Paul's Final Message
By Pastor Peter Bond
Bible reading II Timothy 4:1 – 8
Words of dying men are worthy of our deepest and closest attention. The man who is about to lose his life has nothing left to lose, and therefore can afford this rare luxury of speaking with complete accuracy, honesty, and urgency, to those whose lives and spiritual welfare may yet depend upon him.
Such is the case with Paul as he pens this final epistle, writing here from 'death row' in the city of Rome; and impressing these powerful thoughts upon his young disciple Timothy, who one day will himself have to be offered, having 'fought a good fight', having 'finished (his) course’; and having 'kept the faith'.
A Statutory Cost
It is good to remind ourselves that the calling of the preacher (indeed, the calling of the Christian) involves a cost. One of curses of our modern, perverted ‘gospel’ is that it offers unsuspecting souls an entry into the kingdom of God, and a continuation in that kingdom, without cost.
The Lord Jesus challenges the multitudes of would-be disciples in Luke 14:25-33 to consider the cost of true discipleship: (i) in terms of intimate human relationships; (ii) in terms of a death to selfish desires and ambitions; and (iii), in terms of the demands made upon us as we become, in Christ,' labourers together with God' (I Corinthians 3:9).
How many preachers, faced with the overwhelming forces of darkness ranged against them, have fought shy of engaging in such a conflict; and instead, have sent out ‘an ambassage’ desiring 'conditions of peace' with a world system that hates the Lord Jesus Christ?
A Solemn Charge
Into such a context, Paul ministers his solemn charge to Timothy in verse 1 of this fourth chapter, exhorting him to project his mind to a time when he will ‘stand before the judgement seat of Christ’ (Romans 14:10) to give account of the ministry entrusted to him.
Could it be that in the charismatic haze of such choruses as, 'It will be worth at all when we see Jesus', the church at large and preachers in particular have lost sight of the sobering truth confirmed for us two verses later in verse 12, where Paul states categorically: ‘so then every one of us shall give account of himself to God '? The apostle is eager that his young protégé's ministry should be constrained from start to finish by the immediate prospect of the great and coming event.
A Simple Command
But what is it that consumes the condemned soul as he writes so passionately from his confinement in the city of Rome? Simply this: 'Preach the Word! Timothy, preach the Word!’
As if condensing a lifetime of apostolic and ministerial wisdom into one final appeal of imponderable gravity, Paul seems to seize, from a great distance, the trembling shoulders of this sometimes fearful young convert from the early years at Lystra, in an effort to impact him one overriding principle of action conducive to the building of Christ’s church, and its continued spiritual warfare - 'preach the word!'
A Sequence Contingent
Notice that, contingent upon Paul’s initial instruction to preach, comes a sequence of apostolic additions very much out of favour in our day, but very much in need of restoration to the pulpits of our land. Paul extends his simple command to Timothy by saying, ' be instant in season, out of season. '
Reproved for introducing the word of God into every situation, occasionally causing great offence, D. L. Moody replied that he only brought the word of God to bear in the two instances permitted by Scripture, namely, 'in season, and out of season '! The temptation to employ alternative counsels and strategies, instead of the unadorned word of God, has become a great snare to preachers confronted with a rising tide of sin and deception among those professing Christianity.
Paul's makes no apology for the fact that a determination in the mind of the preacher to apply unswervingly Word of God will inevitably necessitate the use of certain modes of address. He continues by saying, ' reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine '. Correction (at times even scolding) and a bracing call to attention in the ranks of the Lord's army are all to be included in the preacher's range of expression. I hardly need to comment, in the light of these observations, on the lack of such preaching in our Sunday gatherings, and the disastrous consequences resulting from that lack.
The preacher who dares to lift his voice, who becomes animated, or unduly excited with this message, or who casts a direct line of conviction into the hearts of his congregation, takes his ministry (and his livelihood) in both hands.
To presume to mention a multitude of pressing concerns relating to the church’s need of total separation from world of sin, and a religious ‘world’ of ever increasing apostasy, will require him either to take refuge behind is pulpit, or to risk injury from the volley of fiery darts issuing from rows of stony faces and hardened hearts!
Yet preach he must, and frequently into such conditions, wonderfully concentrated by the solemn charge laid upon him; and taking comfort from the Lord's exhortation in Jeremiah 1:17-19, where the prophet is admonished, '…gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.' The preacher must know that, ‘endued with power from on high', he will become, despite many natural disadvantages, ‘a defenced city’, an iron pillar, and brazen walls’ against all opposing forces; and that those forces ‘shall not prevail’, for the Lord will surely be with him, to deliver him.
Now behind this urgent and final appeal of the great preacher, is a divine intention rooted and revealed in the deep concern of Christ for his true church. Paul is not merely advocating preaching for preaching sake; neither is he wishing to encourage a manner of delivery likely to harm or injure the hearts of any who may sit under such a ministry. As the inspired seer, he proceeds to forecast a change of spiritual climate, a season coming that will stir up deceiving winds of doctrine which could place even the very elect of God at risk. Thus, he informs Timothy as to the reason for his intense and solemn address in the passage under consideration.
Verse three of our text explains, ‘For the time will come when they (members of the professing church) will not endure (continued to put up with) sound doctrine; but after their own lusts (desires of the carnal mind) shall they heap to themselves teachers (notice, not ‘preachers’), having itching ears (ears repeatedly irritated by the convicting word of God); verse 4: ‘and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables’. The far-reaching ramifications of this prophecy are nowhere more glaringly evident than in Great Britain and America at this time.
The preacher, however, must of necessity, settle one very important issue in his heart as he steps to the pulpit: the mandate, preach the Word, is not intended to suggest a preventative measure with regard to the prophecy which follows; that ‘time will come’, indeed, assuredly, we might say, that ‘time’ has come. Paul's appeal to Timothy is not intended to be preventative, but preparatory and preservative in the light of the prophecy given. In other words, Paul is instructing this young servant of Jesus Christ: Timothy, the time I am referring to will undoubtedly come, and no amount of faithful preaching - fire filled that though it may be! - will either delay or prevent, it's coming; but, by continuing to preach the undiluted, unpolluted Word of the living God, you will, firstly prepare a remnant of people to meet that time; and secondly, ensure their spiritual safety in and through that time.
With such a dire prospect in view, and yet an unfailing trust in the purpose of God through his remnant people, we are constrained to pray that the Holy Ghost will once again harness the energies of every battered, battle-scarred pulpiteer across our land, to gird up his loins with the inviolable truth of God, arise, and proclaim to those the Lord has graciously set before him all that he has commanded! - ‘whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear ... ' (Ezekiel 2:7)
A Sobering Conclusion
Let us look in closing at the substance of Paul's prediction in its present-day application.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this prophecy is revealed to us at the commencement of verse 4. The pronoun ‘they’, of course points not to the world at large, but to the church. There is no indication here that the individuals Paul is referring to are mere attendees at church gatherings, nor are they merely adherents to the Christian faith who have never been ‘once enlightened’ or who have never 'tasted of the heavenly gift’, or been 'made partakers of the Holy Ghost' (Hebrews 6:4). On the contrary, there is every indication that these (like the members of the seven churches Jesus specifically addresses in Revelation chapters 2 and 3), were once Bible-believing Christians who had been baptized with the Holy Ghost. However, for whatever reason, ‘they’ have now (as Paul projects us into the time to come) ‘turned away their ears from the truth!’
I want to suggest here that this is not turning from the truth of the Bible as a whole, nor, indeed, from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its broad outlines; but that this is a turning from that portion of the truth, and it's preaching, that brings a conviction of sin, and consequently demands changes in personal habits, appetites, attitudes, and modes of conduct, which will then precipitate an unflagging pursuit of scriptural holiness.
I want also to point out that this turning is a voluntary one. It is not enforced upon the individual, neither can it be. Paul stresses, ‘And they shall turn away their ears from the truth.’ It will be done voluntarily; and by the exercise of personal choice.
The corollary to this act of the human will is now clearly stated: ‘they shall be turned unto fables’. This is the involuntary action. ‘The time would fail me’, as the writer of Hebrews concedes, to elaborate on the word fables, mentioned five times in the epistles, and always striking a note of warning. I hope in a future article to give appropriate attention to this very significant term in the Scriptures. But suffice it to say that the willful casting aside of ‘the sincere milk of the word’ renders the child of God open to the influences of demonic delusion. To purposely forsake ‘the mind of Christ’ revealed to us by the Scriptures, is to embrace what can only be described as a form of spiritual insanity.
The proliferation of spiritual aberrations and unscriptural practices in our modern Pentecostal and charismatic church world is proof of this sorry and sobering conclusion: countless thousands have surrendered God's promise of sound mind (II Timothy 1:7) in preference for a devil inspired, spiritual insanity: they have, by willfully turning ‘their ears from the truth’, literally lost their spiritual minds!
Preacher, Timothy, author of this article: ‘preach the word’. A solemn charge is laid upon us; a singular appearing awaits us; a stupendous opportunity, in time of crisis, confronts us. Let us, to a man, gird ourselves and rise up! – remembering that the ministry God has entrusted to us will not allay, avert, nor eliminate the time prophesied. But it will, by the Lord’s good grace, serve to turn many from the path of destruction, and to preserve, in these perplexing times, a people prepared to meet the Lord.
‘Henceforth’, says the apostle Paul, ‘there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (II Timothy 4:8)
I for one greatly desire to be numbered among ‘all them also that love his appearing’. Amen