We ended last week with Paul’s charge to Timothy, encouraging him to follow Paul’s example in being a faithful teacher. As well as teaching by example, teaching confidence in the truth, and teaching behaviour (not just knowledge), we saw that faithful teachers continue teaching even when the teaching isn’t received well. We proclaim the message “in season and out of season” – but, we were reminded, with “great patience and careful instruction.”
Today, we see Paul telling Timothy why the season for God’s word may be unfavourable:
2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when people 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 we saw last week, the gospel is offensive. Why? A number of reasons, but it all boils down to human pride. We want to be our own gods. We don’t like a message that tells us we’re dependent on a Creator. We don’t like a message that tells us we’ve sinned, and are deserving of punishment. We don’t like a message that tells us there’s nothing we can do to fix it, and have to rely on the undeserved mercy of the God we’ve rejected. And we don’t like a message that tells us to repent, and start living with God as our king, not ourselves.
That’s why it’s so easy to start preaching a watered-down gospel. A focus-grouped gospel. One that fits in with what our culture wants, rather than the inconvenient truth of the true gospel. And this happens all the time.
One Sunday morning a few years ago, I was sick. I didn’t go to church. My family did, and I was stuck at home by myself, with nothing to do on a Sunday morning, I think for the first time since my kids were born. I was bored, and it was still many hours before any televised sport would be on. So I turned on the Australian Christian Channel. (What I’ve just said, by the way, is the Christian version of “I don’t normally watch Dr Phil, but it was on, and…”)
Now I won’t name the speaker. Let’s just say he had big hair and big teeth, which in the world of televangelists narrows it down to pretty much everyone in North America. But I was listening him preach to a stadium filled with thousands of people hanging on his every word. Clearly, they believed this guy had the answer to the big questions of life. I mean, how else could he afford a suit like that?
But as I listened to him, I became increasingly angry. Because it gradually became apparent that what he thought he was preaching was the gospel. Now it did, at some points, bear a kind of passing resemblance to the gospel. He mentioned Jesus quite a few times. He explained that God created us for a life of meaning and purpose. He showed that there was a problem which was stopping us from living life the way God intended. And he offered God’s solution to that problem, which a person could accept by having faith. It certainly took the basic form of the gospel. But it wasn’t the gospel.
Because in this presentation, humanity wasn’t created to worship God and enjoy him forever. No. We were created to have wealth and success in our business ventures, and in our personal relationships. In this presentation, humanity’s essential problem wasn’t a broken relationship with God caused by sin, which brought us under the judgement of God & deserving of eternal death. No, our essential problem was that we weren’t dreaming big enough; we were limiting our expectations; we were settling for OK when we should have been pursuing the very best God had to offer – in flat panel TVs, luxury holidays and a life partner with perfectly sculpted abs.
And in this presentation God’s solution wasn’t to present his son as a sacrifice of atonement to bear the sins of the world, and thus offer us a right-standing with God through faith which we neither earned nor deserved. No! God’s solution was to give us the American dream, and all we had to do was to stop putting limits on God. To have more faith. Or, in his words, come to God with an empty bucket, not just an empty cup.
And thousands upon thousands upon thousands lap up this alleged gospel week after week. Why? Because it’s what our itching ears want to hear. Because it plays to our culture’s values, rather than God’s. Because it sets up ourselves in the centre of it all, in place of God. Because it ignores the future hope of a resurrection, and replaces it with material success in the here and now.
This is the kind of distorted gospel we need to stand firm against. Again, with endurance rather than rage. With patience rather than abuse. But with firmness, rather than accommodation. Because people’s eternities are at stake.2 Timothy 4:5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
As the head coach of the highly successful New England Patriots famously says (sorry for yet another American Football reference), just go out there and do your job. You don’t need to worry about what everyone else is doing. Just do your job.
Preach the word, not matter what the season. Whether, for you, that looks like standing up in a room in front of a few hundred people, or chatting across the back fence to your neighbour. Preach the word. Do your job.
PS – Paul did his job (but we’ll look at that tomorrow):2 Timothy 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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.