The Apostle Paul’s Final Instructions to Timothy
[ 2nd Timothy chapter 4]
Today we will be finishing the rest of 2nd Timothy by exploring chapter four. This letter to Timothy and the greater Church at that time is the last known epistle of the apostle Paul. As you will see, he was awaiting his execution as a condemned man when he wrote this. On the surface it seems to be profoundly sad that Paul was about to pay the ultimate price for preaching the Gospel. But, as we will soon see, Paul did not see his execution as a funeral as much as he saw his death sentence to be a celebration. With that in mind let’s begin this most inspirational passage of Scripture at verse one.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I will give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 all who have longed for his appearance.” (2nd Timothy chapter 4, verses 1-8, NIV)
Preach the good news about the ultimate saving power of our precious Jesus Christ! Not everyone is called to preach, but that shouldn’t stop us from being effective witnesses for Jesus, our Lord and Kinsman Redeemer. After all, it was Christ – and no one or nothing else – who sacrificed himself to save us all, only to be risen from the dead on the morning of his 3rd day of burial. “…be prepared in season and out of season…”. As before, not everyone is called to be a pastor, minister, deacon, overseer or evangelist. But what is most important is our witnessing and worshiping Christ, followed closely by how well we treat others. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, as Jesus taught so succinctly. All the religion in the world becomes meaningless compared to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ supersedes and transcends religion. Let’s also remember the four gospels and the parable about the two men in the temple. One, who was a Pharisee and a part of the religious establishment of his time, stood before the altar saying things like “I thank you, oh God, that I was not born a woman, or like this tax collector seated several rows behind me. I tithe 10% of all I earn, so please hear me and my prayer of thanksgiving.” As he was doing this, and presumably hearing every word that the Pharisee was saying, the publican/tax collector simply said as he beat his chest in remorse, “Lord, have mercy on me, a wretched sinner”. Then Jesus said to the crowd gathered around him, “Who went home more justified before the Lord”? “The tax collector”, they replied. Then Jesus said, “Then go and do likewise”. For the complete story, see Luke chapter 18, verses 9-14.
“…correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” Churches, and the people therein, are there to build people up, not tear them down. If there is any need for correction and rebuke, then do so gently, and with much kindness and compassion. Any troll or bully can order people around like a drill Sargent. But Paul adds the word ‘encourage’ in the same sentence. We are supposed to encourage people when we correct them, otherwise we risk driving them away. The only people Jesus ever offended were the religious establishment of his time, and he wasn’t very concerned about their “feelings”, either. Instead, we are to have “great patience” as we instruct with the greatest of care, knowing full well that doing this in and of itself is often more than enough to be effective teachers and witnesses for Christ. So let’s be patient at all times, and as far as possible, toward one another.
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Doesn’t this seem familiar to you? It sounds remarkably like the modern church, especially in North America and Europe. I have heard all kinds of stuff preached and taught both in and out of churches. The Pentecostal church teaches that all must speak in tongues, otherwise they can’t be saved. The Southern Baptists teach that pre-civil war slavery in America was Scriptural. The Catholics teach that everyone except for Catholics will go straight to hell when they die, allegedly because of Protestant refusal to acknowledge the alleged supreme authority of the Papacy as God’s emissary on earth (yeah, right). Still other churches are teaching tithing 10% of the income of each member of the church despite the fact that it’s Old Testament law. As I’m sure you know, all of the above are patently false. Teachings such as these tend to warp and twist the Word of the Lord in order to suit the congregation’s desires, when it is the pastor’s responsibility to stick to the Bible and preach directly from there. Any church who is teaching their own “exclusive” interpretation of Scripture bring themselves dangerously close to risking eternal Judgment.
“But you, keep your head in all situations… For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 all who have longed for his appearance.” The reason Paul was instructing Timothy to keep his head “in all situations” was because Paul was using Christ as an example of how to proceed no matter what challenges awaited him. Paul did exactly that, and it brought a death sentence upon him. Yet, as we can see, Paul was not perturbed at all by his fate. In short, the apostle Paul had no fear of death, even when his own impending demise was staring him in his face. The ultimate example of this was the crucifixion of Jesus, only to be raised from the dead on the morning of the third day after His burial. Death and the grave have been conquered by Jesus’ supreme sacrifice for us all. Like Jesus and the apostle Paul, we too have been granted eternal life though Christ if we put our complete trust in him, and if we truly believe he is the Son of God. It is not by our good deeds alone, but instead by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died in our place for our sins against God. And, Jesus has left us with his Holy Spirit as a deposit towards our eternity with him. Make no mistake about it, anyone who opposes Christianity, or who doesn’t believe that Jesus was God’s only Son who sacrificed himself for us all, will be condemned by God. Moreover, according to Biblical prophecy, we are just about out of time. I cannot overemphasize the importance of doing this, of surrendering to Christ and of belief that the blood he shed on Calvary that day was a cleansing of our souls. And now let’s finish up today’s study, taking up where we left off.
“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, who loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me and my ministry. I sent Tychius to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I let with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. Alexander the metal worker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly Kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2nd Timothy 4, verses 9-18, NIV)
Here we get a glimpse of the happenings in the early Church from Paul’s vantage point. People were coming and going, in church and out of it, and the true extent is evident in Paul’s writings. But the Holy Spirit overcame all that, as was evident in Paul’s declaration that he was “delivered from the lion’s mouth”. It is much the same as today, and particularly with the proliferation of mega-churches with thousands of members each. For every new member these mega-churches obtain, they are losing up to two at a time. Is it any wonder that they have a continuous turnover of worshipers? All they hear during Sunday morning worship is a sugar-coated one-size-fits-all version of the Gospel, followed by a demand that they tithe 10% of their income. Technically, this is true because tithing is mentioned in the Leviticus 27: 30, Deuteronomy 12: 17, and Malachi 3: 10. What they don’t tell their congregations is that the Bible also says that Jesus’ Crucifixion, death and resurrection was the fulfillment of that law (see Hebrews chapter 10, verses 1-18). We should definitely give as much to the churches we attend as we are able, but the Old Testament 10% rule of law no longer applies. We don’t have live animal sacrifice as atonement for sin anymore like they did in Moses’ day, so why do we still need to give 10%?
“At my first defense, no one came, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.” This is another striking parallel between Paul and Jesus Christ. Just as no one came to the aid of Jesus while he suffered and died on the cross of Golgotha, so the same happened with the apostle Paul when his death sentence was handed down. And yet he wrote, apparently for posterity’s sake, that he wanted God to bestow mercy on his executioners. “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”, were Jesus exact words as recorded in all four Gospels just before he gave up his Spirit on the cross, and again in the Gospels it is written, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy”. Paul enunciated very similar requests for his own captors as he waited his turn for his death sentence to be carried out. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” The Lord stood with Paul in Spirit. It was the source of his tremendous strength that he derived from Christ Jesus. This same God-ordained strength is available to all true believers. It is vitally important – whether you are a Christian or not – to maintain a forgiving spirit and keep as gentle a persona as one can. As nearly to all of the time as we are capable, let’s be merciful and lovers of peace. There will be no bullies in heaven, that’s for sure.
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly Kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Even though there was no way out for Paul by this time, it no longer mattered to him. He even prayed for his executioners and the authorities that handed down his death sentence. It is very difficult for a Christian to maintain such a forgiving attitude, but it is impossible for those who refuse to believe in and who refuse to trust in God. But, if we “fight the good fight” and “win the race” towards God as Paul described, we can count on being brought safely to his Heavenly kingdom, and so to inherit the crown of eternal life that is ours through Jesus Christ. And that’s the best part of all. Starting next week, we’ll delve into the book of Colossians, so stay tuned.