Dr. David Strain
April 17, 2023
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4: 1-4
We don’t often find the apostle Paul making use of a solemn oath as he instructs the church. And so, when we do, it ought to do for us what it was doubtless meant to do for its first readers. It should make us sit up and take careful note. Clearly, in such moments, the apostle thinks that whatever he’s about to say next ought now to be bumped to the top of our priority list. In 2 Timothy 4:1 we have one of those rare instances. He charges his young colleague, “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom…” This isn’t simply another duty, stacked upon all the others, required of a servant of the Lord. This is something else, something weightier.
Paul had sent Timothy to Ephesus to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). He’d been appointed to bring order and renewal to a church dear to the apostle’s heart, but now in decline and under siege by false teaching. These were “times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Paul’s description of the challenges facing the church in Ephesus in the first decades of the period he calls “the last days”, sound eerily familiar to anyone concerned for the spiritual health of the church in our day. And so, given the appalling description of pervasive wickedness confronting God’s people, it’s not really surprising to hear Paul using an oath to up the ante on Timothy as he presses him to respond to this tidal-wave of sin with the greatest weapon available to him. What is Timothy to do if he is to protect the Lord’s sheep and reclaim the strays, and expose the wolves? What can preserve and advance the cause of Christ against such an onslaught in his day, and in ours?
“I charge you… preach the word…”
“That’s my secret weapon, Paul? Really? My poor, lisping, stammering tongue expounding these ancient texts? Against the deafening roar of idolatry and hypocrisy? Against the seductive melodies of sex and pleasure?”
“Yes! Preach the word. Remember it made you ‘wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ’ (1 Tim. 3:15). It is ‘breathed out by God and useful…’ (3:16). So, ‘in season and out of season’; when golden opportunities land in your lap, and when no one is listening; when they like what you say, and when your every word awakens their malice, Timothy, preach the word. ‘Reprove, rebuke, and exhort.’ Don’t be monochrome and formulaic. Make sure you take careful aim at all the right targets. But, whatever else you do, Timothy, preach the word. And there’s no need to be mean about it. Don’t be harsh. Do it ‘with complete patience and teaching’ but, at all costs, no matter what, Timothy, preach the word.
For more than 50 years the PCA has been an instrument of conversion and consecration around the country, and all over the world, because it has preached the word. We often hear it said that these are unprecedented times. I doubt that’s really true (just reread 2 Timothy 3:1-5!). The root problems facing the culture around us, and the issues plaguing the church we are called to serve, haven’t changed. And so, what must be the priority for the next 50 years? What will bring the lost to Christ? What will fuel the planting of new churches? What will mobilize a new generation for the ministry and the mission field? What will help weary and fearful Christians step forward and speak up for King Jesus in an increasingly hostile society?
There are no silver bullets. It will be the old path of the faithful, joyful, earnest, steady preaching of the word! May God help us to hear the urgent call of the apostle to this most vital task, and with clarity and conviction, “preach the word.”
Dr. David Strain is senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss.