02 March 2012

Today We Wrap Up Our Extended Look at 2 Timothy 4

by Phil Johnson

till summing up his own ministry philosophy, expanding what he means in verse 2 ("preach the word . . . in season and out"), and now writing his final words of advice to Timothy, Paul ends with four imperatives in quick succession. Let's look at each one.

"As for you, [in contrast to every popular trend] always be sober-minded" (v. 5). The Greek word Paul uses has all the same connotations as the English word sobriety. Its primary meaning has to do with abstinence from wine.

In this context, however, the admonition is not exclusively—and probably not even primarily—about the consumption of wine. Like our word sober, the Greek term here also speaks of alertness, serious thoughtfulness, dignity. The King James Version translates it as a reference to watchfulness: "But watch thou in all things." And that's certainly an important aspect of the idea.

Remember, all these imperatives expand and elaborate on the central idea, which is at the head of the list: "Preach the word." Paul is saying, handle it soberly. Treat it with the gravity and sobriety and circumspection your calling warrants. Don't be a clown or a trifler in the pulpit. Especially when people are demanding to have their ears tickled, you need to impress on them the full weight of the profound importance of God's unadulterated Word.

Then: "endure suffering." This is an inevitable and inescapable aspect of every minister's duty. Chapter 3, verse 12: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

Paul's own sufferings bleed into the text of both his epistles to Timothy. Paul keeps telling Timothy he needs to be bold, to embrace suffering, to stand up against opposition and take the blows he would inevitably be dealt—to die for the truth if necessary. Timothy obviously had a much more timid constitution than the apostle Paul. That seems to have been his besetting sin, so Paul tells him repeatedly that he needs to "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2:3). If you aren't willing to do that, you need to get out of ministry.

I once heard a young seminary student insist that if we're kind enough, and positive enough in what we preach about, and as tender-hearted and compassionate and winsome as we can be—then it ought to be possible to pastor a church in America without causing anyone offense and without being persecuted for our faith. I pointed out 2 Timothy 3:12, and his response was that that verse applied to first-century Roman culture; in a culture like ours where the gospel has fairly well penetrated, we ought to be able to live and minister faithfully without conflict of any kind.

I urged him to do something besides ministry.

It's unusual to hear anyone as candid as that student was, but I know from experience that the typical evangelical today thinks just like that: if people get mad at the preacher, then the preacher needs to tone it down. That isn't what Paul said to Timothy. In fact, it's the polar opposite of what Paul said to Timothy. "Endure suffering"—and keep preaching the Word in season and out of season.

Next: "Do the work of an evangelist." It's easy in this context to know exactly what Paul was saying. It translates to this: preach the gospel. See, all of this is about preaching. "Preach the Word." Preach the whole counsel of God. And keep the gospel at the center of the message, which is to say keep Christ at the center of the message; and in other words, keep the story of redemption at the center of the message—because that is after all the only true and sound way to interpret Scripture. "Do the work of an evangelist." Proclaim the gospel, and never lose sight of it.

The final imperative wraps it all together: "Fulfill your ministry." How do you fulfill your ministry? By preaching the Word in the way described by all those imperatives combined. Paul has come full circle.

Conspicuously absent are all of the fad-words that fill the vocabularies of church planters and missional strategists today. Nothing about innovation; nothing about "cultural engagement"—except for engagement in warfare against the fads and innovations of a generation whose main features are itching ears and a lust for novelty. That is the chief kind of cultural engagement we're called to: to engage our culture in the sense David engaged Goliath.

And you know what? That is the proper medicine for itching ears.

Whenever you proclaim God's Word boldly into a society where people are demanding ear-tickling messages instead, the power of God's Word is unleashed. You see it in the wake of Paul's ministry. Despite all the opposition he faced, he won a remarkable number of people to Christ and planted churches from one end of the Roman empire to the other.

We see it every week at Grace Community Church, as people in this entertainment-saturated, porn-infested, secular southern-California culture respond to God's Word faithfully proclaimed.

The remedy for itching ears is not ear-tickling and story-telling. The true remedy is the faithful and forceful preaching of God's Word, which is "Living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

Paul wasn't commanding Timothy to do anything unique or extraordinary. Paul himself had done all those things, faithfully and consistently for years, despite every conceivable type of trial and opposition. The apostle gives testimony to that fact in verses 6-7: "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."

I fear the church today is dangerously low on men who will honestly be able to say that when the time comes.

Phil's signature


Andrew Thornquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G N Barkman said...

Do you suppose Paul told Timothy "to do the work of an evangelist" because he was an evangelist? (Ephesians 4:12)

Which may not mean preach the gospel as much as it means help churches get established. An Evangelist in the NT context seems to be a preacher who moves around from church to church to help them become established. This contrasts with a pastor-teacher who maintains a settled ministry in one church.

Phil Johnson said...

Andrew Thornquist: "total abstinence from wine . . ."


Right off the bat like that, you're going to try to derail this comment-thread?

Let's keep comments to subjects that are actually discussed in the post, shall we?

Mark Calabrese said...

@ G N Barkman: interesting point. I would like to see this expounded on in a bit more detail. I don't see anywhere in the NT where an evangelist is a guy who works up a crowd and has a few people share their personal testimonies.

Michael R. Jones said...

Hey Phil, if God doesn't want us to tickle people's ears, then why did he give us ears?

Just kidding (couldn't resist).

Excellent study, Phil. Much to think about and chew on.

Daveschatology said...

Excellent blog!

Just started reading some of the posts here and I'm loving what I'm seeing.

I, and a cohort or two, are starting the fight in our church against some ear tickling and creeping contemplative sprirituality that seems to infiltrating an otherwise Bible-believing group. I expect a lot push-back and don't-be-ridiculous-es. I'll take the side of the Word of God anytime though.

Thanks for what you do!

Todd said...

Not enough can be said about the need for the kind of men to which you refer in your last statement to deliberately and strategically reproduce themselves (2 Tim 2:2; 1 Cor 11:1, etc.).

Were it not for the numerous shepherds at a relatively well-known local church with a steadfast involvement in my life and training and their faithful and tenacious devotion to the sufficiency of the Scripture and sound expository preaching, I doubt I would understand this.

There is absolutely zero temptation in my heart to entertain people or draw them in with flesh-based enticements. It simply doesn't cross my mind, EVER.

I do, though, spend a significant amount of time meeting with men who hunger to honor Christ and shepherd the flock, by living and teaching well.

The past six months in our church plant (admittedly our only six months), have proven remarkably joy-filled as we have seen people drawn by the Spirit via the preaching of the gospel in its simplicity as it saves and further sanctifies them.

For potential naysayers, despite our lack of "marketing efforts" we have also grown numerically - by 50%. But our commitment has been simply to shepherd the flock of God AMONG us.

Thanks for your post. I trust my comments would be encouraging to you and others who pour into younger men.

In some cases, the results take significantly longer and require more effort. But the joy of faithful, successful discipleship is a reward worth pursuing.

Spike said...

Anyone mention the images were in the background beneath the printing so you can't read those parts in mobile version? And thanks for the mobile version! It's been very helpful (until today).

romans923 said...

"Paul is saying, handle it soberly. Treat it with the gravity and sobriety and circumspection your calling warrants. Don't be a clown or a trifler in the pulpit. Especially when people are demanding to have their ears tickled, you need to impress on them the full weight of the profound importance of God's unadulterated Word."

Very helpful. Thanks for breaking down the Scriptures.

donsands said...

Perfect teaching from the Word. Thanks Phil.

I pray I might have courage in these overwhelmingly hostile days we are in.
I too am timid, like Timothy. Paul I think was very bold, as he was when he imprisoned Christians. He was humbly compassionately bold as Christ's Apostle, which is much different than hateful boldness.

To be sober, is truly to be watchful, and to be about one's wits. Good thoughts on this portion.

One more thought popped into my head with all this.
And that's how the Gospel is "shallow", or wartered down in our day, and it made me think of this film I always watch in March each year, and this one particular scene.

mike said...

Unfortunately the attitude of the "Positive-thinking" seminary student you mentioned is probably also the attitude of many pastor search committees today. They aren't likely to be telling the prospective pastor to "tell us how you will challenge our propensity for itching ears by soberly proclaiming the hard truths of Scripture." You are probably correct that an aspiring preacher who expects no opposition to the truth should probably consider another line of work.

SamWise said...

Today's pastor has been taught uncomfortable discussions should be avoided because they migh upset the sheep.

I believe the opposite is true in that it will upset the goats. Goats are independent and do not want to follow Shepherds any more than they want to follow the LORD.

They persecuted the Lord so they will persecute us.

I have sometimes encountered goats in the Church Leadership and they complain the loudest about the "harshness" of the Truth. So the leadership asked me to "tone it down!"

The Truth of the Gospel always provokes either repentance or opposition. It's uncomfortable to to confront the truth that you are bound for Hell outside of Christ when you think you're basically a "nice" guy.

Goat Response: "How dare you accuse me of being bound for Hell!"

Sheep Response: "How do I repent in faith for being such a sinner!"

The harder the gospel is preached the more severe reactions.

Or as Augustine said "Soon, in a little while, I shall make up my mind, but not right now"