Monday, July 9, 2018
The Word of God in a world of seasons (2 Tinothy 4:1-6)
Life’s seasons. It is a metaphor that we use to talk about the starkly different periods in our life. Fruitful times, joyous times, times of new growth…birth and death, barren unproductive times, times of sadness and grief that feel as cold as the depth of winter. Silly seasons full of business and holiday seasons when we can get away and unwind. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the preacher sums up the lot of humanity by saying that there is a season and a time for everything under heaven.
History’s seasons It’s one of the ways we talk the times in our world. The winter of discontent in the mid-seventies in the UK… a time of civil unrest, strikes and protests. The summer of love in the nineteen-sixties, flower power and the hope that a new generation just might change the world. For some it feels like the west is in danger of falling into an autumn if not a winter season at the moment.
This passage is Paul’s last instructions to Timothy. Paul is in prison facing a sentence of death and he is write to encourage Timothy working in Ephesus to counter false teachers. Paul is passing on the baton; calling Timothy to take up his ministry, its succession planning.
Last week in 2 timothy 3:10-17 Paul had encouraged timothy to stand on the word of God in a world of woe, to hold on to and be built up by the apostolic teaching and life example that he had received from Paul and the God breathed scriptures that he had learned from an infant from his mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice. Paul was saying that Timothy and we needed that word of God in our lives to give us strength to carry on in the faith, and now Paul is telling Timothy that he also needs to let that word of God go out of him in ministry as well. Just like a healthy life is dependant on the right diet and the right amount of exercise.
Paul gives Timothy a charge, a solemn commission. Not like Timothy’s boss giving his job description, rather an army commander rallying his men to follow him to take an objective. (click for words) The solemnity of this instruction is reinforced by the fact that Paul invokes divine witnesses, God and Jesus Christ, it is not just Paul that is calling Timothy to carry out his ministry, but it a divine call. The same god who calls Paul and Timothy also calls us to witness to Christ and be part of God’s mission in this world.
Paul goes further to speak of Christ as the judge of the quick or the living and the dead, a way of talking about the fact that Jesus is the judge of everyone. Knowing Jesus is ultimately the judge of all people would have been a source of encouragement, comfort and hope for Paul as he awaited the judgement of Caesar. Seeing Jesus as Judge, is not about doing things out of fear of punishment or hope of personal reward but that as Timothy carries out his ministry of preaching the word that God will show his mercy, goodness and justice to those who listen and respond. Moral development talks of stages people go through, younger children will do things they are told are right our of fear of punishment, later it will be hope for reward. You see that in the anti-smoking adverts, the threat of lung cancer and the reward of having more money if people quit, but the higher moral development is doing things out of a sense of the common good.
In view of his ‘appearing and kingdom’, both looks back to Christ’s incarnation and the inauguration of his kingdom in his death and resurrection, the very basis of the word that Timothy is being called to preach and the means by which he knows Christ’s righteous judgement, it speaks of the present time where the Holy Spirit is at work to bring about the kingdom and reign of God in the realm of humanity, and also looks forward to the time when Christ will come again and his kingdom will be consummated, the hope of God’s ultimate righteous reign. Timothy’s motivation for carrying out his calling is the presence and the purpose of God, shown in Jesus Christ.
Paul gives the charge in a series of five imperatives.
“Preach the word”- Timothy’s primary role is to declare and proclaim God’s word. Word is shorthand to encapsulate the gospel that in chapter 3 Paul says timothy had received in Paul’s teaching and example. Karl Barth possible the most influential theologian in the twentieth century, talks of a threefold understanding of the word of God, God’s self-revelation. The first is Jesus Christ, the word of God made flesh, here is God’s revelation in human form, secondly the self revelation of God in the scriptures, the word of God, that witnesses and attests to Jesus Christ the word of God; the old testament is fulfilled by Christ, the new testament, shows Christ and the outworking of his ministry in the lives of his new people the Church, finally the word of God in preaching as God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ attested to by scripture is proclaimed by a human voice, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Be prepared in season and out of season:- It almost feels like the scouting motto doesn’t it… be prepared, be ready. The words used for season here can simply mean when it convenient or even when its not convenient. When you read through the gospels Jesus is going about his ministry of teaching and he is interrupted by people who need him, but he speaks and ministers God’s word into those peoples lives. I often have what I call carpark appointments, people will come in un announced or I’ll bump into them when I’m out in the carpark, and in the business of my day it will be those encounters which are opportunities to share Christ.
But in season and out of season can also talk of the different times in our life as well. At Joy Bain’s funeral I shared how Joy’s son Michael had ministered to me when my mother died. I had gone to church the day before I had to speak at my mother’s funeral, and Michael was preaching and shared about speaking at his father’s funeral and shared how psalm 22 and 23 had helped him and could help us through, the valley of the shadow of death. It might have felt like out of season for Michael, but it was God speaking into my season for sure.
The last three imperatives go together “correct, rebuke and encourage”, as we saw last week these are what the Scriptures are useful for. We can see correct and rebuke as negative, but here Paul is talking of a positive process. Remember God’s desire is that all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that even Timothy’s task of countering false teachers is not to see them condemned but for them to return to the truth, and to correct rebuke and encourage is the process of inviting us to repent and turn again to God: To turn us around and move us in a Godward path. Timothy is to do that with great patience and careful instruction. Those of us who are parents will know what Paul is talking about, in teaching children something as simple as riding a bike or ting a shoe lace right through to equipping them to make good choices in life, and Timothy who Paul saw as his true son in the faith will have experienced it from Paul as well as Lois and Eunice. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul describes his ministry as being like a nursing mother looking after her child.
Seasons can have a bigger meaning and in verse 3-4 Paul talks of a time coming when people will not want to hear sound doctrine. The word time here is not chronos which means a specific time but Kairos which means a certain season. There are times when the gospel is fruitful, and we see it bring change and transformation, you could see things like the Wesleyan revival or the Billy graham crusades in the 1950s-60’s, where people respond to God’s word, but there are other times like the one Paul describes where people will just want to listen to things that will give them pleasure, that will tickle their itching ears. But we are to be faithful in proclaiming God’s word, witnessing to Christ, speaking God’s truth in such seasons. For many mainline churches in western society it can feel like a winter season, a barren time, of loss and decline, where it could be easy to lose confidence in the gospel. But it God’ word faithfully preached and proclaimed and lived out that the Spirit can and does use to bring new growth and change.
In verse 6 Paul tells Timothy how he is to exercise his ministry in that Season. He’s not to lose his head and to endure hardships. Often hard unfruitful seasons can be discouraging and can cause us to make rash and unwise decisions. But they are also times when we need to sit down and ask the right questions . While we faithfully proclaim the word, how we do it, the words we use and the things that go around that need to be examined, the strategy that worked back then in that other season may not be appropriate now. How we present the gospel and live it out is wrapped in cultural expression, but the culture has changed. Paul used different methods to preach the gospel in the different settings and cultures he found himself in, in cities that has synagogues he would go and speak there, and speak from scripture, in Athens he took advantage of the public space set aside for sharing of ideas and philosophical debate, and started from Greek poetry and art. In each setting his approach was different, but the message was the same. He was able to clearly think through how he proclaimed the gospel.
Paul tells him to do the work of an evangelist, while in Ephesus Timothy’s focus was involved in countering false teaching, but Paul reminds Timothy his key role and mission is to Preach the good news in a way that those who have not heard it will respond. Timothy is to take up Paul’s purpose of seeing the nations come to follow Jesus Christ. It easy to get caught up in what goes on inside a church and forget that God’s call on us as God’s people is to witness to the hope we have in the risen Jesus Christ with the world out there. That our primary call as God’s people is to bear witness to be missional, about God’s work in the world…The world that God loves. It does not mean that we neglect what goes on inside the church, the health of our witness is based on the health of our relationships, and Paul finishes by telling Timothy to discharge all the duties of his ministry.
And I want to finish with that point as well, because it is what links Paul’s charge to Timothy to all of us. The call on Timothy’s life is as a preacher and evangelist, in the New testament evangelists were seen as those who followed on from apostles, they took the teaching of the apostles and carried on the work of the apostles in taking that into new places and towns and context. But the reality is that as part of Christ’s body that as well as having a place where we belong, we have a role to play, we are a ministry of all believers and for the church to function and fulfil its mission of making Christ known we need to carry out our ministry, our service, the duties of our calling the charge we’ve all be given in Christ. At the centre of that is the word of God, as it saturates and builds up our lives, but also that it flows out of us, in loving sacrificial service and acts of Kindness, it is demonstrated, in teaching and nurturing our children it is passed on, in speaking up and out in social issues, it is prophetic and can bring societal transformation, in simply telling a friend about our faith, it is life transforming. We live in a world of seasons and in that we are called to proclaim the word of God.