The apostle Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament and left an indelible mark on the Christian church. Apart from his nine letters to churches (most of which he had planted himself), he also wrote four personal letters, one each to Philemon and Titus and two to Timothy, his foremost disciple. While Paul’s first canonical epistle, the letter to the Romans, provides us with a weighty expression of the apostle’s theology, it is 2 Timothy that builds in intensity toward a climactic exhortation in an effort to secure the church’s future beyond the apostolic era.
A Solemn Charge
As what turned out to be Paul’s final letter to Timothy nears its conclusion, the apostle issues his final charge. “I give you this charge” is a solemn introduction for the even more solemn phrase “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” (see 2 Tim 4:1). The present appeal exceeds all previous ones in solemnity, intensity, and urgency. As Timothy discharges his duties as Paul’s apostolic delegate and in keeping with Paul’s own practice (2 Cor 5:9–11), the apostle wants him to be ever mindful of the reality of God and the certainty of Christ’s return.
Preach the Word
Paul’s concluding charge to Timothy is this (leading off a series of five imperatives in the Greek): “Preach the Word” (on “the Word,” see 1 Tim 4:12; 5:17). Timothy has been thoroughly grounded in the “holy writings,” the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:14–17); it is the same Word—God’s Word (2 Tim 2:9), the “word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15)—he is solemnly called on to preach (cf. Rom 10:8; 1 Cor 15:2). Notably, this preaching is not limited to edification of believers (2 Tim 4:5). It entails imparting to his hearers sound doctrine rather than telling them what they want to hear.
Timothy’s primary motivation must not be to please people; he must take his cue first and foremost from God’s word. As John R. W. Stott 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.” Is God’s Word preached in our churches today? We must proclaim the Word rather than merely catering to people’s “felt needs” or using the pulpit as a platform for pursuing our own personal agendas.
In Season and Out of Season
Paul adds, first, that the preacher must proclaim the Word whether this seems popular at the time or not (eukairōs akairōs, an oxymoron; Mark 6:21; 14:11; cf. 2 Tim 4:3). This defied both Jewish and Greco-Roman wisdom. The Old Testament preacher wrote that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7). Conventional Greco-Roman rhetoric held similarly that the speaker carefully discern whether certain forms of address are opportune in a given situation or not.
According to Plato, “a knowledge of the times for speaking and for keeping silence” is crucial (tēn eukairian te kai akairian; Phaedrus 272A). All the more 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 writes, “Every occasion constitutes an opportune time for preaching.”
The above material is adapted from Andreas J. Köstenberger, “2 Timothy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12 (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 592–93.