1In the presence of God and Christ Jesus who is soon to judge the living and the dead, I charge you by his appearance and his kingdom. 2Preach the message. Take a stand in season and out of season. Persuade, rebuke, encourage. Do it all with patient teaching. 3For a time will come when people will not receive accurate teaching, but will gather teachers together according to their own desires who will scratch where it itches. 4Their ears will not be open to the truth, but they will turn aside to fables. 5But as for you, be well-balanced in everything, patient in hardship, carrying out the work of an evangelist, accomplishing your service. — 2 Timothy 4:1-5
This passage is one of those proof texts with which I am acquainted from a target’s point of view. I’m not referring to the target of divine conviction. I’m a target of divine conviction from Genesis to Revelation. This is one of those verses that some people like to throw around at everyone with whom they have a disagreement.
You don’t like the preacher at that larger church down the way? Obviously, he’s one of those teachers gathered together by a congregation with itching ears. â€œItching earsâ€ is the metaphor Paul uses. I chose to translate with â€œscratch where it itchesâ€ as a modern equivalent. The idea is a group of people who gather pastors and teachers who will tell them what they want to hear, and not challenge them.
But like so many passages that are used as bullets or arrows against our enemies, this passage doesn’t tell me what sound teaching is, nor whether what I am teaching is sound. Rather, it tells me what to do with sound teaching. It also makes it clear that sound teaching is important. Notice also that it doesn’t tell me what to do or think about that more successful Christian leader down the road.
It’s interesting how we deal with such other churches. If it’s a big church, and we agree with the pastor, we will point to it as a great example of how the â€œtrue gospelâ€ will be blessed by God and will find success. If we disagree with the pastor, on the other hand, we will point to the church as an example of how popular false doctrine is. The numbers get used either way.
I have encountered people who will point out that the United Methodist Church (of which I’m a member) is losing members every year, and this is evidence that we are not on God’s plan. Some of the same people, on seeing revival hit a church and many members leave, will notice that such opposition is evidence of God’s blessing and we should continue to go forward even if numbers are dropping. It should cause us to think! I happen to have considerable problems with the state of my denomination, but I need to be careful just what I use as evidence.
So what is Paul telling us here? I have a simple rule in Bible study. This isn’t my first rule of interpretation, but it’s an attitude we should carry to our study every time: Always look first for what applies to you. If you’re discovering arrows to fire at the other guy, you may need to spend more time letting the Holy Spirit convict you.
Here are the key points in this passage, I think, and I need to consider them every single day:
- Jesus, who will judge everyone, is the witness. That’s the person to whom I must give an account.
- My job is to patiently carry out my calling all the time using whatever tools I possess.
- I need to realize that neither great numbers nor rejection will tell me whether I am presenting a faithful message. I carry out my ministry before God, not before the human audience.
- Remain well-balanced. One could also translate â€œsober.â€ The REB translates â€œkeep your head.â€ Again, this means don’t let either opposition or approval take you away from the sound message.
- Keep going to the end.
I think there are things there we can apply no matter what our task is!