Keeping the Charge

Keeping the Charge

As we continue considering highlights in second Timothy, three themes continue to emerge as Paul addresses his spiritual son:

1) Confront wrong teaching;

2) Provide right teaching;

3) Stay the course of faith.

The beginning of this third chapter highlights the ungodly and terrible times and behavior Timothy can expect to see in the last or coming days, including: people being lovers of themselves and of money, being boastful, proud, abusive, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (vv. 2–3). “Have nothing to do with such people,” Paul tells him, mentioning two men in particular—Jannes and Jambres—who won’t get very far because “their folly will be clear to everyone” (9).

Having warned Timothy of this wrong behavior and teaching, Paul then points to his own life as an example for Timothy to follow—Paul’s teaching and way of life, his purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings which have all been because of and for the sake of Christ Jesus (10–11). And then Paul says in verses 14–17, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” As we saw a few weeks ago, Timothy was raised by his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice,[1] both of whom were faithful practitioners of the Jewish faith, followers of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And both of these women also came to believe and acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures they had known and followed. So Timothy had indeed “from infancy…known the Holy Scriptures” (15), having been raised in a pious Jewish home. As he learned these Scriptures, he became convinced of them, firmly persuaded and established in their truth, because he knew those from whom he learned it (14). It would appear that Grandma Lois and Mama Eunice didn’t hold to a “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy but rather they lived the faith they taught Timothy. There was no hypocrisy in their lives, no light between word and deed, but rather they exemplified God’s teaching because they believed it. It was through Timothy’s upbringing by these women of faith that he himself came to understand and receive the salvation provided by Messiah Jesus, by Jesus the Christ. And Timothy not only learned about God from his mother and grandmother but he learned as well from Paul, his spiritual father—remember that Timothy’s biological father wasn’t a believer. Along with Lois and Eunice Paul also affirmed that God’s “Holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (15).

And in Timothy’s role caring for Christ’s church in Ephesus, Paul is encouraging him to now make use of the Scriptures he has been taught in his own teaching in helping his flock to grow and in correcting the false teachers who are present. In verse 16 Paul tells him, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” “All Scripture is God-breathed” indicates that the source of Scripture isn’t people, isn’t humans, but God. Beginning with Genesis, after God created the first man and woman in his image, he spoke to them, he communicated with them, entrusting them with the task of caring for the garden in which he’d placed them. And even after they disobeyed him and willingly obeyed the temptations of the serpent, God didn’t give up on his image-bearers but continued to speak to them through his servants and prophets in the Old Testament and through Jesus Christ and the apostles in the New. Again, Timothy was trained in the Old Testament Scriptures by his mother and grandmother and, along with them and Paul, came to see and understand that these Scriptures pointed to and were fulfilled in the person of Christ Jesus, Jesus the Messiah.

One of the most striking places we see this fulfillment confirmed by Jesus himself is in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.[2] Having been tempted in the wilderness for forty days by the devil—and unlike Adam and Eve, having resisted his temptations—Jesus “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,” “went to Nazareth…on the Sabbath day,” and “went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” Then he read the following from Isaiah the prophet, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And having read these words, Jesus then announced to all who were present—and Luke notes that “the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him”—“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In the person of Jesus Christ God had at long last arrived to set his image-bearers free—to proclaim good news to the poor—and freedom to the prisoners—and to give sight to the blind—freedom to the oppressed—and to announce the Lord’s favor to all who would receive it. Jesus Christ confirmed that he was the promised and long-awaited for Messiah[3] who was to come and bring his shalomGod’s shalom—to a creation awaiting and groaning for its redemption. Though not all Jewish believers accepted this, it’s important to remember that the first Christians, that is the first followers of rabbi Jesus, were Jewish believers like Lois—and Eunice—and Timothy—and Paul, that once great persecutor of Christians. All of them were enabled to understand and embrace Jesus as the Christ by God’s mercy and favor. And so God, by his Holy Spirit, continues even today to work in the lives of all who have professed and given their lives over to following Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

As we turn to verse 16, one of the things I continue to be struck by as I have the privilege of preaching God’s Word on a weekly basis, is how rich the context of some well-known passages is. The sixteenth verse in 2 Timothy is one of these. Whereas this is a verse that is correctly pointed to as one which informs our doctrine of Scripture, i.e., that, as just noted, Scripture isn’t a human invention but a divine revelation, a divine disclosure from God to those whom he’s created in his image, this verse is also part of the encouragement Paul is providing his dear son, Timothy. Again, Paul has been encouraging Timothy to:

[1] Teach right doctrine;

[2] Challenge wrong doctrine; and

[3] Remain strong in the faith.

So notice that after Paul reminds Timothy of the divine source of Scripture, of its being God-breathed, he then addresses the significance of this truth, especially for Timothy’s context. Not only is Scripture God-breathed, but it is, first of all, “useful for teaching.” Teaching the believers in these churches about who God in Christ is, in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, and of how he expects us to live in a holy manner even as he is holy, is Timothy’s chief responsibility as their shepherd.

The next significance of this God-breathed Scripture mentioned by Paul is that it is useful for “rebuking” and “correcting.” Again, given that one of Timothy’s greatest challenges, noted throughout this letter, is that of confronting false teachers, Paul is reminding Timothy that all false teaching should be “rebuked,” it should be called out for the false teaching it is, and “corrected,” it should be made to align with the truth of the Old Testament teaching and that of Jesus and the apostles. Timothy is to counteract and rectify any teaching that is contrary to what God has disclosed by his Spirit in his Word.

And, finally, this God-breathed Scripture is useful for “training in righteousness,” for teaching us, through putting its instruction into practice, how God expects us to live. In the end, all of these—teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness—are “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (17). As Paul is imprisoned and awaiting his death, these are the things he wants his son, Timothy, to remember when he is gone. Final words have a certain poignancy, don’t they? If you know you won’t have many more opportunities to share your heart with a loved one, you lay out your concerns even as Paul has been doing here. He is doing everything in his power to make sure that once he is gone, Timothy will continue strong in his faith and in feeding and caring for the flock of Christ.

So, too, Paul begins chapter four by stating, “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:” Paul’s words have an oath-like quality in that he is invoking no less than God and Christ Jesus as witness to what he is about to say to Timothy. Paul is speaking to Timothy before Christ Jesus who is not only Judge over all, but who is also our King who will one day return to establish, once and for all, the kingdom he inaugurated when he first came to earth. Though things may not now be as God would have them—for this world is yet filled with false teachers and people who seek to do their will rather than God’s—at the final appearing of Christ Jesus and his kingdom God will make all things right. He will establish his shalom, his peace. All evil will be judged. And all who have turned to Jesus Christ, his Son, will get to enjoy him not as we now do in the midst of and despite suffering and evil but one day with complete, tearless, unbounded joy in heaven.

Paul would have been hard-pressed to introduce his charge to Timothy in more sober and forceful language. What he is about to say isn’t chit-chat but is to be taken seriously. Yet what Paul charges is both magnificently simple—and profound: In verse 2, he states: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” If ever there was a way to encapsulate the charge to a pastor, I think this verse might be it. Paul charges Timothy to preach God’s Word—to take the responsibility of “rightly dividing the word of truth” seriously and thoughtfully. For Scripture has been given to us by God that we might know him and know and learn how to live lives that are pleasing to him. So interpreting and getting it right is of supreme importance. Paul further tells Timothy to “be prepared in season and out of season.” Whether in times of ease or times of toil, Timothy is to proclaim God’s Word in all circumstances, in every situation. And, again, part of Timothy’s charge as a minister is to [#1] correct false teaching, [#2] rebuke wrong behavior, and [#3] encourage those in need of it. But notice that this isn’t simply a matter of speaking the truth to those in need of it, but of doing so in a loving manner, “with great patience and careful instruction.” Not a little patience, but great patience; not haphazard instruction, but careful instruction. It takes time to learn God’s Word. Which is just another way of saying that it takes time to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And isn’t this why we’re all here? To better learn how to become like Jesus? To learn what he taught. To live as he lived. To love as he loved.

Paul next turns Timothy’s gaze to what may lie ahead. Timothy should take care of current false teaching and bad behavior, “For the time will come,” verse 3, “when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” Though at one level this statement sounds prophetic, at another it’s what Paul and other early believers were already experiencing under Nero’s persecution. And it’s what many Christians today still experience. Even as he wrote this letter Paul was imprisoned and awaiting death for the horrific “crime”—at least in the eyes of the authorities—of preaching sound doctrine. And, again, isn’t this extraordinary? The sound doctrine Paul and faithful followers of God have ever preached has been that we are called to love God in Christ most of all and others as ourselves. It’s a sound doctrine of sacrifice and single-minded devotion and of encouraging one another—and all others—to turn from ungodly behaviors to godly ones; it’s a sound doctrine of doing what is right, owning when we do wrong, and asking—and granting—forgiveness to one another. And this learning and living out sound doctrine is possible only by our asking for—and receiving—the forgiveness our loving and heavenly Father has provided by the sacrifice of his Son and by the enlightening—and enabling—and empowering of his Holy Spirit.

But, Paul warns, instead of sound doctrine people, “to suit their own desires…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.” “Itching ears” want to be “scratched” by words in keeping with their own desires. Hasn’t this ever been the case? Isn’t this the case today?

Itching ears would rather believe the myth that what’s done in Vegas, stays in Vegas—or that what we do in the privacy of our homes is nobody else’s business—rather than the truth that even seemingly private acts have an impact upon others;

Itching ears would rather believe the myth that all ways—or even no way—leads to God; or that God is but an invention of human imagination, created from a need to believe he exists, rather than the truth that we have all been made in the image of our Creator and are in need of his Redeemer that we might know and enjoy him now and forevermore;

Itching ears would rather believe the myth that we belong to ourselves rather than to God and one another; that we can do as we’d like with our lives and set up our own standards of which behaviors are right and which behaviors are wrong rather than the truth that we need to be taught by God’s Word and Jesus Christ’s life what loving behavior towards one another looks like;

Itching ears would rather believe the myth that there’s no such thing as sin but only different societal and personal views of morality; that there are no moral absolutes God expects of all people; rather than the truth that God is a Judge to whom we are all accountable and who will one day judge us for the things we choose to believe and the acts we choose to carry out;

Itching ears would rather believe the myth that the Bible may be insightful but not binding; that the truths it presents are no more important than those other holy books or people present; that Jesus may have been a wise man, but surely he wasn’t God rather than the truth that God has communicated to us uniquely in the 66 books of the Old and New Testament all of which point to Christ Jesus, his Son, as the one and only way to our loving and heavenly Father by the encouragement and enabling of his Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, itching ears were not unique to Paul’s time but have ever been with us. We saw itching ears in Elijah and Elisha’s time in those who chose to follow Baal and Asherah and their false prophets rather than the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And itching ears live in our day and will continue to exist until the day when Christ Jesus does return to judge the living and the dead and establishes his kingdom once and for all. And the only way to counteract itching ears that won’t put up with sound doctrine but even today persecute and torture and imprison followers of Christ is to stay the course as we seek to proclaim and express the love of Christ to those whom God brings across our paths. As Paul states in verse 5, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” Again, do you hear the entreaty here of a parent whose time on earth will soon end, being worried about his son once he is gone? The only antidote to those whose itching ears are drawn by false doctrine is to continue to teach and practice—to live out—right doctrine. Followers of Christ are called to keep our head in all situations.

So let me ask you, given that Paul has been addressing Timothy, a new pastor, does it follow that all of you get a “pass” on what he is teaching here? That these are merely instructions for pastors so Paul’s words only have relevance for me as a new pastor of this church? I don’t think so! In verses 16 and 17 of chapter 3, Paul makes clear that the God-breathed Scripture we have been entrusted with—and which is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness—has been given to use that “the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And all who follow Christ are his servants. In his epistle to the Ephesians[4] Paul similarly states:  “For we are God’s handiwork (or workmanship), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Brothers and sisters, good works is what we are made for. Good works is what we are called to do. And those good works—for all us—can only be known by us as we turn to God’s Word. Keeping the charge isn’t easy, but it is a charge we are called to keep—to preach God’s word; to be prepared in season and out of season—to be prepared at all times; to gently and with great patience and careful instruction correct, rebuke, and encourage one another; to keep our head in all situations rather than act on emotion; to be willing to endure hardship for life is hard; to do the work of an evangelist—which is nothing other than sharing the love of Christ with those around us. And to learn these things we need the God-breathed Scriptures left us that are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This is the charge we are called to keep.

Let us pray.

[1] 2 Timothy 1:5: I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and

in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

[2] The full passage is found in Luke 4:14–21: 14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[Isaiah 61:1, 2; Isaiah 58:6] 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”


[3] See also: John 5:39–40: 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.; Luke 24:27: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

[4] Ephesians 2:10.

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