I have been engaged in the work of preaching God’s Word for a little over twenty years now and this passage has often been on my heart and mind as I prepare to step into the pulpit, or as I walk into a leadership meeting, or as I sit down with a couple to navigate marriage and family issues, or as I meet with someone who is trying to work through some deep sin patterns in their life.
This passage is often on my heart and mind because the charge to “Preach the word… fulfill your ministry” (v. 2, 5) is something I hear very personally. I do not ever think that these were just merely words from an aging apostle on death row to his protégé in the ministry; I hear them like a personal calling from the throne room of heaven.
I am a preacher so it should not shock any of you, that I hear this passage very personally and that I have spent years pondering and applying its meaning to the ministry God has given me. But my concern today, is helping you to hear these words with the same sense of personal urgency that I hear in them. I realize that in this room, I am an anomaly; I am the only professional or vocational Christian in this room; I am the only person in this room who receives my livelihood from preaching the Word of God.
So how do I help the health care worker, or the schoolteacher, or the industry worker, or the truck driver, or the stay-at-home parent, or the administrative assistant, or the bookkeeper, or the retiree, or the farmer, or the public servant, or the high school student, to hear this passage with the same kind of personal urgency that I do? I wish that I had some sort of gimmick or question or story that would help to hook your heart and mind this morning.
But I do not have any of those in my toolbox. I can only say that if we are to fulfill our ministry as a church family, then we must be about the business of preaching the word of God, always. And if we ever arrive at a place where we believe that this calling to preach the Word falls only to the preacher on the stage, then I believe that, that is the day we will cease to fulfill the ministry God has called this church family to. So, with that said, what does the apostle Paul say to young Timothy about fulfilling his ministry by preaching the Word? Look at the text with me…
2 TIMOTHY 4:1 – 5…
1I 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: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
#1: THE BASIS OF PAUL’S CHARGE (V. 1)
I think it is very important for us to hear the basis of Paul’s charge to young Timothy. He does not tell Timothy that he is charging him with the task of fulfilling his ministry by preaching the Word on the basis of his authority as an apostle or on the basis of his own ministerial credentials.
He charges Timothy with this command to fulfill the ministry he has by preaching the Word of God on the basis of the “presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom” (v. 1).
Simply stated: The basis of Paul’s charge to Timothy is the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is returning as the righteous judge and everlasting King of an eternal kingdom. Paul is literally saying that the returning, resurrected judge and King of the kingdom of Heaven is present as Paul gives this charge to Timothy and to us.
This charge is coming straight from the throne room of heaven. This charge is not to be dismissed as mere human words nor is it to be discarded as some antiquated theory of discipleship from days long ago. The centrality of the Word of God in the work of fulfilling the ministry of the local church is based upon the very presence of God in the crucified, risen, and returning Christ, our everlasting judge and King.
All too often, the church today is guilty of seeing the preaching ministry of the church as either the opinions of some man or as the only spiritual meal of the week. Both are unhealthy for the church. We must return to the basis of our calling: preaching the presence of God in the presence of Christ.
#2: WHAT IT MEANS TO PREACH THE WORD (V. 2)
There is a lot of talk today in the western church about the importance of preaching the Word. There are many who see the plain, verse-by-verse preaching of the Word as an outdated and useless task of doing the work of ministry. Some even go so far as to say that no one is changed by the preaching of the Word but that what we need instead is to tell stories and build relationships.
I would argue that telling stories and building relationships (as good as these things are) may help to fill seats in auditoriums that look more like shopping malls and movie theaters, built to entertain the masses. But preaching the Word (in the context of relationships and stories) is what fills heaven with sinners who have become saints by the grace of God through the message of the crucified, risen, and returning Christ.
I think Paul believed the same thing. Therefore, he says, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (v. 2). If we are to fulfill our ministry as a church, we must be about the business of preaching the Word one-to-one and to the masses. I believe that when every one of our members takes this charge to be their personal walking orders, then we will make a dent in the gateway of hell.
Paul is very careful to outline what he actually means when he says, “preach the word” (v. 1). Preaching does not mean sharing stories, telling jokes, and using gimmicks to make cute little memorable points. Preaching does not mean pandering to the masses and it also does not mean that we should proof text the Bible out of context to highlight our favorite soap box topics.
Preaching the Word means we must preach the plain truths of God’s Word as they are presented throughout his Word. Preaching must happen always, in season and out of season, when it is convenient and when it is inconvenient. Preaching must be done on purpose to correct, to confront, and to encourage, not to share opinions that have no authority or eternal ramifications.
Preaching must be done with patience, so that other people may learn the gospel, remembering just how slow we all are to learn and grow. In the end, it is the preaching of the gospel in the Word of God that will transform and sustain believers until Christ’s return in glory.
#3: BEWARE OF PEOPLE WITH ITCHY EARS (V. 3 – 4)
There will always be people who reject faithful preaching and there will always be people who want their ears tickled with myths. This has been the case from the Garden of Eden through the times of the Prophets through the time of Christ’s ministry here on Earth until today. There have always been and always will be people with itchy ears.
Paul tells Timothy that these people “will not endure sound teaching, but having itchy ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passion, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (vv. 3 – 4).
I have found that these kinds of people do not always want their ears tickled with some kind of totally heretical doctrine. Oftentimes, these kinds of people with their itching ears, are merely looking for some preacher who will constantly preach on their favorite doctrinal position regarding health, wealth, and prosperity or prophecy or end times theology or Calvinism versus Arminianism or some weird version of fundamental doctrines regarding tattoos, alcohol, smoking, or politics.
These folks have no stomach for the plain, verse-by-verse preaching of God’s Word. It is boring to them and without sensation. So, they float around from church to church, looking to get their ears tickled until they start itching again and then they find a new preacher down the street who is preaching what they want to hear. They are full of sin-sickness and they have no stomach for the gospel.
We need to beware of these people and ask the Lord not to let us become this kind of people so that we may fulfill the ministry we have been called to by preaching the plain and simple truths of the gospel in the Word of God. I believe that the thing that will help us to remain people who are committed to the Word is if we become people who have the Word in our veins; people with ink stains of the Bible on our noses as Spurgeon would say.
#4: KEEP DOING THE WORK (V. 5)
The final thing Paul says here really brings the work aspect of fulfilling our ministry to the forefront. Ministry is fulfilling in the sense that we get caught up in what God is doing in and through us. But it is also some of the hardest work we will ever engage in, and we must keep doing it faithfully until the very end.
This is why Paul says, “as for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (v. 5). For the great apostle Paul, as he sits on death row, the final topic on his mind is helping Timothy not be fulfilled necessarily in ministry but to fulfill or complete his ministry faithfully.
To do this, to fulfill his ministry, Timothy (and we) must stay sober; we must not lose our heads when everything spins out into absolute chaos. We must suffer well; there is no time for pity parties and there is no space for retaliation against those who oppose us. We must see ourselves as evangelists, the bringers of the good news of the gospel to the lost. We must remain focused on the message of the gospel to save and to transform and to strengthen our resolve. We must keep doing the work of ministry!
At the beginning of this message, I said that if we are to fulfill our ministry as a church family, then we must be about the business of preaching the word of God. And if we ever arrive at a place where we believe that this calling to preach the Word falls only to the preacher on the stage, then I believe that, that is the day we will cease to fulfill the ministry God has called this church family to.
We must remember the basis for this charge: The presence of God and our returning King. We must remain committed to what it actually means to preach the Word of God: Preach the Word always and with purpose. We must beware of people with itchy ears: People who reject sound preaching and seek sensationalism. We must keep doing the work of ministry: Seek to fulfill instead of being fulfilled, keep your head on straight, suffer well, and focus on the gospel. This is how we preach the Word and fulfill our ministry.
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).