In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.
These are the Apostle Paul’s final words given to Timothy whom Paul appointed as the shepherd of the flock of God in the churches Paul had pioneered. They give us a good idea of how we should operate as shepherds of the flock of God.
First, a shepherd’s duty
A shepherd must prepare people against the Day of Judgment and for the kingdom of God to be revealed when Jesus comes again.
Look at verse 1. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge…” A shepherd is on a rescue mission. He must rescue souls from drowning in the fiery lake of burning sulfur and bring them into the blessed kingdom of God. You might remember the time when terrorists hijacked airplanes, hit the Twin Towers with them and the towers crumbled. The minute the disaster struck, the buildings’ elevators stopped working and thousands of people were trapped inside. The buildings started to burn. Then the rescue mission began. And most of us know what happened. Not all people were saved. Even a number of fire fighters lost their lives.
Rescuing souls from drowning in the sea of eternal torment and wooing them to God’s kingdom is even more complicated than rescuing people from inside of a house burning with physical fire. The means are different and the dimensions are different. The training program for those on such a rescue mission is different.
In verses 2-5, then, the Apostle Paul briefly describes the means, the dimensions, and the disciplines that are required of a shepherd on a spiritual rescue mission. As complex as the rescue mission may seem, the Apostle Paul, the veteran firefighter, sums it up in seven simple statements: 1) preach the Word (2a); 2) be prepared in season and out of season (2b); 3) correct, rebuke and encourage (2c); 4) keep your head in all situations (3-5a); 5) endure hardship (5b); 6) do the work of an evangelist (5c); and 7) discharge all the duties of your ministry (5d).
Let us put ourselves in the position of a spiritual firefighter and think about each of the charges, for each of them is critical to saving souls.
“Preach the Word.”
Firefighters bring a water hose or a fire extinguisher containing chemicals. But Paul says that we are to bring “the Word.” Here “the Word” with a capital W refers to Jesus. How can one who is about to fall in the fiery lake of burning sulfur be saved from the fire of eternal torment? The only way is to offer the life-line called Jesus Christ. The Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
I will never forget the time I received a certain call while I was living on Loma Street in Long Beach. At the time, I was at the Bible Center. Shepherd Jim Tonne had hurriedly come to me saying, “Missionary Isaac, Missionary Isaac. The neighbor is calling you. The neighbor is calling you.” I asked him, “What do you mean? Which neighbor?” He said, “Someone is about to die. Hurry up. Be quick.” Then I went in to the apartment next to my house. I saw an old man with an oxygen tank hooked up to his nose lying on a bed. He was about to expire. He was literally a few minutes away from departure. And his daughter asked me to offer a last minute prayer for the salvation of his soul. Then I remembered the Apostle Paul’s charge, “Peach the Word.” I then asked him three simple questions: 1) “Have you heard about the Savior named Jesus Christ?” He nodded his head. 2) “Do you admit that you are a sinner?” He nodded his head. 3) “Do you believe that about 2000 years ago, Jesus died for all of your sins, and rose again the third day, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life?” He nodded his head not just once or twice, but three times. Then I prayed for him that he would receive the Holy Spirit, so that through the Spirit he would be at home with Jesus Christ. Soon after that, he died.
Preach the Word! We can preach the Word in many different ways: in one to one Bible studies, in group studies, in public teachings; we also can preach the Word in words and actions particularly with good deeds that render glory to God; we can preach him in music and dances. Yesterday, I attended the U.S/Canada Staff Conference in Cleveland Ohio. I received much grace by being seated next to one woman missionary, because her voice while singing hymn songs was so sweet that it sounded like the voice of an angel. Her voice reflected her deep love and devotion to the Lord. Her voice ministered to me as powerfully as the message proclaimed that evening. I witnessed the same thing in India. Part of the program was a special song by the coworkers serving DU (Delhi University) North Campus. Their song reveals the Spirit of Jesus’ love and power. Similarly, in the movie entitled The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson preached Jesus the Word. Each Sunday the orchestra and choir members of this ministry preach the Word through music programs all in the Spirit of praising the Lord, the Savior of all! We thank and praise God for the privilege of preaching the Word!
“Be prepared in season and out of season.”
The job of a shepherd is not seasonal. It requires him to remain alert and be ready 24 hours a day. One of the best ways to be prepared in season and out of season is to get up early in the morning every day, do the daily bread, and spend time with the Lord in prayer. Of course we need to keep the Bible close to our hearts. We also need to prepare Bible notes in an organized and systematic manner and make them conveniently available.
“Correct, rebuke, and encourage.”
These instructions are meant to ensure that the flock of God be kept on the narrow path. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14).
We can understand the Apostle Paul’s charge to correct, rebuke, and encourage when we understand that sheep are good at just one thing: going astray. Remember Mr. Christian in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Even after entering through the narrow gate leading to the Celestial City, he meandered here and there and went in all the wrong ways only to get severely beat up. But again and again, the Lord God sent shepherds to bring him back to the right path.
“Keep your head in all situations.”
As Bible teachers and shepherds, one thing we should never forget is this: “Keep your head in all situations.” What does it mean to keep one’s head? A number of different interpretations are possible. But when we think about the meaning of the word “head”, we clearly understand: we must keep straight our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head and the church is his body. We are not heads. We are parts of the body of Jesus. You and I work as members of his body. Sometimes we operate as Jesus’ arms, sometimes as Jesus’ feet, but never as the head. Jesus is the head.
Last week I visited India. On the way to India I also was able to visit Kyoto University and had a prayer meeting. I also visited Osaka UBF and had a prayer meeting with four coworkers there. I also visited Nagoya UBF and had an on-campus prayer meeting and a group Bible study. On the way back I visited Tokyo UBF and had testimony sharing, a Bible study and then a prayer meeting that night. All the while I remembered my position as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. As an ambassador, I knew that the offering I carried to India, the visits I was making to each chapter, the words I spoke, the handshakes I gave, the prayers I offered, were all done on behalf of Jesus Christ. Some times I was confused as to what to say, where to go, what to do, or what not to do. But each time I was confused, I remembered his word, prayed and asked Jesus for instructions. The instructions did not come all at the same time. They came step by step as they were needed. Only when one thing was finished would the next instruction come. My point here is that Jesus is the head and we are the members of his body. And I believe this is one of the meanings of Paul’s instruction, “Keep your head in all situations.”
Serving the Lord as a spiritual firefighter and shepherd is never an easy job. Just as the firefighters who fought to rescue people out of the Twin Towers endured all kinds of hardships such as heat and smoke, so also we need to endure all kinds of hardships in saving souls. I saw firsthand what it means to endure hardships when I visited India and saw the way our missionaries, especially Missionary Jimmy Lee, lives. Although I was there only a few days, I got heat stroke, which resulted in diarrhea. In order to relieve myself in the extremely hot weather, I changed my long pants to short pants. But from the first day I saw Missionary Jimmy Lee at the airport until we hugged each other upon departure, he was dressed in a business suit with his neck tie neatly tied. Working as a managing director for his manufacturing company, Eliakim Electronics, he carried his cell phone and constantly issued instructions to his company employees, while serving all the details that needed to be attended to for the conference and all matters involving sheep, missionaries, and foreign delegates. And what amazed me was that although he was in a business suit, he never sweated. His demeanor was cool, calm, and collected. He knows what it means to endure hardships. I pray that I may reexamine myself and see how I can follow his example here in Downey.
“Do the work of an evangelist.”
The work of evangelism is mainly winning souls to Christ. The work of evangelism includes inviting unbelievers to Jesus Christ through individual Bible studies or attending Bible conferences. In a month or so, we will have our Fall Bible conference. This is a good opportunity for us to invite new students, plant the gospel in their hearts, pray that God’s love would touch their hearts, meet Jesus in person, and make a personal confession of faith in Jesus, so that they will be saved.
“Discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Here “all” means “all”. In serving the Lord, we have all kinds of duties other than the duties stated above, such as cleaning the Bible center, emptying garbage cans, serving food, greeting people at the door before worship services each Sunday. In addition, we have duties to discharge as citizens of a nation. We hold dual citizenship: our citizenship in the United States or in some other nation in this world, and our citizenship in the kingdom of God. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are called to serve the Lord as members of a church. As citizens of a particular nation of this world, we are called to discharge our duties including studying hard, developing a solid career, supporting a family, paying taxes, voting for elected officials such as the president of this nation, and so forth. To do this, we need to keep our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits in good, working condition.
Second, a shepherd’s view of life here on earth
Look at verses 6-8. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
One of the reasons why the Apostle Paul was able to bear lots of good fruit as an apostle for the Gentiles is that he had a Biblical view of his life here on earth: he viewed his life on earth as a holy pilgrimage. As a holy pilgrim, the Apostle Paul never forgot that he was here on earth for only a short time. What he says in verses 6-8, particularly the word “departure,” as in “the time has come for my departure,” points to this truth.
My visit to India lasted 10 days. Throughout this period, one thing really stuck in my mind: I was away from home. I left home, was away from home, and while I was away, remained conscious of my need to go back to Downey. With this direction, I kept myself in tight control with each step, always moving toward the ultimate goal of returning home. Then, when I arrived at LAX last Thursday, I saw Shepherdess Stephi, Shepherd Charles, and Missionary Rebekah. On seeing them, I felt so at home in LA. In this way, a brief moment of being away from home reminded me of my life as a holy pilgrimage here on earth.
Another important thing that Paul remembered was the promise of the Lord Jesus rewarding him. What was his reward? The crown of righteousness. This reward is significant, for it means that Paul was confident that he was qualified for eternal life in the presence of God with people whose souls and spirits have been made perfect. (For further insights about the blessedness of this reward, read Romans 14:7; Isaiah 9:7; Psalm 89:4; and Matthew 6:33.)
Third, a shepherd and team work
In order to live as a fruitful shepherd for God’s flock, one must learn how to work together with others. In many places of the Bible, particularly in the four gospels and in the epistles of the Apostles of Jesus, the need for teamwork is emphasized again and again.
Rescuing a soul is never a one-man show. This is increasingly true in this generation where the mobility of people keeps increasing. At the India Bible conference I met a man whose name I am not going to mention at this time. He was born in India. His parents immigrated to Canada. In Toronto he met Missionary Joshua Lee. He studied the Bible. He ran away a few times, but he came back to Toronto. Then he found a job in the southernmost state of India as a high school teacher. The place where he is living is called the Silicon Valley of India. The weather there is mild and not humid. Yet, pursuant to Missionary Joshua Lee’s earnest plea, he attended the India Fall Bible Conference, which took place in New Delhi, which was very hot in temperature. He is 30 years old. He is tall and handsome. He says that he had enough of wandering. He confided with me that he really wanted to quit his prodigal son’s lifestyle. He said finally he had enough of it and wanted to return home. Then in talking with me during eating fellowship at the dining hall, he kept saying that he needs a wife. He said that he has everything ready to go, except for a marriage partner. Dr. Mark Yoon, who was seated next to me at the dining hall, has a shepherd’s heart for him, and encouraged him to write a Bible testimony on Matthew 6:33 and share it during the evening program. Then for a reason unknown, without letting anyone know, he left the conference. But we do not worry, for in his hometown Bengal, we have a UBF Bible center directed by Missionary John Bunyan. At the U.S. Staff meeting I met Missionary Joshua Lee. I asked Joshua Lee to contact him to introduce him to Missionary John Bunyan for continued Bible study.
In the passage the Apostle Paul mentions the names of 16 people in addition to Timothy. Some of them worked closely with Paul. Some worked with Paul for a while and then deserted him. Some of them helped Paul like a dear son serving his father. Some worked for him like his right hand. Some worked as Paul’s eyes. Some worked as Paul’s messengers. One thing that amazes us, however, is that so many coworkers worked with Paul. They were like members of a dream team. The areas Paul covered were extensive. But because all these people saw the noble purpose the Apostle Paul was serving, that is, serving the Lord’s world mission purpose for the name’s sake of Jesus Christ, they did whatever Paul asked them to do. They went wherever Paul asked them to go. They came to Paul wherever he asked them to come. Through my visit to India and then a few chapters in Japan, I learned that the same spirit exists among UBF shepherds and missionaries in all different parts of the world.
Fourth, Jesus, the chief shepherd
Look at verses 14-18. “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Although Paul was surrounded by many coworkers, not all of them were able to be with him all the time. Rather, on many occasions, Paul had to admit that the battles he was called to fight were lonely ones. But he was not discouraged. Why? Because he always remembered the Lord’s promise to be with him to the end. Let us repeat what Paul says, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…” On many occasions it may not seem that the Lord is at our side. But that is only because we are not aware of his presence. Jesus is our truest friend. All may desert us, but he will not. And he is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
These are Paul's final words, which give us a good idea of how we should operate as a minister and a shepherd of the flock of God.
1.1.Compare the following exhortations with what Paul says in verse 1.
1) Preach the Word (2a);
2) Be prepared in season and out of season (2b);
3) Correct, rebuke and encourage (2c);
4) Keep your head in all situations (3-5a);
5) Endure hardship (5b);
6) Do the work of an evangelist (5c); and
7) Discharge all the duties of your ministry (5d).
What is the purpose of a ministry? (1) What does each of the exhortations mean? How are they related to one another?
** The purpose is to prepare people: 1) against the judgment, and 2) for the kingdom of God to be revealed upon Jesus' coming again. It is literally a "rescue" mission, rescuing souls from drowning in the fiery lake of burning sulfur into the blessed kingdom.
1) Preach the Word (2a) - preaching has the meaning of a systematic approach for a clear purpose, that is, to help people renounce every practice which is inconsistent with what Jesus came to represent, and adopt everything that Jesus came to teach and actually lived and died for.
2) Be prepared in season and out of season (2b) - in season or out of season is the same as "all the time" (like in favorable times or unfavorable times). "Be prepared" means "be prepared" to take necessary actions so that each time the need arises a minister should be able to discharge all of his duties effectively.
3) Correct, rebuke and encourage (2c) - two things can be said, that is, means and order. Means (of correction, rebuke...) should be the Word (i.e., Jesus' example); order is, first correct (where one is clearly wrong/incorrect in theory and practice), then rebuke (when despite corrections coupled with sure understanding, compliance is not shown); and then encourage (in cases where booster shots are necessary)
4) Keep your head in all situations (3-5a) - this means to not be distracted from one's relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church. People such as Judaizers might try to distract Timothy away from his relationship with Christ and confuse his message on Jesus Christ. Paul exhorts Timothy to keep his doctrine straight, that is, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:16.
5) Endure hardship (5b) - this is based on the understanding that hard moments are the moments for God's good result to gestate into fruition, and therefore must be endured with many thanks.
6) Do the work of an evangelist (5c) - evangelism means winning of souls.
7) Discharge all the duties of your ministry (5d) - all other duties such as keeping bathroom or kitchen clean, managing financial affairs wisely, getting household matters straight, getting school work done, exercising properly, etc. and so forth.
** Although there are areas of overlap, interplay, or cross over, it seems that the priority is in the way they are listed. Preaching must be done as a matter of first importance. Then, one must secure time for personal Bible studies. Then, one must contact sheep/flock, to minister over them, still maintaining and keeping one's relationship with Jesus straight in terms of one's doctrines or lifestyle, still enduring as more difficulties might arise, still not neglecting the need to go out for fishing, to secure more souls to be saved, yet not neglecting all other duties such as brushing one's teeth regularly, paying credit card debts, changing engine oil of one's car every 3,000 miles, etc.
2.In verse 6, Paul uses the word "departure". What does "departure" suggest about the way Paul understands death? (2Co 5:1-8; John 14:2; Hebrews 11:10)
** It is for one's soul to depart from this time domain into eternity, from a physical body to be at home with Jesus waiting to receive a resurrected body to be given (after the moments of rest, if Jesus comes again after one's physical death).
The word departure also indicates no "element" of attachment to this life, for just as a bus arrives at a bus stop, so also as the moment of one's physical death arrives, one's soul simply departs from his earthly residence. It is simply like a man taking off a work suit and putting on pajamas before getting into bed at night.
Where a soul gets fully refined, having been made fully spiritual, so that as one has reached the point where spirit fully dominates over one's flesh, departing from one's physical body comes with zero ounce of regret.
3.In verse 7, Paul sums up his life. For what did Paul "fight"? What can we learn from Paul who says, "I have finished the race"?
** Faith in Jesus Christ, the faith that believes, lives, and even dies, for the profession of faith that Jesus is the Lord and Savior, the King of the universe.
** The word "race" indicates that Paul aimed for winning the first prize. He did not live as a mediocre Christian.
4.Compare what Paul says in verses 6-7 with what he says in verse 8. What is the significance of "the crown of righteousness"?
** It is significant because:
1) it means the "qualification" for life in the Kingdomof God (Romans 14:7; Isa 9:7; Psa 89:14);
2) it means that one is capable of having fellowship with the people whose souls and spirits were made perfect in eternity (Psa 1:1-6); and
3) it means that you secured a vessel in which God can put all other blessings for your eternal enjoyment with the possibility for infinite prosperity (Matthew 6:33).
5. Look at verses 9-22. How many names are listed? What does "my ministry" (11), "our message" (15), or "the message" (17) indicate about why the way Paul speaks of each individual is not the same?
** 16 not including Timothy.
** The reason is not because someone is good or bad, but because they all differ in degrees as being either for or against Paul's purpose, that is, to proclaim the message of the gospel to all peoples on earth.
We should not fight with others humanly, nor do we need to hold personal grudges against or favoritism toward this person or that person. All we need to do is to work together for a common purpose, that is, to please Jesus. After all, Paul was not promoting his own personal interest. He was doing what he was doing all for Jesus' name's sake. Romans 1:5. People recognized this noble purpose of Paul, so they all worked together, going wherever Paul asked them to go, coming to Paul whenever Paul asked them to come.
6. What do the following statements tell us about Paul's relationship with Timothy?
1) Do your best to come to me quickly (9); and
2) Do your best to get here before winter (21).
What can we learn from Timothy?
** The wisdom of Mary versus the wisdom of Martha. Mary served the Lord better by devoting herself to the Lord than by making herself busy with her own things.
7. Paul says, "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength" (17) or "The Lord will rescue me..." (18). What can we learn from Paul in serving the Lord?
** Of course we can rely on human coworkers. But ultimately we must rely on the Lord, for it is only Jesus Christ who can ultimately be relied upon because when everyone finally departs from or deserts us, the Lord is still there to put us together.