Proclaim the Word
The last days are described by the apostle Paul as “difficult times” (2 Tim. 3: 1), and it is against such a backdrop that he delivers a very solemn charge to any who would, in such times, seek to be occupied in public service. “I testify” he says, “before God and Christ Jesus, who is about to judge living and dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, proclaim the word” (2 Tim. 4: 1, my emphasis). You would hardly think it necessary to introduce so simple an instruction in such dramatic style. Was it really necessary to frame his charge with talk about the appearing, the kingdom, and, above all, the judge of living and dead? Is not proclaiming the Word incumbent on all occupied in public ministry? We find the reason for the apostle’s language in v3: “for the time shall be when they will not bear sound teaching”. Dear reader, has that time not now come? What are those who ought to be preaching the Word doing? They are casting about for something that men will bear, something that men will listen to! But in face of these things, the true servant of God must heed the apostles’ solemn charge and proclaim the Word. Though men will not have it we are to proclaim it! Why? Because the charge is given to us in the presence of the One “who is about to judge living and dead” (v 1). That gives an awful solemnity to the proclamation of the Word. Indeed, this thought of judgment is repeated again a little later: “henceforth the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will render to me in that day; but not only to me, but also to all who love his appearing” (v8). Can we be surprised that we are brought into the presence of the Judge to hear such a charge when there is everything in us and around us to cause departure from the simple path of duty to preach the Word?
2 Timothy 4 must be considered in the light of the whole of the two epistles to Timothy. Now no one can read these letters carefully without being aware that when he passes from the first to the second letter he is breathing a very different atmosphere. In the first epistle the Church is seen in its rule, and Timothy is instructed as to his duties in the house of God. The moment we open the second epistle, however, we have a quite different scene before us. The Church is seen in its ruin, and the successive steps in its downward course are described.
In chapter one, Paul says “thou knowest this, that all who [are] in Asia, of whom is Phygellus and Hermogenes, have turned away from me” (v 15, my emphasis). That must have been a very sad experience in the life of the apostle—to have all those who ought to have stood with him turn away—yet he knew of One who would never turn away. In v12 he says “I know whom I have believed”. He does not say, as it is often misquoted ‘I know in whom I have believed’, but “I know whom I have believed” (my emphasis). It was faith in One who was known personally. The unfeigned faith referred to in the v5 is what we need when men turn away from us. As they turn away, nothing will stand us in any stead but nearness to the Lord.
In chapter two another step in this downgrade course is described. Men are described “who as to the truth have gone astray ... and overthrow the faith of some” (v18, my emphasis). How sad, but nevertheless there is that which remains: “Yet the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, [The] Lord knows those that are his; and, Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity” (v 19). This has two sides: God’s side, and man’s side. What is God’s we can leave with Him. What is man’s is eminently simple: we take ourselves away from what is iniquitous. The times may be difficult, but our pathway is plain.
In the third chapter we come to a lower step in the character of the last days: “now in the same manner in which Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, thus these also withstand the truth” (v8, my emphasis). It is in this connection that we have that important passage that “every scripture [is] divinely inspired” (v 16), reminding us that when men “withstand the truth” our only resource, our only defence, is the Word of truth. We are not to trust to our own wisdom in the presence of those who withstand, but we are to rely upon “the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word” (Eph. 6: 17).
There is still another, last step in the down-grade movement given us in 2 Timothy 4. You might ask, Can there be anything worse than the open resistance to the truth of chapter three? Yes, something far worse! There is some hope for those who withstand the truth, for they may be overcome and brought into subjection to the Word of God. Many who, like Saul of Tarsus, resisted the truth, have become its most earnest and zealous advocates. So yes, there is something worse which gives a particularly solemn character to the end of these last days: “the time shall be when they will not bear sound teaching; but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4; my emphasis). What is to be done for men who deliberately turn away their ears from the truth of God, and are satisfied with the fables of men? Proclaim the Word! But what if they will not bear sound teaching? Never mind, proclaim the Word! Are we not to seek for something which they will bear? No, proclaim the Word!
Of course, we are constantly being exhorted to ‘move with the times’. Proclaim the Word is the truth for the times! This is the charge given to the servant of God in the difficult days in which our lot is cast. Sadly, it is a charge that is, for the most part, unheeded. No wonder then, that this simple command is introduced by a solemn reference to the coming Judge (see v1), and no surprise it is followed and closed by a reference to the coming of that same righteous Judge (see v 8)! When those who should proclaim the Word are making it their aim to please the people, and when we see this to be the character of our times, then we may be sure that judgment is not far off. Aaron made the golden calf to please the people, but judgment swiftly overtook them (see Exod. 32: 35). Pilate crucified Christ to please the people (see Mark 15: 15) but the Lord in judgment soon destroyed the city and scattered the nation. Herod, to please the people, slew James, and was proceeding to slay Peter also, when he was smitten by an angel of God, was eaten of worms and died (see Acts 12: 3, 23). Believe me, dear friends, judgment is not far off, yes, it is even at the door. What can we do? Proclaim the Word! “For do I now seek to satisfy men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, I were not Christ’s bondman” (Gal. 1: 10, my emphasis).