The apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy saying, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Have you ever had an itch in your ear? I have, and I am sure you have too. An itch in the ear is difficult to scratch because it’s hard to reach. I have seen people use an object, such as a paperclip, to get to the itch (this is not advisable or safe). But when you have an itch, it feels so good to scratch it. The scratching soothes the itch. We have all experienced this type of relief. But Paul here discusses “itching ears,” of those who, through lusts and their desires to satisfy their lusts, wish to hear something other than the truth of God (cf. Jer. 5:30, 31; 6:15, 16). Notice Paul’s charge to Timothy regarding preaching.
First, Paul spoke by the correct authority (God and the Lord Jesus Christ who is the judge of the quick and the dead) by which he charged (commanded) young Timothy to preach as well. What a stirring statement. By it, he conveyed to Timothy Divine authority and heavenly credentials. Timothy was to speak the words of God, by the authority of God (Isa. 8:20; 55:8, 9; Col. 3:16; 1 Pet. 4:11; Tit. 2:1).
Second, Paul told Timothy what to preach. Said he,“preach the word” (doctrine). Notice that Paul did not tell Timothy to preach 20-minute “sermonettes” for “christianettes,” who were in a hurry, or in need of a nicotine fix. Rather, he told him to preach the word. What word?
As Paul put it in Acts 20:28, “the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” This word is the “word of truth,” the words of eternal life (Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:15; Jas. 1:18; Jn. 6:68; Acts 13:48, 49; Tit.1:2, 5, 7; 1 Jn. 5:11, 13, and 20).
Throughout his letters to Timothy, Paul repeatedly emphasized adherence to “the scriptures” – “the word” – “the doctrine” – “the truth” (1 Tim. 1:3, 10; 4:5, 6, 12, 13, 16, 17; 2:4, 7; 3:15; 4:3; 5:17; 6:1, 3, 5; 2 Tim. 2:9, 15, 18, 25; 3:7, 8, 15, 16; 4:2, 3, 4).
Adherence to the doctrines and commandments of men yields vain worship and rotten fruit (cf. Matt. 15:9; 7:15-20).
Third, Paul told Timothy when to preach. He said, “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). In other words, he was to preach the word every time he had, or could create, an opportunity. He was to preach the word when it was convenient and when it wasn’t convenient. He was to preach the gospel of Christ when the listeners liked it and when they didn’t like it. And, he was never to compromise on any point, at any time.
Fourth, Paul gave instruction about how Timothy was to preach. He used three distinct, descriptive words.
He was to “reprove” or convict, the sinner. The word “reprove” means “to reprimand severely, chide, admonish, to call to account, show one his fault, to convict” (Thayer, p. 202, 203). The sinner should be made to feel the guilt and be convicted of his sins. Proof of guilt should be clearly established. The sinner’s heart must be smitten with the guilt of his sins, as was the case on the day of Pentecost when Peter and the apostles pricked the hearts of the Jews (Acts 2; cf. 8:18-24).
He was to “rebuke” or to sharply reprimand, the guilty. The word “rebuke” means “To tax with fault... chide… censure severely, to restrain, to admonish or charge sharply” (Thayer, p. 245). This type of preaching is sometimes needed to produce repentance or the proper response on the sinner’s part. Stephen’s preaching in Acts 7 is a great example of a lesson of stern rebuke, although those whom Stephen rebuked did not show the proper response.
He was to “exhort” or urge. The word “exhort” means, “To call to one’s side, call for, summon...to beg, to entreat, to strive to appease by entreaty, to comfort...” (Thayer, p. 482-483).
Notice that two of the three ways Paul instructed Timothy to preach were emphatically negative. This negates the arguments of those who rail on, criticize, and make the charge of being negative regarding preachers who have the spiritual backbone to mark sin and error and make Scriptural application. The preaching that Paul required of Timothy and which is required of gospel preachers today must be both gentle and severe. These three words outline the character of Scriptural gospel preaching.
Just what kind of preaching do you desire? Or to put it bluntly, what kind of preaching are you itching to hear? Is it the preaching of Bible Truth that “reproves, rebukes, and exhorts with all longsuffering and doctrine,” and that clearly and pointedly defines sin, error, and those who teach error? Or, are you itching for smooth, lying, deceitful words that soothe and satisfy ears and hearts that are tuned to the lusts of the flesh, doctrines and commandments of men, and the compromising spirits of evil men (Isa. 30:10; Jer. 6:14, 16)? Which type of preaching are you itching to hear?