2 Timothy 4
v. 1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
v. 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
v. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
v. 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
In order to understand the full weight of Paul’s charge to here, Timothy, we must look at the end of chapter 3. These verses are a classic declaration of the Bible’s inspiration.
2 Timothy 3
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Because all of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is God-breathed and is profitable to make the people of God complete and fully prepared to live lives pleasing to God, Paul moves to lay a solemn charge on Timothy – that charge, is to preach the Word.
Paul had spent years disciplining Timothy. Throughout his ministry, Paul had laid the emphasis on keeping the main thing, – and that was to study, teach, and preach the Word of God. But as he now passes from the scene and it is time to pass the leadership of the church over to a new generation of Christian leaders, Paul wants to make sure Timothy realizes he is not to be an innovator and creator of new means–His mandate, as a pastor and leader of the Church is to do what?
Preach the Word!
So Paul phrases his charge in the most solemn language . . .
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ
So here Paul is commissioning Timothy with a solemn and serious charge. We will all stand before God and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom. This why the charge Paul lays on him is so serious – because all history, all mankind, will one day stand before God and give a final reckoning. Timothy will have to answer for how he has discharged the charge. Paul is laying a trust on Timothy – that trust was the word of God and his office as pastor of the Church at Ephesus. One day, he would stand before the Lord and give account for how he had performed his role and what he had done with the precious treasure of the Scripture.
All of us will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ – not for judgment for our sins, but for rewards. The believer’s sins were judged at the Cross, so the judgment we will face is not one that determines our eternal destiny – that is already settled in Christ. But we will face a judgment for rewards.
Paul describes this judgment this way in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 . . .
9 We make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Then in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 Paul gives a description of what this judgment will be like
11 No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire
While everyone will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give account for how they have lived and used the gifts and resources He’s entrusted to them, pastors will face an especially strict judgment.
James says in James 3:1
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
In light of this stricter judgment, Paul says this to Timothy in 4:2
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
The best thing Timothy can do as a pastor and leader of the flock is to Preach the Word! The safest course to being able to stand before God on that day when he will give account is to Preach the Word! Realizing this, I marvel at why so many pastors today do anything other than Preach the Word.
Paul is absolutely clear here. There is no obscurity or uncertainty about his charge. This needs no interpretation – only application! Timothy must give himself and his ministry to the faithful and consistent study, preaching and teaching of the Scriptures. He must be ready at all times, when he feels like it and when he doesn’t, to minister to people with the Word of God. When dealing with people who are in error, he needs to be able to bring forth a word from The Word that will challenge their error. When someone is downcast and in need of encouragement, when they are weak and need strength, he must carry the Word to them. And he must be consistent in his ministry in the Word – even when it seems no one gets it.
The story is told about an old American Indian who attended a church service one Sunday morning. The preacher’s message lacked real spiritual food, so he did a lot of shouting and pulpit pounding to cover up his lack of preparation. In fact, as it’s sometimes said, he “preached up quite a storm.” After the service, someone asked the Indian, who was a Christian, what he thought of the minister’s message. Thinking for a moment, he summed up his opinion in six words: “High wind. Big thunder. No rain.”
When the Scriptures are neglected, there is “no rain”, no life-giving virtue in the message.
It is not the words of man, spoken in the greatest eloquence possible which make a difference. Only when preaching is based on God’s Word are His people blessed and refreshed. One of the reasons why the good pastor, the faithful church leader will keep the ministry centered on the study, preaching, and teaching of the Word of God is because . . .
2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
Paul is certainly speaking prophetically here. But history shows that what he says here has seen a sorry fulfillment again and again in the history of the Church. The Church seems to go through long cycles where it wanders from the Truth to the enticing words of false teachers. The Church is thus corrupted, and when people grow weary enough of the corruption, there’s a reform movement that sees a return to Biblical teaching and preaching. But after a while, the reform becomes institutionalized and once more people turn from Truth.
We see this in the development of Roman Catholicism and the many reform movements that occurred during the Middle Ages. Then we have the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism. That reform degenerated into rationalism and the rise of liberalism. Then there was the Modern Evangelical reform movement. But now it seems the Evangelical church is being co-opted by the philosophy of religious humanism.
Paul sees these cycles of corruption and reform turning like a massive wheel until the time would come when the wheel of corruption would grind to a halt in the end times. Then, most people would not want the “healthy doctrine” of the Word of God. Because of their “itching ears” they would accumulate teachers who would satisfy their cravings for things that disagree with God’s truths.
The fact that a preacher has a large congregation is not always a sign that he is preaching the truth. In fact, it may be evidence that he is tickling people’s “itching ears” and giving them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
Note what Paul says – the time will come when people will not put up with good, solid Bible teaching – instead, because of their own inner lusts, and yet because they have a deep-seated religious stirring, they will find for themselves people who will tell them what they want to hear. So it is that when people who realize the need to believe in something bigger than themselves but who don’t want to submit to God, look for someone to scratch their religious itch, they will find a ready supply of those who will tell them what they want to hear, and make it sound religious all at the same time. So today, we have the health and wealth message which is tailor made for our secular, materialistic society.
Once people have rejected the Truth, they turn to fables; to wild stories about trips to heaven or hell or seeing a 90 ft. tall Jesus. These fables are exciting and sensational, but they aren’t likely to convict them of sin or make them want to repent! The result is a congregation of comfortable, professing Christians, listening to a comfortable, religious talk that contains no Bible doctrine. These people become the prey of every cult because their lives lack a foundation in the Word of God. It is a recognized fact that most cultists were formerly members of churches.
Paul’s emphasis on the ministry of the Word of God is the predominant theme of the pastoral epistles of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Here he says that because this time of apostasy is coming, Timothy ought to give himself to the task of preaching and teaching. If that was true for Timothy’s day, how much more now when it seems that what Paul forecasted is coming to pass?
What I rejoice to see is that while there may be many who have itching ears and are heaping up false teachers to tell them what they want to hear, there is also a solid and devoted group of Christians at many good churches around the world who not only endure sound doctrine, but crave it!