These past few weeks have been replete with some great changes in my walk with the Lord. It may come as a surprise to you, since it seems that for the past, well, year, I have mostly written about my arduous journey through PhD-land. But now that is safely behind us, I’m finally a Dr, and it’s time again to talk about important things. And so, I want to kick-off this new blog era with a passage that has always been close to my heart:
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 – 2 Tim. 4:1-2
The scene is bleak, at least in human terms: Paul the Apostle is about to die. Locked inside a less-than-sanitary dungeon in Rome, he is pretty sure that he will never leave it alive. Rather old now, with a lot of time to reflect on his life, he pens this letter to young Timothy who is beginning his ministry as a pastor in the Ephesian church (that’s in modern-day Turkey).
It’s always interesting to read what great men write at the sunset of their lives. For some, retrospection is painful and their writings are full of guilt, remorse and sometimes shame. But not for Paul. Later on in the same chapter he says:
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. (v. 7-8)
Great words from a truly great man – “great” according to God’s standards (and, really, what value do the human ones have?). But I’m always amazed that Paul, even at this time when no-one would blame him for some elderly reminiscing, still makes sure he carries out his ministry. After all, this race isn’t over ’til you cross the end. And among other instructions and thoughts, Paul exhorts Timothy in a way that we’d do well to heed today.
One of the biggest concerns that Paul – rightly – had was the infiltration of false teachers into the Body of Christ. There was, and always has been, a great variety of them: Judaisers, Stoics, Dualists, Platonics – to name a few. They had various agendas in deceiving the believers, but mostly it was for personal gain and/or prestige. But their effect was the same throughout: Corruption of the true Gospel of Christ. They’d either shut the door of salvation and bolt it with heavy chains, or even make it disappear altogether. And no true believer could – or can – let that happen; Paul least than anyone – not after the labours and sacrifices he’d made to proclaim God’s unadulterated truth. For example, when he was on his final way to Jerusalem, he told the elders of the Ephesian church:
“…I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” – Acts 20:27-31
Paul had a concern about the right preaching of the Word that few Christians share today. It seems that, instead of immersing ourselves into the streams of God’s living waters, we are content to merely dip our fingertips and flick them on our tongues. How can that quench the soul’s thirst? How can that bathe our eyes so that we might see and live the risen Christ? And then we wonder why the Church today is so weakened, why it’s given over to marketing and gimmicks, desperately trying out any program and business/management dogma that might give it some kind of life again. Masses of people stream in and out of churches never being challenged on God’s terms; Christians trudge through the mire of their lives untransformed, unfruitful, cold, with no more passion, direction and purpose in their lives than your average Joe Believe-in-Nothing.
Well, let me bring you back to our original passage. Preach the Word, Timothy, whether it is fashionable to do so or not; when it’s “appropriate” and when it’s not. Why? Because, just as Isaiah and Jeremiah were sent to preach to people that wouldn’t listen, God’s Word must be proclaimed despite the negative response of the hearers. And it is through the truth of the Word that we grow; this is how we come to true fellowship with our Father in Heaven, how we behold the glory of the Lord to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). But how can that happen when, at least secretly, we have replaced God’s Word with the cheap idols the world offers us?
I pray that we’d understand that. I pray that we would understand, as we are supposed to, what Jesus meant when he said: “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). I pray that we would, at the end of fruitful service to Christ be in a place where our major concern is that the Word is preached correctly and fully, in and – mostly – out of season.