persecution, and as Paul has stated earlier in this letter, Timothy should expect some of the same treatment. If one is preaching the word of God, those who resist it will respond. Consequently, if there is no such response to preaching, then the preaching is not effective, and is not serving to bring people to repentance. Paul started this sentence with doctrine, and ends it with doctrine. All that is preached is to be preached with sound doctrine, relying solely on God's word, applied correctly in the context of the situation that necessitates reproof, rebuke, and exhortation.
It is a far easier path to preach what people want to hear. One who does this is secure in his position when ministering among those who do not want to hear the truth. Paul goes on to describe the consequences of such an approach to preaching.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
Church historians do not typically list Paul among the prophets, but much of his writings were prophetic. The time that Paul speaks of has fully come. James states that not many should become teachers because theirs is the greater judgment (Jas. 3:1). Those who take on the responsibility to teach and preach the word of God have the capacity to mislead people, and it is through the spreading of error that they will be more harshly judged. Paul describes the consequences of the acceptance of false teachers as a future event, but one that is fully realized. Congregations will not want to hear sound doctrine. When presented with the true word of God they reject the preacher, labeling him/her as "fundamentalist," or "right-wing," or "extremist." and by so doing discredit their message. The message of reproof - rebuke - exhortation is not what they want to hear, so they will call to the ministry (hire) preachers who tell them what they want to hear, and make life miserable for those who do not. They want to hear how wonderful God is, and how wonderful they are, and how wonderful life is when God is in it. They do not want the darkness of the lusts of their heart exposed, nor do they really care about the spiritual state of others. They are very satisfied with the "Good Ol' Gospel" and do not want to be brought into this wicked and sin-filled world. Such churches become social clubs with a Christian theme who do very little for the true spiritual needs of their own members, and literally nothing for those who are not. Such congregations keep their sins well-hidden in the dark corners, for they do not see their exposure as an appropriate exercise in the church body.
As a result of this pattern of sin, the church of Jesus Christ has fragmented itself at every level of association. At the global end, it is divided into "denominations" that each have the gospel that their members want to hear, often rejecting the message of all other denominations. Within denominations, churches are more characterized by the opinions of their leadership than they are by the word of God. Rather than the foundation for doctrine, the Bible has become a nice book with nice words that we can turn to when we want encouragement. The "two-edged sword" of the gospel (Rev. 2:12) is exchanged for a pillow of self-denial.
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
What happens when people surround themselves with the doctrine that they want to hear? How are people so easily misled and taken away from the gospel message? If people are not taught the truths of God's word consistently and continually, they will simply not know it. Ignorant of the truth, they will accept any wind of doctrine that sounds good. People will wander off into every direction of thought with complete sincerity, yet be sincerely wrong. There is no shortage of cult leaders who by their own charismatic message have led people astray, sometimes to their own deaths. Some examples come to mind: Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite. Each led his cult to mass suicide, an act that can only be understood as a mass victory for Satan. There are less radical groups that call themselves Christians but deny the basic doctrines of the faith, replacing them with their own beliefs. These cults, including Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses get a lot of attention from Christian groups. However, those same Christian groups may also be characterized by following fables of their own making, fables that protect them from truly examining their spiritual condition. These Christian churches may need to turn back to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.
5But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
After establishing the need for sound doctrine, Paul returns to specific advice for Timothy as he seeks to fulfill his ministry of sound doctrine. Watch thou in all things. Paul has already commanded Timothy to be ready in season and out of season with the truth of the gospel. However, if he is not aware of the need for a response, all of the readiness is of no value. Timothy is to be vigilant, sober, and alert, paying close attention to all that takes place around him as he seeks to bring the salt and light of truth to a church more interested in impurity and darkness. The Greek word used here also carries with it the intent of sobriety. In this context it refers to Timothy's maintaining self-control against a flood of bad theology that could overwhelm him. One can become intoxicated by philosophy just as readily as one can be intoxicated by alcohol. This form of intoxication leads people to follow any number of absurdities.
Endure afflictions. It is probably natural for us to avoid afflictions rather than endure them. The afflictions referred to here do not describe physical infirmities, but rather persecution at the hands of those to whom Timothy is called to minister, both within the church and without. Though many Christians who held true to the gospel found themselves being persecuted by their culture, as they are today, the tougher persecution to endure is that which comes from those who call themselves Christians. In our own personal ministry, my wife and I have received very little persecution from the world, but the string of abuse from members of the church has been endless. As we refuse to compromise the message of the gospel, scriptural doctrine, and application we have been repeatedly attacked by the church leadership. Those attacks are much harder to endure. Usually it is easier to simply walk away, and on occasion we have done just that. Paul's advice to Timothy is to endure, for it Timothy walks away there is little hope for the church in Ephesus. The first of the letters to the churches in the second chapter of John's Revelation is written to an unrepentant Ephesian church. Was Timothy's work a failure? Was he not able to endure? Those whose lives were touched by Timothy's ministry would certainly argue that Timothy's work was invaluable. However, hard hearts will endure against the truth. Hard hearts will continue to bring affliction on those who preach, teach, and live the truth. Like Timothy, many Christian leaders today endure affliction at the hands of the church. Others have avoided affliction by staying on safe ground, avoiding the addressing of issues that are controversial to their congregations. Still others accept ungodly doctrines and behaviors in the name of keeping peace. As Paul has stated earlier in this letter, preaching the truth will bring affliction. If there is no affliction, there is no truth.
Do the work of an evangelist. The minister should never forget his first calling: bring the lost to salvation. It is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ that people's lives are changed. The most important issue in any person's life is their eternal decision for salvation. As a minister, Timothy is called to bring the gospel to the lost and to disciple the saved. Likewise, ministers today have the same dual-purpose. Some Christians argue that they are not gifted as an evangelist, and find no problem assigning that responsibility to those who are. This frees them to ignore the state of the lost. Such a position frees one of even considering how their testimony and life might be used of God to lead others to Christ. Satan has the power, through the church's succumbing to such arguments, to put to sleep the great Christian army. All Christians are called to the ministry of evangelism as they are called to love all people. If one's love for the lost is true, there is no "gift" of evangelism necessary, because it is simply the power of agape love that will motivate the individual to find a way to reach the lost. Evangelism is not a gift of the spirit: it is a command of the Lord (Matt. 28:19 ff.). It can be real easy for a pastor who is overwhelmed by the issues in the church to forget their first calling, and Paul reminds Timothy not to forget.
Make full proof of thy ministry. Paul places great expectations upon those who work with him, and has often shown impatience with those who do not fulfill their commitments. He and Barnabas had no small dispute over the ministry of John Mark. Paul has described the bleak landscape that is the church in Ephesus, and at the same time given Timothy some advice on how to navigate it. Paul closes his words of advice by simply encouraging Timothy to completely fulfill his calling as a minister of the gospel. He has already stated how to do this: hold firm to the gospel, preaching it without compromise, work as an evangelist, etc. Any Christian should be able to look into their own lives and ministry and assess whether or not their ministry is fulfilled. Are you doing with your life what it is that God has called you to do? What is standing between where you are and where you know you should be? Making "full proof" of one's ministry necessitates answering such questions. Often when one follows God's lead and ministers when opportunities present themselves (in season and out of season) they will find themselves in areas of ministry that were never theretofore imagined.
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
In Paul's final testimony he makes a reference to his statement in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:17) where he states that he states, "even if I am offered," here he states, "I am ready to be offered" The offering that he refers to is a drink offering that is poured out. He is in the last of his known imprisonments, and Roman history and tradition hold that, shortly after this letter was written, Paul was executed. As Paul considers the difficult task that Timothy faces, he is reminded of his own journey to this point. He sees his ministry as a "good fight," described earlier in his writings to Timothy as a "fight" fought with only the tools of love. Paul often used metaphors from athletics to describe the journey, and like a runner who is focused on the finish line, Paul feels he has run the course and now faces its end. Despite the dangers, Paul kept to the faith, never compromising the gospel to appease the desire of others. Paul is not so much experiencing a reverie of his own life, but setting before Timothy an example to follow.
8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
What is the reward for obedience to Jesus Christ? On this earth it seems that the reward is always mixed with persecution and affliction. However, Paul reminds Timothy that his faithfulness will be rewarded. His uncompromised righteousness will be recognized by Jesus Christ, the One that really matters. If we minister to please men, our ministry ends in this world. If we minister to please God, our ministry is eternal. Paul makes it clear that the reward for faithful ministry is not reserved for himself, but is for all believers who love Jesus. Paul always equates true love for God with unabashed obedience, so his statement of reward carries with it that expectation of obedience. Timothy, and other ministers who face tough ministry, can be encouraged that the labor they invest here has eternal consequences.
Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
As Paul turns from his ministry to Timothy to the expression of his own needs, we find that his situation is far more desperate than he otherwise implies. It is interesting to note that, even from his imprisonment, his desire is for continued ministry. He does not sit in his prison and have a pity party, nor does he use it as an excuse to end his ministry. Some of Paul's greatest work, and his most effective ministry, has come from his ministry to his peers during this time. Paul would never have considered that his letters would become part of the canon of scripture, and would have probably fought such a concept if he had the opportunity to do so. Still, Paul's needs in prison were real.
We see that, not only does Paul suffer imprisonment, he also suffers from abandonment. There was no little controversy in the Ephesian church concerning Paul's imprisonment. Many rationalized away Paul's influence on the gospel message because of his state of incarceration. They used his imprisonment as a reason to reject his message, and by doing so, rejecting him. Paul also felt this from a personal level, and the story of Demas is a good example. Demas is mentioned in Paul's letters three times (see Col. 4:14, Philemon 1:24). We see the progression of this disciple from one who is one of Paul's more productive peers, to one who is losing focus, to one who is now described as having left the ministry. Many ministers leave the ministry today, often because of frustrations related to the issues in Paul's letters to Timothy. Sometimes, like Demas, they simply are drawn back by the world as they first accept it in their ministry, and finally succumb to it in their lives.
One of the problems Paul faces also is characterized by Timothy, Crescens, and Titus. Unlike Demas, they were actively fulfilling their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, serving as pastors in Ephesus, Galatia, and Dalmatia, respectively. Paul always took those who were closest to himself, prepared them for ministry, and then sent them off to serve. His desire for the spread of the gospel far outweighed his desire for fellowship with his deepest friends. However, now at the end of his ministry when his situation was the most desperate, he is almost alone. This is not a comfortable, or common, situation for Paul. Just as he worked hard to encourage the ministry of others, he drew strength from them, as all Christians draw strength from one another when engaged in the ministry. For this reason, it is important that, as Paul maintained contact with those close to him in ministry, Christians who develop deep friendships should continue to maintain those friendships even when the Lord's work separates them by great distances.
We do not know if Timothy was able to come to Rome following this request by Paul. If not, Paul certainly knew that Timothy and his other peers were still praying for him. Paul was not forgotten.
Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. 12And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.
Still, Luke has stayed with Paul to the end. Because of this, Luke is probably the actual writer of this letter, serving as Paul's amanuensis, his secretary. For reasons we do not know, Paul wrote little of his letter text himself. He may have done so out of tradition, or out of a physical inability to write. Some have argued with some basis that Paul suffered from poor eyesight, making it difficult to write. Many of us who use bifocal lenses are familiar with this malady. Luke, the physician, was fulfilling his ministry as he took care of his aging friend from the very bleak and difficult setting of the Roman imprisonment.
It is encouraging that Mark is mentioned here. This is the John Mark who left Paul and Barnabas mid-way through Paul's first missionary journey. When Mark desired to go on Paul's second, Paul refused to take him, a refusal that led to a split between Paul and Barnabas. In true church fashion, Paul took Silas and Barnabas took John Mark as they each went on their own journeys, Barnabas largely repeating the first, and Paul doing the same, but visiting the same areas in the reverse order. Despite the rocky relationship that Paul and Mark had in the early years, Mark is specifically mentioned at this important point in Paul's experience. This can be an encouragement for all who have fallen short of their own expectations, or the expectations of others. Mark went on to be by Paul's side in his first Roman imprisonment, and became one of Paul's closest friends.
Tychicus traveled with Paul on his trip to Jerusalem and carried the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians. Also the tense of "have I sent" implies that he is the carrier of this letter to Timothy. As such, the sending is one of a missionary manner, communicating to Timothy that he may use Tychicus to fill in for him in Ephesus so that Timothy can visit Paul.
The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. 14Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: 15Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.
Verse 13 gives us a glimpse into the conditions that Paul is now facing at the end of his imprisonment. It would seem that the relatively loose house-arrest of his first imprisonment was replaced by incarceration in a prison. If Timothy were to come directly to Rome, he would do so by ship. However, Paul asks Timothy to take the far longer land-route through Troas so that Timothy can recover a cloak that he had left there. Paul had already stated his desire to see Timothy before winter. Such a request for a coat reveals Paul's concern for the coming cold weather, and sees the necessity of Timothy taking a much longer journey simply for a coat to keep him warm. If he were under a house arrest, he could easily obtain another cloak.
His request for parchment scrolls is also interesting. Parchment had been in use for about 700 years and was fabricated from animal skins, making them more durable than papyrus or other paper-like materials. Consequently, this probably refers to a set of scriptures that Paul owned, and were presumably left also at Troas. If so, this also serves to illustrate the depravity that Paul is now experiencing. Not only does he need his coat to ward off the coming cold, he has no access to scripture, and desires to have God's word with Him at the end.
14Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: 15Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.16At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
Little, or nothing, is known about the identification of Alexander. However, at this desperate point in the letter, Paul deems it necessary to warn Timothy of the danger that this man poses to his ministry. Paul identifies Alexander as one who has brought him great harm, and based upon the next verse, that harm has to do with Alexander's testifying against Paul in the courts. Paul goes on to state that Alexander will be held responsible by God for what he has done and what he is doing. Still, however, Paul as he expresses his feelings of abandonment, hopes that none who have done so will be held liable on his own account. This says much for the forgiving spirit that was Paul. He could forgive Alexander, though it appears he feels that Alexander will not escape judgment for the damage he has done. He also forgives all of those who have turned their back to him, no longer showing him support or consideration. It is so easy for us to turn away from someone who is in trouble, and Paul certainly is experiencing the blunt end of that issue.
Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Still, Paul was not alone. When he went before Caesar Nero, the Lord was with him, stood with him, strengthened him, and gave him the words to speak. We do not have a transcript of Paul's defense before Nero but here Paul describes his statement as preaching that would be "fully known" and that through it the gentiles might hear of God's love for them. The reference to the "mouth of the lion," if considered in this context, refers to his surviving his testimony before Nero, a Caesar who was best known for his arrogant and bloodthirsty madness. Early church tradition holds that Nero did have Paul executed. By this point, the only thing Paul did to deserve death was simply his state as a prisoner. However, his testimony before Caesar would clearly identify himself as a leader of this group of Christians who Nero sought to purge. So, Paul's execution at the hands of Caesar may not be as capricious as some would think.
Still, Paul was ready, expecting that God would never leave him, and would sustain him until that moment when Paul would enter the heavenly kingdom, and for that knowledge Paul continues to praise God.
2 Timothy 4:19-21.
Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick. 21Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren. 22The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.
Finally, Paul wishes to be remembered to those who he was closest to. Paul met Aquila and Priscilla (I reverse their names only because nobody else seems to ever do so) in Rome. The two left Rome for Ephesus as part of Nero's purge of the Christians there. It is fitting that these should be mentioned first, as they more than anyone else in Paul's circle of friends understood the real danger that Paul faced when subject to Nero's mercy. Paul mentions many who he has ministered with over the years, and a description of those ministries would fill many pages. Still, in the end, Paul's closing is personal, as he states, "Grace be with you," in the singular, intended specifically for Timothy.
We find in Paul's letters to Timothy a vivid description of the state of the church in Ephesus, an implication of a pastor who is overwhelmed by the task, and an intense written counsel that would help empower Timothy with the tools needed to meet the challenge. Many pastors and church members today face similar situations today as churches become more and more worldly, accepting more and more of the world's traditions and philosophies, and by so doing are weakening the influence of the gospel. Some churches have left the ministry of the gospel entirely by becoming Christian cults or Christian social clubs. Those who seek to minister in such tough times face the same challenges that Timothy faced, and Paul's words can be an encouragement and resource to all who seek to bring a fragmented and wandering church back home to the truth of the gospel.