IV. Preaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-22)
IV. Preaching the Word (4:1-22)
4:1 After emphasizing the divine source and purpose of Scripture, Paul directs a solemn charge to his faithful son in the faith, Timothy. It was not a private charge from apostle to young pastor. Rather, this was a public charge delivered before witnesses: God and Christ Jesus—the same Christ Jesus who will one day judge all humanity and reign as King in his glorious kingdom. The God who called Timothy into ministry was delivering a sacred command to him through his authoritative messenger Paul. And he directs that same sacred command to every man who takes up the mantle of pastor in a local church.
4:2 Preach the word. What should believers expect to be the standard of authority at their local churches? Feelings? Intellect? Tradition? Paul says there is only one standard by which a church is to properly function: God’s Word. The Bible—and only the Bible—is the final authority for Christian individuals, families, churches, and even the broader culture. “The word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword. . . . It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Nothing else can do what Scripture does.
What was Timothy to do with the Word? “Preach” it. What does it mean to preach? The action calls to mind the role of a herald who was responsible for receiving the message of a king and delivering it the king’s subjects. To preach is to declare what God has to say to his people and to exhort them to act on that word by believing and obeying it. Biblical preaching confronts us with God, through the Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, through the personality of a preacher, so that we will understand and respond to God. Preaching includes reading the Word, explaining the Word, and applying it.
Be ready in season and out of season. When do you preach the Word? When it’s convenient, and also when it’s inconvenient. A pastor should preach when he knows he’ll hear an “amen!” and when he knows he’ll be reviled. He must preach the parts of Scripture that people like, and preach the parts they don’t. He must use Scripture to rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. In other words, a preacher must use the Bible to do what Paul said it’s “profitable” for (3:16). Preaching should teach and encourage. But preaching should also rebuke and correct. In a world that claims everything is relative, people ought to be able to hear the absolute truth of the Word of God (John 17:17) preached in “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Each person might have his or her own view. But when we come to church, we need to hear God’s view. We need to know his agenda.
4:3-5 Why must the Word be preached? For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine. People will not want spiritual food that is healthy but simply something that tastes good. They’ll even gather teachers who will satisfy their desires, who will address the itch they want scratched (4:3). They’ll turn from the truth toward myths (4:4). Sinful people don’t naturally run toward what is holy and righteous. They prefer what makes them feel good. That’s why they need to hear the Word faithfully preached. Timothy couldn’t control the response to his sermons. But he could commit himself to God’s calling on his life. He could exercise self-control (letting the gospel transform his life), endure hardship (suffering for the gospel), and do the work of an evangelist (proclaiming the gospel). In this way, he would fulfill his ministry. He’d complete what he started (4:5).
4:6 Paul’s words in 3:16–4:5 emphasize the priority of God’s Word, and he solemnly charges Timothy to preach it faithfully. Why? Because these are the apostle’s final words to this young man whom he dearly loves, and he saved this most important exhortation for the end.
Having delivered his charge, Paul now pens his own obituary: I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. Paul uses Old Testament imagery to describe his impending death. Just as drink offerings were poured out to God on the altar, the apostle recognized that his life was being poured out, and the time for [his] departure was close. He was sitting in a Roman prison, awaiting his execution.
4:7 How did he evaluate the life he had lived as he reached its end? Paul knew that he had been a wicked man who was rescued only by God’s grace. But he also knew that since then he had worked hard and been faithful to the task God gave him.
I have fought the good fight. Everyone gets into fights, and most of the fights in which we engage are not good ones. There are battles you shouldn’t wage, motivated by pride and selfishness. And then there are things worth fighting for, things that truly matter. Paul fought the noblest battle of all: the battle for people’s souls. He held nothing back. What about you? Have you given Christ your all? Do you have the scars to show for it?
I have finished the race. It’s not enough to start the Christian race. It’s not enough to run the race. You must finish the race. Your goal in life must be to finish well. Paul didn’t reach the end of his days to contemplate the things he hadn’t done. In fact, he had no sense of incompleteness. Christ can get you to the finish line, but you must focus your attention on him. Even if you have fallen, get up, and keep running. “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2).
I have kept the faith. Paul had been faithful with the faith. Just as he had exhorted Timothy (2 Tim 1:14), Paul had also guarded “the good deposit,” the good news of salvation. He recognized its great value, and he protected it as a treasure. To him, the gospel was worth any hardship. Indeed, the blessings of the faith outweigh any sufferings related to it.
4:8 There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day. Paul knew he would soon die at Rome’s hands. According to ancient tradition, he was beheaded. But that frightening fate made no difference to Paul. Not only would the Lord restore his head to his body, but he would also place a crown on it. And not only on his head, but on the heads of all those who have loved Christ’s appearing through faithful living.
A football team can perform poorly during the first quarter—or even during the first half of the game. But what’s most important is how they finish. Don’t, then, look backward on the mess in your past. The grace of God can cover it. Instead, look forward. There’s still time. Fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. Your reward is waiting.
4:9-12 Timothy had been a faithful companion and colleague of Paul. Therefore, the aging apostle longed for the young minister to come to him soon (4:9). Timothy’s visit was needful because practically everyone else had left Paul. Demas, whom Paul mentions elsewhere as a co-worker (Col 4:14; Phlm 24), ultimately decided not to follow Paul’s example in 4:7-8. Instead, he loved this present world more than the world to come and deserted him. Sadly, he had traded an eternal perspective for a mere earthly one. Others also left, but for more noble reasons. Crescens and Titus apparently departed to fulfill mission work (4:10). Tychicus left because Paul sent him to Ephesus (4:12). Only Luke (4:11), “the dearly loved physician” (Col 4:14), remained.
It’s interesting to see that Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him. Mark (also called “John” or “John Mark”) had traveled with Paul before (see Acts 13:5). But after Mark left Paul in the middle of his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13), Paul was unwilling to take him the next time around. Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement over Mark that they parted ways (Acts 15:36-40). But once the relationship was mended, Paul found Mark useful to his ministry (2 Tim 4:11).
4:13 Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak and the scrolls, especially the parchments. The first request would address a practical, physical need: Paul was living in a cold Roman dungeon. The second request would address a ministry need. Most likely, the scrolls were copies of Scripture. Even to the very end, Paul was a diligent student of the Word.
4:14-15 Though Demas had merely deserted Paul, Alexander the coppersmith did him great harm (4:14). It’s likely that this is the same Alexander in Ephesus who was a false teacher and whom Paul “delivered to Satan” (1 Tim 1:19-20) because Paul warns Timothy, who was ministering in Ephesus, to watch out for him and his opposition to sound teaching (2 Tim 4:15). Regardless, Paul knew that ultimately the Lord would repay Alexander for his deeds (4:14). “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap” (Gal 6:7).
4:16-18 Paul didn’t put his hope in people. After all, men and women fail. During his trial, at his first defense, he was deserted by everyone. Yet, he followed in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and the first Christian martyr (Stephen) by asking the Lord to forgive them (4:16; see Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59-60). Regardless of who had abandoned Paul, the Lord had consistently stood with him and strengthened him throughout his ministry so that he could fully preach the word to the Gentiles (4:17). God had kept Paul from disaster time and again, and he knew that God would bring him safely into his heavenly kingdom (4:18).
The lion’s mouth (4:17) may either refer metaphorically to evil people like Emperor Nero (see Ps 22:13, 19-21) or literally to the wild animals that killed Christians in the Roman coliseum (see Dan 6:22).
4:19-22 Paul closes his letter with greetings and additional news (4:19-21). Then he offers a benediction for Timothy and the church he served: The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all (4:22).