The Content of His Commission
preach the word; (4:2a)
The faithful minister of Jesus Christ is commanded to preach the word, which focuses on the content of what is proclaimed. Preach translates the first of nine imperatives Paul uses in this passage, five of them in verse 2 (preach, be ready, reprove, rebuke, exhort) and four in verse 5 (be sober, endure, do, fulfill).
Preach is from kērussō, which means to herald, to proclaim publicly. In New Testament times, the herald, acting as imperial messenger, would go through the streets of a city to announce special events, such as the appearing of the emperor. His duties also included public announcement of new laws or government policies and actions.
Paul himself not only was appointed an apostle but also, like Timothy, was appointed a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7; cf. 2 Tim. 1:11). But because of Timothy’s timid spirit, that task was especially challenging for him. He did not have the naturally strong and aggressive personality or constitution of his mentor. He also may not have had the formal training or intellectual skill to argue successfully on a human level with more sophisticated and experienced errorists in and around the church. He doubtless felt inadequate and intimidated when they presented arguments for which he had not yet developed a successful apologetic or polemic. And in the eyes of some believers in Ephesus, he also was handicapped because of his youthfulness, although Paul had earlier counseled him to disregard such criticism (1 Tim. 4:12). In addition to resistance within the church, Timothy faced growing hostility from unbelieving Jews and from the Roman government. It was persecution by those enemies that had put Paul in prison.
There were other reasons why Timothy might have been tempted to muffle his proclamation, especially that of evangelism, which Paul mentions in verse 5. Timothy realized that the idea of salvation solely through God’s grace runs totally counter to the thinking of natural men and is often met with anger or indifference. But when preaching to unbelievers, whether Jew or Gentile, Timothy was to be like Noah, who “was a righteous man, blameless in his time; [and] walked with God” (Gen. 6:9; cf. Heb. 11:7). Timothy also was to be like Noah in being “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Long before God made His covenant with Abraham, before He made His covenant with Israel and gave them the law at Sinai, and still longer before He made the final and perfect covenant through His Son, Jesus Christ, Noah preached God’s righteousness to the ever-more-wicked antediluvians. As far as we know, Noah was not persecuted, but we do know that his preaching for a hundred years while he was building the ark fell on completely indifferent ears, because not a single soul outside his immediate family trusted in God and was saved.
Like every preacher of God’s truth to unbelievers, Timothy also was to be like Jonah, who declared to the wicked pagan city of Nineveh, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). In great contrast to that of Noah, however, Jonah’s preaching produced an amazing response of repentance and faith in the true God. “The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment,” Jesus declared, “and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matt. 12:41).
Timothy was to be like “John the Baptist [who] came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 3:1–2), and who then proclaimed “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
By the word, Paul doubtless means the entire written Word of God, His complete revealed truth, which the apostle also calls “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) and which he has just referred to as “the sacred writings” and the “Scripture” (2 Tim. 3:15–16).
A preacher cannot continue to faithfully preach and teach God’s word unless he carefully protects its truth. “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you,” Paul had warned in his previous letter, “avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ ” (1 Tim. 6:20). Near the beginning of this second letter he admonished, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus,” and, “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:13–14). He also implored Timothy to handle “accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), because truth that is poorly retained, guarded, and handled inevitably will be poorly taught.
After declaring the marvelous truth first proclaimed by the prophet Joel (2:32) that “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” Paul asks rhetorically in his letter to the church at Rome, “How then shall they [unbelievers] call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Again quoting from the Old Testament, this time from Isaiah 52:7, the apostle then exults, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:13–15).
Of his own preaching Paul said,
I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Col. 1:25–29)
There are gifted orators who can sway an audience with the power of their persuasive rhetoric. There are men who are erudite, knowledgeable, well-trained, and worldly-wise, who can cause other men to change their minds about certain matters. There are men who can relate moving stories that tug at a hearer’s heart and move him emotionally. Throughout the history of the church, including our own time, God has chosen to endow some ministers with such abilities. But God also has chosen not to bless every faithful preacher in those particular ways. Nevertheless, He charges them with the same task of preaching His Word, because the spiritual power and effectiveness of preaching does not rest in the skill of the speaker but in the truth.
Intellectually brilliant as he was, the apostle testified to believers at Corinth: “Brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1–5). In his next letter to that church, he said, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
By far the most reliable and effective way to proclaim all of God’s Word is to preach it expositorially. In his book The Ministry of the Word, the nineteenth-century Scotsman William Taylor writes,
By expository preaching, I mean that method of pulpit discourse which consists in the consecutive interpretation, and practical enforcement, of a book of the sacred canon.… Exposition is the presentation to the people, in an intelligible and forcible manner, of the meaning of the sacred writer.… It is the honest answer which the preacher gives, after faithful study, to these questions, “What is the mind of the Holy Spirit in this passage?” and “What is its bearing on related Christian truths, or on the life and conversation of the Christian himself?” ([Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975], 155, 157, 159)
Like countless men before and after his time, Taylor preached expositorially because he wanted to know the mind of the Spirit, because he wanted to know how one Scripture truth bore upon another, and he had to carefully understand what God desired for his people.
For many reasons, faithful and full proclamation of the word is the only right way to preach. First of all, such preaching lets God speak rather than man, because it declares God’s own Word. And it is an incredibly thrilling privilege to give voice to God!
Second, preaching the word is the only right way to preach because it brings the preacher into direct contact with the mind of the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture. It is for that reason that the preacher of the Word finds the process of study and discovery to be even more rewarding than the preaching that results from it, gratifying as that can be.
It is tragic and puzzling that so many preachers who recognize Scripture to be God’s own Word spend more time investigating and interacting with the limited and imperfect minds of other men than delving into the infinite and holy mind of God. Part of the reason, of course, is that many hearers do not really want to delve into the depths of God’s righteousness and truth, because it exposes their own shallowness and sin. Paul already has warned Timothy about the danger of those who hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Later in the present passage he will warn again that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; … and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4; cf. Acts 20:29–30).
Third, preaching the word is the only right way to preach because it forces the preacher to proclaim all of God’s revelation, including those truths that even many believers find hard to learn or accept.
Fourth, preaching the word is the only right way to preach because it promotes biblical literacy in a congregation, not only through what is learned from the sermon itself but also through the increased desire to study Scripture more carefully and consistently on their own. The faithful pastor, and all other faithful believers, love to learn God’s Word because they love the God of the Word.
Fifth, preaching the word is the only right way to preach because it carries ultimate authority. It is the complete and perfect self-revelation of God Himself and of His divine will for mankind, which He has created in His own image.
Sixth, preaching the word is the only right way to preach because only that kind of preaching can transform both the preacher and the congregation.
The final and most compelling reason that preaching the word is the only right way to preach is simply that it is His own Word, and only His own Word, that the Lord calls and commissions His preachers to proclaim.
In the book mentioned above, William Taylor writes, “Let it never be forgotten, then, that he who would rise to eminence and usefulness in the pulpit, and become ‘wise in winning souls,’ must say of the work of the ministry, ‘This one thing I do.’ He must focus his whole heart and life upon the pulpit. He must give his days and his nights to the production of those addresses by which he seeks to convince the judgments and move the hearts and elevate the lives of his hearers” (p. 7).
The Scope of His Commission
be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (4:2b)
In order to be effective, a faithful preacher must understand the scope of his commission, which Paul here summarizes.
Like any other effective worker, he must be ready. This is the second command Paul uses in verse 2 and translates ephistēmi, which has a broad range of meanings as determined by tense, mood, and voice. It often connotes suddenness, as in Luke 2:9 (“suddenly stood before”) and Acts 12:7 (“suddenly appeared”; cf. 1 Thess. 5:3); or forcefulness, as in Luke 20:1 (“confronted”) and Acts 4:1; 6:12; 23:27 (“came upon”). In the aorist active imperative, as here, the word carries the complementary ideas of urgency, preparedness, and readiness. It could be used of a soldier who is ready to go into battle on a moment’s notice or of a guard who keeps continually alert for any threat of infiltration or attack by the enemy.
For the faithful preacher, be ready carries similar meanings of gravity and vigilance. He should feel like Jeremiah, who felt under divine compulsion to prophesy. “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ ” he testified, “then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer. 20:9; cf. 5:14).
While Paul stayed in Caesarea for a few days on his way back to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, the prophet Agabus “took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles,” ’ … the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.” But Paul’s immediate reply was, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:11–13).
Such a sense of readiness and willingness to serve the Lord at any cost and at any time not only should characterize every faithful preacher but also every faithful Christian. Peter exhorted his readers, most of whom were suffering severe persecution from Rome, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). Writing to believers in the church where Timothy now was ministering, Paul implored, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16).
In his classic Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “What in a Christian minister is the most essential quality for securing success in winning souls for Christ?… earnestness. And if I were asked a second or third time, I should not vary the answer.… Success is proportionate to the preacher’s earnestness” ([Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1955], 305).
Only continual study of God’s Word, fellowship with Him in prayer, and submission to His Holy Spirit can keep alive a sense of exhilarating eagerness to preach. Apart from the Word and from prayer, the most gifted and orthodox preaching will grow spiritually stale, for the preacher and for the hearers. In the book just cited, Spurgeon said, “He, who at the end of twenty years ministry among the same people is more alive than ever, is a great debtor to the quickening Spirit” (Lectures, 309).
The faithful preacher must be ready in season and out of season, when it is convenient and when it is not, when it is immediately satisfying and when it is not, when from a human perspective it seems suitable and when it does not. His proclaiming God’s Word must not be dictated by popular culture and propriety, by tradition, by esteem in the community (or even in the church), but solely by the mandate of the Lord.
Of the next three commands—reprove, rebuke, and exhort—the first two are negative, and third is positive.
Reprove and rebuke are closely related in meaning and are the third and fourth imperatives in this passage. Paul has just declared that all Scripture is “profitable for … reproof” (3:16). As noted in the previous commentary chapter, elegmos (reproof) carries the idea of correcting misbehavior or false doctrine. Reproving may have more to do with affecting the mind, with helping a person understand that what he believes or is doing is wrong. Rebuke, on the other hand, may have to do with the heart, with bringing a person under conviction of guilt. To reprove is to refute error and misconduct with careful biblical argument; to rebuke is to bring the erring person to repentance. The first discloses the sinfulness of sin, whereas the second discloses the sinfulness of the sinner.
The first call of the gospel reflects this reproof by calling for men to repent from sin. In preparing the way for the Messiah, John the Baptist declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). He not only preached against sin in general but against particular sins of particular people. “When Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him [John the Baptist] on account of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and on account of all the wicked things which Herod had done, he added this also to them all, that he locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19–20).
Like John the Baptist, Jesus began His public ministry by calling sinners to repentance. After being baptized by John and spending forty days and nights in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, “from that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 4:17). Although Jesus mentioned God’s love on several occasions, He never preached a message on that theme. But He preached countless messages on God’s condemnation of sin, on His judgment of sinners, and on the sinner’s need for repentance. The unrepentant sinner has no hope in the love of God, because God’s love is inseparable from His holiness and justice. A person who refuses to be cleansed of his sin by God’s grace has no prospect of being accepted into heaven by His love.
Immediately after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, his hearers “were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ ” (Acts 2:37–38).
The preacher’s continuing responsibility is to expose, reprove, and rebuke sin. Sin is that which totally separates unbelievers from God and which temporarily separates believers from close fellowship with their Lord. Paul therefore counseled believers in Ephesus, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
He warned Titus about those sinners who infiltrate the church: “There are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain.… For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:10–11, 13).
Sin must be addressed among believers as well. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul commanded, “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning” (1 Tim. 5:20).
Paul next gives Timothy the positive imperative to exhort, which is from parakaleō, a common New Testament word that can range in meaning from simply calling out to someone to admonishing, which is clearly the meaning in this context. It also carries the idea of encouragement. After having reproved and rebuked disobedient believers under his care, the faithful preacher is then to come alongside them in love and encourage them to spiritual change.
That is the spirit in which Paul himself pastored those under his care. He reminded believers in Thessalonica, “You know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11–12; cf. Col. 1:28). Later in the letter he counseled those believers to do as he had done, saying, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men” (5:14).
Not only are the things a preacher says and does important but also the way he says them and does them. He is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with patience. Makrothumē (patience) means literally to “abide under” and therefore is often translated “endurance” (see, e.g., Luke 21:19; 2 Cor. 6:4; James 1:3) or “perseverance” (see, e.g., James 1:12; 2 Cor. 12:12). But here Paul is speaking specifically of patience with people, with members of a flock who may have been persistently stubborn and were resisting their pastor’s admonitions. But the shepherd is not to become exasperated or angry, remembering that he himself is firmly but lovingly and patiently held accountable by the Great Shepherd, our supreme example of patience. Paul cautioned believers in Rome, “Do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:3–4). If the perfect Son of God is so kind, forbearing, and patient with sinners, how much are His people obliged to have those attitudes?
Although mentioned at the end of the verse, didachē (instruction) is foundational to preaching, reproving, rebuking, and exhortation. It is only through careful teaching of the Word that those tasks can be successfully carried out by a pastor. An unbeliever will not be convicted of his sin and come to salvation apart from some instruction from God’s Word about his lost condition and his need for saving faith in Jesus Christ. Nor will a believer be convicted of his sin and brought to repentance and restoration apart from the work of the Word in his heart.
It is not by a preacher’s personal authority or persuasiveness—no matter how well he knows Scripture or how highly he is gifted—but solely by the authority and power of Scripture itself, illuminated and applied by the Holy Spirit, that any ministry or Christian service can be spiritually effective and pleasing to the Lord. In 4:2 Paul essentially reiterates what he has just declared, namely, that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (3:16–17).
2. Be instant in season, out of season. By these words he recommends not only constancy, but likewise earnestness, so as to overcome all hindrances and difficulties; for, being, by nature, exceedingly effeminate or slothful, we easily yield to the slightest opposition, and sometimes we gladly seek apologies for our slothfulness. Let us now consider how many arts Satan employs to stop our course, and how slow to follow, and how soon wearied are those who are called. Consequently the gospel will not long maintain its place, if pastors do not urge it earnestly.
Moreover, this earnestness must relate both to the pastor and to the people; to the pastor, that he may not devote himself to the office of teaching merely at his own times and according to his own convenience, but that, shrinking neither from toils nor from annoyances, he may exercise his faculties to the utmost. So far as regards the people, there is constancy and earnestness, when they arouse those who are asleep, when they lay their hands on those who are hurrying in a wrong direction, and when they correct the trivial occupations of the world. To explain more fully in what respects the pastor must “be instant,” the Apostle adds—
Reprove, rebuke, exhort. By these words he means, that we have need of many excitements to urge us to advance in the right course; for if we were as teachable as we ought to be, a minister of Christ would draw us along by the slightest expression of his will. But now, not even moderate exhortations, to say nothing of sound advices, are sufficient for shaking off our sluggishness, if there be not increased vehemence of reproofs and threatenings.
With all gentleness and doctrine. A very necessary exception; for reproofs either fall through their own violence, or vanish into smoke, if they do not rest on doctrine. Both exhortations and reproofs are merely aids to doctrine, and, therefore, have little weight without it. We see instances of this in those who have merely a large measure of zeal and bitterness, and are not furnished with solid doctrine. Such men toil very hard, utter loud cries, make a great noise, and all to no purpose, because they build without a foundation. I speak of men who, in other respects, are good, but with little learning, and excessive warmth; for they who employ all the energy that they possess in battling against sound doctrine, are far more dangerous, and do not deserve to be mentioned here at all.
In short, Paul means that reproofs are founded on doctrine, in order that they may not be justly despised as frivolous. Secondly, he means that keenness is moderated by gentleness; for nothing is more difficult than to set a limit to our zeal, when we have once become warm. Now when we are carried away by impatience, our exertions are altogether fruitless. Our harshness not only exposes us to ridicule, but also irritates the minds of the people. Besides, keen and violent men are generally unable to endure the obstinacy of those with whom they are brought into intercourse, and cannot submit to many annoyances and insults, which nevertheless must be digested, if we are desirous to be useful. Let severity be therefore mingled with this seasoning of gentleness, that it may be known to proceed from a peaceful heart.
2 Paul’s concluding charge to Timothy begins with a series of five imperatives in the Greek. The first is to “preach [kēryssō, GK 3062; cf. 1 Ti 3:16; cf. kēryx, GK 3061, in 1 Ti 2:7; 2 Ti 1:11] the Word” (on “the Word,” see 1 Ti 4:12; 5:17). Timothy has been thoroughly grounded in the “holy Scriptures” (2 Ti 3:15); those Scriptures are the same Word—God’s Word (2:9), the “word of truth” (2:15)—that he is solemnly called on to preach (cf. Ro 10:8; 1 Co 15:2). Notably, this preaching is not limited to the edification of believers (cf. Marshall, 800). It entails imparting to his hearers “sound doctrine” rather than telling them what they want to hear (v. 3).
Timothy’s primary motivation must not be to please people; he must take his cue first and foremost from God’s Word. As Stott (Message of 2 Timothy, 106) says, “We have no liberty to invent our message, but only to communicate ‘the word’ which God has spoken and has now committed to the church as a sacred trust.” We must proclaim the Word rather than merely cater to people’s “felt needs” or use the pulpit as a platform for pursuing our own personal agendas.
Paul’s next command is that the preacher must “be prepared” to proclaim the Word whether it seems popular at the time or not (eukairōs akairōs, GK 2323, 178, an oxymoron, “in season and out of season”; Mk 6:21; 14:11; cf. 2 Ti 4:3). This defied both Jewish and Greco-Roman wisdom. The OT Preacher wrote that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc 3:7). Conventional Greco-Roman rhetoric held similarly that a speaker must carefully discern whether or not certain forms of address are opportune in a given situation. According to Plato (Phaed. 272A, using the same two Greek words), “a knowledge of the times for speaking and for keeping silence” is crucial (cf. A. J. Malherbe, “ ‘In Season and Out of Season’: 2 Timothy 4:2,” JBL 103 : 236–41). Especially startling is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preach the Word even when his audience may not be receptive (some say the reference is merely to Timothy’s own personal convenience, but this is unlikely). Judging by the book of Acts, this was also Paul’s own practice. In the end, it is not the preacher’s task to predict his audience’s response,only to be faithful to his calling. As Theodore of Mopsuestia (Commentary on 2 Timothy: TEM 2:223) writes, “Every occasion constitutes an opportune time for preaching.”
According to Paul’s last three imperatives, the preacher must “correct” (elenchō, GK 1794; 1 Ti 5:20; Tit 1:9, 13; 2:15; cf. 2 Ti 3:16), “rebuke” (epitimaō, GK 2203; not elsewhere in Paul), and “encourage” (parakaleō, GK 4151; cf. 1 Ti 5:1; 6:2; on the entire triad, cf. 3:16) with all “patience” (makrothymia, GK 3429; cf. 3:10) and “instruction” (didachē, GK 1439).
4:2 / The charge itself is a series of five imperatives. The first, preach the Word (see disc. on 1 Tim. 4:5 for “the gospel message” as the proper understanding of “the logos of God” in the pe), is the rubric for the others. Above all else, Timothy must proclaim the message of the gospel, which here has the same effect as the charge to “guard the deposit” in 1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 1:14. This is what the whole appeal from 1:6 to 3:17 is all about.
Furthermore, he is to be prepared in season and out of season. This is very close to the kjv’s famous, “Be instant in season, out of season.” Unfortunately what Paul intends is not all that clear. The verb is probably best translated “stand by it” (D-C) or “keep at it” (Kelly), that is, your proclaiming of the Word. The double adverbs (eukairōs, akairōs) are either subjective (having to do with Timothy) or objective (having to do with his hearers). If the former, which was how Chrysostom understood it, then it means that he should stay with the task whether it is convenient or not. If the latter, then it means that he should stand by it “whether or not the preaching comes at a convenient time for the hearers.” In the context, especially in light of what follows, the latter is probably intended, although it just may have to do with Timothy’s reticence (cf. 1:6–7).
The final three imperatives, correct, rebuke and encourage, are related to the various aspects of his task as proclaimer of the Word. He is to correct (better, “rebuke,” as in 3:16; Titus 1:13; 2:15) those in error; rebuke (perhaps, “warn”) those who do not heed the correction; and finally “exhort” (or “urge,” not encourage; see disc. on 1 Tim. 2:1; 5:1; 6:2) them all.
He is to do these final three tasks with great patience and careful instruction. Patience is required because of what will be said next—not all will give heed to him. Nonetheless he must always patiently hold forth the truth (i.e., teach with … careful instruction).
The Nature of the Charge (verse 2)
Omitting verse 1 for the moment and passing to verse 2, the essence of the charge is in the three words ‘Preach the word’. We observe at once that the message Timothy is to communicate is called a ‘word’, a spoken utterance. Rather it is the word, God’s word which God has spoken. Paul does not need to specify it further, for Timothy will know at once that it is the body of doctrine which he has heard from Paul and which Paul has now committed to him to pass on to others. It is identical with ‘the deposit’ of chapter 1. And in this fourth chapter it is equivalent to ‘the sound teaching’ (3), ‘the truth’ (4) and ‘the faith’ (7). It consists of the Old Testament Scriptures, God-breathed and profitable, which Timothy has known from childhood, together with the teaching of the apostle which Timothy has ‘followed’, ‘learned’ and ‘firmly believed’ (3:10, 14). The same charge is laid upon the church of every age. We have no liberty to invent our message, but only to communicate ‘the word’ which God has spoken and has now committed to the church as a sacred trust.
Timothy is to ‘preach’ this word, himself to speak what God has spoken. His responsibility is not just to hear it, and to believe and obey what he hears; nor just to guard it from every falsification; nor just to suffer for it and continue in it; but now to preach it to others. It is good news of salvation for sinners. So he is to proclaim it like a herald in the market-place (kēryssō, cf. kēryx ‘a herald’ in 1:11). He is to lift up his voice without fear or favour, and boldly to make it known.
Paul goes on to list four marks which are to characterize Timothy’s proclamation.
The verb ephistēmi, ‘be urgent’, means literally to ‘stand by’, and so to ‘be ready, be on hand’ (ag). But here it appears to take on the flavour not just of alertness and eagerness, but of insistence and urgency. ‘Never lose your sense of urgency’ (jbp). Certainly it is no good preaching in a listless or lackadaisical manner. All true preaching conveys a sense of the urgent importance of what is being preached. The Christian herald knows that he is handling matters of life and death. He is announcing the sinner’s plight under the judgment of God, the saving action of God through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the summons to repent and believe. How can he treat such themes with cold indifference? ‘Whatever you do,’ wrote Richard Baxter, ‘let the people see that you are in good earnest … You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted.’1
Such urgent preaching, Paul adds, must continue ‘in season and out of season’. ‘Press it home on all occasions, convenient or inconvenient’ (neb). This injunction is not to be taken as an excuse for the insensitive brashness which has sometimes characterized our evangelism and brought it into disrepute. We have no liberty to barge unceremoniously into other people’s privacy or tread clumsily on their corns. No. The occasions Paul has in mind are probably ‘welcome or unwelcome’ (jb) not for the hearers so much as for the speaker. The translation of the neb margin emphasizes this: ‘be on duty at all times, convenient or inconvenient’. This takes the verb ephistēmi in its alternative sense, which is found sometimes in the papyri. It seems, then, that what we are given here is not a biblical warrant for rudeness, but a biblical appeal against laziness.
The herald who announces the word is to ‘convince, rebuke and exhort’. This suggests three different ways of doing it. For God’s word is ‘profitable’ for a variety of ministries, as Paul has already stated (3:16). It speaks to different men in different situations. The preacher must remember this and be skilful in his use of it. He must ‘use argument, reproof, and appeal’ (neb), which is almost a classification of three approaches, intellectual, moral and emotional. For some people are tormented by doubts and need to be convinced by arguments. Others have fallen into sin, and need to be rebuked. Others again are haunted by fears, and need to be encouraged. God’s word does all this and more. We are to apply it relevantly.
Although we are to be urgent (longing for people to make a ready response to the word), we are to be ‘unfailing in patience’ in waiting for it. We must never resort to the use of human pressure techniques, or attempt to contrive a ‘decision’. Our responsibility is to be faithful in preaching the word; the results of the proclamation are the responsibility of the Holy Spirit, and we can afford to wait patiently for him to work. We are to be patient in our whole manner as well, for ‘the Lord’s servant must … be … kindly to everyone, … forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness’ (2:24, 25). However solemn our commission and urgent our message, there can be no possible justification for a brusque or impatient manner.
- An intelligent proclamation
We are not only to preach the word but to teach it, or rather to preach it ‘with all teaching’ (kēryxon … en pasē … didachē). C. H. Dodd has made the whole church familiar with his distinction between kērygma and didachē, the former being the proclamation of Christ to unbelievers with a summons to repent, and the latter the ethical instruction of converts. The distinction is helpful and important. Yet, as has already been suggested in the comment on 1:11, it can be pressed too rigidly. At least, this verse shows that our kērygma must itself contain much didachē. Whether our proclamation is intended primarily to convince, rebuke or exhort, it must be a doctrinal ministry.
The Christian pastoral ministry is essentially a teaching ministry, which explains why candidates are required both to be orthodox in their own faith and to have an aptitude for teaching (e.g. Tit. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2). There is an increasing need, especially as the process of urbanization continues and standards of education rise, for Christian ministers to exercise in the teeming cities of the developing world a systematic expository preaching ministry, to ‘proclaim the word … with all teaching’. This is precisely what Paul had himself done in Ephesus, as Timothy well knew. For some three years he had continued to teach ‘the whole counsel of God’ both ‘in public and from house to house’ (Acts 20:20, 27; cf. 19:8–10). Now Timothy must do the same.
Such is Paul’s charge to Timothy. He is to preach the word, and as he announces the God-given message to be urgent in his approach, relevant in his application, patient in his manner and intelligent in his presentation.
4:2. Paul’s charge to Timothy was: Preach the Word. Through the course of his two letters to Timothy, Paul had referred often to God’s revelation, his Word. Timothy understood that the Word was the same as Paul’s teachings (2 Tim. 2:2), “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13), the “glorious gospel” (1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:11), the “true faith” (1 Tim. 2:7; 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:5), and the “Scriptures” (1 Tim. 4:13). All pastors are bound by their duties as ministers of the gospel, to herald, or proclaim, the words of God. Whether on Sunday mornings or throughout the week, as they teach and instruct, their duty is to pass on what God has revealed.
Personal opinions and theories provide interesting discussions, but conviction about the essential truths of God remain necessary. The mandate for the church and its leadership remains: Preach the Word.
The subject of ministry is God’s Word. The duty of ministry is preparedness and accessibility: in season and out of season. The pastor, the Christian, is to view ministry as full-time, all the time, because faith involves all of life. There is no moment of the day that Christ cannot redeem if his people are prepared to seize the opportunities as they come. Those who remain ready and alert in their faith participate willingly in proclaiming the gospel, whether it is convenient or not.
The manner of ministry is to correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. God’s Word is extremely practical for every encounter and situation in life.
To correct means to convince or reprove. The pastor works to guide a person along the proper path of obedience and faith. To rebuke means to chide or censure, even blame. The pastor seeks to put a stop to wrong behavior or belief. To encourage means to exhort, give courage, or come alongside. The pastor walks with his people, living the example of faith and urging other to follow.
All these duties are to be carried out with kindness. Our battle is not against the weak, the errant, the sinful, but against Satan, who enslaves people to do his will. We are commissioned to offer peace in the name of Christ, and we must extend it in love and care as we proclaim the truth. It is the Word that confronts and convicts, not our spirits. We are to tell the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), allowing God’s Word and Spirit to work in people’s minds and hearts.
2. By means of five brisk imperatives (all of them aorists) the content of the charge is now set forth: herald the word; be on hand in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, admonish, with all longsuffering and teaching.
- “Herald the word.” This is basic to the other four imperatives. The rendering “Preach the word” is entirely correct, if the verb preach be understood in its primary, etymological meaning (from the Latin praedicare): to proclaim before the public, and not in the weakened sense which today is often attached to it: “to deliver a moral or religious discourse of any kind and in any way.” The word employed in the original means proclaim (cf. Matt. 10:27); literally, herald, make known officially and publicly a matter of great significance. Of course, all preaching should be heralding (Rom. 10:14, 15). Paul calls himself a herald (see footnote ). By order of his Superior he made an authoritative, open, forceful declaration. He here commands Timothy to be a herald also.
According to Scripture, then, “heralding” or “preaching” is generally the divinely authorized proclamation of the message of God to men. It is the exercise of ambassadorship.
This is evident from the following examples. These men are all said to have “heralded”:
“God will destroy the world. Turn away from your sins!” Or similar words (2 Peter 2:5; cf. 1 Peter 3:19).
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4; Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32).
John the Baptist
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
“Look, the Lamb of God, who is taking away the sin of the world!” (Matt. 3:1, 2; John 1:29).
The Healed Gerasene Demoniac
“God has done great things for me!” (Luke 8:39).
The Apostle Paul
“Jesus is the Christ!” (Acts 9:20).
“Far be it from me to glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Gal. 6:14).
“But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of them that are asleep!” (1 Cor. 15:20; cf. verses 55–58; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
Similarly the twelve, Philip the evangelist, Peter at Cesarea, “a strong angel,” etc., are said to have “preached” (“heralded”). The verb is even used in connection with Christ, for he, too, was bringing God’s message to man.
The herald brings God’s message. Today in the work of “heralding” or “preaching” careful exposition of the text is certainly included. But genuine heralding or preaching is lively, not dry; timely, not stale. It is the earnest proclamation of news initiated by God. It is not the abstract speculation on views excogitated by man.
The somewhat timid Timothy must never be afraid to herald the word, that is, the gospel (see on 2 Tim. 2:8, 9; cf. Mark 1:14; 16:15; 1 Thess. 2:9). It is the true message of redemption in Christ, and as such stands over against all falsehood (see verse 4). Moreover, in sharp contrast with the oft stealthy infiltration practised by Satan and his servants (2 Tim. 3:6) is this open-and-above-board proclamation by one who brings good tidings and publishes peace (Nah. 1:15; Rom. 10:15).
How this heralding must be done is indicated by the four imperatives which follow:
- “Be on hand in season, out of season.” Welcome or not welcome, Timothy must ever be “on the spot” with the message from God. He must “buy up the opportunity” (Eph. 5:16).
- “Reprove” or “Convict.” See on 2 Tim. 3:16 for the related noun. Sin must be brought home to the sinner’s consciousness in order that he may repent. See the detailed discussion of this verb in N.T.C. on John 16:8, especially footnote 200.
- “Rebuke.” In the process of reproving or convicting the sinner, the latter must be sharply reprimanded. His sin must not be toned down.
- “Admonish.” Nevertheless, the demands of love must be fully satisfied. Hand in hand with pertinent rebuke there must be tender, fatherly admonition. See N.T.C. on 1 Thess. 2:7–12, and for detailed explanation of the verb “admonish” see on 1 Tim. 5:1.
Modifying each of the three imperatives is the beautiful phrase, “with all longsuffering and teaching,” meaning “with utmost longsuffering and with most painstaking teaching-activity.” Cf. a similar combination in 2 Tim. 2:24, “gentle to all, qualified to teach.”
Such longsuffering is a distinctly Christian virtue (2 Cor. 6:6; Eph. 4:2; Col. 1:11; 3:12; and see N.T.C. on 1 Thess. 5:14), as well as (elsewhere) a divine attribute (Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 1:16). Note that longsuffering (slowness to wrath, gentle patience with people who have erred) and teaching-activity go together. Neither is complete without the other. The manner in which Paul dealt with the Corinthian fornicator illustrates what he means by “reprove, rebuke, admonish, with all longsuffering and teaching” (1 Cor. 5:1–8, 13; 2 Cor. 2:5–11). A much earlier example is Nathan’s treatment of David (2 Sam. 12:1–15).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 171–179). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 253–254). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 593). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 284–285). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 106–109). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 319). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 308–311). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.