Devotional Message Presented Thursday morning, July 9, 2015
Shackled in Rome’s infamous prison, isolated from friends and followers except for Luke, awaiting Nero’s final verdict, the aged apostle looked at his chains, lifted his soul in unceasing prayer, glanced at his travel companion who would be the chronicler of the tumultuous march of his missions for the gospel, and wondered what should be his last words bequeathed to millions of men and women who will follow him as a missionary all around the globe, from then till the end of time when Jesus would descend from heaven to “judge the living and the dead at His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:1).1
The apostle Paul did not have to think twice. The voice of the Spirit was as clear now as it was on that remarkable moment on the Damascus road. Ever since that moment, Paul’s life turned on a singular pivot: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). The path that vision chartered for him was about to draw to its close.
With his mind ever so sharp, with the Spirit moving his spirit, the apostle decided to write his last letter to Timothy his “beloved son,” begotten of God’s grace (2 Tim. 1:2). He wrote of many concerns that were close to his heart: Christian faith and courage, being loyal to faith and being strong in grace, being God’s approved workers, being aware of the perilous times to come, and being faithful to God’s Word. All these were important in a Christian’s life, particularly in the life of a person who longs to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
Having said all this, the great apostle zeroed in on the primary responsibility of pastors. He commanded Timothy: “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2). There’s no hint of hesitation or compromise. Nothing is more urgent or more important than the bold and convicting presentation of our message, founded upon the Word, centered in Christ, and blessed by the Spirit. Paul elevates the task of preaching the Word to the highest possible importance.
He names “God and the Lord Jesus Christ” as the originators of the ministry of preaching (verse 1), so that both Timothy and preachers of generations to come will stand in awe that the task of proclaiming the Word is a “charge” that comes in the name of the Father and the Son. The apostle places this preaching within the context of the Second Coming, at which time God “will judge the living and the dead” (verse 1).
Preaching is not just an appointment at the pulpit; it is a life calling.
For a disciple of Jesus, there is no escape from preaching the Word. The assurance of salvation in the name of Jesus, the joy of tasting the forgiveness of sin through Jesus, the reward that awaits the saints at the second coming of Jesus, and the certainty of the judgment to come place an awful responsibility on those who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ. That responsibility is to proclaim the Word to those far and near; proclaim it with certainty but without compromise; with assurance but without watering down the essentials of the Word; with focus on the coming King but without minimizing the coming judgment. Hence the nonnegotiable command, “Preach the Word.”
Paul knew the sociological trends of his times, something that afflicts every age and every culture. People do not want to hear that sin is serious, that it is a personal rebellion against God, that its forbidden fruit may be pleasing for the moment, but ultimately leads to death, eternal death. People do not want to hear the certainty of judgment: that for every act of omission or commission, for every rejection of the wooing of the Holy Spirit to repent, there comes a reckoning time, reckoning in front of the judge of “the living and the dead.” Paul describes those individuals as those who “will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables” (verses 3, 4, ASV).2
Such is the spiritual status and moral collapse of the preacher’s audience in the eschatological age. People will not welcome sound doctrine, but rather soothing beliefs. Their own desires will define their theology. Sin will put on the cloak of innocence. Immorality will come under the flag of individual freedom and collective amnesia. The forbidden zone in human relationships will yield to a community’s right to decide its own center and circumference of relationships and living: my life is my own, and I am master of my destiny. Nothing more. And nothing else matters. In that sad and suffocating environment the preacher is called to preach.
Itching ears, turning a blind eye, searching after fables even while rejecting the truth, living for today with no thought of tomorrow. That’s what preachers face. The apostle, therefore, counsels the pastor, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (verse 2).
But the task is not easy. “Be watchful in all things” (verse 5), warns the apostle. Preaching is not just an appointment at the pulpit. It is a life calling, alert at all times to share the Word, committed to its urgency, transmitting its power to transform lives, to change the course of a community, to provide life where there is death, to endure afflictions, to sow righteousness where there is moral decay, to proclaim at all times, “The King is coming, even at the door.”
Hence the apostle’s plea: “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (verse 5).
It has become a fashion in some circles to dichotomize ministry into the work of a pastor and that of an evangelist. Paul’s counsel, “Be an evangelist,” was given to Timothy at a time he was the pastor in Ephesus. While pastors must care, feed, shelter, and protect the sheep of their pasture, every pastor must affirm, in the words of John Wesley, “The world is my parish.” So long as there is a soul near or far who has wandered away from God or who does not know God or His Son, so long as there is a soul who is unaware of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so long as there is a soul who does not know that judgment is coming and the King is on the way, every pastor is an evangelist, and every evangelist is a pastor. Both pastors and evangelists fulfill their ministry in the preaching of the Word.
Preaching must aim at bringing restoration to a broken world. Our world is broken beyond repair. No matter how much we stand up against social injustice, there will still be injustice in the world. No matter how often we feed the poor, starvation will not vanish. No matter how many people we heal, disease and death will continue to take their toll.
So while we must continue to extend the healing ministry of Christ, we must never forget that the only lasting and permanent solution to the problems of our broken and bleeding world is the second coming of Jesus, which will wipe away every tear and do away with all injustices, poverty, diseases, and disharmony that characterize our world today. So be an evangelist, Paul says, to proclaim the good news of the coming King.
Ours is a message of restoration. While we continue to meet the needs of our communities and minister to the suffering, that is not an end in itself. It is just a means to connect suffering humanity to Christ, who relieves all suffering. He is the eternal restorer, the mender of every broken heart.
I know what I am saying. I grew up in a broken home. I was conceived out of wedlock, almost aborted in the womb, and brought up in a dysfunctional family. As a child I never went to church. I knew nothing about the Bible, or prayer, or the songs of Jesus that children love so much. I grew up spiritually empty, mentally without focus, socially without any purpose. With no proper foundation, w
ith no parental example or guidance, I began making terrible decisions at a very young age.
When I was 10, smoking became my constant friend, and that led to other things one cannot be proud of. I became a compulsive liar and thief. In high school things got worse. Drugs became my master, burning up my brain cells. My life was a never-ending pursuit of stimulation. Failure in school didn’t mean much. I did not know God and didn’t care about anyone but myself. My mother, a single parent by then, didn’t know what to do with her troubled teen. I was a slave to sinful stimulation, and heading the wrong way on life’s highway.
Then one day my mom and I were watching TV, and an ad caught our attention. A Bible prophecy seminar was coming to town. We ended up attending those meetings. We heard of Jesus and gave our lives to Him. He changed our lives forever. He filled our emptiness. We became new persons in Jesus. My mother and I were baptized into Christ and joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church family. Life hasn’t been the same since!
I started conducting Bible studies in my public school. The place where everyone knew me as druggie became my Bible study center. I wasn’t trained to give Bible studies. I simply shared what I knew. I didn’t know much. But I knew Jesus, and that was enough.
God blessed those feeble attempts, and as a result, six of my friends and their family members accepted Christ and were baptized! God was confirming a call that He placed on my life to “preach the word” and “do the work of an evangelist.”
But I was slow of speech, slow of thought, introverted, socially awkward, and extremely shy. How could God use someone like me? God, however, is not dependent upon our wisdom, talents, resources, or abilities. He is dependent upon only our humility and our willingness to be used by Him.
After two years of intensive training in a Bible college, I was called to be an evangelist. God has fixed my brokenness, filled my emptiness, and restored me along the path of what He wants me to be. After conducting more than 60 evangelistic series from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to Hawaii over the past eight years, we’ve seen more than 1,200 precious souls come to Jesus in baptism and countless others experience personal revival and reformation.
Preach the Word, be an evangelist, commands the apostle in the name and the urgency of the soon-coming Lord. Some may argue that Adventist evangelism is outdated, archaic, irrelevant, that we need to change our message to appeal to modern times. Some have said that we need to downplay our doctrines and just focus on the gospel. But our message is the gospel. The three angels’ message is “the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6).
To preach it, to live it, to await its impending conclusion, is our call today.