In the closing lines of his final epistle, the apostle Paul charges Timothy, his young apprentice in the faith, to “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, emphasis added).
You may read that verse and wonder, as many have, what Paul means regarding the timeliness of the teaching of God’s Word. How can biblical preaching be “in season and out of season”?
We might debate exactly what Paul had in mind, but we cannot debate that there are only two possibilities. You can either be in season or out of season. What he is simply saying is all the time. . . . When it seems to be popular and when it is unpopular. When it is seasonable and when it is unseasonable.
While the church has enjoyed a few brief centuries of relative détente with western culture, all signs today point to a looming end to that cease-fire, if it hasn’t already ended. Cultural trends today are profoundly opposed to the authority of God’s Word and the purity of the church. For many in the church, the Word of God is as out-of-season as it has ever been in their lifetimes.
And as an encouragement to hold fast to the truth of the Word in such wicked days, John MacArthur looks to Paul’s urgent words to Timothy. “Preaching the Word in an Out-of-Season Culture” spans more than a chapter of Paul’s epistle, and redirects his words of warning and encouragement to the twenty-first century church.
This is frightening stuff, folks. Here is a man, the great apostle Paul, into his sixties, at the end of his life. He’s given all these years to the establishment of the church and the proclamation of truth. He is passing the mantle to Timothy, and Timothy’s beginning to show signs of failure and weakness. [Paul] calls him to stir up the gift, not to be a coward, not to be ashamed and, amazingly, to hold on to sound doctrine. Because what happens under pressure is, you begin to soften your message.
Paul wanted Timothy to be aware of the threats that surrounded his ministry—we need to heed that warning as well. In 2 Timothy 3:1, he wrote, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.” In his sermon, John explains the apostle’s words are not merely a vague warning, but instead that they speak to specific seasons or epochs of savage danger aligned against the church. John then looks back through church history to identify some of those seasons, including sacramentalism, rationalism, liberalism, mysticism, and subjectivism.
In light of the unending assault on the authority of Scripture and the constant threats to the purity and health of the church, the church desperately needs to heed Paul’s warning. We need to understand the world’s opposition to the truth, and the danger of its influence in our midst.
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