When Truth is Out of Season

When Truth is Out of Season
Robert Wurtz II

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they 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 their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2–5 NKJV)

Paul is writing to encourage Timothy, who traveled to Ephesus to help out in the oversight of the church. In Acts 20, Paul had ended his three-year stay — warning the people day and night with tears that grievous wolves were coming to destroy them. Nevertheless, as he was departing for the last time, he commended the leaders to God and the word of His grace so that their faith and hope would be in God and not in men. At some point, Paul sends Timothy to tend to them and later writes 1 and 2 Timothy to fortify his resolve to stand for the truth. 

Towards the end of his letter Paul charges Timothy to Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” This urgency is reminiscent of the tears he shed while he was at Ephesus. There was no time to let up or tone things down. The enemy was at work day and night trying to knock Ephesus off track. Paul urges Timothy to be ready “in” and “out” of season. He had already told the saints that the Old Testament, in one sense, was written for our instruction so that we do not follow some of the destructive patterns of Israel. They were up and down in their faith and obedience. Therefore, Paul tells Timothy to be ready to preach The Word — whether the people were willing to receive it or not. This was the attitude of the prophets of old who served as God’s prosecuting attorneys — calling the Israelites back to the covenant agreement they had made with Him and the nations to turn from their evil ways. 

The Time Will Come 

It is a mystery as to why sound doctrine, at various times and places, goes out of style. It is understandable why unbelievers reject it, but why would people who name the name of Christ? Nevertheless, Paul said emphatically, the time will come. “Out of season” (for sound doctrine) will be the state of things. He encourages Timothy to preach the word. This is in the emphatic; not “a” word but “The” Word. Preach the faith that was once delivered to the saints. Do not alter it to their taste or preferences. Preach it as it is — unadulterated. This implies tremendous preparation in rightly dividing the word of truth. 

The tendency for teachers and preachers during these “out of season” times is to get discouraged, aggravated, or both. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah would weep over the people. Elijah called fire down from heaven. However, the operation of the Holy Spirit in this age is one of grace and mercy. Frustration may have driven the disciples to want to follow Elijah’s method and call fire down on the Samaritans, but Jesus said we are not of that spirit. Likewise, some may resort to angry preaching that denounces and upbraids, but loud volume and harshness does not work the works of God in this age. 

Paul states that they will “not endure sound doctrine.” The Greek word for endure means “to put up with.” I recall as a child hearing my grandmother say things like, “I’m not going to put up with your bad behavior” or “Stop acting out because I won’t put up with it!” Now, imagine a person’s inward attitude towards sound teaching and preaching as “I won’t put up with it! ” They view even the slightest challenge to their personal caricature of Christianity as an offense or a berating. These things are employed by Satan to get the man or woman of God to keep quiet and hold their tongue for fear of causing a stir. Paul’s remedy? Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. In other words, keep after it and don’t allow the peoples’ obstinacy and indifference to wear you out. 

Tickling Ears

Clement of Alexandria tells of speakers tickling (kneœthontes) the ears of those who want to be tickled. This is the temptation of the merely “popular” preacher, to furnish the latest tickle. (A. T. Robertson) In modern times we would say the speaker, like a salesman or politician, tells people what they want to hear. The one sells products; the other sells themselves. To do this they have to appeal to the lusts of the hearer. Marvin Vincent writes, “In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”

Walk into any bookstore and look around. There you will find a snapshot of the condition of mainstream Christianity. This is one of the places people go to “heap to themselves.” Likewise, look at the ratings of Christian programming and you will find what Vincent called “the demand that creates the supply.” Seeing this can be a great discouragement to people who are trying to be faithful to New Covenant truth. Paul could see through the prophetic lens these times vexing God’s ministers. None of it takes God by surprise. Paul sees it and speaks to it. This is why his encouragement in 2 Timothy 4 is so important. 

In modern times, God’s ministers risk being wearied by the onslaught of teachers who are telling people what they want to hear — rather than teaching them the rightly divided word of God. They are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, there is still a demand for good, solid, biblical, no-compromise, teaching and preaching. The Devil says, “If you can’t beat them — join them!” God says, Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

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