Be Ready

readiness, 2 Timothy, Discipleship

For about 30 years the Apostle Paul had traveled pretty much constantly around the known world sharing the Good News of the gospel of forgiveness of sin and new life through Jesus. Paul gave his life to this one task. Now he is close to surrendering his life in martyrdom because of his faith. These final words are filled with urgency.

John Stott says the words, “I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus” had a legal connection and can mean “to testify under oath in a court of law.” (Guard the Gospel p. 105) In other words Paul is really stressing the words we look at this morning. There is a passion in the words that we could easily miss.

This last chapter hits on familiar themes. This should not surprise us. If you want to stress something to someone (especially at the end of your life) you repeat it again and again in different ways. That is what Paul has been doing in 2 Timothy. Hopefully the repetition is starting to drive home the point of what Paul is trying to communicate to us. Even more, I hope we are beginning to feel the passion of Paul begin to burn in our own hearts.

An Important Reminder

Paul begins with an important reminder,

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom

Paul reminded us that there is coming a day when Jesus will stand as Judge. He will judge those who have already died and those who are still living when He returns. He will judge us not on the basis of our rank in society or our goodness in comparison to those around us. He will judge us on whether or not we have repented of our sinful rebellion and run to Jesus as our Lord and our Savior. He will in essence ask, “Have you received the salvation that I have offered to you?” He will look at our hearts and our lives to verify what we say.

The Bible tells us that the Lord will also evaluate the way we lived as His followers. We will be rewarded according to our faithfulness. The notion that Heaven will be “the same for everyone” is not true.

This should motivate us as we live, as we suffer, as we die, and as we share our faith with those around us. We must live in the present, but we must also be aware that the choices we make in the present will impact our existence and enjoyment for eternity.

Most adults who are working are trying to put money away for retirement. The idea is that we need to plan NOW to be ready for THEN. Our enjoyment of our retirement years (should the Lord tarry) will be directly proportional to how diligently we prepare now. This is the same kind of mindset Paul is urging us to have about eternity. If we plan for it now, we will be ready when it comes.

Get Ready

Paul told Timothy exactly how he needed to prepare,

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

First, Timothy is challenged to preach THE Word of God. The Word of God, Paul just told us, is the God-breathed message that is contained in the Bible. He does not tell us to preach management techniques, inspire people to follow our vision, or to rally people to a good cause; he says we should preach THE truth that is given to us by God. This is not the truth as it has been redacted (or edited) by us; it is the truth as God has given it to us.

A good test before and after we have shared the Word of God is to ask

  1. Did I share the Word of God accurately? Did I make sure that I was saying what God said and not what I would like Him to say?
  2. Did I share the Word of God so that people could understand? Did I use vocabulary that was familiar to my listeners? Did I speak in an engaging way to keep the interest of my listener?
  3. Did I merely speak or did I communicate?

Second, there should be an urgency to our proclamation. We are to preach the Word of God at EVERY opportunity. We must eagerly look for and create opportunities. Why? Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the ONLY way someone can have their sin forgiven and be right with God. It is the only way for someone to be whole. It is only through Christ that we can be saved.

You and I encounter people every day who are currently heading to an eternity of pain and regret unless they hear the message of the gospel. Some of those people, are family members, friends, and co-workers. Without embracing these truths, they will go to Hell.  Also, every day we meet people who think they are worthless and unloved. There are countless people who feel lost in life. We have the antidote! It is the gospel of Jesus Christ! There is no more important message!

Third, we are to be prepared. We must be prepared by knowing the Word of God. We should study the Bible diligently until we “bleed Bible”. We must be prepared to answer basic questions.  We must be prepared for resistance and sometimes hostility. We are not to give up. Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15 that we should “study to show that we are approved, a workman that doesn’t need to be ashamed.”

Paul tells us specifically three ways in which we “preach the Word”.  First it should include patient correction.  William Barclay writes,

“The word describes the spirit which never grows irritated, never despairs and never regards any man as beyond salvation. The Christian patiently believes in men because he unconquerably believes in the changing power of Christ.[1]

In other words, we must not get discouraged because someone does not grasp the truth immediately. When a student gets frustrated they will throw up their hands and say they hate the class and the teacher. However, a good teacher is patient. They do not give up because a child is having trouble getting a concept. Instead they will try to approach it from a different angle, present different illustrations and use a different vocabulary until they find something that helps the child understand and learn. A good teacher is one who finds a way to teach each student.

If we preach the Bible we will constantly be correcting truth that is distorted. It is like working on a sculpture. You keep chipping away and making corrections and improvements until the piece is finished. In the same way we will patiently correct our lives and the lives of those we teach until we are home with the Lord.

Second, preaching the Bible means Rebuking.  One author said, “the road to perfection lies through a series of disgusts.” In other words, we need to see where we are going wrong before we can get better. We must see the sin before we can experience grace and forgiveness. We must be disgusted with our sin before we will ever turn to God for forgiveness.

When you go to see a physician with a problem the first thing they need to do is find out what the problem is and then address it. We must take the same attitude. We must find out what the problem is (inevitably some sin or stinking thinking) and confront it. We have to be open to the fact that there Is a problem. We will not turn to the truth of the gospel until we see the truth of our own sin and rebellion.

The person who doesn’t care about truth and is only trying to be popular will gloss over sin and flattery and pander to self-esteem. However, to get “better” we must face the harsh reality of our sinful behavior.

In any rebuke the heart of the one doing the confronting is essential. A rebuke given in anger if vastly different than a rebuke given in love, gentleness, and respect. The caring rebuke is much more likely to be heard and accepted than a belittling rebuke.

Third, preaching the Word should encourage those who hear. Our goal is not to “beat people up with the Bible”.  It is wrong to point out sin without also pointing TO God’s incredible grace. We encourage each other when

  • We recount God’s promises of protection
  • We remind others of the depth of God’s grace and forgiveness
  • We declare that we are all broken people.
  • We declare that “It is Finished”. The work of salvation has been accomplished by Christ.
  • We remind people that God has promised to never leave us for forsake us.
  • We remind each other that no one and no thing can snatch us out of His Hand.

The Bible is a message of encouragement and new life. If we read the Scriptures correctly we will find healing, assurance, and direction.

Preaching the Word is all about balance. How do we find the right balance? We must be attentive to the whispers of God’s Spirit. Our job is not to “blast away” with a machine gun fire of Bible verses. Our job is to communicate the message of Scripture as clearly, accurately, and compassionately as possible. It is a good idea to watch the non-verbal messages coming from others. If a person flinches, withdraws, or becomes defensive, it is time to encourage that person by reminding them that God knows who they are and what they have done but loves them anyway. If they roll their eyes it may be time to back off or let them talk. We want to keep the door open not put up obstacles in front of it.

Why is this so important? Paul said It is important because,

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.

This sounds exactly like what is happening today but it is not unique to today. People believe all kinds of wacky things. For some reason they think messages from aliens and the idea of recycling (reincarnation) are more viable than the Word of God. They would rather check their horoscope or talk with a psychic than submit to the Holy One of Israel. We live at a time when people shop around to find someone who will tell them what they want to hear. We all want to hear that we are doing fine just as we are. Paul’s point is that this tendency, according to the Bible, is not going to get better. We don’t have time to waste.

Be Clear on What You Are Called to Do

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

Paul concludes this section of instruction with four exhortations. First, we are to keep a clear mind. How do we do this? We do it by not filling our mind with junk! We need to be careful of what we watch, read, and listen to. These things will fill our minds either with godly things or worldly things. Monitor what you are feeding your mind.

Another way of keeping a clear mind is to stop imagining what could go wrong and trust that God will lead you into and through where He wants you to be. If you are like me, fear has a tendency to paralyze. The greatest barrier to people sharing the Good News of the Gospel is fear.

We have no trouble sharing our political positions with other people . . . even those we know disagree with us. We will freely argue about sports. We will debate social issues. We will go to war over minor things. But when it comes to the most redeeming news of history; when it comes to sharing the powerful message of the gospel; we are afraid to speak. Why is that?

  1. Do you not really believe the message?
  2. Are you afraid of someone asking you a question for which you don’t have an answer? (Here’s a hint: the best response to one of those questions is “Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t have an answer right now but I know there is one. Can I get back to you?”)
  3. Are you afraid people will respond negatively? Jesus told us to expect negative responses. When people are negative toward the Gospel they are not attacking you, they are rebelling against Him.
  4. Are you afraid you are going to “do it wrong”? The one way you can be sure to “do it wrong” is to not do anything at all. The Lord will guide you and He will be working in the situation even as you talk. Be patient and trust Him.

Second, do not be afraid of suffering. This is certainly easier to say than to do. The reality of suffering for Christ is becoming greater and greater in our own society.  People are being sued and fired for holding to what the Bible says. Many are threatened with violence. Throughout the world people are tortured and thrown in jail in deplorable conditions. Some are executed. We live at a time when hostility toward the gospel is increasing. This is because we live in a world where we are not only to tolerate everyone . . . we are to agree with them!! Debate about truth and eternity is considered “out of bounds”.

This should not surprise us. Jesus reminds us that even though “in the world you will have tribulations, we can take courage because He has already overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The sufferings of this present life are nothing compared to the glory that is to come.

Here’s the thing. Most of us would suffer to protect our family. We would gladly give our life to save our child. Why? Because we love them. We want what is best for them. So, is it possible that the reason we aren’t willing to gladly suffer for the Lord is because we don’t love the Lord enough?  If we loved Him as much as we loved our children, we would be more than willing to die for the One who died for us. Let us resolve to endure whatever is necessary to honor the One who saved us.

Third, tell others the good news. In other words, keep trying. We may not be very good at this at first but as you keep plugging away (trusting that God will use our meager efforts) you will get better.  We need to look for opportunities and be ready to share the joy of the gospel with anyone we know.

Finally, carry out the ministry God gave you. Paul encourages Timothy to FULLY carry out the ministry. In other words, don’t be half-hearted, don’t settle for “good enough”. Don’t wimp out. Give yourself fully to whatever the Lord gives you to do. Serve the Lord and do it joyfully, enthusiastically, and with a constant awareness of the privilege you have, that we have, to share with others the message of hope and new life through Jesus.

Conclusions

Paul was speaking to Timothy. He spoke to him Pastor to Pastor. Every minister of the gospel needs to take these words to heart. However, it is a mistake to think this passage does not apply to the rest of you. You may not make your living preaching the Word but you still have the responsibility to share the truth of the gospel with,

  • Your children
  • Your co-workers
  • Your neighbors and friends

There will be people that you can talk to that may never darken the door of a church. This is why you too must preach the Word and do so urgently. The Word of God used by the power of the Holy Spirit will change people. Paul is urging all of us to take our responsibility and our privilege seriously.

Here’s a challenge for the week: Open your eyes! Be alert to the opportunities to plant a gospel seed. Notice people you previously overlooked. Listen carefully for indications that God is opening a door. And when you see the door partially opened, dare to share the message of God’s love. Dare to care enough to tell people what they desperately need to hear . . . whether they realize it or not.

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 206.

Scripture:

2 Timothy 4:1-5