2 Timothy 4:1–8,
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: 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 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. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 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.
It has always struck me as strange that some of my greatest heroes, especially the Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards in particular, almost never referred to themselves and their own experience in their sermons. And surely, if we preachers are going to err, it would be better to err on the side too little reference to ourselves than too much. And I am sure what they would say is: What carries authority and power in the pulpit is not the preacher’s experience but the word of God. To that I say, Amen!
But doesn’t it do something good for us when God inspires the apostle Paul to lift the curtain on his own life and ministry and suffering? Which he does especially in verses 6–8 of this text. But, just as we would expect, this experience of Paul’s is not the main point of the text. It’s an argument for the main point.
We can see that because verse 6 begins with “for” or “because.” “For (because) I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” My death is at hand, Timothy, my course is finished, my reward awaits me just over the hill. Therefore, verse 5: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Because, Timothy, I have done what I am telling you to do: I have fulfilled my ministry, finished my course, fought the good fight; and I want you to know that, as you face yours, finishing well is worth it. A crown of righteousness awaits us. Not just me, Timothy (verse 8), the crown awaits all who have loved the appearing of the Lord. That includes you. So don't give up. Fulfill your ministry (verse 5).
Seeing the Main Point
So we can see the structure of verses 5–8. Verse 5 is the big main imperative, “Fulfill your ministry (including being sober-minded, and enduring suffering, and doing the work of an evangelist) — fulfill your ministry. And then verses 6–8 give the argument from Paul’s experience: I have fulfilled my ministry, and as I stand at death’s door, I want you to know: It’s worth it. The reward I am about to receive is incomparable. The victor's wreath that is about to be put on my head at the end of this race (1 Corinthians 9:24–25), is worth all the discipline, all the "training in righteousness," all the suffering. So, Timothy, endure suffering, and fulfill the ministry Christ has given you. That's the flow of thought in verses 5–8.
And the way verses 1–4 fits into this flow of thought is that verse 2 gives more particulars of the broad exhortation from verse 5, “Fulfill your ministry.” And verses 3–4 gives another argument for why Paul should press on through hardship in fulfilling this ministry of the word.
So verse 2 says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” That’s more detail on what it means to fulfill his ministry. Unwearied preaching of God’s word. And then the argument in verses 3 and 4 is totally different from the argument in verses 6–8. This argument is not the positive kind, that a great reward awaits you, but the negative kind, that great opposition awaits you.
Verses 3–4: Preach the word, Timothy. Be unwearied in it and ready to suffer (out of season), “For (because) 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.”
So there’s the big picture of today’s text, 2 Timothy 4:1–8. There is one broad, overarching exhortation to Timothy. Verse 5: Fulfill your ministry — with several particulars. The particulars of verse 5: “Be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist,” and the particulars of verse 2: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Two Kinds of Arguments
And under this broad, overarching exhortation to fulfill your ministry there are two arguments, one negative, and one positive. Negatively, in verses 3-4: Press on in this word-saturated, gospel-laden, preaching and teaching, Timothy, because the day is coming when people will no longer accept your teaching and will leave your church and go find teachers who scratch where they itch. And eventually they will wander off into myths. Don’t let this deter you. It is not a sign of your failure. So don’t quit. Fulfill your ministry.
And the positive argument is verses 6–8: Press on this word-saturated, gospel-laden preaching and teaching — fulfill your ministry — because I have fulfilled mine. I know what it cost me to finish my race and fight the good fight and keep the faith. And Timothy, I promise you, it will be worth it. The crown that awaits us on the other side of death will compensate ten thousand times over for any suffering in the service of Christ.
Moving Toward Application
What I think would be most helpful now would be to say a few more words application about these two arguments which relate directly to you as hearers of the word of God, and then close with a final focus on the most prominent exhortation to Timothy, namely, “Preach the word” (verse 2).
Let’s look at Paul’s argument from experience, verses 6–8. The reason the argument works is that Paul is persuaded a great reward awaits those who fulfill their ministry. Verse 8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day.” He has just referred fighting the good fight and finishing the race and so the crown he has in mind is the kind that was awarded to those who won the fight and won the race (as in 1 Corinthians 9:24–25).
What Kind of Righteousness?
And he identifies this victor’s crown as the crown of righteousness. Whether that means that we are rewarded for being righteous (2 Timothy 3:16) or that the reward is final and perfect righteousness (Hebrews12:23), both are true. We will be perfected in righteousness when we die, and we will be rewarded for the measure of righteousness God has worked in us in this life. And we have confidence in this because of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us through faith (Philippians 3:8-9).
And what’s the key to attaining that crown? Something very beautiful, perhaps surprising. Paul says in verse 7 that what is being rewarded is “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What good fight? The good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). What race? The race of faith (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians. 5:7). What have you kept? I have kept the faith (verse 7). In other words, what is rewarded is a life of faith in Jesus. Trusting Jesus. Constantly welcoming and treasuring Jesus. Which, when you say it like that, sounds very much like loving Jesus.
To Love His Appearing
Which is exactly where Paul goes when he applies the reward of righteousness to all believers. Verse 8: “And not only to me [will the Lord give this crown] but also to all who have loved his appearing.” What does it mean to love his appearing? It means you love him in such a way that you want him. You are thrilled that he appeared the first time. And you are eager to see him and be with him when he appears the second time. To love his appearing is to want him, to long for him, to desire him, to treasure him.
So what is it that the righteous judge rewards with the victor’s crown? The fight of faith, the race of faith, the keeping of faith; or to put it the other way: desiring Jesus above all things — really longing for his appearing. That’s what God rewards. The enjoyment of Jesus, and the desire that that joy to be consummated with his coming. That's what the essence of faith is.
And so, Timothy, when I tell you (verse 5) to be sober-minded, and to endure suffering, and to do the work of an evangelist, and thus to fulfill your ministry, remember I mean: do it all by faith, that is, do it because you enjoy the fellowship of Jesus and desire its fullness.
The Negative Argument
Then, consider the application of the negative argument for Timothy to press on through hardship to fulfill his ministry, namely, verses 3–4, “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.”
I could apply this to Jason Meyer, as he takes on the primary preaching ministry at Bethlehem. Don’t be surprised if sometimes some people leave the church because they don’t like what you teach. But I want to apply this mainly to you the people of Bethlehem. This is not only an encouragement to Timothy and preachers to finish their course in spite of opposition. It is also a warning to congregations.
The Warning You Should Feel
And here’s the warning I want you to feel. The root problem with those who reject sound teaching, and wander off into myths is not intellectual, but emotional and even physical. Paul does not say they won’t endure sound teaching because of doctrinal confusion but because of itching. They leave because they itch (verse 3), and Timothy is not scratching where they itch. And Paul does not say they accumulate teachers to suit their own ideas; he says they accumulate teachers “to suit their own passions (desires).”
Underneath the rejection of truth is always something deeper, namely, desires, passions, that are being threatened — the itch. So don’t just fight for truth at the intellectual level. Fight at the heart level. The emotion level. The desires. The passions. Pray that God would give you desires that welcome the truth.
Most Prominent in Paul's Mind
Finally, focus with me on what I think is the most prominent particular in Timothy’s fulfillment of his ministry, name, verse 2: “Preach the Word.” When I say it is the most prominent, I don’t mean to discount any of the others. Let’s list them: Verse 2: “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Verse 5: “Always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist.” And I am arguing that the first one, “Preach the word,” is the most prominent in Paul’s mind. It has a preeminent place.
Preaching has been prominent at Bethlehem. The pulpit is large, and it is heavy and it is in the front and the middle of the room. None of that is an accident. And it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the prominence of preaching and the centrality of the word of God preached. In the history of the church preaching has been prominent when the church has flourished — from the very beginning. And where preaching has been diminished from this prominent, central role in the worship of God’s people, the cause of truth — the strength of the church as the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15) — has languished.
And what I want you to see, for the sake of the future of Bethlehem’s health is that this is not a twist of culture, nor a Protestant bias. It is the fruit of biblical truth. In fact, we could say, it is the fruit of 2 Timothy 4:1. Because nowhere else in the Bible that I am aware of is there another intensifying introduction to a command quite like this one in verse 1 (1 Timothy 5:21 comes close). Paul introduces the command, “Preach the word” in verse 2 with five preceding intensifiers in verse 1. And each of them is chosen to strengthen and deepen and heighten the seriousness of the command to follow. Here they are.
Five Intensifiers to Preach the Word
1. “I solemnly charge you. . .” It is the word testify with an intensifier on the front. So I think “solemnly charge” or "solemnly testify" is warranted.
2. “. . . in the presence of God. . .” I do not speak in any ordinary way, with ordinary seriousness or ordinary authority. I am telling you this in the very presence of God. Hear this command, Timothy, as coming from God in the very presence of God.
3. “. . . and of Christ Jesus. . .” Both the Father and the Son have a great concern in this matter. As I command you to preach, you and I are standing before the throne of God with God the Father and God the Son adding their solemnity and their authority to what I say.
4. “. . . who is to judge the living and the dead . . .” Of the hundreds of things he could have said about Jesus, he says this. The point seems to be: when it comes to preaching, the stakes are raised to life and death, and beyond life and death to the final judgment by Jesus Christ. This is why the office of preacher is vastly more important than that of mayor or governor or senator or president. A preacher deals not just in life and death, but in eternal life and death.
5. “. . . and by his appearing and his kingdom . . .” What a weighty intensifier this is! “I solemnly charge you . . . by the appearing and the kingdom of Christ.” Preacher, keep this in mind, you herald the word of the coming king of the universe. For now he may seem distant because he does not appear. But I am telling you to preach, knowing — never forgetting — he will appear. And when he does he will be king and his kingdom will be openly established, and all the truth you ever proclaimed will be vindicated and all those who have turned away with itching ears will be put to shame.
Therefore Timothy, once more, “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.”
That kind of intensifying introduction of the command shows that this first command, "preach the word," is preeminent in the fulfilling of Timothy’s ministry — the pastor’s ministry.
But Preach What?
Which leaves time for just a short comment on the content of the preaching and the nature of the preaching.
Verse 2a: “Preach the word.” What is this word? Ignore the chapter division and I think the content of this word becomes clear. 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 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.”
That is, preach, the Scripture. All Scripture. It’s all inspired, and it is all profitable. And all of it makes us wise unto salvation through Jesus Christ and his gospel. Preach the whole counsel of God, and show the people that it comes from the word of God.
And what is the nature of this preaching? The word means to “herald.” One who in the days before internet, TV, radio, telegraph, would be sent to herald news. A town crier. He was not mainly a teacher. He had news, not a lesson. He lifted up his voice and said,
Hear ye. Hear ye. A message from the King. From the royal scroll, with the imperial seal. On this day your king summons all who have hated him, demeaned him, conspired against him, to come and lay down the arms of your rebellion, and turn from your sedition and swear loyalty to your king, by which (because of the sacrifice of his own Son) he will grant to you full and free and everlasting pardon. And on a day, appointed by his secret counsel, he will come and live with you, and give you every blessing in his treasure. This is the word of the King!
We call such preaching at Bethlehem expository exultation. May the Lord preserve its faithfulness in the ministry of Jason Meyer, and your faithfulness in loving to hear the word preached. Amen.