Fulfilling Your Ministry

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5, ESV)

I have often heard it said that the way to equip yourself to spot counterfeit money is to spend time closely examining the real thing. The idea is that the more you take the time to study the details of a real $20 bill, the easier it is to notice when someone hands you a fake. I think this strategy for spotting counterfeit money fits well with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. How do you help people spot a false teaching? Immerse them well in the message of the Scriptures. Taking time to help people know the Bible well, and allowing it to challenge and change them, helps equip them to discern when a particular teaching is wrong.

Since Paul is in prison, he cannot come to help the church in Ephesus. Timothy is there to lead the church and continue the teaching ministry that Paul can no longer carry out in person. Paul knows there will be false teachers in Ephesus who will attempt to gather a following and lead people away from the gospel message. Paul sends a letter to Timothy, with a strategy for countering the misleading teaching. He encourages Timothy to immerse the people in the “real thing”, preaching the word and being ready at all times to do so. Timothy is to rebuke wrong understanding and behavior in light of what Scripture teaches, and to offer encouragement where the people’s understanding and behavior fit well with God’s Word. Both correction and encouragement are important aspects of our study of the Bible together. We study the Scriptures to correct our misunderstandings and misbehavior and to encourage others’ positive steps in the right direction.

Paul also encourages Timothy to be patient, taking time to teach, not just lecture the people. God, over time, uses patient, persistent instruction to impact people’s minds and hearts as they reflect on how their understanding in the past has shaped their behavior, and what God desires of and for them now. In Romans 12:2, Paul highlights the importance of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewal of our minds. In his letter to Timothy, Paul urges him to help renew the minds of the people in the church in Ephesus, continuing to patiently teach God’s Word to them. As their minds are renewed, they can more easily recognize and resist the influence of false teachers who will attempt to lead them astray.

Paul describes how people tend to gravitate to teachers who “suit their own passions”, which is as true today as it was in Paul’s time. We all like a teacher we agree with and who does not challenge us to change. It can be easy to follow a teacher who tells us we are okay and can do what we want. It’s more challenging to be a teacher who lovingly speaks correction, who points out where God wants to use Scripture to teach us and grow us. Paul warns Timothy that he will also experience the same challenge, and concludes this section with an admonition for Timothy to keep a clear head, endure the suffering that will come, continue to share the gospel with others, and persist in his ministry.

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but I live in a culture where most people think very little of God and don’t welcome correction from God’s Word. They much prefer hearing from people who reassure them that they do not need to change, that their beliefs and lifestyle are fine—that they should be authentic to who they want to be. From their perspective, there is no objective moral standard to pursue. Like Timothy, we offer a gospel message about our sin nature and our need for both forgiveness and transformation. Through a study of the Scriptures, we come to understand both the righteousness of God and His great compassion, mercy, and grace toward us through Jesus Christ. We must continue to lead Bible studies where people can read and hear the truth of who God is and His perspective on our lives. Then we might understand both the grace of forgiveness through faith, and the grace of growth through the work of the Spirit in us, as we learn and obey His teaching in the Scriptures. Only patient and persistent instruction can help people avoid counterfeit teaching. May God continue to use you to strengthen the church in this way!

Father, I thank you for your Word, the Scriptures, that led me to faith in Christ and how your Spirit uses them to correct and encourage me as I strive to walk in greater obedience to you. Please help me to continue to teach your Word patiently, endure any suffering that may come because of it, and fulfill the calling you have for me in leading my Bible study group. Please use my efforts to strengthen your church and guard it from false teaching. Amen.

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