Press On!
2 Timothy 4:1-5

By Paul Robison

It's interesting to see what biblical characters do when they are about die.  Joseph made the Israelites promise to take his body back to Palestine.  Moses saw the Promised Land right before his death.  David made preparations for the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah had 15 more years added to his life through prayer.  Jesus cried triumphantly: “It is finished or fulfilled!”  Stephen died asking God to forgive his persecutors.  Now let's switch gears and notice the words of a hymn: “Encamped along the hills of light, Ye Christian soldiers, rise, and press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.  Against the foe in vales below let all our strength be hurled.  Faith is the victory we know that overcomes the world” (Yates).  Press the battle because the night is falling, and then it will be difficult to see.  Hold that thought a moment.  Our text today is 2 Timothy 4:1-5, but before we read it, it might be helpful for us to look at the two verses which follow it where Paul says: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.”  You see, Paul realizes that he will soon die.  So what do we find him doing as his death approaches?  Is he moaning, groaning, and lamenting?  Far from it!  He is positive, upbeat, and hopeful, and we see him encouraging Timothy to press on in his battles for the faith.  How is Timothy to press on when he must stand on his own two feet and battle alone?  This is what our text reveals, as Paul urgently exhorts Timothy to keep up the battle!  Paul specifies several ways that Timothy is to press on after his death.
 
Let's read verses 1-2: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching.”  To “charge” is to command, so here is the seasoned general ordering the captain who soon will be his successor.  Since this is a serious command, we see that Paul calls God and Jesus as his witnesses to what is being ordered.  He states an interesting truth that should motivate Timothy.  The first way to press on is this: Realize that Christ will be the final Judge!  This passage affirms clearly that Jesus will make a second appearance, and at that time, He will judge all people, both the living (those who are living when He comes) and the dead (those who are dead but will be resurrected when they hear His voice).  Jesus compared Himself to a shepherd who divides the sheep from the goats; the sheep are the righteous who will inherit eternal life, and the goats are the wicked who will inherit eternal condemnation (Matthew 25:31-46).  The apostle Paul also affirms in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  James declares: “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (5:9)!  John writes these words of Jesus: “And behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.  I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the First and Last” (Revelation 22:12-13).  Realize that Christ will be the final Judge.  Jesus will hold us accountable for our actions in this life.  He sees all our battles and knows if we were obedient soldiers.  His verdict on our lives will be the final say and determine our eternal destiny.  “There's a great day coming, a great day coming; there's a great day coming by and by, when the saints and sinner shall be parted right and left.  Are you ready for that day to come” (Thompson)?  Realize that Christ will be the final Judge!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is simply stated: “Preach the word!”   Preach the Word or the Gospel or the truth!  The emphasis of this command is on the urgency of preaching and on the content of what is preached.  Heretics have already led members astray, and the following verses show that they will continue to do so.  So, Timothy must not give up preaching the truth.  He must continue to preach the Gospel, even if others will reject it for fables.  One commentator said: “The apostle regards Timothy as being at a crisis in which he must make definite resolves towards positive action.  He must preach the word, in which he has been nurtured, as never before” (Guthrie).  You see, this command means to announce the total message as God gave it.  Timothy must be able to affirm like Paul did in Acts 20:27: “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”  Timothy must continue to uphold the truth, whether popular or unpopular.  “Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).  Preaching that tries only to gain an audience's praises is not the preaching being commanded here.  Preaching should be based on the Scriptures because they are inspired and can make one wise unto salvation, as the closing verses of chapter 3 affirm.  Preach the Word or the Gospel or the truth!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this:  Stay on task through constant proclamation!  “Be ready in season and out of season.”  Now the emphasis here is on continually preaching.  One commentator noted that continuing to preach is Timothy's practical duty in the present critical situation (Kelly).  Another commentator adds that preachers and members must continue to proclaim despite political dangers and bitterest opposition.  Another version reads: “Preach when it’s convenient and when it’s inconvenient.”  When Timothy sees members leaving the truth and the church to associate themselves with the heretics, he might be tempted to give up and to throw in the towel in regards to preaching.  That is the behavior that Paul does not desire.  He wants Timothy to continue to stay on task through constant proclamation.  We too need to follow Paul's advice and continue to share the truth on every possible occasion.  We are Jesus' ambassadors who must speak up on His behalf (2 Corinthians 5:20)!  God's pleas for reconciliation are heard through our mouths.  Stay on task through constant proclamation!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: Let your preaching convince, rebuke, and exhort!  The emphasis here is on the purpose of preaching.  We saw in 2:15 how Paul admonished Timothy to rightly divided God's Word or to get it straight by measuring it against the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  After he got it straight, he was to give it straight.  To convince is to use arguments that appeal to one's reason.  To rebuke is to use arguments that appeal to one's conscience.  To exhort is to use arguments that appeal to one's will (Kelly).  Timothy's preaching was to convince his audience of the truth, to reprove those who were going astray toward repentance, and to admonish the faithful to persevere (Fee).  Let your preaching convince, rebuke, and exhort!  This is balanced preaching, isn't it?  This is preaching that strengthens and challenges those who are listening.  It aims at producing love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).  Someone made this interesting observation: “You feed [a] congregation spiritually the wrong diet, and [members] will wind up listless, irritable, aggravating, and lacking in peace.  You feed them the right diet of God's Word and the living water of life, and the difference in their spiritual health will be remarkable” (Waltke in Swindoll).  Let your preaching convince, rebuke, and exhort!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: Exercise patience and explain your understanding.  “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching.”  Do you remember the prophet Jonah?  After God helped him to get back on course, he goes to the Jews' enemies and tells them to repent.  When they do, he gets upset because God changes His mind about punishing them.  So God provides a plant, which gives him some shade, and then God had a worm to kill the plant.  Jonah gets upset again, and God makes His point: “Jonah if you can get so worked up over a plant, shouldn't I have compassion on all those people in Ninevah?”  Jonah was not very long-suffering.  Forbearance is a characteristic of God, and every Christian should try hard not to lose his or her patience with other members.  Exercise patience and explain your understanding.  Isn't teaching the ability to explain one's understanding?  Timothy was to try and help others to see what the inspired Scriptures, Jesus, and the apostles taught about the issues they faced.  Paul wanted Timothy “to show himself always as a sound and resourceful teacher of Christian truth” (Kelly).  We see clearly in this passage that good teaching is a part of good preaching.  Exercise patience and explain your understanding.
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: Don't feel guilty when others reject the truth!  Notice verses 3-4: “For the time will come when the will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn aside to fables.”  “Timothy is to carry on Paul's ministry in a world in which there is no promise of eager response—even on the part of God's people” (Fee).  One commentator explained: “... Christians will more and more despise and hate the doctrine taught by the apostles of Christ, preferring their own philosophies, systems, and devices to those of the sacred scriptures” (Coffman).  Those who depart from the truth are often duped by fables, and the verb “turn aside” means a deviation from the true course, and suggests here, a wandering into counterfeits” (Guthrie).  “There is no promise to Timothy that things will get better after Paul's death” (Fee).  Now with such an outlook, Timothy might get discouraged and begin to feel like giving up when others abandon the truth.  Paul is telling Timothy: Don't feel guilty when others reject the truth!  Someone gave this good insight: “Today preachers fill sports arenas by telling people what they want to hear about their money or politics, by entertaining them, and by proclaiming bizarre doctrines that appeal to their curiosity. ... The masses prefer myth to truth.  That is why [we] must preach the Word in its historical setting and in the context of the whole Bible, making the appropriate biblical connections [with what was the author's original intent]” (Hughes).  Don't feel guilty when others reject the truth!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: Be watchful in all things!  Look at verse 5 where we find four commands: “But you, be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”  Note the contrast here: “Timothy, others may abandon ship, but you stay the course!”  “Be watchful in all things!”  Timothy is “to cultivate an unruffled alertness in every aspect of his work” (Guthrie).  A commentator remarked: “In keeping his head, Timothy was to literally be sober and cool in all circumstances, just like a commercial pilot must in an emergency when the passengers are crying out with fear.  Stability must characterize the preacher in an upside down world” (Hughes).  “Timothy, keep your head in the battles ahead and do your best to foil the enemy!”  Be watchful in all things!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: “Endure afflictions!”  This has been one of the major themes in this letter.  Remember 1:8: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God”?  Remember 2:3: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”?  Remember 3:12: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”?  Paul was not making just a nice suggestion, because he himself was at that moment suffering, thus providing a great example for Timothy (Coffman)!  Someone made this good observation: “We do not want suffering; we want success.  We identify not with those who are low and hurt but with those who are high and healthy.  We don't like lepers and losers very well; we prefer climbers and comers.  For Christians, the temptation to be conformed to this world is desperately sweet and strong.  Yet, says the apostle Paul, we are children of God if we suffer with Christ” (Plantinga, Jr. in Rowell).  Endure afflictions!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: Be a diligent missionary!  The text states: “Do the work of an evangelist!”  We must be careful here not to read our idea of an evangelist into this text.  Timothy was not a located preacher who was hired by the elders at Ephesus to work full-time.  No, Timothy worked together with Paul, and Paul had sent him to Ephesus to help the church there temporarily.  We are going to see in a future sermon how Paul will urge Timothy soon to wrap up loose ends in Ephesus and come to him in Rome.  An “evangelist” for Paul was a person who carried the Gospel to those who were pagan.  This would be similar to what we think of when we heard the word “missionary”.  That's why the command here is: Be a diligent missionary!  There is work involved in this service to the church, and Timothy is not to grow lazy or indifferent.  Be a diligent missionary!
 
The next way that Timothy is to press on is this: “Fulfill your ministry!”  The verb here means “to accomplish,” and since Timothy has put his hand to the plow, he must not look back until his service in Ephesus is completed (Guthrie).  What had been Timothy's assignment?  Remember 2:2: “And the things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”?  Timothy must continue to prepare the faithful men of Ephesus so that they can carry on the work after Timothy's departure.  Someone made this good application: “Every generation is strategic.  We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear full responsibility for the next one; but we do have our generation.  God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfill our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities” (Graham in Rowell)!  Fulfill your ministry! 
 
“On July 21, 1861, raw Yankee recruits marched toward the Confederate Army camping at Bull Run, 30 miles southwest of Washington, D. C.  The Union soldiers were overconfident and acted as if they were headed toward a sporting event.  Congressmen, ladies, and all sorts of spectators trailed along with lunch-baskets to observe the fun.  But the courage of the Confederates, who stood their ground like a stone wall—giving their leader, Thomas J. Jackson, the nickname of “Stonewall”--and the arrival of Confederate reinforcements threw the Union forces into a panic, even though the Union had superior forces.  One observer of the Union Army wrote: 'We called to them, tired to tell them there was no [real] danger, called them to stop [the retreat], implored them to stand.  We called them cowards [and] denounced them in the most offensive terms ... but all in vain; a cruel, crazy, mad, hopeless panic possessed them.'”  The moral of this little war story is this: “Similarly, fear and panic can overwhelm us emotionally, even though we have the spiritual resources to deal with the situation.  We are better able to face fearful situations—and stop a 'mad, hopeless panic' from possessing us—if we prepare ourselves soberly for the [battles Satan] will [bring] us” (733, Laron/Elshof).  Let us press on in our spiritual battles!  Realize that Christ will be the final Judge!  Keep preaching the Word, the Gospel, the truth!  Stay on task through constant proclamation!  Preach to convince, rebuke, and exhort!  Exercise patience and explain your understanding!  Don't feel guilty when others reject the truth!  Be watchful in all things!  Endure afflictions!  Be a diligent missionary!  Fulfill your ministry!  “Faith is the victory we know that overcomes the world” (Yates).  Fight the good fight of faith, hold on to eternal life, and press on!  The King of kings is on our side when we are on His side!  Are you in Satan's camp or are you in Jesus camp?  There is no middle ground!  Jesus said that we are either for Him or against Him.  He is either your Supreme Commander or no commander at all!