"When people don't want to listen to preaching, the remedy is preaching." --Sinclair Ferguson
In his first address at the ministry leadership conference, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson led off with the well known words of 2 Timothy 3:14-16. In these verses the apostle Paul admonished Timothy with regard to the nature and importance of Scripture for the people of God. There is a remarkable connection between the nature of Scripture, as set out in 2 Timothy 3:14-16, and the rejection of that word, in the ensuing verses of 2 Timothy 4:2-3. Paul ties the significance of the word of God, as the "God-breathed" means of perfecting the church, to the necessity of preaching the Word to future generations--full of people who do not want to hear the Word.
One of the most significant aspects of 2 Timothy 3:14-4:3 is that it forms part of Paul's final epistle. The apostle is "conscious that he is passing on the baton to the future churches," and is conscious that there will come a time when men will heap up teachers to satisfy itching ears.
There is, of course, another significant factor in these verses. "The apostle Paul is preparing Timothy...for the future ministry of the church." The instruction he gives Timothy is crafted for ministers of the gospel and leaders of the church of Christ. He is saying, "If you are going to be a serious Christian leader then you need to have a serious working knowledge of the things in this epistle." Paul was preparing Timothy for future ministry in the church, but he was also preparing subsequent ministers of the gospel for ministry in the last days. The "last days," as Paul understood that phrase, began with the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and continued until Christ's return. "The description the apostle Paul gives of those times of stress that will arise punctuating the last days, is an uncanny description of the world and the church in the twenty-first century." It is as if Paul were writing this particular epistle with our modern church context in mind.
We live at a time when people have turned away from the Word of God. Paul understood this as a characteristic of his own day, and he understood it as an inevitable characteristic of generations to come. Instead of meeting this great problem with a personally contrived plan, the apostle returns again to the God-ordained significance of the written Word of the living God.
The abiding significance of the written Word of God is set out for us by the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the days of His baptism and temptation in the wilderness Jesus was able to look to the Old Testament Scriptures and realize that His heavenly Father was speaking these things to Him in His particular situation.
While generations turn away from the sound teaching and preaching of God's Word, we must be confident that it is only the sound teaching and preaching of God's Word that will actually bring change in the hearts and lives of those same individuals. Are we content to have God's Word at work in our own lives, as well as in the lives of those around us? This is especially relevant for ministers of the gospel who have grown discontent with the ministry of the Word. We must not think that we are wiser than the Paul. "When people don't want to listen to preaching, the remedy is preaching."
Nicholas T. Batzig is minister of New Covenant Presbyterian Church (a church plant of the PCA) in Richmond Hill, GA. He is a contributor to Feeding on Christ and Christ the Center, a weekly podcast on Reformed Theology.