From time to time, when I’m reading a chapter in a book or an article in a journal, I begin at the end and work my way backwards through the chapter or through the article to the start of it. I don’t do it often and I’m not sure why I started to do it, but I suppose it gives me a new perspective on what I’m reading. And I thought I’d do the same with today’s passage. So, instead of starting with verse 1, we’ll start at verses 6 to 8 at the end of today’s passage. And in verses 6 to 8 Paul is talking about himself. And these verses provide us with some information which form the the background to the rest of what Paul’s say to Timothy in today’s passage; and they’ll help us to understand why Paul is writing these things to Timothy.
Timothy, you’ll remember, is one of Paul’s co-workers in the gospel. He’s a minister or a pastor. And Paul wanted Timothy to stay in Ephesus and to oversee the work in the church there. Some false teachers had come along and they were teaching their false ideas and they were leading the people astray. And Paul wanted Timothy to sort things out: Command the false teachers not to teach their false doctrines. And stick to what you know and have believed, which is the Holy Scriptures, breathed out by God and useful for your ministry.
Verses 6 to 8
And in verses 6 to 8 of today’s passage, Paul writes about himself. He writes in verse 6: ‘I am already being poured out like a drink offering….’ He’s using sacrificial imagery, isn’t he? In the Old Testament, God’s people would offer all kinds of sacrifices to God. Mostly they were animal sacrifices. So, they offered to God a bull or a goat or a bird. Sometimes they were grain offerings. And very occasionally, we’ll read about a drink offering. For instance, in Genesis 35, Jacob built an altar and poured out a drink offering to the Lord. And one you might be familiar with from our sermons on 2 Samuel was the time when some of David’s men sneaked across the enemy lines to collect some water for David from a well in Bethlehem. But instead of drinking the water himself, David poured it out as a drink offering to the Lord. He took this precious gift and he devoted it to the Lord.
So, Paul is using sacrificial imagery to describe his life. And it’s a reminder to all of us that we’re to devote our lives to the Lord. In Old Testament times, people brought an offering and devoted it to the Lord and his glory. And you’re to devote yourself and your life to the Lord and to his glory. We all serve God in different ways. Paul served him as an apostle. None of us are apostles and so we can’t serve him in the way Paul did. But we’re all able to serve the Lord wherever we are and in whatever we’re doing, because whatever we do in life, we’re able to do it for God’s glory. And so, we’re to devote ourselves and our lives — all of our energy — to serving the Lord. We should seek to honour him in all we do and say.
But, of course, Paul uses this sacrificial imagery to make the point that he’s coming near to the end of his life. If his life is like a drink offering, most of it has been poured out and there’s only a little left in the cup. In other words, most of his life is past and there’s only a little left. He knows it won’t be long until his life in this world is over. You see, when he wrote these words, he was in prison and he didn’t expect to be released. Instead he expected to die. So, he didn’t have long left. The ‘time of my departure has come’, he says in verse 6. Again, he’s referring to his death, when he departs from this life.
And after using sacrificial imagery in verse 6, he goes on to use athletic imagery in verse 7. He’s like a wrestler in the games and he’s fought the good fight. And he’s like a runner in the games and he’s finished the race. And it’s possible that the phrase ‘I have kept the faith’ is another nod to the games, because each competitor had to keep to the rules. In any case, all three images together combine to make the point that he has come to his life’s end. If he’s a wrestler, the fight is over. If he’s a runner, he’s reached the finish line. As a competitor, he’s kept and completed all he was supposed to do. So, he’s come to his life’s end.
Now, in today’s world, there are many, many people who believe that this life is all that there is; and therefore, when you die, that’s it. There’s nothing more. Your life is over. There’s only this life. But Paul knew that after this life, there’s the life to come. And, of course, he knew there was a life to come, because the Lord Jesus, who died, did not remain dead. He didn’t remain in the grave. If he had remained in the grave, it might seem to us that death is the end. But no, Christ was raised from the dead. And just as Christ was raised from the dead, so all of us will be raised from the dead: those who have trusted in Christ in this life will be raised to enjoy everlasting life in God’s presence; while those who did not trust in Christ in this life will be raised to suffer eternal punishment away from God’s presence. So, death is not the end. There’s this life and there’s the life to come which is everlasting.
And, according to verse 8, Paul was anticipating the time when he would depart from this life and enter the life to come where he would receive ‘the crown of righteousness’. Paul may still have in mind the athletic imagery, because those who were victorious in the games received a kind of crown. They received a wreath made of twigs and leaves and flowers as a sign of their victory. And Paul anticipates the day when the Lord Jesus Christ, the righteous judge, will give him a crown to wear. And why is it called the crown ‘of righteousness’? It’s because it’s a sign of the righteousness which we receive when we trust in Christ. Though we may have done everything wrong in this life, nevertheless God regards those who believe in Christ as if they have done everything right. And he’s able to regard us in that way, because Christ shares his perfect righteousness — his perfect obedience — with all those who trust in him. And the crown is therefore a sign that we are right with God. Those without the crown will be sent away to be punished for what they have done wrong, but those with the crown will be admitted into God’s presence.
And I think that’s the most likely interpretation of what the crown is, because Paul goes on to say that not only will he be awarded the crown, but ‘all who have longed’ for Christ to appear will receive it too. He’s describing believers, isn’t he? Believers — all those who trust the Saviour — are longing for his return, because when he comes again, he will gather his people together to bring us into the new heavens and earth where we’ll be with the Lord for ever. Right now, in this life, we face opposition and oppression from those who don’t believe. And we’re longing for our Saviour to come again to bring us into the new creation where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever. And we’re longing for our Saviour to come again because we love him and we want to see him. So, Paul is describing believers. And whereas in Roman times the crown only ever went to the victor in the games, in the life to come, every believer will receive the crown of righteousness.
So, Paul is making the point that his life will soon be over. He’ll soon have to depart from this life. And the reason he’s saying this to Timothy is because he’s handing over the baton, if you like, to Timothy. Timothy, I’m about to die. The other apostles are also going to die. When we’re dead and gone, it’s up to you. You need to keep the gospel safe and secure as I have done. And you need to preach it to others as I have done so that they will believe and be saved. It’s up to you, Timothy. It’s up to you and to preachers like you. And that takes us to verse 5.
Remember? We’re going backwards through the text. So, Timothy — and this is directed not only to Timothy, but to preachers like Timothy — keep your head in all situations and endure hardships and do the work of an evangelist and discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Keep your head. The Greek word Paul uses can mean ‘be sober-minded’. That is, ‘be clear-headed’. Keep your head and think clearly in every situation. Do you remember ‘Dad’s Army’? Every preacher like Timothy needs a Jonesy: Lance Corporal Jones played by Clive Dunn. Remember what he used to say? ‘Don’t panic’. That’s what preachers need. When things are not going well. When people are not listening. When people do not respond to the gospel message. Worse: when people are getting annoyed with the preacher because what they’re hearing is getting under their skin. When people are being misled by false teachers and are abandoning the true faith. When it seems that the church is in peril and will not survive. When the preacher is tempted to give up the ministry and do something else instead. When the preacher is tempted to give in and rely on other methods to build the church. On those occasions, the preacher needs someone to come along and say to him, ‘Don’t panic’. That’s what Paul was saying to Timothy. Don’t panic. Keep your head. And you don’t need to panic, because Jesus Christ is still on his throne and he knows what he’s doing and he will build his church in his own way and in his own time. So, don’t panic.
And since there are many who do not believe, and because of the wicked schemes of the Devil, the preacher’s life will be hard and difficult. Therefore, endure hardship. Put up with it. When it happens, when people are against you, and when they’re attacking you and opposing you, because of the gospel, don’t panic, but endure it.
And do the work of an evangelist. What’s the work of an evangelist? It’s to preach the gospel and to tell people the good news about Jesus Christ who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who shed his blood to cleanse us and who promises forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in him. So, don’t panic. Endure hardship. And keep preaching the gospel.
And discharge all the duties of your ministry. That is, fulfil your ministry. Leave nothing undone. Do it all. And it means especially that he’s to keep going, right to the end. So, he’s not to panic and give up. He’s not to panic and throw in the towel. He’s to keep going even when it’s hard and difficult. The apostles kept going. They did not give up or give in. They remained faithful to their calling to preach the good news. And Timothy and preachers like him, who have replaced the apostles, must follow their example and keep going until the very end. That’s what you’re to do, Timothy.
Verses 3 and 4
And it’s not going to be easy, because look now at verses 3 and 4. Remember, we’re going backwards through the text. The time will come, says Paul, when men and women will not put up with sound doctrine. We’ve come across the image of sound doctrine before. The Greek word translated ‘sound’ means ‘healthy’. Some foods are healthy foods because they’re good for us. And doctrine that is healthy is doctrine that is good for us. It’s the kind of doctrine we need to hear and believe in order to be saved and in order to be built up in the faith. Healthy doctrine will help us grow as believers. But just as there are people who don’t like taking medicine, even when it’s good for them, because it tastes unpleasant, so there are plenty of people who don’t like healthy doctrine. Or think about food again. Most of us like food that is unhealthy for us. People love big burgers and chips and glasses of coke. It’s not good for us, but lots of people like those things. And then there are foods which are good for us. But we don’t like them. Parents encourage their children to eat their vegetables. ‘Go on’, they say. ‘It’s good for you.’ But they turn up their noses at what’s good for them.
Well, the time will come, Timothy, when people will not put up with healthy doctrine: doctrine that is good for their souls and good for their spiritual welfare. Instead, to suit their own desires, they’ll gather around them a great number of teachers who will say what their itching ears want to hear. Think of food again. I was listening to a podcast the other day, and one of the hosts was talking about what he does when he has a day off. He gets a tub of ice-cream and lots of other sweets things, which he knows are no good for him, and he makes his way through all of it. So, when he’s got a day off, a day to himself, he indulges his craving for sweet things. And Paul is saying that’s what it’s going to be like in the world and even in the church. Instead of putting up with healthy doctrine, people will go for what they like. And what they like — the teaching that appeals to them — isn’t good for them. They might desire it, but it’s not good for them.
And the sad thing is, according to Paul, there is a great number of teachers who are prepared to give the people what they want. There are loads of teachers who are prepared to give people what they want to hear. And if they’re giving people what they want to hear, then these people-pleasers will no doubt gather a huge following for themselves.
Paul uses the image of itching ears. Did people keep pet dogs in those days? I ask that because if you have a dog, then you’ll know that they like nothing more than a good scratch behind their ears. Our dog will come up to us when we’re watching TV and will bow her head and wait. And she’ll wait until we reach forward and give her a good scratch. And once we start, she doesn’t want us to stop. That’s what you can expect, Timothy. People-pleasing preachers will give the people what they want to hear; and the people will just sit and sit and sit and sit and listen to it again and again and again. They’ll find it completely satisfying, though it’s no good for them.
But look what the people-pleasing preachers are doing. Verse 4: They — the people-pleasing preachers — will turn the ears of the people away from the truth and will turn them aside to myths. Do you know what that means? It means we often prefer myths to the truth. We often prefer lies to the truth. Haven’t you found that to be the case? We tell someone the truth about Jesus Christ and the hope of everlasting life through faith in his name. We tell them the best news ever. And it’s true. But people are not interested. And then someone else comes along with some new heresy or some old heresy and the people are persuaded by it. And the same thing happens in the church, because we can get used to the good news and we want to hear something new, something different. And along comes a people-pleasing preacher who is only too happy to give the people what they want. And because people often prefer myths over the truth, they’re taken in.
Verses 1 and 2
So, what should Timothy do? What should every faithful minister do? Listen to Paul’s charge to Timothy in verses 1 and 2. ‘In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus… I give you this charge’, This is the language of a court room. Paul is calling on God and on Jesus Christ to be his witnesses to what he’s about to say to Timothy. And he refers to the Lord Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead. So, one day he’s going to judge everyone who has ever lived. And he refers to Christ’s appearing and to his kingdom. One day he’s going to appear on the earth in glory and with power. And he’ll come as King to see what his people have done. And I think Paul is describing the Lord Jesus in this way to remind Timothy that this is the person Timothy is serving. So, he’s not serving an earthly master or king, but a heavenly King. The Roman Emperor may have imprisoned Paul and sentenced him to death, but Paul and Timothy serve a greater King. And this is how Timothy must serve God and Christ his King. This is what he must do. What must he do? It’s simple really. He must preach the word. He must preach the word of God, which we learned last time is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching and rebuking and correcting and for training in righteousness so that the preacher will be thoroughly equipped for his ministry. Preach that word.
Be prepared to preach it in season and out of season. In other words, preach it at all times. There’s never a wrong time to preach God’s word. Whatever season it is, whatever time it is, whatever is happening in the world and in the church, preach the word. When you preach, correct the people and rebuke them and encourage them. Perhaps they don’t understand something. Perhaps they’ve got wrong ideas in their heads. Perhaps they’re puzzled and confused. So, correct their misunderstandings. And when they’ve gone the wrong way in their thinking or in the behaviour, rebuke them. Warn them. And also encourage them. That is, exhort them. Think of the shepherd with his staff, prodding the sheep to make sure they go down the right road. That’s what the preacher is to do. Don’t go that way. That’s the wrong way. Go this way. And with his preaching, he prods the people along the right path. And the preacher needs to do all of this with great patience and careful instruction. Just as a farmer can’t take any shortcuts, but must wait patiently for the crops to grow, so the preacher can’t take any shortcuts, but must wait patiently for the seed he has sown to take root and to bear fruit in the lives of the people. And just as a gardener will carefully tend the little shoots in the garden, so the preacher must carefully teach the members of the congregation so that they will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
This is what the preacher must do. The preacher must preach the word. He must preach God’s word. And so, what must the congregation do? Well, it’s easy, isn’t it? You’re to receive God’s word with faith and humility. And through the reading and preaching of his word, God convinces and converts sinners to faith in Christ and he builds up believers in holiness and comfort through faith in his Son.
I was listening to another preacher speak on this passage [Liam Goligher]. And he said that we can all study the Bible at home by ourselves and we have Bible study groups. And it’s good to study the Bible in private and with others. But on those occasions, we’re doing something. We’re active. We’re studying the text ourselves. We’re busy doing something. But preaching is different, because it comes to us from outside ourselves. When you come to church, God’s word comes to you. And it comes to you from above. Not because I’m above you or better than you. I’m nothing. I’m only the instrument in God’s hand. The word comes to you from above because it comes to you from God. He comes to you in the preaching of his word to speak to you. And his word, as one theologian [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 449] puts it, is never just a sound, but it’s a power.
Sometimes I say that the method matches the message. The message is that we are pardoned and accepted, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. We are pardoned and accepted through faith in what he has done for us. And the method matches that message, because God’s method is to get us to sit down and listen. All week long you’ve been busy doing things. But then Sunday comes and you’re to do nothing, apart from to sit down and listen while the preacher tells you what Christ has done for you. Don’t do anything, except sit and listen. And even while you’re sitting and listening, God is at work in your heart.