Sermon: The Apostle’s Last Words
Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:1-22
In this week’s study, we consider Paul’s final words to Timothy, and learn valuable lessons for our own life and ministry.
Theme: The Most Important Charge of All
Most of us do not experience a commissioning service very often. Typically, they are done for a new minister or for a missionary who is about to leave for the field, whether at home or abroad. The person or persons are commended to God’s care, and the blessing of God is invoked for their ministry. The last words of Paul to Timothy would be entirely appropriate for such a service. Second Timothy is the letter in which Paul the seasoned missionary imparts his wisdom and prayers for Timothy, who was to follow him in caring for the churches.
Second Timothy is the last letter we have of the apostle Paul, and this fourth chapter is the last of the instructions that Paul has for this younger pastor. As the life of this great ambassador of the gospel is drawing to a close, he wants to encourage Timothy to carry on and do preciously what he has been doing. Paul begins this chapter by writing:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Paul has already given a number of charges to Timothy in this brief letter. He’s told him to guard the gospel, be willing to suffer for the gospel, and to be patient in carrying out the duties of the gospel ministry. But here in these verses he gives him the most important charge of all when he tells him to preach the Word. In this charge, Paul tells Timothy three things: 1) what he should do; 2) how he should do it; and 3) he gives Timothy some incentives for doing it.
What Timothy is to do is to preach the gospel. Each of those three words is important. First, Paul says to preach the Word, which is the word of the gospel. That is what Paul received and faithfully preached, and it is likewise what Timothy received and what he, too, is faithfully to preach. Paul was also faithful in passing this gospel on to others, and which Timothy is also now to pass on to others who will follow after him. When Paul talks about the Word, or the word of the gospel, he is not talking about some new thing.
We have people in every age who are always looking for some new thing, and that can sometimes happen in the church’s message as well. But we are not to be drawn to this obsession with what is new. Rather, we are to be concerned with the old gospel, that which our fathers and our mothers before us heard and passed on to us, and which those before them heard and passed on, and on down through the centuries of church history. That is our commission as well. We are not to impart some new thing, but the gospel God has revealed to us in his Word.
The second point from this charge is that the gospel Timothy is to preach is the only gospel. Timothy is not to preach a gospel, but the gospel. There are not two, three, or four. There is only one gospel God has given to us, and that is the one we are to preach.
The third point is that we are to preach it. That is, we are to verbalize it. We are to let people know about it, both by what we say and by how we live. Paul Little has said that you not only have to talk about the gospel, but you also have to live the gospel as well. If you don’t live it, your life will discredit what you say.
We also have to say at this point, however, that living the gospel is not to be used as a substitute for verbally communicating it. At best, living the gospel is only what we would call pre-evangelism; that is, it prepares the way for the opportunity to talk to someone about Christ. But actual evangelism involves the communication of the Word.
Of different charges Paul has given Timothy in these two letters, what is the most important charge? Why do you think this one ranks above all the other good things Timothy needs to do as a pastor?
Describe the three points that make up Paul’s charge to Timothy.
Reflection: What are some ways the church can be tempted to gravitate toward what is new, as opposed to maintaining traditional practices and approaches from the past?
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