The 12th Sunday After Pentecost August 27, 2006
2 Timothy 4:1-8
16, 378, 533, 421
Dear Representatives of the Lord Jesus:
Been to the gas pump lately? Painful, isn’t it? What emotions go through your mind as you approach the pump? Not good, right?
Suppose the store manager walked up to you as you were about to start filling your tank and told you that for the next hour all gas is free? Where once you grimaced as the dollars clicked up over three time faster than the gallons of gas, now you couldn’t possibly ring up the dollars fast enough. After you had the free gas flowing into your own car, you would undoubtedly be on the phone to your spouse to bring the other vehicle in as fast as possible. You would call friends and family—anyone you could think of—just to let them in on the deal of a lifetime. If you were feeling especially benevolent, you might even wave in cars off the street, knowing that you would be the hero of the day for passing along such news.
Rather strange when you think about it, isn’t it? We really would get all fired up over something that will be carbon dioxide and water in a couple hundred miles—something that will burn up and be gone. This is just another example of how “this worldly” we tend to be. We have a far greater treasure in unending supply, but it’s hard to work up even a single “hoorah” over it. You and I know that we are saved not by what we do but by what Jesus Christ has done for us—taking our place in the crosshairs of divine justice. We are then saved, not by any goodness on our part, but by the goodness of Jesus which He offered on the cross to pay for our sins—yours and mine.
Today we are going to address the misguided priority where we thrill to the temporal, but yawn about the eternal. Through the Holy Spirit working in each of us through the Means of Grace we are going to reexamine and reevaluate, and we will do so on the basis of the Word of God recorded in the letter of Second Timothy, chapter four:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
One of the greatest gifts God could give to any one of us is resolute confidence that the Bible is true and right in absolutely every way. Oh, that God would not only grant us each such unwavering trust in his Word, but also instruct and strengthen us through that Word! So we pray: “Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
First things first. Who’s to say that this text even applies to us, or more accurately, to you? Look at the words again. Paul is clearly addressing Timothy who was at that time a young missionary. In other words, Timothy preached the Word professionally. That sounds bad to our ears, but it means simply that Timothy was called to the public Gospel ministry. As such he was entitled to make his living from those with whom he shared the Word of God. Are these words intended only for those in the public ministry, or are these words intended for all?
There are three passages that work together to give us a clear answer. The first is 1 Corinthians 10:11: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” The words of Scripture were recorded precisely because they do apply to us even today.
In this same letter to Timothy, just prior to our text, we read: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The final passage tells us that it is artificial and wrong to imagine that only full time pastors and teachers are called to service by God. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). These words were not spoken just to pastors or teachers. They were applied to every single Christian. The bottom line is that every single Christian is a priest before God and every single Christian has been given Jesus’ Great Commission to spread the Word of God to unbelieving souls around the world. These words, therefore, have application to everyone who reads them. Our task is to see how they apply to you and me individually.
Notice how Paul puts the whole message in its proper perspective right from the beginning: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom…” [v.1] Provided we are actually paying attention and focusing on the Spirit’s message, note how these simple words serve to jar us from the shallow and seductive distractions of our society and point our gaze at the end of all this nonsense. These words serve to take us to another level—a reminder that immediately causes us to reprioritize our lives, goals, and desires. The key, both to this life and to the life that is come, is Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is now seen by God as perfect righteousness on our part. Faith is simply believing that Jesus did what he said He did and paid the penalty for our sins through His death on the cross. Paul’s words from the very start draw us back into that ultimate truth and reality.
At least that is what such words are supposed to do. It seems that this sort of thing is getting harder and harder. As the distractions pile up and the cares and pace of life in our society continue to spin out of control, it becomes more and more difficult to keep our goals and priorities in line with God’s will for our lives. What is even worse, our society’s insistence that nothing but condemnation itself should ever be condemned has left Christians uncomfortable in relaying any part of God’s Word that condemns any belief or position held by another. You know this to be true in your life, both in general and in particular. When you know that a friend has a gay family member, you instinctively hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on homosexuality. When your friends get together and extol the virtues of Lodge membership, you immediately file that information away under “Topics To Be Avoided.”
The same sort of pressure has been brought to bear with great success in a frightening number of churches in our society. Those who serve these groups learn which teachings of Jesus they are not allowed to proclaim from their pulpits. The result is more than a false sense of agreement in the congregation. It is the very fulfillment of Paul’s warning in our text: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” [v.3] A fable is an invention of man and thus could never be anything like the pure, sweet truth established by God Himself. God is the one who establishes truth. Man creates things that he finds pleasing. The two seldom cross paths.
Up to this point Paul has jolted us back to a proper Christian perspective, and he has warned us against a menacing problem that is threatening the Christian Church—perhaps more today than ever (the omission of teachings that human beings find troublesome). What is his solution? “Preach the Word!” [v.2] Sounds pathetically simple, doesn’t it? But it only seems simple when we reckon with the mind of man, rather than the mind of God. It sometimes takes us just a moment to remember how God has chosen to work even today with incredible power among us. God could, of course, work directly and nothing in all of creation could possibly withstand or resist Him. Instead He chose to work through means. That is, He chose to bring His power to bear in our lives through a tool: the Gospel. So it is that from Confirmation Class on up we learn that the “Means of Grace” is the Gospel, whether that Gospel is spoken, written, or connected to an earthly element in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Then we realize again why the Holy Spirit gave such a seemingly simple solution to this huge and growing problem. The fact is that there is no other viable solution. Only the Word of God carries the power to bring about real and lasting change. Only the Word itself can keep us focused on that Word. The Holy Spirit alone can accomplish these things and He has chosen to work through the Word. Is it any wonder Christians so cherish their Bibles?
Paul goes on to address Timothy directly and the rest of us indirectly: “Be ready in season and out of season” [v.2] This means that we are supposed to bring this great power to bear when it is convenient and when it is not convenient. What a shame to restrict these words to those who have been called into the public ministry. The words certainly apply to pastors and teachers, but not exclusively to public servants. Paul goes on to expand on this whole topic when he writes: “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” [v.2] Can you recognize the tremendous Word-centered approach that Paul is promoting? Everything we’ve heard so far is centered on, based on, and revolves around the Word of God—obviously, for good reason.
When Paul was returning from his third great missionary journey, he wanted to visit for a time with the elders from the Church in Ephesus where he had spent over two years preaching and teaching. But he was also in a hurry to get back Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, so he had the Ephesian elders meet him in Miletus. Do you remember what Paul said to them and what it was that gave him great comfort when he looked back at his ministry among the people of Ephesus? In his own words: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). That was Paul’s great concern—whether or not he had taught all things to the Ephesians that he had been commanded to teach. Why was this his concern? Because omitting any teaching of Jesus Christ would have left the Christians in Ephesus vulnerable in that area. Paul loved them too much for that. Paul must have known that the first thing to be omitted if man were left to choose would be the “offense of the cross.”
I trust that no one among us is naïve enough to imagine that “declaring the whole counsel of God’s Word” has or will be an easy task for anyone. That is undoubtedly why Paul continued as he did: “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” [v.5] Working faithfully in the service of our God will bring hardship. The question is whether or not you and I will run from our responsibility or “fulfill our ministries.”
This brings us back around to the place where we began and our excitement over free stuff here on earth. More to the point, we are thrilled with the idea of limitless gas being poured out free of charge. Compare that with the unlimited love that has been poured out in us through Jesus Christ. We find in our text one of my favorite Biblical expressions. Paul refers to himself as “a drink offering” that was being “poured out.” [v.6] The drink offering in the Old Testament was a voluntary offering; that is, it was not commanded by God to be given. So also Paul’s service was not by compulsion. He was a willing bond-servant of Jesus Christ.
It is, however, on the “pouring out” that we focus, rather than the “drink offering.” Paul was a hero of the Christian faith because he held nothing back. He poured himself into spreading the message of life eternal in Jesus Christ, and it was truly a labor of love. God also promises you and me the same unending supply of all that we need. What that means in everyday terms is that our source or “tank” will never run dry when we pour ourselves into the service of our Lord. Think about that. In a day when “me first” is always the primary concern, God promises to continually provide us with all that we need. But who has ever really put him to such a test? Paul did. He continually poured himself out, but always God provided all that Paul needed right up to the time that God decided Paul’s time of grace was at an end.
It’s amazing when you stop to think that the same promise is there for us today. Jesus said in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” False teachers use these words today to promise earthly wealth and prosperity to those who contribute lavishly to their ministries. That is not the intention of these words.
These words are offered to comfort us with the promise that we can pour ourselves out in our Father’s business which is our life and heart’s delight. While we pour out in service we know that God can and will richly provide all that we need to carry on the struggle.
God grant such a spirit of service to each of us—the desire and courage to pour ourselves out as drink offerings in our Lord’s service. “Fill us with all that we need for such holy, noble work, O Lord.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.