Elvis has left the building. A well-known idiom, it means that it’s all over, the show has come to an end. In his last two epistles to Timothy, Paul is basically saying, “Paul is leaving the building.” Yet he ends each epistle with an appeal to the glorious hope which awaits us all…when we leave the building. In the fourth chapter of each respective epistle, Paul tells Timothy that he needs to take his ministry seriously if he is going to be successful as a minister. Paul is passing the torch in his second epistle to Timothy; he charges Timothy in God’s sacred court to preach the Word. In this article I would like to share some lessons we can learn from the fourth chapter of both of these epistles.
While these books have general application for all Christians, their primary application deals with preachers. As preachers, we must be careful not to fall away (1 Ti. 4:1-5). Rather, we must discipline ourselves (vs. 6-10) and allow our ministry to reflect in both our walk and our work (vs. 11-16). We must also preach and hear God’s Word faithfully (2 Ti. 4:1-5), finishing our ministry well (vs. 6-8) while preparing ourselves to face life’s winters (vs. 9-22).
How To Behave In God’s Household
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, the real purpose of the letter is revealed. Paul had presented his purpose in writing in the previous chapter. He had stated he was writing these things to instruct Timothy on how to conduct himself while administering the affairs of the church (3:14-4:10), while also encouraging Timothy by providing him counsel concerning his own spiritual progress (4:11-16).
Falling Away (1 Ti. 4:1-5). Paul first discusses the present problem. Apparently this is an explicit prophecy about apostasy. Perhaps he is referring to Jesus’ prediction about the apostasy before the destruction of Jerusalem (Mk. 13:22), or to other prophecies Paul had made (2 Th. 2:1-12; Ac. 20:29). Some in Ephesus were already apostatizing; we know they were already wilting by the end of the first century (Re. 2:4-5). This present apostasy are people that are not enjoying God and the blessings He provides, but rather denying certain things.
Paul tells Timothy that this warfare is spiritual, something he had already told the Ephesians (Ep. 6:10-20). Paul told them that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12). Some of these teachers were following deceitful forces and demonic teaching (2 Co. 11:13-15). Demonic influence can be blatant and obvious, but also subtle. Evil spirits continue to work in churches to thwart God’s truth by their demonic doctrines.
Falling away always begins in the mind because the mind is the seat of all facilities for the body. These spirits are misleading. The teachings they espouse appear healthy, but they are a recipe for disaster. They try to get into your head and twist your thinking. However, God’s people believe and know the truth (4:3).
Falling away leads from the mind to our morals. The demonic teaching seared people’s consciences (4:2). Instead of leading them to repentance, their wrong thinking led them to wrong morals. Biblically speaking, a person that apostatizes can go in two directions: either legalism (2 Ti. 4:1-5) or licentiousness (2 Pe. 2:1-3; Jude 1:18-20). These Christian teachers forbade marriage and certain foods, probably an early form of Gnosticism. Some concluded that since the body was evil, we must discipline the body through asceticism (i.e., a rigorous denial of self and pleasure); others concluded that since the body was evil anyways, it did not matter what you did in your body. These are the results of wrong thinking, stemming from deceitful spirits.
Paul then discusses what Timothy’s perspective should be. This apostatizing was already taking place and Paul warns Timothy to be on his guard. In contrast to falling away, the remedy is holding to God’s truths with thankfulness, gratefully enjoying God and his creation.
Literally, these people are hypocritical teachers who speak false things. When I say “hypocritical,” I suggest “a practical denial of their” inner self (Wieseler). They concealed their more legalistic convictions, but had an open verbal profession of adhering to the Christian way. To salve their guilty conscience, they took a hot iron and seared it shut. The prescription medication for a seared conscience is allowing God’s truths and goodness to melt the inner man — allowing the Bible to confront our sins and enjoying the simple pleasures in life that God gives to every one of us.
Paul mentions gratitude twice in the text. If we overflow with gratitude (Ep. 5:20; 1 Th. 5:18), our consciences cannot be seared shut. If we are bitter or grumble toward God, we will doubt God’s goodness and will eventually fall away. In a practical manner, we can be thankful for our spiritual blessings in our physical joys. God wants us to enjoy this world with its literature, art, and music; its mountains, oceans, and valleys. God wants us to share meals, to enjoy marriage, and to participate in the joy of creation. However, in these things we should not just enjoy the gift, but the Giver of all good gifts. Yes, we do not need to overindulge or become self-centered (Paul deals with discipline immediately after), but Paul’s point is that all of life is spiritual and sacred.
This extends beyond saying table grace, but to all our life. Whether we hike in the mountains, enjoy the warm company of family and friends, a concert, or a good book, it ought to exuberate with prayers of thankfulness.
Discipline That Matters (1 Ti. 4:6-10). Paul’s message to the young evangelist Timothy is that if he wishes to succeed in his service, he must be disciplined in God’s Word and healthy teaching. Perhaps Timothy desired to be disciplined, but he had several old habits into which he just kept falling back. The key to discipline is motivation. Athletes drive themselves relentlessly for years because they are motivated to win that gold medal and all the implications it carries. We must push ourselves to do what we don’t want to do to achieve what we’ve always wanted to be. Our motivation is eternity and all the implications of eternity.
Eternity should motivate us. While Paul does not despise bodily exercise, he is making a comparison between bodily and spiritual; while the body is temporary, the spirit is eternal (4:8). Many live for this life, but fail to live for eternity. Many are obsessed with beauty and health, dietary restrictions, and physical performance, but none of that will change that death is inevitable.
The living God should motivate us. Paul said that he had set his hope on the living God. He is not merely a projection of Paul’s mind. God created the universe and all that is in it. Because he is living, Paul could commune and draw strength with him daily. If it is true that God is living and our hope is fixated on him, then the living God should motivate us.
Salvation should also motivate us. Paul tells us that God is the Savior of all humanity, and thus counters the teachers he mentioned before who bound their dietary laws and forbade marriage. In effect, Paul is saying, “God wants to save all types of people, in every place, from every walk of life. He has provided salvation for all, but not all are saved.” Apart from Christ, humanity is alienated from God, but with God humanity has sufficient salvation. This fact of our salvation ought to motivate us.
What is discipline? Discipline is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. Paul uses the verb in the present imperative, stressing continuous action. Discipline involves hard work. Paul said, “We labor and strive.” “Strive” is a wrestling term, giving all strength to win. Discipline means discarding hindrances. Paul encourages Timothy not to have anything to do with the random babbling of the false teachers. The Greek word for discipline implies stripping off hindrances – if we’re going to win, we must strip off the weights. Discipline means keeping your eyes on the goal. Paul tells Timothy that the goal is godliness, growing in conformity to God, taking God seriously, and recognizing the implications of a godly life.
How do we implement discipline? By nourishing our faith with truths (4:6b), continually feeding on God’s spiritual nuggets. Spiritual warfare involves the mind and affects the morals. We must take in God’s Word by hearing it preached and reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it. We must be obedient to the truths that we are following (4:6c). True wisdom is not intellectual knowledge, or an accumulative database of facts. True wisdom reaches out and changes lives.
Timothy’s Walk and Work for Christ (1 Ti. 4:11-16). Paul tells us in another place that God gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ep. 4:11-12). It seems as if there are droves who are either burning out on ministry because they are exhausted or bombing out of ministry because of moral failure. Timothy’s danger was that he would just fade out of the ministry because his timid personality tended to want to avoid conflict. The fact is that we cannot preach God’s truths without inevitably confronting error and offending some people. Timothy was in danger of neglecting his ministry (4:14), so Paul took him under his wing out of love for him.
Paul tells Timothy to pay close attention to himself (his walk) and to his teaching (his work.) He gave similar advice to the Ephesian elders (Ac. 20:28). The goal of every disciple is to develop godliness through daily discipline, walking with the Lord. The walk and work of a preacher ought to be inseparable.
In ancient times, age meant a lot. Often just having gray hair was a sign of a credential. The young Timothy was probably somewhere in his late 20’s or early 30’s. Paul tells the young man to not “let anyone look down your youthfulness.” Some might shrug Timothy’s teaching because, “Well, he’s too young to know what he’s talking about.” If your message is backed by a disciplined, godly life, then it doesn’t matter how young or how old you are.
Paul mentions five areas where Timothy needed discipline for godliness: speech, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. No one would respect Timothy’s message if his mouth was full of sarcasm, profanity, ridicule, gossip, blaming, destructive criticism, angry words of threat and revenge, griping, complaining, lying, filthy talk, or dirty jokes (Ep. 4:29). Honesty, integrity, how we spend our time and money, priorities, attitude toward possessions, personal appearance, home, how we treat people…all of these factors would be important if any would take Timothy seriously. Without agape love, he would fail in crafting people into growth. If love does not permeate our life, then we will fail in our ministry (cf. 1 Co. 13). If Timothy was going to succeed in his ministry, he would need to be consistent in his life, unlike the hypocritical teachers that Paul mentioned earlier. If he was to succeed in his ministry, he would have to expunge sickly thinking from his mind. Timothy’s walk was essential if he was going to be successful.
Timothy was to focus on the public ministry of the Word. He was to read it aloud (especially in an illiterate society), apply it to life (“exhortation”), and teach it (4:13). Paul tells Timothy not to neglect his public ministry (4:14), to take pains to progress it (4:15), and to persevere in it (4:16).
Every believer has a gift whether in benevolence, evangelism, or edification. The elders laid their hands on Timothy, prayed for him, and empowered him via encouragement. Timothy had to develop his teaching. Paul tells him, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them.” “Pay close attention.” “Persevere in these things.” Paul later tells him to rekindle the fire (2 Ti. 1:16). Sometimes preachers get discouraged.
Timothy was a timid person. While timidity is not a negative trait, Timothy allowed it to affect his ministry. Paul tells Timothy to grow in confidence and authority, backed by a godly life (4:11). He tells him to grow thick skin for when opposition comes (4:16). Going back to the seriousness of ministry, Paul concludes by saying, “You will save both yourself and those who hear you.” Timothy was to have a view of eternity. Even if he was catching flak, he was to persevere.
Timothy needed to persevere in God’s truth with thankfulness. Because of what was at stake, Timothy needed to discipline himself for godly living. Timothy’s walk with Christ a necessary basis for his work for Christ.
As servants today, we need to persevere in God’s spiritual truths with grateful hearts. As servants today, we need to be motivated by what is at stake and discipline ourselves to godly living. As servants today, we need to make sure our walk with Christ is in step with our work for Christ. If we our ministry is going to be successful, we cannot allow our fear to paralyze us from performing these solemn, sacred duties.
The last 22 verses of 2 Timothy are Paul’s final recorded words before the apostle’s execution. Having just emphasized the trustworthy nature of that Word and its vital importance (3:16-17), he now charges Timothy to be faithful in heralding that Word (4:1-5). He then reminisces that he has fought and he is finishing well (4:6-8). He then asks a few things in the face of winter, a doxology, and a few other miscellaneous concluding remarks (4:9-22).
Preaching the Word (2 Ti. 4:1-5). Why preach? Preaching the Word is a serious charge. Paul invokes Timothy to take an oath as in a court of law before God and Christ. Timothy was to preach with a view of eternity, which reflects the seriousness of preaching and the solemnity that ought to be a trait of all preachers. How many preachers today have taken this solemn oath in God’s court?
What to preach? We have a few clues in the immediate context. Paul references the Scriptures earlier (3:16-17), followed immediately by the command to preach. The Word (4:2) is the God-breathed Scripture (3:16). Paul gives the reason for preaching the Word (4:3). He refers to the Word as sound teaching. He has a solemn duty to herald the King’s messages for the people, as do we.
When to preach? Paul answers this question: in season and out of season. Preaching must not be play; it must be a life-consuming passion. A rhetorical question might be, “When not to preach?” As Timothy, we need to be ready in view of eternity, which implies readiness always.
How to preach? Paul charged Timothy to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. How? “With great patience and instruction.” We need to show people where their life is not in line with God’s truths and we need to show them how to make those steps back in line with God’s truths with patience and instruction in mind. People require time to change – they don’t always get it on the first time around. He gives them careful instruction to help them in view of eternity. We also need to be patient with the people we teach.
Hear the Word. Paul charges Timothy to preach healthy teaching, which would result in healthy living. Healthy teaching does not always mean that society and culture will like it. Why preach healthy teaching? Paul answers, “Because otherwise people’s ears shall turn aside to myths.” Like Timothy, we cannot allow public opinion to override our personal convictions. Like Timothy, we must confront sin, give encouragement, and strengthen the struggling.
Persevere in the Word. Paul tells Timothy to persevere despite people not listening to him. First, Paul tells Timothy to keep a clear head. Some preachers get so caught up in the little details that they miss out on what is going on around them. We must keep alert. Many young preachers tend to allow themselves to be easily influenced by things going on around them, perhaps also taking a side. This is a danger we need to avoid.
Paul also tells Timothy to put up with flak. A preacher is going to catch flak. If he is going to remain a preacher for very long, he is going to have to grow thick skin…but still be patient! We must find a healthy middle ground in that we must become resilient while not becoming calloused.
Paul then tells Timothy to get his job done. Despite modern definitions of the word “evangelist,” the term euaggelistes simply means a preacher of a good report. An evangelist’s true success is measured primarily on whether he is faithful in proclaiming the Word.
Paul also tells Timothy to discharge all his duties in his service to King Jesus. This requires faithfulness in proclaiming the Word, suffering the hardship as a soldier. What Paul is about to write concerning how he has fulfilled his service to his King and is about to die embraces this idea.
Finishing Well (2 Ti. 4:6-8). Paul viewed his past, present, and future all with confidence and conviction. How many of us as preachers live in such a way that we can say these same words when it is the time for our departure? How many of us are passing the torch to the younger generation?
Paul views the present (4:6). He reminds Timothy of his circumstances by basically saying, “I am about to die.” The flow of thought is this: “Even in opposition, Timothy, you must preach the Word because I am about to die. I am passing the torch.” Dying is easier when we know that we’re leaving behind people that can carry on with Christ. Paul did not view his execution as tragic, but saw it as the culminating drink offering being poured onto an existing sacrificial life (cf. Ro. 12:1-2; Nu. 28:7). He refers to his death as a departure, literally the unyoking of an animal from his plow, the loosening of a rope from a soldier’s tent, or releasing the mooring ropes of a ship. Death means the end of our physical strains, that the victory is won, and our earthly vessel awaits the culmination which is to come.
Paul views the past (4:7). While reminiscing about the past, he recalls, “I have fought a good fight,” using an athletic metaphor about either a wrestling match or race. We are in an onslaught “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12, ESV). If our living centers around comfort and pleasure, can we say we have fought a good fight? Paul recalls, “I have finished the course,” using another athletic metaphor. Per legend, the Greek marathon originated after a decisive battle between Greece and Persia, when a Greek soldier ran from Marathon to Athens with the gospel (good news) that they had won the battle in Marathon against Persia and then dropped dead from overexertion. Paul said with confidence that he had finished his course. He recalls, “I have guarded the faith.” Timothy was to guard that deposit (1 Ti. 6:20; 2 Ti. 1:12, 14). Paul is basically saying, “I have done precisely what I told you to do. I have guarded it with my life, and now you do the same.” Paul viewed his past with confidence and his present with conviction.
Paul views the future (4:8). He reassures Timothy and himself about the future. Paul desired to meet the Lord, the righteous Judge. Despite his dismal circumstances, he had security about the future. He did not fear the final judgment. Rather, Paul lived in view of that day when he would receive that garland wreath of righteousness, that prize given to the victor of the Olympian games. Not all receive a crown, but only those who participated in the games (1 Co. 9:24-25). Even though his earthly judge wrongly condemned him, he knew that the righteous Judge would vindicate him. Even though he knew that evil wins the battle temporarily, he knew that the Lord would come in a day of reckoning. Even though he knew life was unjust, he believed in the One who brings equalization to all.
Facing Winter (2 Ti. 4:9-22). As Paul concludes his final letter to his beloved son in the faith, he urges Timothy to make every effort to come to him before winter. Paul was human. He is wrestling with his feelings and disappointments. However, he was also confident in the Lord. He triumphantly states, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (4:18). Such an amazing attitude is something we as preachers need to take to heart.
Committing to Christ (4:17-18, 22). Even in a cold, dark dungeon in Rome, Paul reveals five things about the Lord. He is sovereign. Even though God could have rescued Paul from the evil deeds of wicked men, He delivered Paul through them. He is ever-present. Paul said, “The Lord stood with me…The Lord be with (Timothy’s) spirit.” Even with no one around him, Paul had company. He is saving. Paul said confidently, “He will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.” Even in the face of death, Paul would be saved. He is glorious. Paul said in a doxology, “To him be the glory forever and ever.” Even in shackles, God retains His glory. He is gracious. Paul’s final words are, “(God’s) grace be with you.” Paul was committed to the living Lord.
Committing to the Cause (4:11, 14-17). Even in a jail cell, Paul is still strong. Even in the face of death, Paul still refers to his ever-present ministry and service (4:11). This is truly what it means to preach out of season. Whatever circumstances we face, we seize our opportunities for ministry. Nero was torturing Christians; testing in Nero’s court meant peril and danger. Paul said, “No one stood with me.” The Roman Christians were committed, but they were afraid. Paul is gracious to them, shown by his words, “May it not be counted against them.” Alexander opposed the cause. Paul recounted how he had done him much harm. While we don’t know who this was, it is likely he was a believer and perhaps the one who informed the Roman authorities to arrest him. Paul said, “The Lord will repay him for his deeds.” Paul was stating fact; while he did not desire personal revenge, he trusted in God to make everything right. Demas was committed, but deserted the cause. He used to be a fellow worker (Phile. 24), but he fled now that identifying with Paul meant death. We do not know if he repented like Peter had after denying Christ, but in that moment he was not committed.
Committing with Others (4:9-10, 12, 19-21). Paul was not a lone ranger. He trusted in his fellow workers: Timothy, Crescens, Titus, Tychicus, John Mark, Carpus, Prisca and Aquila, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, along with all the brethren in Rome. He was not a loner. He was committed with others, and they labored together.
Committing to Growth (4:13). Knowing of his imminent execution, Paul wants Timothy to bring him his books. Paul didn’t tell him, “Bring me my TV and movies.” He wanted to use his mind to read and think. He wanted to develop his mind. He wanted to develop his soul, to know Christ more and more. He wanted to take care of his character. Even at the end of his life, Paul still had room to grow.
Paul was confident that Timothy would keep his charge (4:1-5). He was convicted in and committed to his risen Lord (4:6-22). This should be our goal as well.
Stephen preaches at the Collinsville Church of Christ in Collinsville, VA. He is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN. He is married to Rebekah and they have two children, Emmett and one on the way!