[This sermon was preached on the evening of Friday, March 8th at the 2019 Spring Meeting of the Arkansas Presbytery by Candidate Logan Dixon.]
Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Prayer for Illumination:
Shine within our hearts, Loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. 
That prayer for illumination that we just prayed is adapted from a 4th century liturgy of John Chrysostom.
From what we know about Chrysostom, he was a bold preacher of the word. He was an orator of his day, and earned the nickname “Bishop Golden-Mouth” because he was able to explain the text of Scripture so well that even the most impoverished and unlearned communicant could understand the Gospel.
You have to understand that in the 4th century almost everyone was illiterate, and even if the Scriptures were mass-produced at time (which they weren’t) it wouldn’t have done anyone any good. They couldn’t afford a copy of the Scriptures nor could they read them. All they knew was what was spoken in the homilies by their pastors and bishops, and what was presented in baptism and the sacraments.
Everytime the word was preached, every time they witnessed a baptism, and participated in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they heard and participated in the proclamation of the Word of God.
And if there’s ever a time when we need a bold and clear proclamation of the word of God, it’s now. It’s today.
- When so many voices are vying for our attention, when we have so many deceiving spirits trying to lure the people of God into falsehood and deception, we need to only hear one voice and that is the voice of God, and the only way to know what God has said is to open the book that He has given us.
“What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” – How Firm a Foundation
I want us to think about the context for our passage this evening.
Paul writes two letters to Timothy over the course of Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus, and Paul’s first letter is general instructions about prayer in worship and the standards for pastors and elders in the church, and how the church should handle the financial support of widows.
This second letter that we’re reading from is much more personal. Paul knows his time is up and he’s probably asking himself, “If I’ve got one final word to say to a young pastor, to a son in the faith, what would I say?”
- Really, it’s a profound question. If you knew your time was close, what would you say to a person or people that you knew you would influence.
Based on the reading of our passage, Paul’s final message to Timothy is clear: Preach the Word. This is what we’ve been called to do, this is our mandate for ministry.
This is what many of you have been charged with. You were ordained to word and sacrament. This is what I’m working towards right now as a candidate. I’m working towards getting ordained to word and sacrament.
Every time a pastor, an elder, or any person serving as pulpit supply such as myself stands behind this sacred desk our only obligation is proclaim what God has spoken in His Holy Word.
But before we really look at Paul’s charge to Timothy, let’s look at how he builds up to this statement. All throughout chapter 3, we get two pictures that Paul paints.
- A picture of evil, and a picture of good.
- A picture of chaos and a picture of order, specifically God’s order.
Look at chapter 3, where Paul describes the chaos.
“But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, 4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
6 For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, 7 always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-7, CSB
In these 7 verses, Paul uses 19 words or phrases to describe the kinds of people that Timothy will be up against.
- It’s almost as if Paul is using these words to take us on a tour through a wide gulf of immorality.
- Have you ever been on a guided tour through a museum? Paul is taking Timothy on a guided tour through a museum of the kinds of people that oppose the Gospel, and every exhibit he points to just gets worse and worse.
- Wife and I were on our honeymoon in Branson, and she wanted to go through the Talking Rocks Cavern (“big scary hole”). I had never been through a cave, and the lower we got, the deeper and darker it got, and one point the tour guide turned off what little light we had to show us how dark it was, and I couldn’t see in front of my face. I was gripping her hand the whole time, and this is what Paul is doing by describing at length those who deny, reject, or twist the message of Jesus Christ.
- And probably the worst part about all of it, is this these aren’t simply secular pagans, these are people who claim to be believers. These are the kinds of people that will infiltrate the church. That’s what Paul says in 3:5, they’ll hold to a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof.
Over the last two weeks at Mt. Carmel we’ve been walking through 2nd John, and this last Sunday we talked about the antichrists and deceivers of the world. However, these antichrists that John talks about didn’t come from the world, they went out from the church.
“Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. By this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” – 1 John 2:18-19, CSB
And so, Paul tells Timothy that the way he’s going to know these people is the fact that they won’t have the same fruit.
- They’ll have a form of godliness like we mentioned, but they’ll deny its power by the way they live.
- And they won’t stop there, the text says that they will “worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions.”
- People can be led astray by their passions. We live in a time where truth is relative, I can have my truth, you can have your truth, and as long as we “tolerate” each other we can can get along hunky-dory. Anything can be true, you just have to “feel” that it’s true. Your passions just have to tell you that it’s true.
However, God’s word tells us a different story. God’s word tells us that we live in God’s world, and the only valid truth that we have is the truth that He establishes.
“Regardless of a man’s system, he has to live in God’s world.” 
― Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There
- And it’s not a matter of “well, that’s true for us because we’re Christians,” No, that’s just the truth. Period.
Now, here’s the good news. Paul doesn’t just leave us there. It’s not as if we’re a bunch of sheep thrown to the secularist wolves.
If we look back at 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul tells us what will happen to these people.
“Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres.”
– 2 Timothy 3:8-9, CSB
In these two verses, Paul summarizes Exodus 7 and 8 where Moses goes before Pharaoh, and as a sign to show that God is with him he has Aaron throw down his staff, and it turns into a snake.
Well, Pharaoh’s heart is hard so instead of relenting, and accepting this as a sign from God, he calls for Jannes and Jambres (his personal wizards, his Hocus Pocus hitmen) to throw down their staffs and they also turn into snakes, and then according to Scripture, Aaron’s staff swallows both of their staffs, and of course it makes them look bad in front of Pharoah. (Exodus 7:12)
- And Paul says that this is exactly what’s going to happen in the end. These false teachers, these immoral people can’t win, and the reason they can’t win is because they’re visitors trying to win on the home turf.
- Here’s what I mean by that: Jesus spoke about this kind of situation when he gave us the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30). He tells us that the master planted good seed, but an enemy came in and planted bad seed, and then when Jesus explains the parable, He tells us that the field is the world, and there’s coming a day then the master of the field will come and separate the wheat and the tares.
- Why? Because the tares don’t belong in the field. Antichrists, deceivers, and false teachers don’t belong in the Church. They are intruders and trespassers in God’s world, and I would go as far as saying that allowing the foolishness of such people to be known is one of the ways in which the tares are separated from wheat.
- God, in due time, allows the tares to go forth teaching what Paul calls “the doctrine of devils,” and when they do that, their foolishness will soon be made known to all as we just read in 2 Timothy 3:9.
So, in verses 1-9, in 2 Timothy 3, Paul paints of picture of the ungodliness that will rear it’s ugly head in the church, and Paul says, “Don’t follow their example, don’t go their way,” and then in verse 10, he says, “Instead remember what you have learned.” “Take all these examples of ungodliness and replace them with examples of godliness that you have learned.” Look at 2 Timothy 3:10-17.
“But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12 In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:10-17, CSB
Paul directly addresses Timothy 8 times. He makes it clear to Timothy in no uncertain terms that the ball is in his court.
- Timothy has been equipped with the truth since he was a child. He not only knows what is right and what is wrong, but he knows the consequences of either choice.
- So, this is where it comes down to us. We’ve got the secularism of the world on one side, and we’ve got the Scriptures on the other side. Now, where are we going to go?
- It comes down what we trust more.
- So, here’s my argument for why we should trust the Bible: The Bible reads the world, but the world can’t read the Bible. Here’s what I mean: everything the Bible says about what’s in the world has been true since the day it was penned, and is still true now. Yet, what the world says about the Bible is wrong and inconsistent.
- The world tells us that the Bible can’t be trusted, the world tells us that the Bible is a fairy tale book, the world tells that this book isn’t God’s word, that there is no God, and we just made everything up to control people with fear.
- Yet, the Bible tells us that the world and it’s lusts are passing away. (1 John 2:17). The Bible tells us that the world has a Creator, and evidence for our Creator is all around us, and when we refuse to worship Him, we are suppressing the truth with our unrighteousness and we are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-23)
Just turn on the TV, get on YouTube, or pick up the newspaper, and it won’t take you long to find someone suppressing the truth with their unrighteousness by trying to pick a fight with a God that they allegedly don’t believe in, and if all this nonsense stayed out there in world it would be one thing, but unfortunately this has somehow found its way into the pulpits of some of our churches.
The question for us as pastors, pulpit supply ministers, and elders is this: are we going to stand our ground as believers on the truth of what God has said or are we going to bow to the pressure of a world that has no idea what truth even is?
In the face of pressure and persecution, Paul’s words to Timothy are God’s words for us now: PREACH. THE. WORD.
- The preached word has power, and I think we forget that. We replace biblical sermons with programs and conversations because that’s what people want now, but there’s no power in ideas and imaginations of men, but THERE IS POWER in what saith the Lord.
“For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11 so my word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” – Isaiah 55:10-11, CSB
During the days of the Reformation, someone asked Martin Luther to explain the amazing success of the message of justification by faith alone. It was a good question because this message spread like wildfire across Europe even though Luther himself spent time in and out of prison. How could one man have changed the course of history?
Luther looked at the man who asked him the question, thought for a minute and said, “While I slept or drank beer in Wittenburg … the Word did the work. I didn’t do anything. The Word did it all.” That’s beauty of the word of God, it has power precisely because it is God’s word. There’s nothing that we do to give it power.
- There’s nothing that we can do to make the word of God more or less effective.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet from the romantic era in the 1800s. Something many people may not know about him is that he was a Unitarian minister, and when someone asked him about the inspiration of Scripture he said, “I believe Scripture is inspired because it inspires me.”
- Let me say emphatically that that IS NOT how we, as Christians, are to view Scripture. The Scriptures are not inspired because they appeal to our subjective view of inspiration. They are inspired because when we read Scripture, we are reading the very words of God, and it behooves as Christians, specifically as Cumberland Presbyterians to return to a high view of Scripture.
Our very own Confession of Faith tells us, “God inspired persons of the covenant community to write the scriptures. In and through the scriptures God speaks about creation, sin, judgment, salvation, the church and the growth of believers. The scriptures are the infallible rule of faith and practice, the authoritative guide for Christian living.” (1984 Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith, 1.05)
Did you catch those three key words in there? Inspired. Infallible. Authoritative.
My question to us is: do we still believe that?
With all of that in mind, I want us to examine two points from the text. First, the content of Paul’s charge, and the reason for Paul’s charge.
The Content of Paul’s Charge (v. 2, 5)
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching… But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, 5, CSB
If we wanted to, we could really break this down and exposit every clause that Paul says, but the main thing that Paul charges Timothy with is to be ready armed with the Word.
- If you’re gonna be ready with it, then you’ve got to stay in it. If you’re going to be armed with a gun, you better know how to use that thing. It’s no different. It’s no different. We have to live with the Bible.
- As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever forget what Chris Anderson said at the last Presbytery meeting, “we have to live with the Bible in one hand and the Confession of Faith in the other hand.”
While preaching over this same text, J. Ligon Duncan said, “There are a lot of people who think that preaching is some sort of a moral deliverance on some relevant subject, with pious advice and counsel. But Paul says that preaching is heralding the divinely authorized message of God to a sinful and needy world, and that the way to do that is to preach His word, to explain His word, to apply His word.” 
In medieval times, when a king wanted his kingdom to know something he would send out heralds, and those heralds were to go out to every part of the kingdom and say whatever the king had given them to say. They couldn’t compromise the message. They couldn’t insert their own thoughts or opinions. If they didn’t like the message, they couldn’t change it.
- We are in a similar situation as those heralds were. We have the word of God, and our responsibility is to proclaim it loudly and clearly, and to watch it go forth with power and authority.
The Reason for Paul’s Charge (v. 1, 3-4)
There’s actually two reasons for Paul’s charge. Reason #1 is found in verse one.
“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, [at] his appearing and his kingdom:”
– 1 Timothy 4:1, CSB
The first reason for Paul’s charge is that when Christ returns, He will return as a judge.
- He will not only judge those who hear the word preached, but He will judge those of us who teach and preach the word. James 3:1 tells us that those of us who teach will receive a more strict judgement than those who do not.
- In 2nd Peter 2, the Apostle Peter describes in graphic detail the judgement that Jesus Christ Himself will place upon those who are false teachers.
- Jesus will also judge those who believe those false teachers. In Revelation 2, when Jesus has John write to the church at Thyatira, He tells them that they have tolerated the woman Jezebel to teach, and that He has given her time to repent, but if she doesn’t repent, He will throw her onto a sickbed ALONG WITH her children (in this case, those who believe her teaching). (Revelation 2:22)
Paul is reminding Timothy that God will hold him accountable if he doesn’t stick to the truth of Scripture.
The second reason for this charge is found in verses 3-4.
“For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. 4 They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4, CSB
The second reason for the charge is because the world isn’t going to stop twisting the truth, and creating false narratives for people to believe in, and as long as that’s the case, the church should be a place where the truth is preached.
In a world full of shifting sand, the church should be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only foundation that people can build their lives on.
My hope and my prayer for us as Christians, as Cumberland Presbyterians, is that we would never abandon or trade the truth of God’s Word. We must remain to be a people who are committed to the truth of Scripture.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, and we are Your people. Send the Holy Spirit to embed this word deep within us so we would never lose sight of it. Let us live out the truth of Your Word so that when the cares of this world would come against us, we will not be choked out, but by Your grace we would live strong and free with the strength and freedom that comes through, Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
- From the 4th Century liturgy of John Chrysostom, adapted by M.D. Bush
- Schaeffer, Francis A. The God Who Is There. InterVarsity Press, 1998.
- “Preach the Word.” First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 29 May 2005, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/preach-the-word.