In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NIV)
Read: 2 Timothy 4:1-22
Consider: While Paul was in a jail in Rome, he took the time to write to Timothy who was ministering to the church in Ephesus. Paul does not become morbid as he foresees his coming death, nor does he give up in desperation. When facing death he could say: For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
Paul uses some of the time he has left to encourage Timothy in his ministry to: ‘… preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage …’ (4:2). Paul understood that preaching the Word was crucial to people coming to faith and also to them growing in their faith. In his letter to the church in Rome he said: ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13-15a).
We might be tempted to think that what Paul said in Romans 10 only applies to his own time. After all the Christian faith was fairly young and was spreading thorough the testimony of those travelling through different countries, perhaps as a result of persecution. Look again at Paul’s words: ‘… how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?’ (Romans 10:14b). Do you think you live in a country where most people have heard the good news about Jesus? In the West we have a growing number of people who have never heard the truth of the gospel and who do not have any contact with committed Christians. It is easy to think of the younger generation that is growing up in a secular society, where anything to do with faith is ridiculed in the media. However, the same is true of the current generation who may have received some religious instruction as a child. For many, their understanding of the Christian faith is based on what they imagine Christianity to be, rather than what it actually is.
How can we clarify what Christianity really is? Paul gives us the answer in today’s reading from 2 Timothy. He says: ‘… correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ (4:2b). We need to have the courage to challenge misunderstanding and misleading notions about our faith. This may involve the exercise of ‘great patience’ as Paul says, but it will always require ‘careful instruction’. In his letter to Titus (who was ministering in Crete), Paul reminds him that, in the face of incorrect teaching (Titus 1:10-16), he ‘… must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine’ (Titus 2:1). But what of ‘rebuke’? This might seem harsh, but occasionally it may be necessary. Paul sees the purpose of rebuking someone as a necessity to bring them back to correct teaching. In Titus 1:13 he says: Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith. His concern is for the spiritual welfare of the believers.
What about you? Are you prepared to speak up in society (or in church) when you hear incorrect teaching? Are you more concerned about a person’s spiritual welfare, than about what they might think of you?
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
Pray: Father, forgive us for being reticent to discuss our faith with others. We acknowledge that it is often because we are fearful of their reaction. Give us boldness to speak up at the right time. Help us to always speak the truth in love to our fellow-believers; correcting, rebuking and encouraging when necessary. Amen