I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: A Self-Imposed Spiritual Famine
From the book 'Christian Theology in Plain Language', by Bruce L. Shelley, we get this illustration that tells us:
In the year A.D. 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued a decree which he hoped would extinguish the spreading flames of Christianity. One of his primary objectives was the seizure and destruction of the Christian Scriptures. Later that year, officials enforced the decree in North Africa. One of the targets was Felix, Bishop of Tibjuca, a village near Carthage. The mayor of the town ordered Felix to hand over his Scriptures. Though some judges were willing to accept scraps of parchment, Felix refused to surrender the Word of God at the insistence of mere men. Resolutely, he resisted compromise. Roman authorities finally shipped Felix to Italy where he paid for his stubbornness with his life. On August 30, as the record puts it, "with pious obstinacy," he laid down his life rather than surrender his Gospels.
As I read stories like this from history, I am reminded how precious the Word of God should be to every Christian. And, if you go to places in the world where the Bible is still actually banned, then there are Christians that are literally starving for the Scriptures and face great perils if they are found in possession of a copy of God's Word.
For instance, North Korea. In this totalitarian state, the only thing that North Koreans are permitted to worship is the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Bibles are banned and those found in possession of one face imprisonment, torture and even death – as do up to three generations of their family.
Also, in Maldives, a Bible can get you into trouble. Under the country’s strict Islamic laws, importing a Bible is forbidden. There is currently no complete translation of the Scriptures into Dhivehi, the official language of that tropical nation.
These are just two of several locations in the world which don't have the freedom that we possess here in the United States of America to have a copy of God's Word, let alone the freedom to come to a place of worship and to listen to the Bible by hearing it preached on a regular basis without getting into serious trouble.
We in America don't have that problem. At least not yet. The average American Christian owns 9 Bibles and wants to purchase more. For this reason, the Bible is actually excluded from book bestsellers lists because it would always be on top. However, it is also a largely unread best seller. Only about 11 percent of people have read it through just once. And only 9 percent have read it through multiple times.
We don't have a famine in our country for the Word. What we actually have is spiritual anorexia. For those who are unaware of the term, anorexia is an eating disorder in which the person has a distorted body image. They think that they are too fat, when in reality they are starving themselves to death.
Many in our country and in our church's have a distorted spiritual image. Except, rather than feeling that they have to get better, they think that they are doing well spiritually. But, in fact, they are starving themselves to death by a lack of nourishment by God's Word. And these Christians are not seeking out true biblical teaching or doctrine. They, rather, are looking for someone who will teach what they want to hear.
In his final letter, written to his beloved son-in-the-faith, Timothy, Paul talks about things like this happening in the last days, before Jesus returns to earth. Before, his death at the hands of the Romans for preaching the gospel message, he wants to warn Timothy and the Ephesian church that he pastors, of what will happen to them when he is no longer there to protect and teach them.
From II Timothy 4:1-8 we can find at least three exhortations that we can glean from Paul's letter in this final chapter that can help us in our church's, as well as in our own personal lives and ministries as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
I. Preach the Word (4:1,2)
The very first thing that we are reminded of is that we need to preach the Word. It alone is God's message to us today that changes lives by the acceptance of the gospel and transforms it's hearers as the Holy Spirit illuminates it to us and who gives God's people the power to follow its precepts.
Paul tells Timothy:
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom. Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction." (4:1,2).
The Greek word that is translated as "solemnly charge" here is better rendered as "command." This term has the idea of issuing a forceful order or directive. It is a command from Paul and the Lord Himself to preach the Word without corruption. We should never water it down or leave out parts that we don't like. God says what He means and means what He says. We are not allowed to tell the Lord what He should have said. God's ministers and all of God's people need to tell men and women what the Lord actually wants them to know..
Paul just told us in chapter 3 of this book that all Scripture is given by 'inspiration of God.' It is literally God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteous; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16,17).
Of all people on this planet, God's children, and especially His ministers, should always take the Bible seriously and should speak up any time that someone who claims to be a minister of the gospel doesn't do so.
Paul's charge to Timothy takes place in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. Like him, we mustn't cave in to those who would intimidate us to stop preaching the Word. It isn't men to whom we have to answer ultimately. It is our Lord Himself. If He is pleased with our preaching, teaching and our way of life, then it doesn't matter who else isn't. We answer only to God alone.
The great apostle then goes on to tell his young protégé that he is to preach the word both in season and out of season (2). In other words, when it is convenient and when it isn't. It should be proclaimed whether you have a receptive audience or whether you don't. The Bible needs to be accurately preached even if the popular culture is telling people something entirely different from what God's Word says.
Pastor John MaCarthur tells us this:
"The dictates of popular culture, tradition, reputation, acceptance or esteem in the community, (or in the church), must never alter the true preacher's commitment to proclaim God's Word."
Sometimes that commitment is to proclaim some negative things in the form of reproving and rebuking. Reproof means to correct someone. The Greek word for reprove refers to correcting false behavior or false doctrine by using careful biblical argument to help a person understand the error of his actions.
Rebuke deals, more specifically, with correction of a person's motives. It is convicting him of sin and leading the sinner to repentance. Of course it includes having patience with the person that you are correcting.
The proclamation of the Word also includes instructing. This is the positive side of the preacher's job. It means teaching and training.
All of these things are included in taking Scripture seriously and living by its precepts.
II. Beware of False Doctrines and Teachers (4:3-5)
Paul next exhorts Timothy about false doctrines and those who will follow heretical teachers. He says:
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." (3-4).
The term, 'not endure' refers to holding up under adversity. It can be translated as 'tolerate.' Paul is telling Timothy that, in these perilous or dangerous times in which we are now living, people will arise who won't want to hear and won't tolerate the confrontational preaching and teaching that must be done if one faithfully exposits the sound doctrine of God's Word.
These people will rather flock to those preachers who tickle their ears. These are people who call themselves Christians but follow their own desires. So they will find those who preach what they want to hear.
They will search for someone who will offer God's blessings without His forgiveness and His salvation without any desire for the fruit which should naturally follow and which demonstrates the reality of their faith.
True salvation is not by works. It is totally by grace. However, like the fruit of a tree, good works is a natural result of a living faith. Not having a true faith, these people only want the benefits Christ offers. And it doesn't take much of a search to find teachers who will accommodate them.
These supposed Christians will turn away from the actual truth of God's Word. Instead they will follow myths. By this Paul means false ideas, viewpoints and philosophies that go against the sound doctrines of Holy Scripture.
The minister of God, however, must not give in to such things. The King James Version of Scripture says: "Watch thou in all things." The New American Standard says: "Be sober." God's man is to be vigilant, constantly watching out for error and standing up against sin.
At the same time they must be willing to endure hardship for the sake of the gospel. And they have to do the work of an evangelist. The phrase here means to do the job of preaching the gospel. By this they fulfill their ministry.
The work of a minister is a solemn and sacred job given by God. And Timothy was asked by Paul to take it that way. So also should all ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Any minister who doesn't do this is not a true servant of our Lord. And every church should seek to make sure the authentic gospel is being proclaimed and lived out if they want to be more than a mere country club that people attend.
III. Live for the Judgment Seat of Christ (4:6-8)
The third and final exhortation that we can glean from this section of Paul's letter is that we should live for the judgment seat of Christ. We can learn this from the apostle's own ministry and life.
He talks about already being 'poured out like a drink offering.' He was speaking of his death here for preaching the gospel. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the drink offering was the final offering that followed the burnt and grain offerings which the Lord prescribed for the people of Israel. Paul looked at his death as the final offering in a long life that had been full of sacrifices for Christ. He says: "My departure has come" in verse 6.
Once again, this is his death. The Greek word originally referred to the loosening of something such as the mooring of the rope of a ship or the ropes of a tent. By Paul's time it also acquired the meaning of 'departure.'
And at the end of his life, he was confident that:
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day. And not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (7-8).
The verbs in the phrases: "I have fought", "I have finished," and "I have kept", indicate completed action with continuing results. Paul saw his life as complete. By the power of God he was able to finish all that the Lord had wanted him to do.
And all of us who are still alive have the chance to do the same. God has a plan for each of us and we can come to the end of life making God smile and looking forward to the reward that He has promised us.
The "crown of righteousness that he describes comes from a Greek word which literally means "surrounding." It was used of the plaited wreaths or garlands placed on the heads of dignitaries and victorious military officers or athletes.
Every believer receives the righteousness of Christ when they are saved. The Holy Spirit works on us as we, in our fleshly body, continue to struggle. Only when we reach glory, when the struggle is complete, will we receive Christ's righteousness perfected in us. This is what many theologians believe that Paul is talking about here.
This world and all that it has is not permanent. Only those who live life with an eye on the next world will spend this short time that they have doing things that will last into eternity. In the end, the only things that really last are God and the people that He has placed us here to love and influence for Him. Everyone who looks for Jesus' return and are preparing for it, won't be disappointed when this world is no more and the New heavens and earth are brought about by our Savior.
In the end, we return back to the answer to the problem of spiritual anorexia that many have who call themselves Christians. If we:
1. Preach the Word rightly divided, or correctly handled.
2. If we are aware that there are those who want to give us a watered-down Bible and gospel that appeals to our senses and doesn't save us or change in any way for the better and warn others about these individuals.
3. If we are living for the prize which Christ offers us when He returns,.
Then we will become a component in the solution to this self-imposed famine in our world, as well as many of the church's in our land, and not a part of the problem.
May God help us to be able to say, like Paul said at the conclusion of his life:
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. For when this life is over, that's all that really matters!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on November 21, 2020:
Thanks for reading the article and for your gracious comments. God bless!!
Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on November 20, 2020:
This article was spot on and I enjoyed the truths that you expressed in it. The one that stood out to me most is that we are to love one another. Jesus taught that love is the greatest of the commandments, to love God and our fellow men as we love ourselves. I am striving towards that and it is a hard thing to do when people hate you for your love.
There are other points that you made that I know are true, but this is what stood out the most. If we love our fellow humans, we will make sure that they do not go about ignorant of the truth that Jesus is salvation and is willing to share His kingdom with us as God shares His with Him.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on November 08, 2020:
Thanks again Bill. God bless!!
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 08, 2020:
We are so blessed to have the word of God on America, Jeff. Yet we've wasted the opportunity we've been given. Another well-studied message, my friend.