2 Timothy 3-4

Impossible preaching.jpg

I work at a call center, answering anywhere from 150-200 calls per day. I answer general questions, take complaints, and generally get the same thing every single day I go to work. At first it was a difficult job, having to learn the answers to so many different questions. But as time has gone on, I have become increasingly steady in my days, as they have grown so much alike that each day seems like the last. And one of the most difficult things I face in my job is one of the more constant aspects of my job, and has become more and more the thing I dread the most. And that most dreaded of tasks is trying to explain something to someone who simply will not listen. This was more vividly seen earlier today a man called asking about the requirements to obtain a certain document. As I began to describe the things he would need to provide, he would constantly interrupt me, saying “No, no, you’re not listening!” and would then ask the same question again and again. I had no other answer I could give him, so I gave him the same answer again and again. And finally I told him that I could not help him, so I had to transfer him to someone else, to which he responded “You stupid! You stupid!” and hung up. At first it seems rather dramatic and unusual, but having faced such calls and those similar to it for the past year a half, it has become an increasing pressure to me. No matter how many times I am told “Don’t take what they say personally,” I can’t help but do so. Because I invest time and thought into providing accurate information for them, only for them to completely disregard what is said to ask the same question again, and finally to end the call in anger. You can be called names only so long before it gets to you, and I felt like I reached my end.

It is in this that I felt a stark comparison growing between my secular job and my ministry of preaching and writing. No matter how many ways one can explain the Gospel to the homeless, or refute a disagreement with another person, or present the facts to an unbeliever, they never seem to change. I feel like I could provide all of the absolute proof to someone, and they would simply respond “No!” regardless of whether or not they are right. In this, I have seen all the more how difficult the ministry of our Lord was, as well as His disciples/apostles. Despite hearing the words of the Creator Himself, they did not listen or comprehend what He said. Even when they were intellectually and theologically cornered, having nothing to say back to the Lord, they still hated Him in their hearts. And in this hatred, they were willing to make up accusations against Him in order to have Him put to the death. Although they could not refute the truth, nevertheless they rejected it.

This is not unlike the world we live in today. On the one hand, we have the liberal side of the world, terribly in love with immorality and obsessed with the degradation of anything good. They claim to fight for the rights of children, and yet murder them in the womb. They claim to fight for justice and fairness, and yet punish those with moral standards. They claim to accept those of other beliefs, and yet would have the Godly silenced. How clearly wicked the world has become, in great hypocrisy and bitterness towards God. As wise and informed as they claim to be, we have never seen such a foolish society before. But if you look to the right, you do not find any better. On the outside, you have people who claim to be for God and country, faith and freedom and the love of God. But in reality, they are bitter, hateful people, whom I have seen more offended by the Word of God than the Godless world they claim to fight. They claim to be conservative, and yet take the nearest guy who claims to be the culmination of their wildest dreams, despite his previous record of abject liberalism and dishonesty. And when confronted with the truth, they simply respond like him and say, “Nope! That’s a lie, and you’re a liar!” Like the Jews in the days of Christ, they claim to be against the pagan world around them, and yet when faced with the Word of God they cover their ears and suppress any who proclaim it. I have never seen in my life people more resistant to the Word of God than those who claim to believe it.

What then? I have found myself surrounded on all sides. Those who do not believe the truth refuse to listen, and those who claim to believe it want nothing to do with it, should it disagree with their personal opinion. And I preach the Gospel to both, and exposit the Word of God as clearly as I can, with the result of either clear disregard or silent ignorance (the good ‘ole pat on the back, “I love what you said” but “have no idea what you said” response). The Godless worlds yells and claws at the preaching of the Word, and the professing church will hate you all the more for proclaiming it. So why do it? Does the Bible tell me “You will see people turn around miraculously!” Not quite. No doubt, Paul experienced such resentment from all sides (see 2 Cor. 11), and towards the end of his life he was facing it far more. He was imprisoned in a hole in the ground prior to his eventual execution, and so many of his former friends had forsaken the truth. And it is in that context that we find him writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3…

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.

Isn’t that strange? Here we have Paul writing to his young disciple Timothy, who was no doubt facing the same persecutions that Paul and been facing, and may have even been facing more, considering the absence of Paul. He was in Ephesus, attempting to maintain a troubled church, and was likewise being attacked from all sides. And now his teacher, and the apostle of Jesus Christ Himself, was imprisoned, and on the verge of death. So why, in such a time as this, would Paul tell Timothy “It’s going to get worse”? And indeed, this confusion has attacked my mind constantly as of late. “It’s going to get worse” leads the mind to wonder, “Why bother at all then??” It’s as though the world and the church have become two brick walls, and I am being told to throw the stone of God’s Word at them. The more I throw it, the thicker they become, and the less likely they are to give. And the harder I throw the stone, the more exhausted I become, and the more pointless it seems. The more the Word of God is given, the less sense their arguments back make, and yet parallel with that comes more stubbornness. And here we have Paul telling Timothy, “It’s going to get worse.”

For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…

What a list this is. At the same time it is so truthful, it is also so discouraging. The more we are exposed to the world, the more real this is to us. It explains to us what people refuse to change, and yet shows us how outwardly hopeless our cause seems to be. And I think the first one he starts with the most telling: “Lovers of self” pretty much sums up our society, especially now, where they do not even try to hide it! “Believe in yourself!” they say, and “Follow your heart,” not realizing (or else neglecting) the reality that all of our problems are caused by people following their hearts, because their hearts are infected with sin. And it is from this love of self that comes all of the other aspects of a sinful, depraved mind and heart. Sin affects every area of our lives, especially our reasoning, blinding us to the truth completely. Ah, but then it gets worse…

…holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.

You see, the people that Paul is warning Timothy about isn’t as much the sinful world as much as it is the false church. It was those who claimed to love God that are His biggest enemies, and it is from the professing church that the Antichrist will come. It is in this fact that the preacher of the Word fines his greatest discouragement: the church is the hardest to preach the Word to. When the very people who claim to be followers of the Christ are those who refuse to listen, or else give any importance or urgency to the Word of God, what does the preacher have left? The people who claim to be saved by the blood of Christ can hardly dedicate a few hours to the hearing of His Word as studied by another person, how can the preacher make them see the importance of the truth? The modern church has found this so hopeless, that they run to other forms of entertainment, like music, movies and programs. Perish the thought that a church would be limited to the study and declaration of the Word of God! We need “applicable” and “relevant” preaching that fits with my daily issues and tight schedule, and as soon as I deem it “irrelevant,” I move onto another church that will tell me what I want to hear. And it is of these that Paul says “difficult times will come,” as he affirmed to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. Those who are religious, especially in the church, are those who Paul warns Timothy about.

Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Those who claim to know, but cannot possible believe, and take advantage of those who are ignorant and sinful, are those whom he tells Timothy to avoid. But what do you do when the vast majority of those you meet fit the previous list so perfectly? Again, it feels like one is beating a wall with their head, finding nobody moving no matter how hard you try. And he goes on, referencing the struggles Moses had with Jannes and Jambres, who “opposed Moses,” who were just a small sample of those who opposed him. But of these, he says that “They will not make further progress; for their follow will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.” In other words, he gives Timothy hope. Moses was not defeated, nor was the Word of God beaten down into submission. Now, even in our era, the world can see that these men who opposed Moses were the ones who lost, and such has been made evident to all. But Paul doesn’t stop and say “And so you will be happy when they are defeated, and will have much prosperity!” On the contrary, he reminds Timothy…

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance…

Oh good, he is about to tell him “It’ll get better from here.” Not quite…

…persecutions, sufferings, such as happened to me in Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out them all the Lord rescued me!

Well, he must have only meant him specifically, right? We’re excluded… right?

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

And so we find him come full circle. He reminds Timothy that those who are opposed to the truth will not win, but they are present nevertheless. And will themselves get so wicked and skillful at deceiving others, that they will deceive themselves into thinking what they say is truth. And so he tells Timothy,

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and have become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom which leads salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

In other words, maintain what you know to be true. Just because the world and professing church will become worse, this does not excuse you. Although the world has wholeheartedly rejected the truth, you have not. Therefore, peruse it all the more! Especially in light of this present, evil age, which has thrown so many into Hell. This is something I think we forget far too often. It is almost as though the abject ignorance, arrogance and Godlessness of the world causes so much stress on us that it would drive us to the point of joining them! But we received the truth, and are among the very few who have found the narrow way and have been led through it. And it is to those of who have believed God’s Word that Paul says…

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Regardless of what the world says of the Word of God, and regardless of how the church rejects it and reduces it, it is God’s Word nevertheless, and it is for that reason most of all that we never stop learning it.

But the world will carry on. Godlessness reigns, both on the left and right sides, and no matter how hard you try, nobody seems to want to hear the Truth anymore. What is the answer then? Well, it is in this hopeless that I was forced to consider the entire context of this letter. It is so easy to read chapter 3 (the first part) and say “Yeah, that is the world I am in right now!” and leave it at that. But the apostle did not stop there. In the midst of his own suffering, and imminent demise, and after warning Timothy of all the horrific things that would come and are here even now, and after summarizing what is perhaps one of most accurate and dreadful descriptions of our world and professing church as we know it- it is at this point that Paul says the most important words a preacher can hear. In the next chapter, he says this:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

This is so fundamental to our thinking. Because it brings to light all of the reason we need to continue on. The wall won’t move, no matter how often or how hard we throw the Word at it. People won’t change, and will get worse and worse. The world will descend into more Godlessness than it has ever seen before, and men will reject the Gospel wholeheartedly, especially in the church. So what are we told to do? Preach the Word. Do it anyway.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

He doesn’t say “Preach the Word and eventually you’ll see change.” No, he says do it. And guess what? It’s going to get so bad that people will reject the truth for myths- things that aren’t even remotely true! Kinda like people taking Star Wars or Star Trek more seriously than the Word. I am sad to say I have seen too many people who know more about the fictional history of the Jedi than the Word of God. And that is truly, truly sad, and yet as God has made clear through Paul, it is to be expected. They are so deceived that they will believe anything besides the Truth. Why? Because it satisfies them. It tickles their hears- it is what they want to hear, regardless of whether or not it is true.

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

So why do we continue to preach the Word to a world and church that seems to want little to nothing to do with it? Because that is what we are supposed to do. We are not told to win souls, nor are we told to convince our hearers of what we preach. We are told to preach the Word regardless (“in season and out of season”), and to do so during hardship and stress. The preaching of the Word of God is most important when people refuse to hear it, because it is in that moment that we prove ourselves to be genuine. The Word of God will always do what it is meant to do- whether saving people or condemning them- and we are the tools God uses to administer it for either purpose. We are not told to what end we are preaching the Word at any given moment regarding hearer, as much as it is we are doing the work God has called us to do. And it is in this mindset that Paul tells Timothy,

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

He was about to die alone, having seen so many forsake the truth and abandon him. And yet he himself was satisfied, because he did what God told him to do.

In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Such words are the fuel behind the preacher, the driving force being the man who suffers hardship for the Gospel. As soon as I forget this, I become discouraged. But as long as I remember why I do it, and I do it regardless of the reception, I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and it is in this light that I have found my greatest encouragement. God will award to me the crown of righteousness- not the world, nor is it a crown of acceptance by the world, but rather the crown of having done what God told me to do; that which was right. I do not know more encouraging words to the discouraged preacher than these, nor is there a better motivation than that crown of righteousness. No matter how useless the thing I am doing seems to be, its use is not determined by the world or the church, but by God who calls me to “preach the Word.”

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