The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2023
2 Timothy 4:1-8
His Holy Ministry Proclaims the Word—
Even in the Face of Opposition!
1In 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 give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For 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. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now 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 to all who have longed for his appearing. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s amazing what you and I are willing to endure— when we are convinced that the goal is worth it! People will go to school for years, sitting through countless classes and taking exam after exam because that is what it takes to get the job they have been dreaming about. People who want to start their own business will endure whatever it takes to make that business successful. Athletes will endure grueling training and perhaps more than one gruesome injury in order to be successful in their chosen sport. There are people who will plod along year after year in a job that they don’t actually enjoy, but they keep going because they know that after a certain number of years they will be able to retire with a decent pension and benefits package.
What have you been willing to endure because you are convinced that the goal is worth it? If someone had asked the apostle Paul that question his answer may have been our sermon text for today. Paul is writing to the young pastor Timothy for the second time. As Paul’s ministry and as Paul’s life come to an end, he encourages Timothy to keep a proper focus in his own ministry and in his own life. As we study Paul’s encouragement to Timothy this morning let’s see how Paul’s encouragement to Timothy gives us an opportunity to study this truth: His Holy Ministry Proclaims the Word— Even in the Face of Opposition!
We know that by virtue of our baptism we are a member of Christ’s holy ministry. We know that as a part of the priesthood of all believers we are to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2 Peter 2:9). Since this is both a privilege and a responsibility that has been given to us by God Himself, we know that one day God Himself will call us to give an account of how faithfully we have carried out the responsibility He has given to us. That’s why Paul says to Timothy and to us, “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 give you this charge: Preach the Word.”
If this “charge” seems a little overwhelming to you, if this “charge” sounds a little intimidating, let me calm your heart. A more literal translation of “Preach the Word” would be, “Proclaim the Word.” As members of Christ’s holy ministry we are to simply yet faithfully “proclaim” His holy “Word.” We don’t have to “interpret” God’s Word so that it makes more “sense” to our limited logical minds. We “proclaim” exactly what God reveals to us in His Word! We don’t have the right or the responsibility to “change” God’s Word so that it is more “acceptable” to the times in which we live. We “proclaim” exactly what God reveals to us in His Word. Instead of trying to conform God’s Word to fit whatever is and is not acceptable to our society, we let the power of God’s holy Word conform the hearts and the minds of sinners— sinners like us!— so that we conform to what is and what is not acceptable to God, the God “who will judge the living and the dead.”
As members of His holy ministry (Pointing to the cross) we are to “Proclaim the Word.” Stop and think about how that lightens the “burden” we sometimes feel. We don’t have to have all the answers to any and all questions people might ask us. We simply “proclaim” the answers that God has given to us here in His holy Word. And if we aren’t sure of what God says in His Word, we go back to the Scriptures and search for the answer— with the realization that while God’s Word does not answer every question we may have, it does give us every answer we need to have.
Paul also reminds Timothy— and Paul reminds us— that as we faithfully “Proclaim the Word” we will encounter opposition. Look at verses 2-4 of our text. Paul writes, “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.”
As members of Christ’s holy ministry we need to be “prepared,” we need to “stand ready” to “Proclaim the Word” “in season and out of season,” that is, “when the time is convenient” and when the “time is not convenient.” We have been in situations or we will be in situations when someone says something or does something that requires a response from us— a response that based on what God says in His Word. When our response is to “encourage” that person— we “encourage” them to the very best of our ability. If our response requires us to “correct” or to “rebuke” them for what they believe or for what they are doing then that is what we do— always remembering that we are to do this “with great patience and careful instruction.” Sometimes this will be “convenient” for us because “the time is right.” Sometimes this may not be “convenient” because humanly speaking the “time is not right.” We may even shy away from “correcting” or “rebuking” someone because we are unsure or even afraid of how they might react. That’s when we need to remember that as a member of His (Pointing to the cross) holy ministry we have been given the responsibility to “Proclaim the Word” — even in the face of opposition!
We are not surprised by this opposition when we are proclaiming God’s Word in the presence of those who do not believe and trust in Jesus as their Savior. Jesus Himself prepares us for this opposition when He says to us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18, 20). We need to “be prepared” for this opposition. We need to “stand ready” to proclaim God’s Word with the full realization that by nature every human being is born an enemy of God. (See Romans 8:7)
What is surprising to us, what can catch us off guard is when someone who claims to be religious, when someone who may even claim to be a Christian, says something or believes something or does something that clearly contradicts what God says in His Word. That’s the type of situation that the Holy Spirit has Paul address in verses 3 and 4 of our text. He writes, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desire, they will gather around them a great number of teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
“The time will come,” Paul says to Timothy. While Timothy needed to hear that warning, we need to hear it even more! We can rightfully say that this “time” has come! Look around at what churches today are teaching, accepting and promoting. Their view on the inspiration of the Bible, their view on how a person is saved, their view on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, their view on the seriousness and the consequences of sin, their view on the reality of both heaven and hell, their view on Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us (Pointing to the cross), their view on the purpose of the church all too often seems to be specifically designed not to “offend” anyone. All too often they seem to be willing to “adjust” what they teach and tell people what their “itching ears” want to hear instead of clearly proclaiming what their sinful hearts and minds need to hear.
I see clear examples of what the Holy Spirit is talking about here when we look at the social issues of our day and age. Instead of boldly proclaiming the “sound doctrine” of what God’s Word teaches concerning the sanctity of life— including the life of an unborn child, instead of boldly proclaiming the “sound doctrine” of what God’s Word teaches concerning God’s design for marriage— one man and one woman, far too many churches today openly support abortion and same-sex marriage. For many people this is what their “itching ears” want to hear, so when they are out “church shopping” they gravitate toward the churches that agree with what they want to believe and avoid the churches that stand firm on the “sound doctrine” of the God “who will judge the living and the dead.”
Look at it this way: if this life on this earth was all we had, if this life on this earth was “as good as it gets,” then we might as well encourage everyone to think and to do and to believe whatever makes them “happy.” Then we might as well adopt the Epicurean philosophy of, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!” In our day and age this ancient philosophy is parroted in the acronym YOLO, which stand for “You Only Live Once!” Paul knew just how wrong and just how dangerous this philosophy, this view on life, actually is! Look at what Paul says in the closing verses of our text, “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 to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Paul knew that he had nothing to fear when it was his turn to stand before “the Lord, the righteous Judge.” Why wasn’t Paul afraid to die? Was it because he had always lived his life in a way that was pleasing and acceptable to Jesus? Obviously not! Paul freely confessed how fiercely he had opposed God’s Church and persecuted God’s Church and tried to destroy God’s Church! No, my friends, Paul knew that when he died he had nothing to fear because he had “kept the faith,” he had “paid attention to,” he had “kept under guard” the central “proclamation” of God’s holy Word: “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul knew that he had nothing to fear because of what his Lord and Savior had promised to give to him— “the crown of righteousness.” The certainty of receiving “the crown of righteousness” is what enabled Paul to “fight the good fight.” The certainty of receiving “the crown of righteousness” is what empowered Paul to “finish the race.”
The “crown of righteousness” is the “goal” that Paul wants us to stay focused on in our own life in and in own ministry. The fact that the “crown of righteousness” will be given to everyone who “longs for his appearing” (Pointing to the cross) is why we “Proclaim the Word” — even in the face of opposition! We want others to have the same certainty and the same confidence God has given to us! We want others to receive and to enjoy the same glorious eternity that is waiting for us— an eternity that overflows with joy and happiness, glory and perfection, an eternity where we will wear the “crown of righteousness” forever!
What are you willing to endure as you stay focused on this “goal”? May God grant that as members of His holy ministry we embrace the truth that Paul proclaims to us today, namely, that His holy ministry proclaims the Word— even in the face of opposition. May God grant that as members of His holy ministry we will openly live that truth each and every day!
To God be the glory!