FAITHFULNESS VS. POPULARITY by John MacArthur

 

Today concludes our series highlighting five compelling motivations to preach the Word. Previous posts in this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Motivation 5: Preach the Word
Because of the Deceptiveness of the Sensual (2 Timothy 4:3–4)

Having reminded Timothy of the ultimate accountability, Paul continued by warning him that faithful preaching will not necessarily be popular preaching. As the apostle explained, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3–4).

Sinners, throughout all of church history, have refused to heed the truth that saves and sanctifies. Instead, hardening their hearts, they seek out soft-peddled messages that accommodate their sin. Thus, they search for preachers who make them feel good, not guilty. And false teachers are happy to oblige, tickling the ears of their audiences with man-centered messages and false hopes.

In the process, the seriousness of sin is downplayed and disregarded; greed is promoted with promises of prosperity; worship is reduced to vain emotionalism; and felt-needs are highlighted while the true gospel is ignored. These false teachers are the same people who, according to 2:16, pursue worldly, empty chatter that leads to further ungodliness. Their worldly message may be popular, but like gangrene, its spread is actually deadly.

Paul’s words certainly describe the scene in contemporary American Christianity. Doctrine has become a bad word; truth is viewed as relative; and numbers have been made the measure of ministry effectiveness. The temptation to tickle ears is great, since the preachers who attract the largest crowds are deemed the most successful. But to pervert the truth by watering down the gospel is a deadly form of wickedness. The minister who caters his message to the whims of the world, telling unregenerate hearts only what they want to hear, has sold out.

By contrast, the faithful minister is willing to boldly speak the whole truth, even when it is not popular to do so. The only way to see lives transformed from sensuality to salvation is to faithfully proclaim the message of the gospel. If those who wish to have their ears tickled are to be radically transformed, they must be confronted with the truth. To that end, the faithful expositor will not cease to preach the Word.

Faithful to the End

Paul was under no delusions that the commission would be easy for Timothy, or for the faithful men coming after him. It had not been easy for Paul either. Yet, in spite of the many trials he faced, the apostle had remained true to the end. As a result, he could say, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (4:6–7). In this, his last appeal to Timothy, he invited the young pastor to likewise run the race with endurance (cf. Heb. 12:1–2).

But Paul went to his grave not knowing how the story would end for Timothy. He had to trust that the Lord would preserve him. Would Timothy remain faithful to the end?

The book of Hebrews offers an initial answer to that question. In Hebrews 13:23, the author told his readers, “Take notice that our brother, Timothy, has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you.” These words, written after the death of Paul, indicate that Timothy had been in prison, but was soon to return to the work of ministry. The implication is clear: Timothy had been persecuted for the sake of the gospel. Yet, like Paul, he had remained faithful and steadfast in spite of the suffering he faced.

Church history provides a later glimpse into Timothy’s legacy of faithfulness. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs,

Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul, and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the Church until A.D. 97. At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called Catagogion, Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he expired of the bruises two days after.

To his dying day, Timothy courageously confronted the culture around him with the truth of the gospel. That unwavering commitment cost him his life. Like Paul, he was martyred for his faithfulness.

At the end of Timothy’s life, he too was able to look back on a ministry that had been devoted to honoring Christ through the preaching of His Word. In the same way that Timothy had received a legacy of faithfulness, he passed it on to the next generation of Christian leaders. Bible expositors today, though removed by many centuries, are the recipients of that faithful heritage. The motivations that drove Paul and Timothy ought to compel the current generation of preachers and teachers.

God is still delivering His divine mandate to faithful men: Preach the Word.

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