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:Two Great Encouragements
Given the demanding nature of this charge that Paul gives to Timothy, we come now to the incentives Paul lists. Paul, no doubt, knows that Timothy needs these encouragements to help him do all these things in and out of season in order to faithfully carry out his ministry.
First, Paul reminds Timothy that the day is coming when the Lord Jesus Christ is going to judge the living and the dead. He’s going to appear in his kingdom and we are going to stand before him. This is an incentive because trials and discouragements will come. But no matter how difficult our labors in the Lord become, we are to know that this judgment is coming. The fact that Christ has commissioned us to take his gospel to those who have not yet heard is the main reason why we go.
When R. C. Sproul was a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he was in a class taught by Dr. John Gerstner. He was teaching on the distinctives of Calvinistic theology and he talked about election. At one point, as he often did in his lectures, he switched over to a Socratic method of teaching and began to ask the students questions. He asked, “If, as we have seen from the Scriptures, God elects men and women to salvation, why should you and I bother to evangelize?”
He began with a student over on the left, and the student said something like, “You know, Dr. Gerstner, I have always wondered about that question myself.” Gerstner then went to the next student, and he said that he had no idea. Gerstner kept asking student after student, and Sproul, who was sitting at the other end, just knew that eventually Gerstner was going to get over to him. And when that happened, Gerstner said, “Now Mr. Sproul, nobody else seems to know the answer. Suppose you tell us. If God elects to salvation, why should we evangelize?”
Sproul replied, “Dr. Gerstner, I know you are looking for a profound answer to what is undoubtedly a deep philosophical and theological problem, and it’s an answer that I’m not prepared to give at this particular stage of my theological education. But, nevertheless, there is this one point that I think we could at least notice, and it might be a point at which we could begin our discussion. I admit this might be seen as an insignificant point, but is it not true that the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to evangelize?”
Gerstner responded, “Yes, Mr. Sproul, and what could be more significant than that—that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, your Savior and Master has told you to evangelize?” In telling the story, Sproul said that he got the point in a hurry.
So when Paul reminds Timothy, as he does here in these verses, that the day is coming when all of us will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at the appearing of his kingdom, he’s saying in that day we’re going to give an accounting to that one who has told us to go. How will we answer in that day? That should be a great encouragement. This life is short, and therefore we need to make that time count for the things God has commanded us to do.
There’s a second encouragement, which begins in verse 3, and it really has to do with the state of the world—both in Paul’s day and also in our own. Paul says the time is coming when men and women would not put up with sound doctrine, but rather, wanted to hear things that would tickle their fancy and please them, and allow them to rest in their sinful ways. In an age like that Paul is telling us that we should be particularly vigorous with the gospel.
As I read this, I almost hear Romans 1 again, because what Paul is talking about in Romans 1 is the general state of humanity in rebellion against God. He says so clearly in that chapter that the human race has come into the state it is because men and women do not want the true God who is presented in the Scriptures. They want to have a God of their own imagination. They want a God who allows them to continue in their sin, and they don’t want the holy God of the Bible who rightly is their Creator and Redeemer, and who demands a certain kind of life from them. And because they do not want these things, they suppress the knowledge of this true God. They turn to other gods, including all the mythologies, pagan religions, as well as the philosophical pursuits of the cultured sophisticates of our own time. Men and women do not want the gospel, and in a strange way this is an encouragement to us to make the gospel known, because when the rejection comes it is not a rejection primarily because of our methods, but it’s a rejection of God himself. They reject the gospel because they reject the Lord Jesus Christ because his gospel convicts men and women of sin.
What is the first encouragement Paul gives to help Timothy carry out his work?
What is the second encouragement, and how does it act as an incentive for Timothy to fulfill his calling?
Reflection: What examples can you think of where people do not put up with sound doctrine today?