This is the last section of Paul’s charge to Timothy, encouraging him to follow Paul’s example in being a faithful teacher. So far, we’ve found that faithful teachers:
- teach by example
- teach confidence in the truth
- teach behaviour, not just knowledge
Today, the focus is on faithful teaching even when the times are hard and it’s received with hostility and opposition.
2 Timothy 4:1-2 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; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
This is a solemn charge, invoking the presence of God the Father, and his Son Jesus, and the impending judgement when Christ returns – you can’t get much more serious than that!
He tells him to preach the word, whether in season or out of season. The usual advice given to first century public speakers was to give a word “in season” – waiting for the right moment to say something when it will be accepted. But here, Timothy is told to preach it whether it will be received or not.
He also tells him to correct, rebuke, and encourage. These are words connected with the three means of rhetorical persuasion: logos – rational argument and refutation, ethos – argument from character, and pathos – emotional appeal. He’s telling Timothy to use rhetoric to persuade! (See Witherington, Letters and Homilies to Hellenized Christians, vol. 1., p.365.)
And he says to do so with great patience and careful instruction. Because if it’s out of season, there will be times when patience is needed, enduring the frustration of people being swayed by those who pander to their sinful desires. (We’ll deal with that soon, in verse 3.)
You get the impression that a clear, uncompromising presentation is called for, yet one which is measured and respectful. Notice that Paul doesn’t say to proclaim the word “with great arrogance and insensitivity.” Because some Christians seem to take the charge to preach the word in or out of season as a licence to beat people over the head with it, ignoring the second part of Paul’s instruction about “patience and careful instruction.”
For example, many years ago a Christian group here in Sydney went out and demonstrated at the annual Gay Mardi Gras parade. They sent out a press release (I’m not quite sure how I ended up on their distribution list) flushed with their “success” at proclaiming the gospel. Here are some edited highlights:[We] have returned to the office to write a quick report on our Mardi Gras protest. It is 10:45pm, and we are both soaking wet. But we praise God for making the way to allow His Word to be proclaimed clearly to so many participants and onlookers.
So far, so good. And how was this word proclaimed clearly?‘We arrived at Liverpool Street, Hyde Park at 4pm, passed out Gospel Tracts in the drizzling rain, and held placards with the following Bible verses:
The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God (Ps 9:17)
The unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9)
God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soeth, that shall he reap. (Gal 6:7)
Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:3)
As it happened, [we] were able to hold the placards with the last two verses over the barricade fence, on the parade side, in full view of all participants. I wasn’t counting the number of times media cameras scanned up and down our placards, but it was about ten times. Many participants objected in one form or another, but the Lord didn’t allow them to deface the placards, or harm us in any way. We know that God has said: (Isaiah 55:11) So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Many now have been challenged in regard to their standing with the Almighty, and we pray for souls saved.’
My favourite part is at the end:PS. I kept my eyes shut for most of the time, only looking to see what was happening.
Was that really a clear proclamation of God’s word? Holding judgmental placards in King James English telling people they are going to hell? Of course, this is a message Mardi Gras participants – and the rest of Sydney – needs to understand. But was this in the spirit of Paul’s charge to Timothy to do so with great patience and careful instruction?
We need to avoid arrogant Bible-bashing that doesn’t show care and concern for the people we are trying to reach. And yet we need to clearly explain God’s message even though it’s hardly a popular notion.
It’s a fine line, one that I think a University group did well a few years ago. They had an outreach campaign called Absolute God. Complete with attractive T-Shirts. In a world that says there are no absolutes – truth is whatever is right for you – their message was that there is absolute truth out there. And that God sent his son Jesus to die and rise again to prove it. Now they, too, got plenty of bad press around the university for being bible bashers. But the criticism wasn’t – by and large – for how they went about it. It was really the message itself that was attacked: how dare these people claim to have the only truth! How arrogant to claim that Christianity is the one true religion!
In that case, we have to politely and “with great patience” explain that it’s not us that’s being arrogant. It’s Jesus. Take it up with him. Find out whether he is who he claims to be by investigating the evidence for the resurrection. Point people to the information, engage them in reasoned debate, respect where they are coming from.
We must proclaim the word. And as Paul says elsewhere, the gospel message is an offence. Let’s make sure, though, that it’s the gospel itself that does any offending, and not our manner and attitude!
More next week…