There is a manifest connection between this section and the close of the preceding chapter. The Apostle had shown how the man of God might be thoroughly furnished, or entirely equipped, for every good work; and he thereon founds an appeal to Timothy to be diligent in his service. He says, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine." vv. 1, 2.
These are solemn and weighty words, and need to be devoutly weighed in the divine presence, and especially by the Lord's servants; for they set Timothy, and with him the labourer in every age, in full view of his responsibility, while, at the same time, they remind him of the tribunal before which the character of all service will be ultimately tested. It is, in fact, a searching appeal to the conscience; for "the appearing of Christ is always in connection with responsibility; His coming is with the object of calling us to Himself in connection with our privileges. Here it is the first of these two cases; not the assembly, or the Father's house, but God, the appearing, and the kingdom. All that is in relation to responsibility, government, judgment, is gathered together in one point of view.
Coming to details it may be observed that Timothy is charged, first, "before God," the Apostle thereby calling forth a present exercise of conscience (compare 1 Thess. 1: 3), as he teaches him that all his service is carried on under God's eye. Next, it is, "and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead." As he writes in another place, "We labour that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of [acceptable to] Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5: 9, 10). All judgment has been committed to His hands, and although no believer will ever be judged for sins, the character of his works and service will be manifested and declared before the tribunal of Christ. To have this before the soul is therefore, on the one hand, a blessed encouragement, and on the other hand, an energetic motive to fidelity. The servant who really waits for his Lord cannot but keep his loins girded and his light burning.
Having supplied Timothy with such an assemblage of motives for perseverance and fidelity, the Apostle indicates the character of his work. He sums it up at the outset in one pregnant exhortation: "Preach the word." This was his one responsibility, whatever the state of things around. Indifference, decay, and corruption were increasing, and would increase; but instead of being disheartened and using this as a reason for inactivity, Timothy was all the more, on this account, to proclaim the Word. He was, as God's watchman, to keep the trumpet of testimony to his lips, and to give forth no uncertain sound, whether men would or would not hear. He was not responsible for the effect of the testimony; he was not to be influenced by signs of blessing or the absence of it. His sole concern was to be faithful, and in order to this he must continue to proclaim the message entrusted to his stewardship.
The urgency of the need is shown by the next clause: "Be instant in season, out of season." All times were to be alike to Timothy; his work must never be intermitted; he must be ever on the watch for an opportunity to fulfill his vocation. To one who had a "burden of the LORD" resting on his soul, no time would be unseasonable; but, like Jeremiah, he would find that the Word was in his heart as a burning fire, and he would be weary with forbearing, and he would not be able to stay (Jer. 23: 38; 20: 9). He was thus bidden by the Apostle to be "instant" (urgent) in season and out of season.
We come next to the special forms of his ministry. Proclaiming the Word in general, but to convict, rebuke, etc., is more specific, pointing out the various needs of souls, especially at such a moment. "Convict" is the same word as "rebuke" in 1 Timothy 5: 20, and signifies to convict of sin by demonstration to the conscience. "Rebuke" has here its proper force, as may be seen from its use, for example, in Mark 8: 33, where the Lord rebuked Peter. It is a word therefore that would seem to contemplate opponents to the truth, false or Jewish teachers, unless indeed open backsliders be in view, such as were turning grace into licentiousness.
Last, he was to "exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine," or teaching. "Exhort" is a large word, as is shown by its being translated sometimes "comfort," and sometimes "encourage." Here, however, "exhort," as we judge, expresses more nearly the Apostle's idea; for he adds, "with all long-suffering and doctrine" (teaching). There would therefore be much to encounter in apathy, if not in active opposition, in the service of exhortation; but Timothy was to continue in it in spite of all, and to maintain in this path a meek and unruffled spirit -- only to be done in the presence of God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The reason given for unwearied assiduity in his work is most striking: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." vv. 3, 4. It was not therefore in the prospect of large results that Timothy was to proclaim the Word so earnestly and zealously; but he was to use the present moment as knowing that the opportunity was brief for such a ministry, that teachers would speedily arise who would adapt themselves to the desires of the natural heart, men who would please the fancy and flatter the imagination of their hearers, under the pretext too of having discovered new and striking things in the Scriptures.
It should be observed, however, that this species of corruption commences with the hearers. It is they who "will not endure sound doctrine" (teaching), and who "after their own lusts . . . heap to themselves teachers" to satisfy a diseased and itching ear. This class can be traced all down the path of church history, and the reader will have no difficulty in identifying it at the present moment. Plain scriptural teaching -- that teaching which merely explains and applies the mind of God as contained in the Scriptures -- does not suffice for such hearers, nor the teachers whom the Lord sends, as they prefer to "heap" up, to choose, their own; and, when listening, their heart and conscience are never exposed to the action of that Word which is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, for they only bring with them "itching ears." The issue could but be one; they turn away from the truth, and they turn to fables; for these alone could minister to their unhealthy appetites.
In contrast with all this, the Apostle, turning again to Timothy, exhorts him: "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry." v. 5. To watch is, in this place, rather to be sober -- "that sober clearness of mind resulting from exemption from false influences," and which can only be acquired and maintained by walking before God and in communion with His mind. To endure afflictions points to the character of the path of the servant in an evil day (see chap. 1: 7). He was moreover to do the work of an evangelist. He is thus directed to preach the gospel as well as teach and preach the Word. Apart from the apostles, and cases like Timothy and Titus, the gift of an evangelist would never seem to have been combined with that of a teacher. The only two combined, as may be learned from the fact that one article is prefixed to the two nouns, are pastors and teachers (Eph. 4: 11). Then summing up all together, Timothy is to make full proof of his ministry, or his service, and in the way here shown; that is, by his whole life being devoted in the energy of the Spirit to the work to which he had been called.
Another motive is supplied as an incentive to Timothy's zeal -- the prospect of the Apostle's speedy departure. "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." vv. 6-8. "The absence therefore of apostolic ministry, so serious a fact with regard to the assembly's position, makes the duty of the man of God the more urgent.
"As Paul's absence was a motive for working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, so is it also a motive for him who is engaged in the work of the gospel to devote himself more than ever to his ministry, in order to supply as far as possible the lack of apostolic service by earnest care for souls, and by instructing them in the truth that he has learned." For with the apostles passing off the scene, apostolic authority and, it may be added, apostolic inspiration ceased. The Word of God, then completed (see Col. 1: 25, reading "complete" instead of "fulfil"), remained; and it abides for the consolation and guidance of the saints; and as it was Timothy's, so it is every true servant's, responsibility to "preach the word," and that alone, for the instruction and edification of the Church. We are commended to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20: 32).
The Apostle, in the expectation of his departure, reviews his course and, as led by the Holy Ghost, he is able to affirm his fidelity. Precious grace of God to His devoted servant, to permit him to write such words with the unerring pen of inspiration! The fight he had fought, or the conflict he had waged, he knew was a good one. It should be noted that he only speaks of the character of the conflict, and not of the manner in which he had carried it on. His course was now ended, and he had kept the faith. Many had departed from it; but he by grace had kept it, maintained the truth, and had indeed transmitted it exactly as he had received it.
He turns, in the next place, to the future, to the prospect that awaited him; and he tells us that there was for him a crown of righteousness. "The crown of righteousness, that is to say, the one bestowed by the righteous Judge, who acknowledged his (Paul's) faithfulness, was laid up and kept for him. It was not till the day of retribution that he would receive it. We see plainly that it is reward for labour and for faithfulness that is here meant. This, or its opposite, characterizes the whole epistle, and not the privileges of grace. The work of the Spirit through us is rewarded by the crown of righteousness, and every one will have a reward according to his labours."* This last sentence affords the key to the next clause. "All them also that love His appearing" describes all believers, but not all will have the same crown. All alike, as subjects of grace, will he conformed to Christ in glory; but there will be differences of rewards, and these will be apportioned by the righteous Judge, and according therefore to His infallible judgment. And hence the Apostle can say, "not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." This too is of grace, for if Paul laboured more than the other apostles, it was by the grace of God. And whatever service is rendered by any, it is only grace that produces and acknowledges it.
*Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, J.N.D., vol. 5.
What a motive, then, is here furnished to devotedness! The Lord gives power for His service, and then "at that day" He will award the recompense, even for a cup of cold water which has been given in His name. The reader will remember that the appearing is always the goal for the servant, and the expression "that day" is here connected with the same period.