Marks of the Faithful Preacher
2 Timothy 4:1–5
I solemnly 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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 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. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (4:1–5)
The final section of 2 Timothy, which begins with this passage, contains the last inspired words penned by Paul, who knew that his earthly life was nearing its end. "I am already being poured out as a drink offering," he wrote, "and the time of my departure has come" (v. 6). With that bittersweet prospect in mind (cf. Phil. 1:23), in his final charge he beseeched his beloved Timothy to be faithful in his ministry to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In what had been an exemplary church at Ephesus, some believers, including men in positions of leadership, had begun to defect, just as Paul predicted (Acts 20:28–31). Timothy had been placed by the apostle as defender of the faith in that congregation, where sound doctrine and godliness had lost their primacy.
Empire-wide persecution of the church was well under way and doubtless was responsible for much of the defection. Those who were loyal in easier times deserted when discipleship became costly.
In this second letter, Paul already has admonished Timothy "to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (1:6). As with every genuine preacher of the gospel, Timothy did not choose his ministry but was appointed to it by God. The Lord had set him apart for the preaching and teaching of His Word. He ministered under divine authority and divine obligation. Just as God had sovereignly called Timothy to salvation, He also had sovereignly appointed him to preach the gospel. Timothy could say with his mentor, "I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).
Paul did not focus on the visible success of Timothy's ministry but on the excellence of his service. He focused not on Timothy's opportunities but on his commitment, not on his personal prominence but on his character. He expressed no concern for the young pastor's acceptance or reputation but great concern for his faithfulness and godliness. He did not emphasize the size, wealth, or influence of the church at Ephesus but rather its spiritual life and health under Timothy's care. He did not concentrate even on Timothy's spiritual gifts, important as those were, but on his spiritual life and his spiritual service. His advice to Timothy could be summarized in his charge to believers in Corinth: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
Regardless of how things may appear to the world, to the rest of the church, or even to ourselves, God's Word assures us that the best of life belongs to those who know Christ as Savior and Lord and who give themselves up for His service and His glory. The central truth of the Beatitudes could be condensed to "Blessed, happy, and satisfied are those who love and serve the Lord."
Unfortunately, many Christians, including some pastors and other leaders, seek for success rather than excellence. But success focuses on the external rather than the internal, on the temporal rather than the eternal, and is measured by human standards rather than by divine. Desire for success comes from pride, whereas genuine desire for excellence comes from humility.
In his book Christian Excellence, John Johnstone rightfully maintains that success and excellence are competing ideals and that everything a believer does, whether consciously or not, is devoted to one of those ideals or the other. It is not that excellence in a believer precludes every form of outward success but that any success that comes from the pursuit of excellence is incidental. Success is not to be sought or to be gloried in if it is achieved.
Success is attaining cultural goals that elevate one's importance in the eyes of society and generally is marked by power, prestige, wealth, and privilege, according to Johnstone. Excellence, on the other hand, is the pursuit of the highest quality in one's work and effort, whether others recognize and approve it or not. Success is measured in relation to others, whereas excellence is measured by one's own God-given potential and calling. Success seeks to please men; excellence seeks to please God. Success rewards only a few, whereas excellence is available to any believer who is willing to pay the price. Success pertains to possessions and reputation, whereas excellence pertains to character. Success can be cheap, attained by shortcuts, lying, and stealing. The price of excellence is never discounted, never available for anything less than full price. (This paragraph is adapted from Johnstone.)
Although directed first of all to Timothy, Paul's commission in 2 Timothy 4:1–5 applies to every minister of the gospel in every age, every place, and every circumstance. In a broader way it can be applied to every faithful believer, because it is essential for every congregation to know and understand this charge. Churches are responsible, under God and with God, to hold their pastors accountable to these divine precepts.
The role of the preacher in Christ's church is vital, and God has ordained that His people be taught and shepherded by Spirit-gifted, Spirit-led, and Spirit-empowered men. The spiritual life and faithfulness of a congregation always is closely related to the spiritual life and faithfulness of its pastor.
Scripture is not nebulous about what the Lord expects of those He calls to preach, teach, and pastor His people. Among the many other qualifications and standards for such men given in the New Testament, are the eight which Paul mentions in the present text: the seriousness (v. 1), content (v. 2a), scope (v. 2b), urgency (vv. 3–4), attitude (v. 5a), cost (v. 5b), extent (v. 5c), and goal (v. 5d).
The Seriousness of His Commission
I solemnly 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: (4:1)
Paul first points out the seriousness of Timothy's divine commission. Solemnly charge translates a form of the verb diamarturomai, which here carries the idea of giving a forceful order or directive. The apostle has twice before used the verb to admonish Timothy (1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Tim. 2:14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:13). The aged warrior of the faith, whose godly life was totally committed to the service of Christ, again seeks to capture Timothy's undivided attention for what he is about to say. The devotion of Paul himself was not unlike that of John Knox, who prayed, "Give me Scotland or I die," yet who, when later compelled to preach, locked himself in his room and wept for days because of the fearful seriousness of that calling. The apostle's deepest desire for Timothy was for him to share that seriousness and devotion.
The solemnity of Paul's charge is drawn from the fact that it is tied directly to the awesome majesty of the One who commissions men to divine service. Those who are called to proclaim and interpret the Word of God have the most profound responsibility that the Lord places on any man. It is for that reason that James warns, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well" (James 3:1–2). No human being apart from Jesus has ever spoken perfectly, not even the prophets or apostles, except when recording God's revealed Word. James readily included himself ("for we all stumble") among those who speak imperfectly and who therefore must take special care to prevent their imperfections from clouding their testimony and besmirching their Lord's name.
That responsibility is especially fearsome in that it is carried out in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. The Greek construction also allows the rendering "in the presence of God, even Christ Jesus." That wording seems especially appropriate in this context because of Paul's following reference to Christ as Judge. Jesus said, "Not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22; cf. vv. 26–27). It is not, of course, that a believer ever lives or ministers apart from the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit. But Paul here emphasizes the believer's unique accountability to the Son—not as Savior and Lord but as Judge. The point of the first half of the sentence is that every minister who is called by Christ Jesus, the Son, constantly ministers under the omniscient scrutiny of His divine presence.
The phrase in the presence of parallels a common format used in Roman courts and legal documents and would have been familiar to Timothy and others of that day. A typical summons might have begun: "The case will be drawn up against you in the court at Hierapolis, in the presence of the honorable judge Festus, chief magistrate."