Text: II Timothy 4:1-8
I want you to open your Bibles to 2 Timothy 4 : 1 – 8. Paul says,
“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 with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you [literally: ‘But as for you’] be sober in all things, you endure hardship, you do the work of an evangelist, you fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Some time ago I was visiting with a friend that told me about a little incident that had happened in his family. One night he and his wife decided they would like to have a family night out. So they thought it would be nice if they could find a movie that was suitable for the whole family to attend. They looked in the paper. But it’s not always easy to tell because they say it’s suitable but then they will have about seven exceptions in there. So he decided to call the theater and talk to the manager.
He said, “Now, I’m planning to bring my wife and children to this movie tonight and you say in the paper that it’s suitable. But I want to now if this movie is suitable.” The manager assured him that it was suitable. So, taking the managers word, the man took his wife and children to the movie. He said the movie hadn’t been on about fifteen minutes until he just couldn’t take it any more. He was so embarrassed to be watching those things and listening to that language in the presence of his children. He just grabbed his kids and wife and they left. He mused on that for a moment and said, “I forgot one very important fact.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “What is suitable for the world is not necessarily suitable for the Christian”.
Just because the world says this is suitable, for the Christian that doesn’t necessarily mean it is suitable. Of course, we are getting that way. Things are getting more suitable for us every day. The world is rapidly accelerating this suitability. The things that were not suitable even to the world a few years ago are now suitable to the world. The day has long since past when the Christian ethic is accepted by the world. The farther we go, it seems, that the world has this marvelous magic machine that can just make anything suitable. Things that were abhorrent and disgusting just a little while ago, they are now declared to be suitable. And Christians are coming along with it. We’re an accommodating bunch, wanting to get along with everybody. After all, you are in this world and therefore you have to live in it. We find ourselves accepting the ‘suitableness’ of the world. Anytime the church and the world sit down at the negotiating table you can always bet that the church is going to come out on the loosing end. It is the church that compromises. The world never compromises its standard.
What has been happening in the past few years, well I guess has been happening since the beginning of time, is that gradually the Christian people of every age find themselves gradually brainwashed by the world and the flesh and the devil until everything becomes suitable to us. And it was no different in the days of Paul and Timothy. As Paul is writing this last letter addressing it to this young son in the faith, Paul knows that his time is about over. As a matter of fact he says, “I’m already in the process of being offered. I’m already in the process of dying.”
Paul is concerned about the preservation of the gospel, this gospel that Paul himself has so jealously guarded and for which he has so heroically suffered all of these years. Now it is up to him to pass it on to somebody. And of course his choice is to pass it on to Timothy. Timothy is that one that he calls the son in the faith. More than likely Timothy was Paul’s favorite young preacher. Maybe perhaps converted to Christ by Paul, but all the way through these letters you get the idea that there was a very special relationship between Paul and this young man Timothy. As a matter of fact, mention is made that the last time they saw each other, Timothy broke down and wept. Paul, as he comes into this letter, he will say, “Timothy, I want you to do your best to get here. I want to see you one more time before I die so that my joy may be fulfilled.”
So he is passing the torch to Timothy. But he recognizes that Timothy doesn’t have the best qualifications for this kind of leadership. It always amazes me, yet it shouldn’t, the kind of people that God chooses for positions of leadership like this; beginning with the disciples and Israel; as the man said years ago, “How odd of God to choose the Jews”. We would never have chosen the band of disciples that Jesus chose. Yet here is Paul the apostle as he is having to pass on the torch, somebody is going to have to preserve and protect the gospel in all its purity.
And his choice is Timothy. But Timothy lacks certain qualifications and has certain characteristics that are going to make it difficult. For one thing he’s a young man; at least he was by their accord. He may have been in his mid thirties. But the Romans only really recognized two ages: that was when you got to be an adult at about forty plus and when you got to be really old, about sixty or seventy. Timothy in his mid thirties was still considered to be a young man. There are several references in the letters that no man is to despise his youth.
He’s a young man. Not only that, he’s not in good health. I have an idea that you have to be pretty tough in order to do the things that Paul did. Paul says in one place for Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and for his frequent afflictions. Timothy just didn’t have a stomach ache once in a while, he had frequent afflictions.
Most of all Timothy was timid. This, I think, comes through in so many places. Timothy was not the bold and audacious type that perhaps Paul had been. There was some natural timidity in this young man. This is why Paul said in one place, “God has not given us the spirit of fear”. (2 Timothy 1:7)
He’s saying, “Timothy you’re letting the world intimidate you, but God has not given us that fear. You need to stir up the gift of God that is in you.” So Timothy had a natural reticence, natural reluctance, and some natural hesitation. Yet here is the young man that Paul is dumping the gospel on and saying, “It is up to you to preserve it, protect it, and to preach it”.
The phrase that I think really strikes the note is that phrase in verse five (2 Timothy 4:5), where Paul after having described the current situation and having described what’s going to happen in the future, he says in verse five emphasizing contrast, “But as for you Timothy”. That phrase is found four times in this second epistle and it’s found several times in the first one. What it simply means is that Paul is hammering down this fact to Timothy.
It is like Paul is saying to him, “No matter what the world does, no matter what anybody else says, no matter how anybody else preaches…BUT AS FOR YOU.
But as for you:
You’ve got to be different.
You must stand against the tide.
You must resist the prevailing mood of the day.
I think that if Paul would write to us today one of the paramount things he might say to us is this, “But as for you”. Regardless of what the rest of the world says; regardless of what everybody else preaches; regardless of what everyone else believes…but as for you. You are different. You are a person of God and you’re supposed to be different. What is suitable to the world can never be suitable for you. But as for you…
Three reasons for Paul’s charge to Timothy
Now there are basically three reasons why Paul makes this charge to Timothy and I want us to look at them now. Paul is saying to us, “But as for you, you are to stand firm and preach the Word and be faithful to the Word”.
The first reason is because of the presence of the God-man
Number one: because of the presence of the God-man. That’s the first condition, that’s the first encouragement, that’s the first reason: we need to be aware and conscious of the God-man. Notice how Paul introduces this passage, in verse one he says, “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 by His kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1). When Paul begins this charge to Timothy the very first thing he says, before he ever puts down the details of the charge, I want you to know that I’m making this charge in the presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, he wants to remind Timothy that everything that Timothy does, all of Timothy’s life, is lived in the presence of the Lord. That the presence of God is not something that we are going to be ushered in to at the last day and the judgment of God is not something simply that is reserved for the last day. But that we are constantly under the judgment of God. We are constantly under the evaluation of God upon our life. We are ALWAYS in the presence of God!
I think what Paul is saying is this, “The reason you are intimidated by these false teachers and the world is because you’re more conscious of the presence of man than you are of the presence of God. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God.” Now he has used this phrase a number of times. It would be a rewarding study for you to go through your New Testament and find how often there are phrases like this: “in the sight of God” and “before God”. Paul talks about offering up his body as a sweet smelling sacrifice in the sight of God. The idea is that everything we do as a Christian is done in the sight of God. That God is our audience and that we are playing to the gallery; that we are to preach to the balcony because that is where our audience is; that everything we say and everything we do is in the sight of God. But this time he adds something to it. He adds not just that he is doing this in the presence of God, but that He is to judge the living and the dead. Now that ought to give Timothy some encouragement! That the very ones he’s going to be wrestling with, the very ones he’s going to be dealing with, the very ones who are going to be laughing at him because he still calls himself an antiquated pilgrim; those are the ones that his God is going to judge.
Paul is saying, “Timothy, you stand firm because you are serving the God who is going to judge every one of these guys”.
Then he talks about his appearing; the fact that Jesus is going to manifest himself and the fact that he is going to have a kingdom that he’s going to rule. All of this the apostle is just accumulating, trying to instill in Timothy the courage to resist the prevailing mood of the day. He says, “You be aware, you remember the presence of the God-man. You’re in the very presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. That ought to make all the difference in the world.
I remember one of the first revivals that I ever preached thirty years ago when I was 19 and I was in college. It was at the First Baptist Church of Bowlegs Oklahoma. I mean that I have been to some sophisticated places! I had preached revivals before, but there was something different about this one. I preached Sunday morning and Sunday night. The Lord blessed, but I went back to school on Monday and came back on Monday night. The minute that I drove into that little town I felt something strange. When I walked into that church building the atmosphere was so thick you could cut it with a knife. That place was packed. Of course it didn’t take much to pack it! But I never had a packed audience before. I wished I’d prepared something if I would have known that everyone was going to come! There was a stillness and ‘Godness’ upon that place that I had never felt. The pastor came to me and he said, “I don’t know what’s happening, but something is. I’ve had people knocking on my door all night long wanting to know how to be saved”. Here I am 19 years old and looking out over the congregation I see several pastors there. All of a sudden my knees turn to water. I say, “Oh dear Lord, I’m going to mess this thing up”. I was still young enough to believe that revival had a lot to do with how good a preacher I was. The pastor of that church took me into his office because he could sense that this young preacher-boy was scared to death because it just never had struck me that God was going to be there in that way. In his office that pastor told me, “Ronny, there’s only one person that you have to please tonight and that’s Jesus”.
I want you to know that liberated me and set me free. I was able to go out there and pretty well ignore all the rest of the people that were there. That was 30 years ago, but to this moment I have not found a better motivation for preaching. I’ve not found a better motivation for holy living. I’ve not found a better motivation for trying to humble myself before God and recognize that I have only one person to please this morning, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ. I’d better please Him, because if I please you but don’t please Him it doesn’t make any difference anyway. Everybody else may come up to you after the service and tell you what a great sermon it is, but when you walk out the door and get in the car and it’s just you and Jesus alone and He says nothing. Then son, you have failed.
Paul says, “But as for you, stand firm because remember the presence of the God-man in everything you do”.
The second reason is because of the perversion of the fourth man
The second thing that I want you to notice, the second basis, in verse three Paul says, “For there is a time coming when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths”. (2 Timothy 4:3)
There’s a second reason Paul is saying to us, “You stay on the alert, you stay firm, you stand fast”. That’s because of what I want to call the ‘perversion of the fourth man’. Now the ‘fourth man’ terminology was created by Alfred Weber a number of years ago as he traced back the history of man. The first man of course was the Neanderthal man, the Prehistoric man. The second man was the man of the Ice Age and then on and on. In his study the fourth man is Modern man, man as he is today. He is man after he has been humanized, mechanized, secularized, technicized, and computerized.
He is the purely secular man. He is the product of the secular world. The fourth man no longer believes or responds to any spiritual appeal. He’s the man who has lost his sensitivity toward God and toward spiritual things. The ‘fourth man’ is probably the last man of history because he has come to the place where he no longer believes and there is no spiritual appeal that can be made to him. The man who laughs at belief and has become so sophisticated that he has shrugged off those old ‘crutches’ of the past that we needed to limp by on, those ignorant devices of the past such as religion and the Bible. You no longer need those now because we have become sophisticated and secularized.
Paul was warning Timothy to stand fast, preach the Word, and be firm because the time is coming when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate, they will gather around them large numbers of teachers to satisfy their own desires. The time is coming. Paul is talking about a changing condition. The time is coming when they will not endure sound doctrine. They won’t put up with it. It’s not the same word as ‘endure’ when he says to Timothy that he must endure suffering and hardship. It’s different altogether. This simply means that they won’t put up with sound doctrine. It doesn’t say that they won’t enjoy it; they have never enjoyed it, perhaps. What we have many times is people who put up with it, but they just don’t get much out of it and don’t enjoy it. But he said the time is coming where they will just stop putting up with it.
Sound doctrine means healthy and wholesome doctrine. I think what he is saying is that the time will come when people no longer put up with good wholesome teaching. What they want is junk food. There will be a massive disease going around called ‘itching ears’. A lot of people will have it. So they will gather around them teachers who will tickle their ears and they will turn from the truth and turn to story telling.
Now I want you to see something that I think is extremely important. Paul says that the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. Now I think generally when we read this we immediately assume that Paul is talking about the unbelieving, ‘unchristianized’ world. It was true then that the pagans wouldn’t endure sound doctrine. No, he’s not talking about the pagan unbelievers. He’s talking about the believing community. He’s talking about the church. The time is coming within the church when they will no longer put up with healthy sound teaching but they will want something that will please them and tickle their ears. They will want ‘junk food’ preaching that will satisfy their own desires. He’s talking about a condition in the church.
Now he’s not saying that these people will no longer like preaching. You’re reading it wrong if you think he’s saying people no longer come to Bible Conferences and no longer come to church. No, these people love preaching and they still listen. As a matter of fact, they still love preachers. They love them so much that they heap them up. That’s what it says. They will gather a multitude of preachers, but it’s just certain ones.
You know, I can tell health food by just a taste. What I want to know is why health food has to taste so unhealthy. Have you ever noticed that junk food tastes so good? I think the same thing is true in the spiritual realm as in the physical realm. I want to tell you something dear friends; healthy teaching, sound teaching, wholesome teaching that builds sound bones of theology and sound mature Christian lives doesn’t always taste very good. There are a number of popular ministries today that would die if they started preaching sound teaching because people would leave them because they want people who will tickle their ears.
You can see it now, somebody says, “Oh, I’m sick. I’ve got itching ears.”
“Oh, that’s going around. What have you been doing for it?”
“I’ve been going down there to the First Church of Hard Sayings. The pastor down there is just causing it to get worse”.
“Listen, I found this one that you really need to go to…reverend tickly fingers. He’ll cure you.”
These people ought to be having their ears boxed, but they are having them tickled.
All Paul is saying is, “Now Timothy, within the church of Jesus Christ there is going to come a time when they will no longer put up with sound doctrine. You try to feed them sound doctrine and they will walk out, they will not put up with it.”
These folks are shallow. They don’t want their hearts touched, just their ears tickled. They’re not interested in going deep and not interested in having the depths of their soul probed and looking in all the dark corners. They just want to be made to feel better. They are shallow and sensual. In the sense that what they are after is simply to have an experience, that’s all, they just want to feel good.
…is for Christians, and ministers particularly, to be able to discern that which is nothing more than group psychology/mass hysteria and that which is the true work of the Spirit of God. And friend, there is a difference! For some people religion and church is just something they do. Some folks go to the bar and take a drink, others go to a dance, and others go to church; absolutely no difference. Why? Because the basic desire is, “I want you to make me feel good. Don’t talk to me about sacrifice; don’t talk to me about denying myself; don’t talk to me about taking up my cross and following you; don’t talk to me about sending people to missions; don’t talk to me about anything like that. You just tell me how wonderful I am and how much good I’m doing and just make me feel good and tell me stories.” That’s what the word ‘fable’ means; it means a propensity for story telling. They will turn away from the truth to fables, to myths, to story telling. They will give up the possession of an eternity for the pleasure of a moment.
They are sensual and selfish. He says they will heap to THEMSELVES. They are not interested in someone else’s welfare. They will search high and low for what they want. They will go from one church to another; they will traverse the country trying to find THEIR teacher.
This of course means that they are sick because they are not eating good food. Which in turn means that they are stupid, in the true sense of the word. They are no longer able to make rational godly judgments and they loose the ability to discern.
The third reason is because of the passing of the apostolic man
Alright, here is the last word. Paul says, “You stand firm. But as for you, you resist the prevailing mood because of the passing of the apostolic man”. There is another ‘for’ in verse six which gives us another reason. Paul says, “You do all of these things FOR (because) I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7, emphasis added). This is what Paul is saying, “Timothy, all the more do you need to stand firm, all the more do you need to be on guard”. Why? “For I’m through, I’m already in the process of being offered up; the time of my departure is at hand. I’ve fought my fight, I’ve finished my course, and I’ve kept the faith. I’m going to be gone. I’ve fought my fight; therefore you need to fight even harder. I’ve run my course; you need to run even swifter. I’ve kept my faith; you need to make certain that you treasure it even more so.”
Why Timothy is it so essential that now at this moment that you stand firm and be different? Because the passing of the apostolic man. The apostle is going and it’s up to you now to carry the torch. I think that ought to be a great motivation for a lot of us. You do realize, and history teaches us, the farther every generation takes us is one step further from the source of the flame. That’s why they still refer to some preachers as ‘old fashioned’ preachers. You know what we mean by an ‘old fashioned’ preacher. We mean one who still believes the Book and still preaches it. They are out of fashion, out of style.
I wish I could be here to hear Dr. J. Harold Smith. He baptized me, licensed me, ordained me, and kicked me out into it. When he came to our church I was just a little ol’ fourteen year old kid and I had never seen anything like that, the most fearless man in the world to me. He would get to preaching on Sunday morning, preaching against sin, preaching against godlessness, and preaching against all manner of evil. He would get to sweating and take off that coat and preach and preach and preach. But I want to tell you friend, every time I got on a city bus in Fort Smith Arkansas back then I would hear someone either cussing or discussing that man. I thank God that I had that kind of heritage; I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! I have an affinity for men like Dr. Smith and Vance Havner.
What’s going to happen when all of these are gone? Are we going to keep the fire going as good as they did? Paul said, “Listen Timothy, I’m passing and I’m not going to be here. Somebody has to hold the torch, somebody has to preserve and preach the gospel.” The apostolic men of our day are passing and it’s left to the younger generation. And may God give them the kind of vision that Paul was trying to give to Timothy.
Not long ago my wife and I were sitting in the den and all of the sudden, out of the clear blue, she says, “What do you want written on your tomb stone?” We hadn’t been talking about that. I do know that I didn’t eat any of her cooking for a few days after that. I’d really never thought about it and I got to thinking about it. I said, “I’ll try to come up with something. You don’t need it right away do you?”
Well, I found it. Here’s what I want: ‘For I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith’. If they could just say that about me, that’s it.
Paul says, “Timothy but as for you, you be sober, you do the work of an evangelist, you fulfill your ministry, you preach the Word in season and out of season, and you stand firm. For I am ready to go because I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, and I have finished the course. You have better be able to say the same thing too when you see me in glory.”
This is what all of us would need to be able to have said about us. He kept the faith, he fought a good fight, and he finished the course.
BUT AS FOR YOU…that’s what you are supposed to do.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005