Last goodbyes are never easy things. There are so many weighty, important things to say. Hearts, heavy and somber, struggle to find the right words expressed in the right tone.
This is what we read in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It is a careful and reasoned goodbye, a farewell note to a faithful man of God whom Paul viewed as a son in the faith and whom he served beside as a brother and fellow worker in the ministry of the Gospel.
Paul discovered Timothy during his second missionary journey in Lystra. Under Paul’s care, Timothy grew into a leader and pastor after God’s heart. The evidence of their deep and sturdy relationship is found in the words of the two very personal letters we find in the New Testament.
The End is Near
The end is in sight for Paul as he puts together the sentences that form 2 Timothy. He senses the nearness of his execution at the hands of Roman authorities under the turbulent reign of Emperor Nero.
Being a Christian had become hazardous. Believers were being hunted and harassed as plagues, wars, famines, and disasters multiplied throughout the Empire. Christians became scapegoats because they had forsaken superstitious and pagan practices and for their refusal to exercise the mandated worship of Caesar.
Paul, a Roman citizen, would be spared the brutal spectacular executions such as crucifixion or of being fed to wild beasts in the Coliseum games. He would be taken out of the way, quietly, and beheaded.
The words of Paul reveal a man without regrets. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” he writes (see 2 Timothy 4:7). He awaits his departure with an expectancy of the glory of heaven and the crown of his reward.
In the first five verses of 2 Timothy 4, we read Paul’s final instructions to Timothy; instructions that are also to us who are reading them in a season that grows increasingly turbulent and troubled.
Paul presents a charge, something of a military order to carry on the fight of faith. And, he delivers this charge “before God and The Lord Jesus Christ.”Who are the Timothys of today? Will we count ourselves among them? Click To Tweet
With this charge, Paul challenges Timothy to make “full proof” of his ministry.
How is Timothy to do this? By preaching, by watching, by endurance, and by doing the work of an evangelist.
Preach the Word. Paul puts this first in his charge because it is the principle work of the Gospel ministry. It was true then and it is true now.
Not just any kind of preaching will do, however. The preaching must be done with all longsuffering and doctrine. The preacher exercises care and patience in his duties, understanding the frail and tender hearts of those given to sit under his ministry.
Still, the preacher must present the Word of God in season and out of season. His messages have to be rooted in sound doctrine, the belief system established upon the holy, apostolic foundation ordained by Christ and anointed of the Holy Spirit.
Dogmatic on Doctrine
Doctrine and dogma have become unacceptable terms. They are fighting words, words of offense. Doctrinal, dogmatic believers are seen as inflexible at best and dangerous at worst.
Sound thinking requires some bones, however. Our sinews and flesh hang upon a sturdy core, a skeleton fixed and firm.
So it is with our faith. We need truth in the inner parts, a core system of understanding that leads us in the way. We need doctrine and we need to be dogmatic about it.
Let us purpose to remember the creeds that guided those early faithful followers. Let us express our belief in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Let us hold fast to the testimonies of the virgin birth and the empty tomb. Let us lift up the expectation of Christ’s coming again.
Solid preaching, it is our hope, our only hope in these days of confusion and confrontation. For, as Paul wrote, ears itch to be scratched by soft sayings and smooth philosophies that pander to lusts.
People heap to themselves entertaining messages of self-fulfillment. Some take time to hear real sound preaching, but how many consider its call to live for God?
This is not a new thing. Ezekiel the prophet was heard and his words were considered lovely, but the hearers walked away and refused to follow his sound advice (see Ezekiel 33:31-33).
Taking Up the Charge
This charge of Paul’s, do we hear it? Are we ready to preach, to watch, to endure, to share the Good News?
When I read these words, behind them I can almost hear the voice of Billy Graham, the venerable and faithful and aging man of God. He has spoken to our nation in season and out of season. He now awaits his entrance into glory.
Will we hear his charge and the charges of men like him?
Who are the Timothys of today? Will we count ourselves among them?
For more on this passage from 2 Timothy, watch this message from Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.