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4. Paul's Charge to Timothy
1I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; 4and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. 5But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. 6For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: 8henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing. 9Give diligence to come shortly unto me: 10for Demas forsook me, having loved this present world, and went to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is useful to me for ministering. 12But Tychicus I sent to Ephesus. 13The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, bring when thou comest, and the books, especially the parchments. 14Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord will render to him according to his works: 15of whom do thou also beware; for he greatly withstood our words. 16At my first defence no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. 17But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 19Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the house of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus remained at Corinth: but Trophimus I left at Miletus sick. 21Give diligence to come before winter. Eubulus saluteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren. 22The Lord be with thy spirit. Grace be with you.
1 I charge thee, therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ It is proper to observe carefully the word therefore, by means of which he appropriately connects Scripture with preaching. This also refutes certain fanatics, who haughtily boast that they no longer need the aid of teachers, because the reading of scripture is abundantly sufficient. But Paul, after having spoken of the usefulness of Scripture, infers not only that all ought to read it, but that teachers ought to administer it, which is the duty enjoined on them. Accordingly, as all our wisdom is contained in the Scriptures, and neither ought we to learn, nor teachers to draw their instructions, from any other source; so he who, neglecting the assistance of the living voice, shall satisfy himself with the silent Scripture, will find how grievous an evil it is to disregard that way of learning which has been enjoined by God and Christ. Let us remember, I say, that the reading of Scripture is recommended to us in such a manner as not to hinder, in the smallest degree, the ministry of pastors; and, therefore, let believers endeavor to profit both in reading and in hearing; for not in vain hath God ordained both of them.
Here, as in a very weighty matter, Paul adds a solemn charge, exhibiting to Timothy, God as the avenger, and Christ as the judge, if he shall cease to discharge his office of teaching. And, indeed, in like manner as God showed by an inestimable pledge, when he spared not his only-begotten Son, how great is the care which he has for the Church, so he will not suffer to remain unpunished the negligence of pastors, through whom souls, which he hath redeemed at so costly a price, perish or are exposed as a prey.
Who shall judge the living and the dead More especially the Apostle fixes attention on the judgment of Christ; because, as we are his representatives, so he will demand a more strict account of evil administration. By “the living and the dead” are meant those whom he shall find still alive at his coming, and likewise those who shall have died. There will therefore be none that escape his judgment.
The appearance of Christ and his kingdom mean the same thing; for although he now reigns in heaven and earth, yet hitherto his reign is not clearly manifested, but, on the contrary, is obscurely hidden under the cross, and is violently assailed by enemies. His kingdom will therefore be established at that time when, having vanquished his enemies, and either removed or reduced to nothing every opposing power, he shall display his majesty.
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 seem 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.
3 For there will be a time 193193 “Car un temps viendra.” — “For a time will come.” From the very depravity of men he shews how careful pastors ought to be; for soon shall the gospel be extinguished, and perish from the remembrance of men, if godly teachers do not labor with all their might to defend it. But he means that we must avail ourselves of the opportunity, while there is any reverence for Christ; as if one should say that, when a storm is at hand, we must not labor remissly, but must hasten with all diligence, because there will not afterwards be an equally fit season.
When they will not endure sound doctrine This means that they will not only dislike and despise, but will even hate, sound doctrine; and he calls it “sound (or healthful) doctrine,” with reference to the effect produced, because it actually instructs to godliness. In the next verse he pronounces the same doctrine to be truth, and contrasts it with fables, that is, useless imaginations, by which the simplicity of the gospel is corrupted.
First, let us learn from it, that the more extraordinary the eagerness of wicked men to despise the doctrine of Christ, the more zealous should godly ministers be to defend it, and the more strenuous should be their efforts to preserve it entire; and not only so, but also by their diligence to ward off the attacks of Satan. And if ever this ought to have been done, the great ingratitude of men has now rendered it more than necessary; for they who at first receive the gospel warmly, and make a show of some kind of uncommon zeal, afterwards contract dislike, which is by and by followed by loathing; others, from the very outset, either reject it furiously, or, contemptuously lending an ear, treat it with mockery; while others, not suffering the yoke to be laid on their neck, kick at it, and, through hatred of holy discipline, are altogether estranged from Christ and, what is worse, from being friends become open enemies. So far from this being a good reason why we should be discouraged and give way, we ought to fight against such monstrous ingratitude, and even to strive with greater earnestness than if all were gladly embracing Christ offered to them.
Secondly, having been told that men will thus despise and even reject the word of God, we ought not to stand amazed as if it were a new spectacle, when we see actually accomplished that which the Holy Spirit tells us will happen. And indeed, being by nature prone to vanity, it is no new or uncommon timing, if we lend an ear more willingly to fables than to truth.
Lastly, the doctrine of the gospel, being plain and mean in its aspect, is unsatisfactory partly to our pride, and partly to our curiosity. And how few are there who are endued with spiritual taste, so as to relish newness of life and all that relates to it! Yet Paul foretells some greater impiety of one particular age, against which he bids Timothy be early on his guard.
Shall heap up to themselves teachers It is proper to observe the expression, heap up, by which he means that the madness of men will be so great, that they will not be satisfied with a few deceivers, but will desire to have a vast multitude; for, as there is an unsatiable longing for those things which are unprofitable and destructive, so the world seeks, on all sides and without end, all the methods that it can contrive and imagine for destroying itself; and the devil has always at hand a sufficiently large number of such teachers as the world desires to have. There has always been a plentiful harvest of wicked men, as there is in the present day; and therefore Satan never has any lack of ministers to deceive men, as he never has any lack of the means of deceiving.
Indeed, this monstrous depravity, which almost constantly prevails among men, deserves that God, and his healthful doctrine, should be either rejected or despised by them, and that they should more gladly embrace falsehood. Accordingly, that false teachers frequently abound, and that they sometimes multiply like a nest of hornets, should be ascribed by us to the righteous vengeance of God. We deserve to be covered and choked by that kind of filth, seeing that the truth of God finds no place in us, or, if it has found entrance, is immediately driven from its possession; and since we are so much addicted to fabulous notions, that we never think that we have too great a multitude of deceivers. Thus what all abomination of Monks is there in Popery! If once godly pastor were to be supported, instead of ten Monks and as many priests, we should presently hear nothing else than complaints about the great expense. 194194 “Incontinent on n’orroit autre chose que plaintes de la trop grande despense.”
The disposition of the world is therefore such that, by “heaping up” with insatiable desire innumerable deceivers, it desires to banish all that belongs to God. Nor is there any other cause of so many errors than that men, of their own accord, choose to be deceived rather than to be properly instructed. And that is the reason why Paul adds the expression, itching ears. 195195 “The greater part cannot endure corrections, or threatenings, or even simple doctrine. When we denounce vices, though we do not employ violent language, they think that all is lost. Never was the world so obstinately wicked as it now is, and those who have made a profession of the gospel appear to endeavor, as far as they can, to destroy the grace of God. For we are not speaking about Papists only, who fight furiously against us, but of those who adhere to the Protestant Reformation of the Gospel. We see that they would wish to be like unbridled calves. (They care not about a yoke, or government, or anything of that sort.) Let them be allowed to do what they please, let blasphemies and all licentious conduct be permitted; it is all one, provided that they have no form of ceremony, and that they despise the Pope and idolaters. This is the way in which many who make a profession of the gospel would wish to be governed, but the reason is, that they have ‘itching ears.’” — Fr. Ser. When he wishes to assign a cause for so great an evil, he makes use of an elegant metaphor, by which he means, that the world will have ears so refined, and so excessively desirous of novelty, that it will collect for itself various instructors, and will be incessantly carried away by new inventions. The only remedy for this vice is, that believers be instructed to adhere closely to the pure doctrine of the gospel.
5 But watch thou in all things. He proceeds with the former exhortation, to the effect that the more grievous the diseases are, the more earnestly Timothy may labor to cure them; and that the nearer dangers are at hand, the more diligently he may keep watch. And because the ministers of Christ, when they faithfully discharge their office, are immediately called to engage in combats, he at the same time reminds Timothy to be firm and immovable in enduring adversity. 196196 “When the devil has raised his standard, and when scandals and disturbances abound everywhere, we cannot be sufficiently attentive to guard against them, unless we are fortified by patience, and are not discouraged by the adversity which we must endure. If this warning ever was advantageous, how exceedingly necessary is it at the present day! Has not the world arrived at the highest pitch of iniquity? We see that the majority furiously reject the gospel. As to others who pretend to welcome the gospel, what sort of obedience do they render to it? There is so much contempt and so much pride, that, as soon as vices are reproved, or more sharpness is used than suits the taste of those who would wish to have full permission to act wickedly, and whose sole aim is to destroy everything, they are filled with spite. Although Papists will permit their preaching Friars to cry out and storm against them, and at the same time do nothing but steep themselves in lies to their destruction, they who openly declare that they wish the reformation of the gospel cannot endure to be reproved when it is necessary, but gnash their teeth against God, and fulfill what Paul says to the Corinthians, that if deceivers came to impose upon them, they would bear with all tyranny, and would be quiet when they were buffeted; but if we teach them faithfully in the name of God and for their salvation, they are so fastidious that a single word will provoke them to rebellion; and if we persevere in doing our duty, war will be immediately declared. Would to God that these things were not so visible amongst us as they are!” — Fr. Ser.
Do the work of an Evangelist That is, “Do that which belongs to an evangelist.” Whether he denotes generally by this term any ministers of the gospel, or whether this was a special office, is doubtful; but I am more inclined to the second opinion, because from Ephesians 4:11 it is clearly evident that this was an intermediate class between apostles and pastors, so that the evangelists ranked as assistants next to the apostles. It is also more probable that Timothy, whom Paul had associated with himself as his closest companion in all things, surpassed ordinary pastors in rank and dignity of office, than that he was only one of their number. Besides, to mention an honorable title of office tends not only to encourage him, but to recommend his authority to others; and Paul had in view both of these objects.
Render thy ministry approved If we read this clause as in the old translation, “Fulfill thy ministry,” the meaning will be: “Thou canst not fully discharge the office intrusted to thee but by doing those things which I have enjoined. Wherefore see that you fail not in the middle of the course.” But because πληροφορεῖν commonly means “to render certain” or “to prove,” I prefer the following meaning, which is also most agreeable to the context, — that Timothy, by watching, and by patiently enduring afflictions, and by constant teaching, will succeed in having the truth of his ministry established, because from such marks all will acknowledge him to be a good and faithful minister of Christ.